Monday, October 02, 2006

Personality II

Ever since I recognized my lack of personality I have been thinking about how that came to be. My first thought was that being highly introverted plays a part in it. I was thinking of a way to say that without implying that introverts lack personality generally but then I talked to Laura about it and she convinced me that it is possible for extroverts to lack personality as well - so my introversion is not a cause.

There is a difference between an extrovert without personality and an introvert without personality. An extrovert without personality is a chameleon matching the social climate around them. An introvert without personality is like the invisible man - going undetected in social settings. I have also begin to think of it as being something of an emotional albino - lacking any pigment of personality.

The question I am trying to resolve in my mind is, have I always been without personality or have I shed my personality. If I shed it - why? when? and how? If I have always been without it, why? Personally I lean towards having shed my innate personality. I have no hobbies, or substantial aspirations. My current goal is to get a job because I have to. That probably sounds really pathetic, but the truth is that I doubt my ability to be hired to do anything that will hold my interest. Everything that might set me apart from other people and make me interesting has been labeled (by me) unimportant.

Perhaps I have found something. I do have desires, but they seem to be so far outside the reach of my opportunities. I would like to make a difference in how we approach and manage education in this country, especially among our youth. I would like to make a difference in my community by making my voice heard about ways that we can make it an even better place to live than it is already. How can I do these things when nobody would listen to me.

Even if people would listen to me I am so caught up in trying to survive that I have no energy left after working full-time (back when I was) to expend the time and energy trying to make my ideas heard. The only way I could see to do both would be to get a job where I could work on some of those things as part of my work. Who would hire me to do that? Getting elected to an appropriate position is the only other way (besides being hired) to spend my time doing those things. I think it is patently obvious that getting a socially invisible person elected to any office is as likely as getting a squirrel to win the Kentucky Derby.

That is enough for now. I expect this is a theme I will follow while I try to unravel this mystery.


Jason said...

I don't think I've ever read anything from you that is more incorrect than this. I have several points of contention.

First, there isn't anyone out there without personality. Here are the definitions from Webster that most closely follow what I think you're talking about:

Personality: the complex of characteristics that distinguishes an individual or a nation or group; especially the totality of an individual's behavioral and emotional characteristics; a set of distinctive traits and characteristics; distinction or excellence of personal and social traits

Now, by these definitions, you've got as much personality as anyone I've ever known. What you may be thinking of as personality - that you don't have - is someone else's personality, or your perception of an interesting personality.

I've known you long enough; though not long at all, to develop a sense of your personality. My perception of your personality is that you have a quiet confidence, displayed by a frequently reflective mood. I've found your silence in social settings intimidating at times, as I felt it exuded an air of confidence. I have notice that you can be shy, especially among large groups, and that you tend to be introverted - as you have indicated. However, I've also associated with you in smaller, more intimate circles, and had plenty of one-on-one conversations with you. In both of these situations you tend to be more animated, more excitable, even downright bold, depending on the topic up for discussion. You do, as you say, have a tendency to disappear into the background in busy social settings. I always got the impression that this is your way of dealing with your own insecurities. I have plenty of those myself. As an extrovert, however, I deal with them differently (I personally try - sometimes a little too hard - to put on a facade of confidence to mask my lack thereof).

I'm glad you have the personality you have. If you could come up with a "perfect" personality for yourself, one that you would like to have above all others, I think you would agree with me that the world would be a terribly boring place if everyone shared that same personality. Fortunately, there are myriad personalities on display, and you have one that is different from many people around you. I can see why that can be frustrating - I've suffered similar difficulties. But there have been many times that I've been grateful to have a friend with just your personality. The time you spent in Missouri as my close friend was one of those times. I have needed that, and others around you now may as well.

OK, that's enough ranting about my first disagreement with your post. Second, I take issue with your attitude about finding a job to hold your interest. You're a highly talented and skilled person. You didn't get that way because people around you threw information at you that held your interest. You got there with work and study, which, I'm sure, was at times boring - just like any work is bound to be at times.

I love the statement by Jenkins Lloyd Jones, frequently quoted by President Hinckley - relating primarily to marriage, but having application here as well:

"Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed.

'[The fact is] most putts don't drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. . . .

"Life is like an old-time rail journey-delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.

