I have always been fascinated by personality tests. You can ask my friends. They still joke about the time a bunch of us were hanging out at someone’s lakehouse one Memorial weekend and I started quizzing everybody on their personality type. I think there were at least 20 of us there, so it took awhile. I found it quite fun and insightful. But some of my friends, particularly one who will remain nameless but is now a practicing anesthesiologist in Austin :), didn’t love ‘being labelled.’ I thought he was just being a kill-joy at the time, but I can empathize with him now, acknowledging that there is a lot of nuance within such a black and white category.
Nevertheless, I still LOVE personality tests and will often ask a person’s ‘type’ when I meet them! While I recognize it won’t tell me everything about a person, I find it provides a helpful framework for understanding them, how they are wired and how they view the world. I am learning, the older I get, that not everyone thinks like me: the right way. Kidding. For more on how that plays out in marriage, check out my post: On Being Married To A Planner When I Am SO Not.
The part of personality tests I find most fascinating is the introversion/extroversion trait. Some of you know straight off the bat which one you are. But many of us aren’t so sure. We say things like ‘it depends on the situation’ or ‘I’m an extroverted introvert’ or vice versa. Yes, I know the guideline: it’s not about whether you are outgoing or shy, but where you get your energy. But what if the answer is both? Or, it depends?
For me, here’s the dilemma: While I absolutely love being around people and am often called the ‘life of the party’ (i.e., obnoxious, attention-seeking and annoying especially when alcohol is involved), I desperately crave alone time. Lots and lots of alone time. Reading. Writing. Being in nature. Alone. As a writer, I work best sitting in a quiet room (not a coffee shop) and pounding out my thoughts on the keyboard for 3-4 hours straight. I get annoyed if I’m interrupted (so I turn off my phone). It’s usually around hour 4 when the fog sets in and I’m ready to go for a long walk, get some fresh air and enjoy being in nature.
Yet as an adult, I have created a lifestyle of an extreme extrovert. Part of this is due to the nature of the jobs I’ve had over the years (teaching, managing, mission work, and now, full-time mom). All of those positions require lots of interaction with people and often times, large group interactions and upfront speaking roles. Those kind of experiences taught me how to become more extroverted, to the point that I found these settings quite energizing. But: I don’t think that’s my natural tendency. As a child, I was quite shy, yet as an adult I’ve learned to become a great conversationalist. (The secret: ask people lots of questions about themselves!). There is a genuine part of me that loves connecting with people. I enjoy going deep, wanting to know what is really going on in their life, not just the surfacey chit chat. But there is another part of me (which I have ignored for a long time) that feels exhausted after a lot of face time with people (by face time, I mean physical time, not the iPhone app. Although, I find both to be exhausting!).
It was during a recent writing workshop that I was prompted to reflect on my childhood. The prompt was this:
Think about your fondest memories as a child.
- Where were you?
- What were you doing?
- What did you feel?
- What about that experience was enjoyable?
What came to mind surprised me, as I am guessing it might for you, so I encourage you to try it! Write all your thoughts down in the style that is most comfortably to you: bullet points, list, brainstorm mapping, typing on a computer, or long-hand journaling (my preference!) and give yourself plenty of time to process.
Here’s what came to mind for me:
As a 4th grader, one of my fondest memories was writing my first book (it was SO cheesy!). What I loved about it was the process, how I actually wrote it: I would write one chapter in every room of my childhood home. When I finished a chapter, I would move to a new room (or an outdoor spot, like up in a tree!) and tuck myself into that quiet little dream world inside my head and scribble away. I would do this for hours. It must have been summer? Where was my brother? Playing Nintendo? My mom? Talking on the phone? The point is this: it was not something I did out of duty or because I thought that’s what a good student should do. I did it because I loved it. It was life-giving. It brought me joy. It was my way of creating beauty.
I also have memories of roaming my grandfather’s cattle ranch. I would walk for miles and miles across that land, exploring the dried-up creekbeds, wandering through the woods, climbing sheer cliffs, completely alone. Well, except for a ranch dog and a gray tabby cat as my companions (yes, a CAT walked all that way with me! He must’ve thought he was a DOG!). Some of my fondest memories come from exploring that ranch: being in nature, talking to God like He was my best friend, enjoying my own little private with nothing but animals as companions.
