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The Personality Test that Outed Our Reporter


Over Christmas, my parents told me they've started planning their 50th-wedding-anniversary party. They've already lined up a celebratory Mass at their church and are tabulating how many people to expect. Given the advanced age of many of my parents' friends, I hope they do another head count before sending out the invitations: Their golden anniversary isn't until September, 2002. Yes, nearly two years from now.

Whether I like to admit it or not, I'm a carbon copy of my parents. I follow a to-do list every day at work and stick to deadlines. I hate unexpected guests showing up at my front door. And while I may daydream about spontaneously hopping a plane to France, I know it will never happen. I would be too worried about not having a hotel reservation to enjoy the adventure.

I WAS SKEPTICAL. Could a personality test detect my orderly ways? I was skeptical when I sat down at my computer to take the "StrengthsFinder Profile" test accompanying Now, Discover Your Strengths (The Free Press, January, 2001). (See BW Online, 02/01/01, "Capitalizing on Your Strengths.") The test consists of 180 paired statements, and the idea is to pick the ones that best describe you. Once you've finished, the test generates your top-five "signature themes": areas where you've got the greatest potential. According to co-authors Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, there are only 34 major themes when it comes to human talent, and we all display some assortment of them.

At first, I tried to figure out the logic underpinning the test. If I said that the statement "I read all of the instructions before beginning" describes me, would I be labeled a person who thrives on accuracy -- or someone who can't deal with uncertainty? Somewhere around question 35, I gave up trying to outwit the test and just went with my gut. I finished in about 35 minutes, and before I could prepare myself for the results, my top-five themes popped up on the screen.

No. 1: Discipline. I couldn't help but laugh as I read a description of the theme in the book. People with a strong Discipline streak need their world to be predictable. They need to know what's coming next. They thrive on routines that bring order to their lives and allow them to concentrate on being as productive as possible. I nodded in agreement as I read each sentence. The test had outed me.

THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER. The other four themes fit me fairly well, too. Harmony ranked second, highlighting my desire for consensus. Achiever came in third, followed by Responsibility and Fairness. Still, as the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side. As I read through some of the other themes that hadn't made my top five, I started to wonder why not. Didn't I enjoy managing complex tasks like someone with a strong Arranger theme would? Who knows? This could be No. 6 on my signature theme list, with only a fraction separating it from No. 5.

Indeed, I found pieces of myself under several themes that didn't make the cut. Maybe I'll develop a new theme that incorporates all of the bits I think describe me. I'll have to jot that thought down on my to-do list. By Jennifer Gill in New York


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