Last Monday I left my first class as a TA trying to remember what personality type I was, according to the Myers-Briggs test. Isabelle and Bridget had just taken the test and pressed me to share my result. Well, it had been about 15 months since I last took a knock-off online version of the assessment, and I couldn’t remember the four initials it had prescribed to me that night in the Bay Lake Tower at Walt Disney World with the Jordans. I did remember, however that my result was the same as Remus Lupin’s from Harry Potter—well, according to an infographic I found, at least. Hell, it’s partly the reason I bought Lupin’s wand when I visited the Harry Potter movie studio in London last January.
INFJ. Introverted. Intuitive. Feeling. Judging. Seemed about right. But perhaps I should take it again, I thought. After all, I’m still discovering ways that I’ve transformed recently after studying abroad.
Well, the N, F, and J parts held constant. But I had become an E, and that connection to Remus Lupin had severed to form a new bond with Albus Dumbledore. ENFJ. What the hell changed me, a proud introvert, to allow myself to exhibit extrovert tendencies?
In my physiological psychology class today, we talked briefly about epigenetics, the theory that although certain genes direct us toward specific traits, such as anxiety or obesity or endless joy, our environments can activate or make dormant such traits. In the right setting and with the right thought processes, a person genetically predisposed with an addictive personality can avoid falling prey to the alcoholism that has wrecked his family for generations. Or perhaps the daughter of two morbidly obese parents is fortunate enough to have those tendencies for extra fat silenced by her environment, and she goes on to be an Olympic athlete. I believe that a propensity on the introversion/extraversion scale is no different.
Without a doubt, I’m an introvert by nature. Yet I’ve become an extrovert by preference.
I remember working the switchboard my freshman year at SLUH, placed there in part because Mr. Hannick wouldn’t let a broken leg excuse me from my work-study obligation. I manned the desk at Oakland Avenue on weekdays from 3-5 and generally saw the same people at the same times each afternoon. The first one I saw and talked to was always Kim, the woman who worked at the desk throughout the day. Somewhere in age between my parents and grandparents, she was a wonderful guide who cared deeply about all of us awkward and strange high schoolers. As I got to know her fairly well, she mentioned once that when she was in high school, she hated the idea of not going out with friends on a Friday or Saturday night. At that point, still a freshman, I couldn’t disagree more. I craved the quiet of the weekends when I could watch Netflix, read a book, or do anything on my own that gave me solace away from the rapid academic and social pace of SLUH. But, of course, 15-year-old me pretended to agree, trying oh so hard to be an extrovert too.
Toward the end of high school and certainly in my first three semesters at SLU, I noticed that I was becoming more and more comfortable constantly surrounding myself with close friends. The closer I got to them, the more I fed off of their energy, especially during Oriflamme and Fall Welcome (both as a freshman being led and a sophomore being a leader). But a big part of me still craved that alone time in which I could recharge and catch up with myself more than anything else. In fact, that’s a big reason I chose to go on my own to Ireland for a semester.
They tell you that abroad will be a challenge, that you’ll come back different in many respects. I underestimated those warnings. In what turned out to be both the most challenging and rewarding time of my life, I had to learn again how to make new friends (shout out especially to Emily, Annie, and Rachel because they’ve been waiting for a blog mention for months now, but also all of my other new friends that I met in Galway), live with strangers (Michael, hope you’re still the happiest person I’ve ever met, especially back home in Uganda), and discover myself.
I spent more time alone than I ever have, and that time led to some moments of utter serenity (in Barcelona and Valencia, especially), but also some instances that knocked me down and left me more vulnerable than I’ve ever been. I turned to writing, a passion I’d found in high school but hadn’t practiced nearly enough since I’d started at SLU. That writing offered an escape via words, which Dumbledore called our most inexhaustible form of magic. It’s a funny thing that such words transformed my personality to align more closely with Dumbledore than Lupin.
It might not be clear how writing provided that transformation. It’s a solitary activity driven by solitary thoughts. In that sense, my natural tendency for introversion reveals itself. But writing provides so much more than simple self-reflection; it’s a full dialogue, shared between the writer and his audience, the writer and his god, the writer and the part of his self that he doesn’t yet know but will one day become. My writing taught me that, okay, maybe I’m inclined to do things alone. But when it comes down to it, I prefer sharing my experience with my friends, that I gain most of my energy from their stimulation.
It’s always been so easy for me to settle for my natural setting of introversion and keeping to myself—it’s almost always the path of least resistance. But in that life-changing semester I had abroad, I became comfortable with the fact that I prefer life the hard way. It sometimes remains a challenge even now to force myself out, to meet new people and establish new friendships while maintaining the old. Oriflamme’s the perfect example of that idea: in high school, I’d have never joined such an organization. Too much interaction, especially with strangers, I would say. But now, I can’t imagine life without it. It’s perhaps against my nature to some extent, but my environment has guided me to realize that maybe it’s better for me to be a Dumbledore than a Lupin. It’s okay to change and adapt, so long as newfound strength drives you toward that change.
Oh, this should be of note: I like to think that Dumbledore would be a dope-ass ‘Flamme leader.
“Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic.” – Albus Dumbledore