This is my hypothesis: Perhaps what we enjoy most about our childhood (before being bombarded with cultural messages and expectations of the world) are often the things that still bring us joy today. And in some cases, there might be an untapped gift or talent for creating beauty that we have set aside because we’ve grown up and we don’t have time for such fanciful hobbies.
Let me give you an example.
For the past five years (since kids), I have scheduled very little alone time for myself. Some of that is just the reality of having little ones with lots of needs. But a part of me denied that quiet space I deeply craved, assuming it was an impractical luxury. I remember being challenged by a friend who was watching me as I fell apart before her very eyes, ask: “Amanda, what things are you doing to rejuvenate YOU, not just your kids and your husband?” and I was like ‘huh?’ I remember thinking that was an incredibly selfish question to even ask.
For those reading this who don’t have kids – hang with me – I believe this childhood discovery applies to everyone. But a quick tangent to mommas of littles: my heart goes out to you. It’s an incredibly tough season. For some, it’s tougher than others (depending on the temperament of the child and the mom, as well as any sleep or health issues). God gave me what He knew I needed: strong-willed, active children who required very little sleep from the beginning with a mom who craves solitude and hates interruptions. Let’s just say: I was not prepared for the complete and total life change that occurred when my little ones came into the world. I was not prepared for the noise, for the unpredictability, for the tantrums and screaming and fear of what people were thinking when my children were melting down in public. In the car. On the airplane. At school drop-off and pick-up. Pretty much any and everywhere. Don’t get me wrong – I love them dearly. I was just NOT prepared for the chaos that consumed me for the first few years of parenting.
We all have seasons of chaos, where life throws itself upside down on our head and we are scrambling to get back on our feet. We know we are not in control to begin with (cognitively). But there are times when we feel completely out of control (physically, mentally and emotionally). That time, for me, was my during my first few years of parenting. I was trying to survive in the chaos, but not really listening to the needs of my body. That it was telling me to slow down, to schedule alone time, to pay for a sitter, to get professional help. All of that (and some additional stressors) lead me into a deep depression with daily panic attacks (something I had never even heard of and therefore, was quite concerned when my new favorite hang-out became my closet!). For more on that, you can read my post: Am I Going Crazy?
But back to my point about childhood memories. Thanks to that dark time, I was forced into a two year period of solitude where my kids were in full-time childcare and I was supposed to be ‘healing’ whatever that means. But it was during that time that I tapped into my true self, an identity I had completely forgotten.
For one, I have rediscovered my love for writing! I would not be blogging like this had I not gone through that season of darkness. I had put writing aside for years. I just didn’t have time for it. Or make time for it.
I have also learned how much I crave solitude. And that my creative juices get flowing during long stretches of solitude. While I can’t always schedule 3-4 hour chunks of alone time (but what a dream!), I know that I must make it a priority. Above hanging out with people and doing fun, social things. I no longer view my alone time as a luxury, but as a necessity. And not just for my sake, but for the sake of my family. When I am not refreshed, they experience it.
So now, I take lots of long, meandering walks in nature instead of the hard-core runs where I’m timing myself. I take a bath and read a book in the middle of the day (when kids are in school!) and don’t feel guilty. I say no to social commitments when my energy is low. Basically, I have reawakened my childhood self and am learning how to nurture her, listen to her, take care of her. I am learning how to stop trying to be what I think I ‘should’ be as a wife, mom, friend and family member, but embrace the person God made me to be and let His glory shine through in however He sees fit.
I will end with some reflective questions for you:
- What are your fondest memories of your childhood? Why?
- What things do you wish you had more time to do today?
- What are natural gifts/talents that others have recognized and/or that you delight in using but are not using?
- How do you unwind/rest/rejuvenate? Are you creating space to do that?
Lord Jesus, thank you for teaching me about myself and my needs during what was a very dark, difficult time. Thank you for the joy and confidence that has come about from being be who I am, rather than try to be someone or something I think I ‘should’ be. Help every one of us to tap into the person You made us to be, using our gifts and personalities to bless others. Help us not to compare, envy or hoard our gifts, but to humbly allow You to use us however You choose, in order to make Your name great, not ours. Thank You for your amazing, never-stopping, never-running-out love that has changed me from within. I love you, Amen.