I've been struggling a lot, in recent weeks, with a bit of a crisis of self. Certain things I have long held true about myself have, as of late, come into question.
You see, several years ago, I took one of those personality tests, the results of which were of little surprise to anyone who knew me at that time. The particular test I took contained a series of choices among various characteristics. The survey consisted of both strengths and weaknesses, and depending on a person's answers, he or she could be classified in one of four basic temperaments: sanguine, choleric, melancholy or phlegmatic.
I suppose I should explain a little about each one.
Much of a sanguine's strength lies in his or her happy, "life of the party" demeanor. The person is usually in a pretty good mood, and can motivate others to join the cause, whatever it might be.
The sanguine types are also, in general, not the most responsible people on earth. Their rooms and houses are often messy, but they're usually OK with that, because it probably means they just hosted a party.
The choleric, on the other hand, is often referred to as a born leader. He or she knows how to take charge and get things done. The downside of that is often that this type can be seen as bossy or overbearing.
The melancholy is the organizer of the group, the list-maker. These people are often quite adept at planning and organizing events. They're also the most likely to get depressed, worried and overwhelmed in doing so.
Then, there's the phlegmatics - the easygoing, adaptable types. They can usually find a way to get along with just about anyone.
They can also be seen, by some, as being a bit lazy or unmotivated.
Virtually everyone is a mixture of all four categories. Some are just more prevalent than others. When I first took the test, I discovered I was a phlegmatic-sanguine. This, as I said, was not a big shock to me or to anyone else. I've always known that I have serious middle-child syndrome, and that this quality has often resulted in my choosing to let others take the lead in certain situations.
Over the years, I've worn the phlegmatic-sanguine label as a badge of honor, in a way. I found comfort in knowing I was the kind of person who could be regarded as happy and easy to get along with. I didn't want to be seen as a "downer," or as a person who doesn't do well in social situations. Knowing my personality helped me to know my place in the world.
Within the last year, however, my wife became convinced that I am more melancholy than I previously allowed myself to believe. As she is the one who can bear witness to the moments when I am down on myself or obsessing about the little things, I begrudgingly became open to her point of view.
Knowing how a person's responses to the personality tests might change, even as his or her basic temperament changes very little, I decided to take up her challenge, and take the personality test again.
Some of the results were not terribly surprising. The dominant characteristic was still that of a phlegmatic, and my choleric quotient was virtually non-existent.
It was down to "sanguine" and "melancholy." They were virtually neck-and-neck, with just one more sanguine answer than melancholy.
Before I could even begin to gloat about how I was right about my personality all along, my wife astutely pointed out that one of my sanguine answers could have just as easily gone into the melancholy column, if I had been more honest with myself.
Suddenly, I was faced with the idea that much of what I had held true about myself, for years, might not be true after all. I began to get a little worried, and to question my reactions to everything around me.
In short, I was acting like the melancholy I always feared becoming.
But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that incorporating aspects of other temperaments might not necessarily be a bad thing. For instance, attention to detail is a must in my line of work, as is the ability to take control of a situation and get the job done.
I also think phlegmatics have a place in journalism, as much as anyone else. After all, I have to be able to adapt to changing circumstances at the drop of a hat, as stories change from day to day, and hour to hour.
Maybe the changing answers of my personality test are just a sign that I'm growing as a person. I hope that is the case.
I just have to quit worrying about it. That's a melancholy's job.
Jason A. Smith covers crime and courts for the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.