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Nurturing your nature

| Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Fall semester of my sophomore year, I was a fixture in the career center, desperately searching for any guidance that might help me choose a major or determine what I wanted to do post graduation. As part of the discernment process, I took a Myers-Briggs personality test (I’m an ENFP, for anyone wondering) to see what sorts of activities I might be more naturally inclined towards or what my strengths or weaknesses might be. While going over my results, the career counselor broke down each letter, first explaining the two options for each facet of personality (e.g. extraversion versus introversion) and then asking where I thought I fell on the spectrum.

Reaching the section for tactics, which describes how a person approaches tasks, the counselor explained people are either “judging” or “prospecting.” When facing a problem, judging individuals value structure, preferring to create an ordered plan, while prospecting individuals value options and spontaneity.

If judgers were assigned a research project, they’d first make a list of all the steps, then systematically choose a topic, go to the library, create an outline and methodically work their way through the paper.

A prospecting person, however, might hear the assignment, get really excited about one idea and delve into that for a couple days. By the end of the week, though, they’d be distracted and forget about the project. Then, different inspiration would strike, but still not THE big idea. For the next few weeks, the prospecting individual would alternate between a few possibilities, losing interest or deciding there might be something better. Suddenly, the project would be due in a matter of days and a flurry of activity would take place. Plans would be thrown out the window, deadlines would be flirted with, but at the end, the project would be done, a finished product just like the judger’s.

Following this explanation, the counselor asked: “What kind of person do you think you are?”

Hesitating, I admitted that I work as a prospecting individual, even if I wished were a judging one. Immediately, I was admonished. 

“NO! Don’t be sorry. You are the way you are!” she told me. “Our world has decided there has to be a wrong way and a right way to do things, and that organized structure is the only course of action, but your way yields the same results. You have to do what works for you. You have to do what feels natural to you.”

Just last week, I was meeting with my thesis advisor when I bemoaned that I’m not as far along with my project as my classmates are with theirs. 

With a bemused look, my advisor shook her head at me. “This is your process, Julianna,” she said. “It takes a while to figure out what you want, but once the bit’s between your teeth, you’re fast moving. Don’t compare your method to others’. Your end product is good, and that’s what matters.”

Reflecting on what she said, I’ve thought about all the ways we try to make everyone fit into the same box, all the different times I’ve been told there is a right way to approach a problem, a single method used by “responsible students.”

And just like the career counselor told me, the instances where I’ve fought my nature — when I’ve ignored my instincts because I was trying to do the “right thing” — those were the same situations where I had the hardest time yielding results.

Take sophomore year, for example. Overwhelmed by taking 21 credits, starting an on-campus job, and joining a club sport, I decided the responsible thing to do was ignore my friends’ invitations for dinner or study socials, instead spending my free time hunkered down by myself in the library. An extrovert who once convinced my little sister to hang in the bathroom and keep me company while showering, I can’t say this solution of sequestering was met with great success. Instead, I grew sad, withdrawn and more stressed than I was in the first place. Sure, solo study seshes work for some, but I like to be around people. I needed my social time.

Similarly, I’ve always had trouble focusing or starting tasks, and last year my procrastination problems reached an all time high. Again, I thought the solution was to fight my nature. One day I had a big paper due the next week but I also wanted to frolic in the spring sunshine with my friends. I convinced myself that by withholding fun, I’d be more motivated to crank out a few pages efficiently, emulating my more organized roommates. In reality, I sat sad on the eighth floor of the library from 7 p.m. until 3 a.m., not writing a single page, as I lamented the memories I was missing out on. 

The next weekend, though, I let myself go to a friend’s luau performance, and afterwards I worked more efficiently than ever before. This year, it took me a month and a half to choose a thesis topic, but now that I have a research focus I’m excited about, I find myself eager to put in the time necessary to make it great. 

Obviously, life can’t be all fun all the time. There are moments when work needs to be ground out or when necessary processes may look different from your ideal course of action. But there’s also something to be said about listening to yourself. There’s value in recognizing what works for someone else might not work for you. When you appreciate your unique learning and working style, you’ll be able to play to your strengths, letting your best self shine.

Julianna Conley is a senior studying sociology and pre-health studies with a minor Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. Though she is forever loyal to Pasquerilla East B-team athletics, Julianna now lives off campus. She can be reached for comment at [email protected] or @JuliannaLConley on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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