Essay: Discovering Personality Through Memoir

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¶ … plain vanilla person, but my early years could be described that way. I was born in [INSERT TOWN & COUNTRY] to a working class [?] family of [INSERT NUMBER OF PEOPLE] consisting of my parents and my siblings [INSERT NAMES OR NUMBER OF BROTHERS AND SISTERS]. Life with my family was predictable and as stable as could be expected given the times and the place.

Concepts

I found the 5-factor personality theory to be a comfortable fit for thinking about how I have adapted over the years, and perhaps why my personality appears to have changed along some dimensions. The quality of extraversion is not an attribute that I would have considered as applicable to me during my growing up years. Indeed, I didn't achieve a level of self-confidence that could be perceived as extraversion until I had to engage in some public speaking for various groups and associations. I won't say that I was painfully shy, but it was painful to have to participate in large social groups or engage in conversation with strangers. I found it difficult to speak up in class, even when I knew the correct answers. My solution was to rehearse what I was going to say, and I would get so caught up in the rehearsal that I would loose track of the group conversation. To pass a speech class, I had to give a 10-minute presentation; what seems odd to me now is that I chose to talk about the Sistine Chapel (that I had not yet seen in real life), and I memorized the entire talk -- even down to the gestures I would give and when I would make those gestures. This was not a pleasant experience for me, but the student audience seemed to enjoy my talk, probably due to the color slides of the Michelangelo's art. Today, I can carry on a conversation with nearly anyone I meet and I am often the person who initiates conversation with others. A friend recently told me that I talk too much to strangers -- that I am too friendly. I believe that as I have matured, I've come to recognize that it is better to take control of a social situation than to always be on the receiving end, responding to overtures that others make. Though I have to say that I am still not comfortable at cocktail parties and those endless pre-dinner sessions held at conferences. One particularly difficulty I experience at these events is navigating from one person to another, the activity labeling "mixing." I can hold my own in a gradually deepening conversation with one or two people, but what on earth do you say each time you hone in on the empty space at someone's elbow? I've concluded from these experiences that I can "put on" extraversion like someone might drape fabric on a mannequin. If anyone looks too close, they will see that it is all just artifice and fastened with dressmaker's pins. I always fear I will be caught -- behaving like Nora Ephron (1980) confides in her book Wallflower at the Orgy -- standing on the sideline, taking notes on how people smoothly maneuver through the cocktail crowd in order to avoid trying to be a successful "mixer." Notetaking is one of my more refined skills.

You know how people sometimes refer to a child as being 40 before they turned 10? Or say, with a knowing look, that a child is an "old soul?" Without trying to sound precious, I believe they could be talking about me as a child. I was so conscienscious that I can only remember three times when I got in trouble as a child. During afternoon in second grade, I didn't hear the bell ring and stayed outside through my own assigned lunch recess and all through the second lunch recess that followed. I remember being thoroughly caught up in twisting the swing round and round while I sat in it, and letting it go so that I would get spun in a dizzying whirl. Maybe that is why I didn't perceive the change in recess periods. Sometime into the second lunch recess, I realized that the kids who were on the playground were not my classmates. Then, given my naturally introverted nature, I vacillated between what seemed at the time my only two choices: An elected fugue state during which I could run home and show up at school the next day, pretending it never happened; or I could wait until the second recess kids went inside and tell my teacher…what exactly? I opted for the first choice: as the Marge Gunderson character said in the film Fargo, "The suspect is fleeing" (Cohen & Cohen, 1996).

The second time I remember getting in trouble during my growing up years was when I was horsing around with a fellow Scout in the home economics room during a PTA meeting. We were there to do the flag ceremony. While waiting for the end of the PTA meeting when we would do the flag retreat, we started to scoot around in the chairs, which had gliders on the bottom. You could get up a good head of steam while pushing the other guy. But somehow the dressing room curtain -- behind which the girls ostensibly went to try on the gingham frocks and aprons they made -- got stuck under the other guy's bottom when he enthusiastically dropped into the chair. I pushed the chair -- which was standing in for his 4-horse chariot at the time -- and we had a torn curtain on our hands. Once again, I was chastised for "letting people down." I was told it just wasn't like me to behave in this way -- and I believed that to be true. And so my consciensiousness was set.

Then there was the time at summer camp when two of us were allowed to stay back at comp while the other kids went into town to see a movie. We were supposed to be chaperoned by the cook, but she was too busy to oversee our activities. Before the head counselor left, she admonished us not to go near the lake. Well, there was a raft pulled up on the shore and it was a warm summer day. I won't say it was my idea, but we both ended up shoving off in the raft. Naturally, we tipped the raft as we both attempted to sit, feet dangling in the water, on the same side. We were then completely wet with no time to dry off before the rest of the campers and counselors came rolling back into camp. I remember being scolded by an astonished counselor who had trusted us, but now knew better. I don't remember being at all remorseful -- I just wished we could have hung out on the raft longer…and not had to listen to the wronged counselor go on and on about how we could have drowned. We could have; it was truly a dangerous thing to do as neither of us was a strong swimmer.

There was one other childhood adventure that was definitely a rule-breaker, but my mother did not hear about it until I was an adult, so I never got in trouble for being so open and imaginative. Our mother used to grab a quick nap while my brother and I were supposed to be "napping." We were both too old for a nap, but it was the only way our mother could get some peace and quiet and down time. So she sent us to our shared bedroom, the territory of which we had divided in two regions with a strip of masking tape as the demarcation. But the borders were ignored when our mother became quiet, and then began to snore softly. We were perfect examples of agreeableness as we cooperated to open the window by pushing up the sash, climb out, and drop to the ground, which was only a couple of feet from the windowsill. Our madcap adventures in the vacant lot next door were somehow times so that we could scramble back into our bedroom before our mother was fully awake. In retrospect, I wonder if she ever wondered how we got so dirty in the confines of our room.

3. Conclusion

Cobb-Clark and Schurer (2012) assert that "working age adults" show the Big Five personality traits to be stable over a period of roughly four years. They report that their research indicates that average changes in personality are small and that there are no substantive shifts in personality across the age groups. I found this to be an interesting study to read since I perceive some changes in my personality as measured by the Big Five traits. Yet perhaps what I have accomplished is learning how to act rather than truly "owning" those personality traits. Accordingly, I would like to learn more about my perceptions of changed personality,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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