What I talk about when I talk about personality (to borrow from Haruki Murakami)
Let’s put on our black-rimmed glasses with the tape holding them together at the bridge (and also at the hinge on the left side) and look up personality in the dictionary, shall we? 🤓
Ahem, according to the fine folk at Merriam-Webster, personality is defined as:
the quality or state of being a person
the condition or fact of relating to a particular person
an offensively personal remark
the complex of characteristics that distinguishes an individual or a nation or group
a set of distinctive traits and characteristics
distinction of excellence of personal and social traits
a person of importance, prominence, renown, or notoriety
So, yeah, that first one right there negates your argument that you don’t have a personality. Because, by definition (I’m not making it up, I certainly didn’t write the dictionary), you have a personality just by being a living, breathing human.
Which is not to say that dead people don’t have personalities…or is it?
I’ve heard too many people say they just don’t have a personality. They’re boring, they’re quiet, they prefer the company of doggos to kiddos (or other full-sized sentient beings, man, beast, AI, for that matter). Those, my friend, would still be personality traits. See how that works?
However, I’m not here to get all philosophical and debate the “I breathe, therefore I have a personality” thing with you. I’m not interested in theorizing at what point our personalities manifest. If we’re born with certain personality traits that cannot be altered or if it’s a case of nature vs. nurture. Or if you can suddenly become more spontaneous than steaming pile of poop combusting on a balmy summer day.
Clearly, I’ve thought about these things…
What I want to talk about is what I talk about when I talk about personality. Which is pretty much aligned with the fifth item (the complex of characteristics that distinguishes an individual or a nation or group), although, not gonna lie, I’m beyond surprised that it’s not even the first or second definition.
Maybe that’s why so many people are confused when we start talking about personality?!?
My definition does vary ever so slightly though. Of course. If I had to define personality and finally get you to understand what the hell I’m yammering on about, it would, after much consideration and erasing and backspacing and deliberation, be this:
the unique set of characteristics, quirks, eccentricities, likes, and dislikes that makes you who you are
Huh, would you look at that. Nowhere in that definition does it mention being funny or witty or sarcastic or clever or creative or any other positive adjective you immediately think of when you think of personality.
Your personality could be dark, brooding, dry or light, bright (but not Lite Brite or Rainbow Bright), enthusiastic. It could be sarcastic, caustic, neurotic. Maybe you are hilarious, happy, and somehow, astonishingly humble.
What matters is that – however you are and however you act – that’s part of your personality.
And you know what? Your personality extends to things you like because those make up part of who you are, too.
Whether it’s cult movies or cartoons, satirical op-eds or bromances (does Merriam-Webster know bromance doesn’t have a red squiggly line under it but op-ed does?), the things that you like and surround yourself with also comprise your personality.
Could be an obsession with the color black, all things ROYGBIV, true crime podcasts, or animal memes and puns. Maybe you love hair-how-to videos on YouTube. Knowing how to say “mac and cheese” in 48 different languages. Playing Angry Birds for two hours a day even though everyone else has moved on to Donut Country. (I’m still stuck on Yahtzee and sudoku, by the way.)
How you choose to fill your free time, what you love doing in your spare moments (and even when you’re busy but just need a little break from the mundaneness everywhere you look), the things you would literally get up on a soapbox about if you could only get your hands on one or even knew where to look for one…
That’s part of your personality.
It’s all the things that make you you.
There’s no right or wrong. (Although I imagine some people would argue being controlling, pessimistic, and self-destructive is wrong…) There’s no good or bad. (Again, with the exception of, you know, your tendencies toward violence, narcissism, and psychopathy…) It’s just you.
And that you is what I mean when I say bring your personality to your writing.
Bring your unique way of looking at things. Your underdog mentality. Your undying love of unnaturally dyed wigs, preferably in colors you’d only find in the 96-box of crayons.
You might not think it’s funny or sassy or witty. But I guarantee you, when you start showing more of who you are and everything that entails, your writing is going to start becoming funnier, sassier, and wittier. Because you’re embracing yourself (not in a weird, literal way, although giving yourself a hug does feel oddly nice) and your eccentricities, whatever those might be.
Yes, when I talk about personality, I’m talking about all those classic descriptors you’d hear in grade school when you had to do that annoying game of introducing yourself with an adjective that started with the same letter as your name. (Talkative Tracie was the best I could do under such pressure. #introvertproblems But now, if forced to undergo this particular uncomfortable icebreaker I’d like to think I’d rattle off talented, terrific, thoughtful, trustworthy, treasure, twinkly…okay, okay, I’ll put down the thesaurus.)
But I’m also talking about the things that make you that way. The things that make you passionate, excited, angry, sad, annoyed.
Because our personality is the sum of our parts. And all those parts make you whole. (Too cheesy? Yeah, I’ll do better next time. For now, just deal with my motivational rah-rah-ness because you need to hear it.)
After you’ve gotten over how weirdly good it felt to be motivated by some stranger’s words on the interwebs (I am not your Goosebump Guru), try your hand at this fun little exercise: Think about the last thing that made you laugh. Doesn’t matter if it was a commercial that was supposed to be serious, someone tripping over their untied shoelaces, or a horrible made-for-TV comedy you’re embarrassed to admit you watched. Think about what made it funny and what that says about you. Then…start assigning yourself some adjectives!
Example: You LOLed at your five-year-old’s knock-knock joke. This probably means you’re a parent who adores their kid and anything they do, which also probably means you’re loving, supportive, and sweet. Look at you. 🤩