Have you ever taken one of the innumerable personality tests that are out there these days? I took a fair number of them as part of some research when we were setting up the School. Results vary so much from provider to provider and from day to day, I came out differently almost every time. Talking things over with those who know me better than I know myself, it appeared that they would each place me in a different area. I would have categorised myself differently again, but their observations encouraged me to have a good look and re-examine a few things. ‘Know thyself’ takes on a whole new layer of meaning when you actually start looking.
Over the years, like many of us, I have been obliged to submit to the psychometric testing now required for many jobs. The results can be illuminating in ways perhaps not immediately obvious.
I remember going to the first one at a time when my self-confidence was minimal and my self-belief even less. I never did have much of either; I had been raised in the shadow of one of those sparkling people and felt dull beside the glitter and inadvertently allowed that contrast to undermine my confidence as I grew. An unusual adolescence, a disastrous marriage and having my face rearranged by a drunk driver didn’t help my self confidence much either. So the young woman who began to grow into life always felt second rate. Almost, but never quite, good enough. No matter how conscientious I was, how hard I worked, or how much I tried, I never expected to amount to much. I saw myself as second best. A shy, retiring mouse of a woman. And because I saw myself that way, I allowed others to see me that way too.
Life took a new direction when I packed my bags and went to work in Paris. Years passed and the blinkers wobbled a bit. I recognised the flaws in my own growing as I learned to instil confidence into my sons. I didn’t care what they did with their lives as long as they were happy, healthy, whole human beings. I wanted them to believe in themselves and know that I did too. Raising them while dealing with my late partner’s cancer I found I had a lot more confidence than I had known. It was odd really, as I had always believed that every one of us is valuable, unique and necessary to the world. Always known that we carry within us a spark of the Divine Life… and what can be greater than that? Yet somehow that knowledge didn’t filter through into my vision of myself.
When my partner was dying we discussed what I would do when he had gone, knowing I would have to earn a decent living to keep the boys. I learned to drive, a big step after the severity of the accident years before. Then I addressed another problem. I had dropped out of maths at school, and that was one qualification I lacked and would need. Others I had. I signed up for night school, in the hope of getting something that said I wasn’t an idiot where maths was concerned; I had accepted the assessment that I was no good at that either.
In three months I completed a two year course and came out with a Distinction. No one was more surprised than I and my self-assessment began to change. Maybe I wasn’t as worthless as I had thought. It made me wonder what else I could do if I tried.
Looking back, I began to see that the mouse had not lacked courage to roar and had faced some pretty awful stuff and dealt with it. I had taken risks and leaps of faith, lived a Bohemian life for a while, done many things a little house-mouse would not normally do… yet I still had no faith in myself? So maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t who I had thought I was. Maybe I could do stuff.
I applied for a high profile job I felt completely unqualified for, in spite of the bits of paper. I was surprised to be called to a series of interviews and finally arrived, terrified, for a day of psychometric testing in London. There was a room full of professional looking people exuding confidence. And me. Feeling like a fish out of water and thinking I shouldn’t have come.
This was a full eight-hour day of intensive testing across the spectrum. Half were dismissed mid-morning, more at lunchtime. By the end of the day, only three of us remained. I was called in for the results. I didn’t get the job… but I got something better in my eyes. I had scored joint-top but the other person had relevant experience. I had tested at doctoral level, I who had left school at 16. They went through the test results in depth, one by one, and my journey home was taken in shock.
I do not think any test can tell you all about a person, but this one certainly opened my eyes. I was obliged to re-examine who I thought I was and who I had allowed myself to become; it wasn’t a pretty sight. Much of it was habit, a kind of laziness that had clung to the comfortable rut of familiar mediocrity because it was known and safe. And perhaps prevented me from having expectations of myself that frightened me. It made me think about other areas of self-belief and confidence and question my courage and character in a whole new way. But it wasn’t just me. It made me question the origins of the self-image we hold, how much of it we simply accept as we are fed it by others, who may see us better than we do ourselves, but who sometimes see only what suits them or what they themselves need to see. How much of it is the fear of being ourselves and being rejected, of taking a risk that might make us stand out from the crowd and lose the safe anonymity of our accustomed normality.
We are all such odd mixes of strength and weakness. We are not pale imitations of what we could be, nor do we have to try to be anyone else; we are who we are. We do not need to be a mirror reflecting the world back at itself because that is what the world expects to see. We can be our own mirror. We are unique, all of us and capable of reaching our ‘own peculiar star’. Instead of asking ‘who me?’ when an opportunity arises, maybe we should just be saying, ‘why not?’