"Learning how to befriend people again was a skill I had to master"Unsplash

I've never been good at small talk. Ever since I was young, I have always been in awe of people who could chatter effortlessly and fill awkward pauses with eloquent hums and smiles on their faces.

“It[...]magically categorises people into just four letters”

The scene: think park bench, frosty pandemic morning, watching life go by. People on socially distanced walks with their half-spilt cups of coffee. Sonder tingles through my bones: a feeling extraordinarily vivid. The epiphany that everyone has a life so vibrant and complicated — a secret blockbuster waiting to be announced. After countless lockdowns, learning how to befriend people again was a skill I had to master. Something about that moment, gazing on a park bench, inspired my curiosity and longing to connect. I yearned for it.

Procrastinating is a talent of mine. I went home later that day, mindlessly browsing the internet, completing random unnecessary quizzes instead of my supervision essay. Several pages into this boredom-busting website was the Myers-Briggs Test Indicator (MBTI). A test that plunges you into imaginary scenarios and deciphers your character based on different traits: Introversion or Extraversion, Sensing or Nurturing, Thinking or Feeling and Judging or Perceiving. It is a personality quiz that magically categorises people into just four letters. Much like a Harry Potter Sorting Hat—but for the real world.

“Small talk is not so bad anymore”

After much trepidation, my results came up as ‘Introverted, Nurturing, Feeling, and Perceiving’. My four little letters were gifted to me: INFP. I wished to delve deeper into the secrets of my personality type which was called ‘The Mediator’, so I went to the best place to gain clarity: Reddit. There was a certain joy that came from scrolling through these bizarre forums, finding obscure memes about which movie character I was most like or what kind of cereal I would be. There was solace in finding a box to call my own.

Joyously, I rambled on the phone to my friend and told them of my newfound discoveries, and shared my beloved MBTI letters. However, they reminded me that there was no scientific basis for any of these claims (classic ISTJ behaviour). Now, of course, I understood that a quiz could not dictate who I was. But it was a satisfying oddity, having an objective generator value the multifaceted qualities of humans. It helped me accept that it was perfectly okay to be a walking contradiction or a ‘negligent perfectionist’ as it described me; these qualities could in fact co-exist after hearing all my life, that they could not. I started to recognise my good attributes, my flaws and from this, I was learning how to improve myself.


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Woman’s woman in a man’s world

The quiz became a real conversation starter and ignited revelations between familiar faces and strangers. We spoke about what separated us but also what united us. Our results would tease our ideas about the world. It placed importance upon introspection as well as gaining empathy for other people’s views. I was surprised at how many people had already done the test. It sparked a warmness in the room. A social bond was conceived as the MBTI was a language we all seemed to understand. At gatherings, I would play matchmaker and sort people with their most compatible type, just like horoscopes do. It was a funny way of reaching out to people. I know what you are thinking and do not fret, I shall not become the Brown aunty who comes forth with unwarranted marriage proposals.

For me, MBTI helps navigate a personal journey of understanding myself, and in turn, understanding others. It is comforting to come back to the quiz during the peak hours of procrastination. To see which words of wisdom resonate with me when I have identity crises’ at something o’clock. The quiz is like being handed a guidebook to yourself; a route that journeys through the convoluted stage between teenagehood and adulthood. MBTI does not define the world, nor people, but it is the start of understanding things that are messy, things people themselves cannot put into words.

Small talk is not so bad anymore. It normally starts with a cup of coffee and something along the lines of ‘So what’s your MBTI?’. Usually, it lasts in friendship.