In Grade 2, I made the mistake of outlining to a classmate my secret system of ranking best friends. “You are my best friend”, I explained matter of factly. “Then so-and-so is my second best friend and what’s-her-face is my third best friend”. She stared back at me with a mixture of pride and apprehension in her eyes. “It means I like you the best”, I offered, hoping this would erase the confusion in her expression. It did. I was pleased.
Then my so called best-of-the-best friend went on to share my revelation to the teacher and the entire class during a watered down version of show and tell (it was less showing and more telling). “Dana told me that she likes me the best”, she boasted. “And then she likes So-And-So the next best, and What’s-Her-Face the third best. Dana and me are bestest friends”. I couldn’t bear to look into the eyes of So-And-So and What’s-Her-Face. A) I was too busy trying furiously to summon a black hole into the classroom so it could suck me away forever and B) I knew right away, in my heart of hearts, that even though telling somebody that they were my 96th bestest friend might have seemed like a nicer way of saying that they weren’t really a best friend at all, sometimes it might hurt less for the friend in question to be left out of the best friend ranking system altogether. And also sometimes? I should learn to keep my big mouth shut!
A random ranking system found its way back into my life the other day, as I found myself taking a personality test of sorts (even though I cannot emphasize enough how much I think tests like these are a load of crap.) But I digress. The test was 240 questions long, and for some reason or another, I devoted the requisite 5 or so minutes to plugging in my answers and waiting for it to churn out its results. (Obviously, if I thought these tests were worth anything of value or if my very future depended on the report that was produced, I might have given more than 2 or 3 seconds of my precious time to each question. As it stands, though, I flew through the questions and read through my profile analysis in less time than it normally takes me to eat breakfast. It was that important to me.)
This test is called the VIA Signature Strengths Analysis, and it was designed by a well known psychologist to reveal to the masses their Top 5 individual personality strengths. The idea behind the test seems like a nice one: if we know our strengths and skills, we can pay more attention to them and try to utilize them more often in group situations. As well, by focusing on and combining our strengths, instead of always pointing out and dwelling on our individual weaknesses, we can all come together in a very Kumbaya-esque fashion. And birds will sing, and baby bunnies will hop around in springtime joy, and the world will clearly be a better place. Seriously, then, why wouldn’t I take this test?
I was curious to see my Top 5 Strengths as measured by the nameless, faceless Psychology Machine. I imagined taking the printout into my next big corporate job interview and showing the well manicured executives psychological proof of why I, Dana, should be chosen as the next best thing. In my mind, I was picturing qualities like Discipline and perhaps Communication Skills to come out on the top of the pile of attributes. I’m disciplined, right? And of course, I pictured having all of the strengths that would be considered desirable to any decent employer who was hiring a few good people. This went without saying. And soon enough, the results were in. I eagerly scanned my printout and there they were:
My Top Strength: Gratitude
My Second Strength: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
My Third Strength: Capacity to love and be loved
My Fourth Strength: Curiosity and interest in the world
My Fifth Strength: Humour and playfulness
Um… is it just me, or are these kind of, shall we say, wimpy strengths to have as my top five?? (Not that I want to sound ungrateful or anything, especially seeing as my top strength is apparently the ability to take the time to express my thanks… Can’t undermine my number one strength now, can I?)
This is not at all what I expected to come out. Sure, I think it’s decent to have these sorts of attributes, and I certainly do take the time to appreciate the good things in life… but come on!
The worst thing (or best, in an ironic way) about the test scores is that it starts out only telling you your Top 5 Strengths. You have a look at them, you ponder a bit, you might feel a bit of pride, and then you might also wonder where the hell Communication Skills and Discipline are. And then, if you’re like me (curious and all interested in the world, as evidenced by my Third Top Strength), you wonder what your worst strength is. “Come on! I can take it– tell me how badly I suck!”
