My oldest daughter once gave my wife and me a simple personality test. Miriam loves personality tests. Yes, I find them intriguing as well. I love the idea of finding patterns and predictability in the wonderfully wild and unpredictable world of people and how they behave. But these tests only model a person’s behavior, and every model has its limits.
This was the simplest personality test I’d ever heard of:
“If you had to be one of two animals, a dolphin or a shark, which would you be?”
My wife and I made different choices. I’m the dolphin, powerful but playful. She’s the shark–all business, with a relentless focus on what she wants. (Ok, she likes to play too, but the shark is dominant a lot of the time)
The dolphin is like a child, and the shark is like an adult. Children are supposed to be playful and adults are supposed to be serious, aren’t they?
As adults, most of us cringe when we’re accused of being childish. That criticism is used in different ways. Sometimes it’s to put us down for being selfish, short-sighted, spoiled brats – all legitimate criticisms. But how often do people accuse us of being childish when what they mean is that we’re being more playful, creative, and dreaming bigger than adults are “supposed” to do?
Playful and serious don’t seem to go together, do they? We put them in opposite corners of the ring, determined to see them battle to the death. And we usually put our money on the serious side, don’t we?
One-on-one, a dolphin can take a shark any day of the week.
Playful isn’t uncaring or cynical. Playful can be focused and relentless. When we’re playful as we pursue our goals, we take ourselves less seriously. We’re lighter, nimbler, and far more able to adapt to whatever challenges we meet. We can be at least as passionate about our dreams as the “serious” guy, but we find a lot more joy along the way.