Friday, March 31, 2017

Behold the Mighty Maximizer!

Going back to the Strengths Finder test I mentioned in my last post, one of the strengths I didn't explain was being a maximizer. Empathy and ideation, I expected. Strategic and developer, I knew I had but was surprised that they made the top-five cut. Maximizer is the strength that I didn't know existed, that I had never heard of until this test. And learning that I have the maximizer strengths is one of the most validating feelings I've had.

What does it mean to be a maximizer? A maximizer is someone who focuses on strengths rather than weaknesses. A maximizer is someone who would rather take something that's already awesome and make it even more awesome, rather than making something below average into something average. A maximizer is someone who is focused on nurturing strengths rather than correcting weaknesses.

Remember that part in the Strengths Finder book that said that 77% of US parents consider a child's worst subject in school to be the most important area of focus, and react with indifference to their children being good at things? Maximizers are the other 23%.

One of the most validating things that the book said about being a maximizer is that we try to avoid people who want to "fix" us or make us well-rounded. YES!!!!!!!! I have spent my whole life running away from people who try to fix me and pressure me to be well-rounded. It's been non-stop pressure since I was born and I've written so many blog posts about not wanting to be fixed and not wanting to be well-rounded and I just cannot believe that this is an actual thing!!!!

It makes so much sense, it just feels soooooooo good to get this validation. It's like how I felt when I first read about INFPs and learned that we're the third rarest type in the US population. It made so much sense! I've always known that my culture was not built for my personality type and it felt so validating to actually see that! INFPs are specifically the group most likely to not be okay in college! I always knew that the college system was not designed for me and it felt so good to see that! Sort of like learning that misophonia is a real thing, that being a highly sensitive person is an actual thing, and when I read that highly sensitive people like myself tend to be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and we tend to not like drinking because we have a different sensory experience than our non-highly-sensitive peers. For real! I always hated the fact that everyone else likes drinking and I don't, people would classify as someone who wants to be studying or reading on a Friday night instead of partying when I knew I wasn't like that at all - I was like my friends who drank except that I didn't drink. But now it makes perfect sense! I have a different sensory experience to drinking than my peers do! It's almost on the level of being allergic to something. It was sooooooo validating to learn all of those things.

Learning that I'm a maximizer is soooooooooo validating!!!! And I'm so happy that it's classified as a strength. The next time someone tries to push me to change or be well-rounded or whatever, I'm gonna be like, "Yo! I don't roll that way! I'm a maximizer!"

I was the only person in the workshop who got maximizer. Remember how I said that the book itself was so validating because it criticized our culture of trying to fix people and was all about focusing on things you're actually good at and interested in? A lot of other people in the workshop talked about having trouble with that concept, and how they realized that they are focused on fixing things that they're not good at a lot of the time. One person said that she automatically wanted to know what her bottom five qualities were out of the 34 traits so that she could work on them, that it was a struggle for her to focus on strengths (which is what the test forces you to do by only giving you your top five results). Other people agreed with her. I also wanted to see the entire list of 34 traits to know what was at the bottom, but for a different reason. I didn't want to "fix" anything that was at the bottom, I wanted to have the information so that I know not to put myself in a position where people will expect me to have those qualities. And I thought to myself, this is what makes me a maximizer! Other people struggled with the concept of focusing on their strengths, but I didn't. This class was second nature to me and it was because I'm a maximizer!

I wrote this blog post years ago:

Basically, it's about the fact that people always assume that you want to change everything. If a question on a 1-5 scale test asked me "Are you a good writer?" I would answer 5. If it asked "Do you want to be a better writer?" I would also answer 5. But the test isn't expecting that. The test is expecting that that wanting to get better at something must mean that you're not already good at it. And on the other end, if the question was "Are you good at sports?" I would answer 1. If it asked, 'Do you want to be better at sports?" I would also answer 1. If I had any interest in becoming better at sports, I would be working on it. And if I were working on it, I would be improving, and I would not rate myself as a 1 on being good at sports. And yet, there's a built-in assumption that anything you're not good at, you must have a desire to be good at. I don't. Everything I want to be is simply a more extreme version of something that I already am.