The rest of the printout does a curious thing: after the Top 5 Strengths, it goes on to list your Strength #6, Strength #7, Strength #8, etc.– all the way down to your “Strength #24”. No “needs improvement”, no “weaknesses” at the bottom of the list, just a happy and rosy picture of what a wonderful person I am. Um… JUST COME OUT AND SAY IT!!! If the test is ranking 24 different abilities across hundreds of different people, something tells me they can’t all be strengths for every single person. At some point, as you’re moving down the list, there has to be a line to cross where the measured strengths don’t become so strong anymore… Right? And these thoughts are in spite of my proven propensity (as measured by the very reputable VIA Signature Strengths test) to “try to see the light side of all situations” (see: My Fifth Strength). Seriously, though– they can’t all be strengths, methinks.
So my Top 24 Strengths (out of 24) continue as follows:
Strength #6: Love of learning. This one is true. I am, and always will be, an undercover academic in all aspects of my life. I can’t help it.
Strength #7: Creativity, ingenuity, and originality. Why couldn’t this one have been in the top 5?
Strength #8: Kindness and generosity. Yeah, yeah, yeah– we get it. I’m such a kind, loving, and nurturing soul. Cancer with Cancer rising. I can be the Workplace Mom.
Strength #9: Spirituality, sense of purpose, and faith. Faith in most things, except in the results of personality tests.
Strength #10: Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness. This, in spite of Eckhart Tolle’s admonitions to live in the Now. Oops…
Strength #11: Zest, enthusiasm, and energy. Zest?! Who would ever put something like that on a resumé? Enthusiastic, yes, but zesty?! Sounds like a pizza sauce.
Strength #12: Leadership.
Strength #13: Perspective (wisdom). Because I am not one to take things out of perspective. Ever. (At the very least, 13 times out of 24, I will have perspective and wisdom.)
Strength #14: Fairness, equity, and justice. As the test elaborates: “You do not let your personal feelings bias your decisions about other people.” Level 17 vegans: take heart.
Strength #15: Social intelligence. It seems that I “know what to do to fit in to different social situations”. This test obviously has no idea how awkward I can be. Or maybe that’s why this skill is ranked 15 out of 24. In other words, we’re starting to get down into the Not Really Strengths, But We’ll Call Them Strengths To Make You Feel Better About Yourself section of the results.
Strength #16: Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness. Despite my outward loathing of critical debate and ‘engagement with the issues’ just for the sake of debating. Gives me the willies.
Strength #17: Forgiveness and mercy. Again, would I ever put this on my resumé? “Skills: Merciful.” I think not.
Strength #18: Self-control and self-regulation. Why is this so low down on the list?! I AM SO IN CONTROL OF MYSELF!!!! WHO WROTE THIS STUPID TEST ANYWAY???!!!!
Strength #19: Caution, prudence, and discretion. On second thought: please ignore what I just said about my previous strength. I am nothing if not ladylike and discreet.
Strength #20: Honesty, authenticity, and genuineness. Secretly, it saddens me to have this one so low on the list. Just like my 85th best friend, I would rather not be told that my 20th top skill is being real. Sucks.
Strength #21: Industry, diligence, and perseverance. “You work hard to finish what you start”. Obviously, this test also has no idea about my whole closet of unfinished knitting projects. Or maybe it’s perceptive enough to rank this lower on my list of strengths. You decide.
Strength #22: Citizenship, teamwork, and loyalty. Finally, a test that tells it like it is when it comes to me and team sports: I loathe and detest them.
Strength #23: Bravery and valour. See, this section isn’t really about strengths at all. I was just telling one of my friends how I hid under a tree and started weeping like a baby on one of the last hikes we did. It was virtually straight up a still-snowy mountain, and I was very afraid. Not at all brave or full of valour. Bravery is not a skill of mine.
Strength #24: Modesty and humility. Um… no comment.
What do you think? After seeing the extent of my non-humble, non-brave self, did you want to be my 73rd bestest friend?