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The Identity Test and My Apparent Lack of Conscientiousness

Openness to Experience vs. Conscientiousness.

Two years ago, I took the Big Five Aspects Scale identity test.

I’ve been struggling with identity issues since adolescence. There seems to be a monumental mismatch between my talents and interests and my ideas about the future and what I should be doing with my life.

To get to the bottom of my identity problem, I read countless of self-help books and I’ve tried numerous life strategies. Although I’ve learnt quite a lot about the weird self-help space in general, none of the approaches actually worked.

At one point I even dealt with severe depression and mental burnout. This resulted in a full year on the SSRI drug sertraline (Zoloft).

I had to find a different approach.

Taking the Big Five Aspects Scale test

Two years ago, I decided to take the most researched and well-documented identity test, the Big Five Aspects Scale.

Most interestingly, I’m exceptionally high in Openness to Experience (Openness and Intellect) and moderately low in Conscientiousness (Orderliness and Industriousness). To me, this was highly interesting because basically all my talents and interests are typical for people who are high in Openness. No surprise there, perhaps. However, I quickly also realised that all my goals and ambitions in life have depended on being exceptionally high in Conscientiousness — which, to put it mildly, clearly wasn’t in my wheelhouse.

I’ve always admired people exceptionally high in Conscientiousness. They’ve been my role models. My heroes, even. But, to be completely honest, I suspect that the Conscientious types in my life have indirectly capitalised more than I have on my Openness-type talents.

My other personality traits, then, all seems to have been playing into this identity discrepancy to create something of a perfect storm. Being very low in Volatility and Enthusiasm has allowed me to pretend being high in Conscientiousness well enough to fool even myself.

Scary — but also good to know about oneself.

This “internal identity battle” between my abundant but repressed Openness traits and my limiting but idolised Conscientiousness traits have been causing me serious problems for decades.

What taking the identity test taught me

So, how did identifying my strengths and weaknesses via the Big Five Aspects identity test help me take action?

1. First of all, I’ve accepted being moderately low in Conscientiousness. While counter-intuitive at first, this has actually helped me to do better in any such areas of my life. By lowering my expectations to a more reasonable level, I can get easier wins here. And with easy wins, I feel better about raising the bar ever so slightly.

2. I’ve also changed my perspective on people who are high in Conscientiousness. I still admire them to a degree, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not competing with them. Because they need me as much as I need them. If anything at all, we should rather seek to collaborate for the benefit of complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

3. The biggest change, however, is that I’ve started to re-organise my ideals and shifting them over to the Openness side of things. This is a life-long pursuit, I reckon, but I’ve come far enough in these two years to declare my Identity Project to be finalised — at least for now.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Prints/Instagram)

Meme - Identity test - Conscientiousness
I can relate, bro.


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Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Communication Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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