I had written this blog post in response to a job interview I had where the interviewer first asked me to name a weakness and then asked me what I was doing to work on it. She literally asked "What are you doing to work on it?" as opposed to "Are you doing anything to work on it?" (which I guess in interview-language would have been the same thing, but still). I did not appreciate this assumption at all. I especially did not appreciate the sneakiness of it - getting me to name a weakness on its own, and then asking about working on it. See, my answers to the question "What's something you're not good at?" and "What's something you're working to improve?" are NOT going to be the same thing. If I don't have any of a quality at all and I haven't already worked on having it in the 25 years I've been alive (at the time of the interview) it's probably not a quality that I have any interest in possessing, and the way that I "deal" with that is to not be in situations where anyone pushes me to be like that. If you want me to discuss something that I'm working to improve, you need to ask me from the start about something that I'm working on improving, and then I will tell you something I'm working on improving. But that quality that I'm working on improving will not be something I would classify as a weakness because it would be a strength-in-process.

For a project in my psych seminar class, my partner and I gave the Big Five Personality test to our class. As we reviewed the results afterwards, it was the first time I realized how extreme my responses were. I've always answered a lot of 1's and 5's on tests that have a 1-5 scale, but I never realized how different my responses were from other people's. My test really jumped out at me as having almost all 1's and 5's, whereas everyone else answered more 2's, 3's, and 4's.

In reviewing my most recent Big Five Personality results (the comprehensive version with 30 traits), I have 8 traits that are in the 90th percentile or above, and 11 traits that are in the 10th percentile or below. That's 19 traits out of 30 - almost 2/3 - that fall in the top or bottom 10th percentile.

I think having the extreme results relates back to the question of "working on" things, and the fact that something I was working on would be something I was already interested in, something that I already have. I don't know that all maximizers have the same extreme kinds of personalities, but I think it's related. Maximizers find a strength and they hone in on it. They're interested in making something that's already good into something awesome. They're not interested in making something below average into something average. They don't have a goal of being well-rounded. It all fits.

The book says that maximizers focus on excellence, not average. In our areas of strength, we compare ourselves to excellence, not average. That is how I feel in the areas that I care about. I remember when I was writing my first novel and sometimes I'd be complaining that I was behind where I wanted to be, and everyone around me was just like, "OMG you're writing a book that's amazing!!!" and if I said I was only on page 50 they'd say, "OMG you wrote 50 pages, that's amazing, I could never even get beyond page one!" And while I do really appreciate all of that support and encouragement, it always felt weird. I mean, so what if other people can't write 50 pages? That just means they're not writers. I am a writer. I'm not going to compare myself to people who aren't writers and think, "Wow, I'm so much better than the average person at this!" That's just a given. I mean, if you were a nurse, would you go around feeling like "Wow, I'm so great because I know more about medicine than people who don't work in medicine," or would it just become normal to you? Writing is normal to me. When something is a strength, I hone in on it and want to make it into something fabulous (hence why I've had a difficult time deciding that my validation book is finished, because I could literally keep editing it forever). At a certain point, I don't compare myself to average anymore. I remember back when I used to write in my paper journals, I always felt like I could be doing more, like I could be going through journals at a much faster rate than I currently was (my average was about 5 journals for every 2 years). And yet anytime I talked about it, everyone else was just in the state of shock that I could even finish a journal because when they tried to keep a journal they just couldn't keep up with it. If you can't finish a journal, you're not a journal-writer. That's okay. There's nothing wrong with that. But I WAS a journal-writer, and I knew that I was capable doing so much better than I was doing, and I was not going to compare myself to people who can't finish a journal, I was comparing myself to the best journal-writing version of myself that I knew I could be.

And I think a part of why the over-the-top writing praise often bothers me is because it's rooted in people's expectations of me. I've found that the same people who think it's over-the-top amazing that I've written a book are people who have criticized me for not doing things that society expects of me. I've been forced to spend my time in school learning things I did not care about and working on things that I did not want to work on. Outside of the classroom, my peers pressured me to be more athletic and more social. And those same people who pressured me to be those things that I did not want to be felt perfectly fine going all gaga over the fact that I've written a book. I'm a writer. Writers write books. That's second-nature to me. It's normal to me. It's the same way that being social or athletic or studious is normal part of life for you. I don't want the over-the-top praise for doing what I care about while getting simultaneous criticism for not doing the things that I don't care about. I want you to accept that I have never wanted to be well-rounded, I've always wanted to just focus on the few things I care about.

You can't praise me for writing a book and coloring the calendar and making cool decorations for my apartment while simultaneously pressuring me to spend my time on things that I am less interested in. It doesn't work that way. I would have never become a good writer if I had gone to all those social events that didn't interest me, if I had spent my summer vacations doing organized activities rather than running wild on my own. I became a good writer because I spent a good portion of my life writing and daydreaming, at the expense of everything else that I could have been doing. You don't get to praise me for being a good writer if you've tried to push me to spend my time on other things.

I am a maximizer. I make awesome things into more awesome things. I am not well-rounded, and I am not a fixer-upper. I'm a maximizer.

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