I’ve been trying to understand myself for most of my adult life. I first became aware of this idiosyncracy in college. One day I was in the library browsing through the psychology section and came upon a book about personality types. I was as thrilled as if I had discovered a treasure map. Or the key to the weathered door of a mysterious hidden garden. Or the holy grail!
I found an empty table and sat down to read, glancing around self-consciously like an adolescent devouring a book about sex. I’d spent my teens masking my insecurity and self-doubt with a persona of poise and confidence and didn’t want to blow my cover.
It was everything I’d hoped for. The first part was a lengthy questionnaire. I savored each question the way an oenophile relishes each sip of wine, rolling it this way and that to consider every nuance of flavor. Like a writer of wine labels I suffered the delicious agony of indecision over which subtlety had priority. Like a reluctant suitor I hesitated to commit myself. Rarely had I enjoyed myself so much.
When I was finished I tallied my answers and arrived at a number which took me to the description of my particular type. My key was in the door and I was standing on the threshold. With a mixture of excitement and apprehension I prepared to enter the mystery of myself.
But what I read disappointed and puzzled me. To this day I do not know the title of the book because I was afraid to write it down in case someone should go through my papers and see it, so I can only paraphrase the essence of what I recall. It said something like this “We are not sure who you are. You are like a tree with many branches reaching into the sky. A flock of birds flies to the tree and perches on the branches. Then without warning they scatter and fly away in all directions.” I imagined the tree barren of leaves, silhouetted against a gray winter sky. The birds were black. Crows, perhaps. Or ravens. There was no garden.
At one level this seemed a terribly romantic image, but as I read through the other descriptions I grew increasingly uncomfortable. Mine was the only one with no clear answers. What did this mean? Was it a good thing or bad? Did it mean my personality was gloriously flexible and open to whatever life might bring, or did it mean I was so flighty and unformed that I was vulnerable to whichever way the wind blew? Was I some sort of mysterious nature child, part grounded in the physical world and part free to follow the truths of my soul, or did I simply have no more substance than a ghost or puff of smoke? Did I have an old soul or an extremely young one?
I see now that this was one of the defining experiences of my life. For the first time it occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea who I was. That’s when the hunger settled in, and I’ve been trying to satisfy it ever since.
If you recognize this hunger in yourself, do yourself a favor and check out this site about the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator. Based on Jungian psychology, it was responsible for my first major breakthrough into the mystery of myself and has provided an enormously useful framework for my inner work ever since.