believe-in-yourself-tiger
I made the attached picture my cover photo just before the Madison Half-Marathon at the beginning of November. I saw that picture and had a sudden surge of positive emotions. The message resonated with me as I was about to take on my second half-marathon. “Believe in Yourself.” I shared the picture on Facebook and eventually made it my cover photo. I’ve referred back to that picture often as I’ve struggled with issues over the last month and reassessed some things that have occurred in my life.

“Believe in Yourself.”

I don’t really like cats either, I’ve always been more of a dog person. If I were to choose an animal that I felt a strong association with it would have been the wolf. They are pack animals but it is believed that they mate for life, one of only a few animals that do so. When they lose their mate, they often become a lone wolf. I’ve felt like a lone wolf for a long, long time. However, I didn’t find a meme of a little puppy looking into a pool of water and seeing a large, majestic wolf with the title “Believe in Yourself”, so I was stuck with a cat/tiger meme!

I’ve spent most of my life fitting in or at least trying to. Who doesn’t want to fit in, to belong. I was a shy kid, very introverted, but a good student in school. I did well in math and English. I enjoyed the rules of math and there only being one answer except in the case of imaginary numbers. I also loved English and philosophy where the answers weren’t always so easy to come by and the matter of perspective and context clouded things and made more than one answer, one viewpoint, valid.

I played sports; football, basketball, and baseball through the ninth grade. After that basketball and baseball. The only club I was in in high school was National Honor Society which really didn’t have any social events. I went to church and was sociable in church and in Sunday school. I’ve had a job since I was 15 and did my best not to be the weird kid. I’d laugh at other people’s jokes and try to add my own. I tried not to make fun of people. I did my best to socialize. I could usually adapt my conversation to whatever everyone was talking about which was usually sports. However during high school I was pretty lonely with my life centered around school, work, and then, unfortunately, going home.

In my adult life, I ended up in a lot of management roles so I had to interact with people whether it was the employees or customers. The fact that I was a manager left me in a situation that I had some control over and probably left me unapproachable by all but the most loquacious employees (which oddly were the ones I enjoyed the most.) However, the fitting in kind of came naturally for me and also seemed a requirement. While I was managing teenagers and young adults and trying to inspire them to be better at making tacos or hamburgers, I really just wanted to talk about movies, books, current events and their impact on society, or some wild theory about future society. Getting married also helped with the fitting in. We could do things with other married couples. We could do things as a couple and later a family. Fitting into family life seemed pretty natural for me because with family and a wife, the loneliness I had felt up until that time was not so prevalent.

During all those periods though I often felt like I was on the fringe of some invisible circle surrounding whatever group I was with. Sometimes I felt just inside the circle and a part of the group and other times I felt like I was really just outside the circle. It was at those times that I wondered what the hell I was doing with these people. Other times I wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I fit in? When I couldn’t fit in, why did I feel so much shame?

After two divorces there was no wife but there was still family life while trying to raise two daughters. The second divorce left me feeling really unsociable and it seemed better to focus on my two daughters and getting them through high school and college. That resulted in a second job for me part of that time and I always seemed busy. I had plenty of social interaction with my employees or co-workers and that seemed to satisfy my need for people. I was running with the pack but was basically a lone wolf. I didn’t feel a sense of belonging.

Those thoughts and feelings have been rolling around my head since the fifth grade probably. It was only recently that I was fortunate enough to finally come to some understanding about those feelings. With plenty of introspection and the help of some therapy I’ve become a little more comfortable in my own skin. It started with some reading of work by Brene Brown on shame and vulnerability and I made some additional progress when I became reacquainted with my Myer Briggs Personality Type.

Just after I ran the half-marathon, a friend shared with me her results from the Myers Briggs Personality Test and asked me what my Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was. I’d taken the evaluation before so I knew but I took it again just to be sure. I’m an INFJ, which is an Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging personality. It had been a while since I’d taken the test and I took some time to read more about what that really meant. I’ve known I’ve been an introvert since the fifth grade. That part was easy. The other three facets of the 4 letter type puzzled me. I think of myself as more of an observing, thinking person and I definitely don’t think of myself as a judgmental type of person.

As I read more about the INFJ though, it seemed like someone had been spying on me for almost 50 years and knew so much about me. It seemed as if they knew a lot about my behavior but, even more spooky, they knew how I thought. Come to find out this is rather common for many people who take the MBPT, but at first it was kind of eerie.

– The Introverted individual prefers solitary activities and gets exhausted by a lot of social interaction. (I’m not sure how I survived years of managerial work in the fast food industry. I do know I just wanted to go home and hibernate after a long day of work which caused plenty of conflict in my marriage.)
– Intuitive individuals are very imaginative, open-minded, and curious. They often prefer novelty over stability and focus on hidden meanings and future possibilities. (While I consider myself observant, an attribute of a Sensing personality, all the attributes above apply to me.)
– Feeling individuals are sensitive and emotionally expressive. They focus on social harmony and cooperation and are less competitive than Thinking types. (Oddly enough, years ago I was an INTJ, or a Thinking type, and highly competitive. I think that since I use both sides of my brain at times I can be very Thinking at times. However, INFJs often are mis-typed as INTJs from time to time.)
– Judging individuals are decisive, thorough, and highly organized. They value clarity, predictability, and closure, preferring structure and planning to spontaneity. (The Judging individual is all about planning which fits me to a tee and I thrive better under structure. FXB for example and a running plan for my training goes a long way to keeping me on track.)

