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It Takes All Kinds
Learning about my personality helped me grow
Sashwat Adhikari
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At the thrift store, I walked past the DVDs, jewelry, ties, and coats to the book section at the back. It was more of a book landfill than a bookshelf, crammed with huge dusty piles stacked in no particular order.

Normally I bought best-selling novels, but on that day I wanted something different to satisfy my curiosity about myself. I scoured the shelves for 20 minutes and then I found it: a book all about different personality traits. I brought it to the counter and threw down a dollar.

The book explained that we all have strengths, weaknesses, and limits as a result of our individual personalities. If you understand your personality traits, you can use that knowledge to help you grow. I was already fascinated.

It also said some people are especially drawn to exploring their personality and identity because they don’t see themselves in their parents. That resonated with me. I have my dad’s nose and my mom’s eyes, but I don’t feel like I’ve inherited their personalities. My dad will eat anything, but I can be picky. My mom is a perfectionist, but I know when to stop changing every little detail about something. Noticing all the ways I’m different from them has made me want to learn more about why I am the way I am.

Observing My Own Traits

The book described different personality traits, such as the desire to maintain strong relationships even if it means sometimes setting aside your own values, or the tendency to want to prove others wrong. As I read, I reflected on the traits I recognized in my friends and family, as well as in myself. For example, the author said some people tend to withdraw in social situations when they feel vulnerable or attacked, and often push others away when they try to help.

I thought of a formal party I’d gone to with my friends last summer. I needed a tie, and my friend Sean reluctantly loaned me a silk one with red and blue stripes, a gift from his mother. I kept it in my pocket on the way to the venue. Later I felt a pang of terror when I put my hand in my pocket and felt nothing there. The tie must have slipped out. I apologized profusely, but Sean was angry.

image by YC-Art Dept

“I knew I shouldn’t have let you borrow it,” he said. “You’re so irresponsible and selfish.”

His words stung. It was time to dance, but I felt so bad about losing the tie I thought I didn’t deserve to have any fun. I barely spoke to my friends the rest of the night. My friend Amer came over and asked if I was all right. I said I was fine, even though I wasn’t. It would have been simpler to tell him what was wrong, but I thought that by holding my feelings in I would get over them faster. Instead, I continued to dwell on what had happened, letting it ruin my night.

Before reading about my tendency to withdraw like this, I didn’t realize I did it. Now I can be more aware of it. The book offered suggestions about overcoming negative personality traits: observe how and why you’re reacting in the moment and make an effort to respond to the situation in a healthier way.

Now when I’m upset or anxious, I try to take a step back and look at my situation from the outside, almost as if it were happening to someone else. For example, when someone criticizes me, I try not to take it personally and resist the urge to beat myself up over it. When someone notices that I am upset and tries to offer support, I try to be more transparent and tell them how I really feel, even though it may feel uncomfortable for me
to do so.

Using Personality to Grow

As a result I feel more in control of the way I feel, no longer at the whims of my personality. Of course, it would be impossible to eliminate all of my negative emotions and tendencies—after all, I’m only human. But it is possible to be more aware of how your less positive traits can affect you and others around you, and that’s something that I am working on every day.

The book also helped me appreciate my strengths. I felt empowered when I read a line that described some people with my traits as “the deep-sea divers of the psyche: they delve into the inner world of the human soul and return to the surface, reporting on what they have found.” I recognized myself in those words, and that’s exactly what I’m doing here by writing my story.

I had been on the fence about whether I was genuinely interested in psychology, or if it was just a phase, like the time I wanted to be a DJ or the next great comic book artist. But the book showed me my interest in personality is an important aspect of who I am. I’m even considering majoring in psychology. I want a career where I can use my interest in human nature to help people with their issues, perhaps as a clinical therapist. The most important thing I learned is that we grow by looking inward, and I will continue to do that.

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(NYC-2018-11-22)

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