"The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride"

I don't know of anyone anywhere who has a job that always keeps their interest. I don't know many people, with the exception perhaps of excellent teachers, who make a living while making a difference. If you want to make a difference in the world, you're almost certainly going to have to do it on your own time, and make your living doing something less rewarding. The trick, for me at least, is to find reasons to love whatever job you have. I've enjoyed forklift operating, fruit picking, yard work, construction, mail sorting and inventory control. None were exciting, none were interesting, and none made any real difference in the world. But I learned to love the work, and found that those jobs paid the bills so I could make a difference elsewhere - person to person with people around me, like I've already indicated that you have done with me.

You want to change education for the better? Change how you educate your children in your home. Take what you learn to the PTA. If you can't get that far, talk to neighbors and friends. You may not fix the country's education problems, but you will make a huge difference for those around you.

You want to improve your community? Join your neighborhood association, get elected to the board or as an officer (much easier to do than I could have thought possible - in our neighborhood, we had to actively solicit just to fill the positions). Make a difference locally, improve what you can, then move on to bigger things later.

You may never get large numbers of people to listen to your ideas. You'll certainly never get large numbers of people to agree with your ideas. But you make a difference when you share them with anyone - especially people close to you, those who are already disposed to respect you and your ideas. You knew a few dozen people like that here, and I'll bet they're not hard to come by where you are now.

Or try this on for size - not so long ago your started an online community to try to better understand the concept of Zion. The group has long been silent, so you might consider it a failure, but think about the impact that it may have had on the people involved at the time. I know it had a significant impact on the way I think. You made a big difference, though localized to a small group of people. Now we, perhaps unknowingly most of the time, continue to act differently toward others because of things we were taught by each other through a group you started.

Last one. This one's subtle and perhaps a little nit-picky. You said you have no hobbies, or substantial aspirations. Just recently I read that you're enjoying gardening. I don't know how you can pass that up as a hobby. I've also known you to enjoy tinkering around with computers a little - and I don't that that has always been just about work.

But it's the substantial aspirations issue that caught my attention. Just what do you consider substantial? I hope I'm wrong, but reading between the lines it sounds as though you feel that having a high profile or highly paid or publicly perceived as "important" job is more substantial than simply doing your best to be honest and dutiful at whatever you do. Perhaps you think that being a better father than you are now is not a substantial aspiration. I know you've got aspirations, and knowing some of your talents and abilities, and the kind of husband and father you are, I'd say you're well on your way to realizing the most substantial aspirations anyone can have.

Don't let false perceptions of what is and is not substantial cloud the clear view of who you've been and who you're becoming. From what I've seen of you, you've got a great personality and perfect aspirations.

David said...

Thank you for the strokes to my ego - I'm sure you know that I was not fishing for that kind of reaction. You have proven two things - one, as I suspected my lack of personality is an acquired condition. Two, I need to clarify my comments. I can happily say that I believe your assessment of what I was like while you knew me in Missouri, but I seem to have lost myself since I left. I tend towards discontentment (as if the last two posts were not sufficient evidence of that) and if you asked me right now what I want I would have to answer that I have no idea what I want.

I have no drive or ambition beyond survival at this moment. My gardening hobby is dormant through the winter although I fully expect it to be awakened with the coming of Spring.

I will address the "substantial aspirations" and "interesting work" issues in a separate post, but let me just say one thing. It is hard to see myself as "a highly talented and skilled person" in the face of the evidence that nobody wants to hire me. On top of that to whatever degree I have attained the characteristics of being highly talented and skilled it was not because I put in work and study to the degree that you might expect.

Anonymous said...

I think Jason's comment are better than mine. I tried to respond to "No personlaity" in the way I understood it because I have often felt that way myself.

I would suggest there are two parts to the "lack of personality"
One is as you said – You left it behind due to need to survive. And the other is "personalty" whims didn’t develop due to budget constraints -time, energy, and money.

You were delightful and full of personality when you were learning to play the piano and playing soccer. You had a zest for life and for learning.

Then came the option of marking things as of little value. You needed to discern because you couldn’t do it all. Unfortunately, you like me, marked too many things as “not worth it.”

Attitude brings energy. Energy brings enthusiasm for life and learning - personality. Your gardening should help the energy part because it can give you better nutrition as well as exercise, purpose, and an interest in something beyond survival.

You're lucky to have a wife who brings people into your life. Even if you prefer small groups, people bring interest and energy. Good luck to you in your persuit of personality.

David said...

Thank you for the encouragement.