While the four letters above broadly define the 16 different personality types of the MBTI, there are nuances for each of the sixteen. INFJs are rare representing about 1-2% of the population. (Which is kind of cool to be rare but also means that it may be difficult to find someone just like me! Although maybe that wouldn’t be fair to the world if I did?) We also are a paradox and some of those paradoxes caused me to question my sanity at times and drove me to therapy recently. A few of those paradoxes are outlined below. (There are so many!)

– The INFJ is more than willing to help people. Their intuition makes them very good at understanding others feelings and being able to help. They crave connection but paradoxically aren’t as easy to open up to others and let others help them. We don’t ask for help often.
– The INFJ craves the solitude of the introvert but at the same time they crave being around people and belonging. Depending on my own mood and energy level at the time, I can either eagerly make plans with others and show up or if I’m feeling drained and don’t have a strong connection with those attending a get together, make those plans but come up with an excuse for not showing up.
– The INFJ believes strongly in honesty and seeks that out in others. He enjoys getting to know authentic people and values those interactions. At the same time, they may be afraid to honestly share how they feel about many things. They can be very guarded. This feels to the INFJ like dishonesty and so they struggle with that about themselves. (I always try to be honest but I try to avoid certain subjects with all but my closest friends.)
– The INFJ can feel emotions very intensely and they both love and hate that about themselves. Dealing with all the paradoxes of their personality can lead to a lot of confusion and ultimately sadness. Ironically they can find positives in their sadness and this often helps them find the silver lining in other peoples problems. (When I started therapy, my therapist asked me how long I had suffered from depression. Having thought about that some before the session, I replied rather quickly, “since the 5th grade when I was 10.” It has not been deep, suicidal depression but there has been this constant sense of sadness.)

So while I was learning about my personality type and coming to terms with what that meant, (believe me there have been times I’ve thought of it as a death sentence because I admire out-going extroverts who are the life of the party and can seem to make friends two sentences after “hello”,) I was also studying the work of Brene Brown. I’ve quoted her often on Facebook posts and in my blog as well. She lays out a distinct difference between fitting in and belonging when she defines belonging.

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but also barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present out authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

To realize that perhaps, for most of my life and in most social situations, I was actually trying to fit in, and that fitting in is a barrier to belonging, was both a shitty realization but also a revelation and an ah-ah moment. (I think in hindsight that revelation and ah-ah moment are probably synonymous but I’m leaving them both there to emphasize what this meant to me. It was like a double ah-ah moment.) In addition many, but not all, of the INFJ traits and musings I’ve studied for the last thirty days made me feel less crazy and more accepting of myself. While I still face the struggle of trying to figure out who my authentic self really is and while I don’t necessarily like all of the crazy, loving, caring, anxiety inducing characteristics of an INFJ, I’m more comfortable with who I am. This Christmas season I have many social activities on my agenda and I’m looking forward to all of them. I’ve also learned some steps I can take to alleviate the stress and energy draining that often goes on.

So, I’ve talked about the MBTI and the INFJ. I’ve explained a little bit about fitting in and belonging. I’ve even mentioned the tiger at the beginning of this post and in the title. What does the tiger have to do with any of this other than it’s a cool picture?

This morning I was doing some research of the tiger for a story I’m writing and I found some things intriguing. The most important thing I learned is that like the lone wolf, the tiger, especially the male of the species, is a very solitary animal. Except for mating and for part of the raising of the cubs, the male spends most of his time alone, hunting and feeding himself, and protecting his territory. However, the tiger has been known to be more social when the need arises. There have been recorded instances of a male lion hunting for the cubs of a dead female tiger who was not his mate. There have been recorded instances of multiple males with multiple females and cubs together for a small amount of time without the largest and most powerful male killing the young cubs or the other males.

Maybe there are more lessons for the Tiger to teach me and I can proudly keep him on my Facebook cover for a long time. Maybe when I’m running alone on a lonely training run or attacking a kickboxing class, I’ll channel the tiger instead of the wolf as I glide gracefully down the trail or punch and kick the bags. As I search for my authentic self, I sense that I’ll incorporate some of the characteristics of the tiger into my persona. Besides I have “The Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor as the first song on my running track so the Tiger has been with me for some time already. (Not to mention Katy Perry’s “Roar”!) That is how the tiger fits into this rather lengthy post and how the tiger belongs on my cover photo. As I learn more about my authentic self, perhaps I will also believe in myself. In reality, perhaps the tiger, living alone most of the time but craving the company of others, is the perfect totem animal for an athletic, kickboxing, running INFJ like me. Maybe I am the Tiger!

Have you taken the Myer Briggs Personality Test? What are your 4 letters? If you would like to know more, you can go to www.16personalities.com and take a 10-20 minute evaluation and learn your 4 letters and maybe gain some understanding into why you do the things that you do when you interact with others. Feel free to share your 4 letter MBTI here in the comments.