It was second grade. I was a curious, outspoken, shamelessly bizarre kid who was doomed to never mesh naturally with my environment. How obvious it was from the moment I showed up to the first day of kindergarten at a strictly-uniformed religious school wearing a neon orange sundress!
After three years of seeing the contrast between my family’s progressive style and the school’s more traditional set of priorities, I was starting to suspect that (though I in no way thought myself superior) I was pretty out of step with the lifestyles of the majority of my peers. But I still hadn’t fully appreciated the discrepancy between my own personality and the operating system I had been thrown into.
That is, until I fell asleep face-first in the bible and spent an hour dreaming about horses while my classmates studiously followed our teacher word-for-word as she read from the sacred text.
The sharp crack of textbook hitting desk not only yanked me from my equestrian-themed slumber -- it also alerted me to the much larger realization that I was the sole student whose thoughts had strayed from the task at hand.
As a well-meaning, people-pleasing child, this weighed on me heavily. I truly did not want to disappoint my teachers. The notion that they might see me as lazy or scatterbrained in my struggle to stay on track haunted my every thought …. or at least the few thoughts my brain could eek out before crashing into the next subject like Cosmo Kramer making an uninvited entrance.
This was when I truly became conscious of my own weaknesses. It was the first time I realized that staying focused was something I was going to have to put special effort into in order to keep up with my peers, fulfill my potential, and (perhaps most importantly) get where I wanted to be in life. It was the first time I faced the fact that my ambition and my ability to follow through functioned at wildly different levels.
It was a crossroads that, unbeknownst to me, would determine how I approached almost every new path for the rest of my life.
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
I was fortunate to discover these things about myself before I had been on Earth long enough to develop an ego.
Looking back, I envy the ease with which my seven-year-old self indulged in healthy self-criticism. Though it may not seem as cut-and-dry now that I know I’m an ENTP, I am still profoundly thankful that I was able to nurture this compulsion in a productive way at such a young age. I spent time carefully considering my relationship with the environment I had no choice but to exist within, recognizing that it was not even vaguely made to suit me.
In doing so, I was able to take advantage of some of my uniquely positive traits for the first time in my life as well.
I wasted no time wallowing. I did not let my awareness of my weaknesses dilute my awareness of my strengths. Instead, in pure, unadulterated ENTP fashion, I approached the situation with a chameleon-like mindset, preparing to adapt my skills to suit whatever systematic value I may be able to pander to in order to accommodate the mismatched ethoses of me and my school.
At the ripe old age of seven, I carved out a niche for myself that I knew I would be happy maintaining: the school bookworm. Being the first in my class to get a solid grip on reading, I dove in head-first, making it my personal mission to pour through every single printed page in the library. In opening the floodgates to my own curiosity, I allowed the built-up pressure to propel me towards my goals at lightning speed.
In seemingly no time at all, I was making the school which had, justifiably, seen me as a bit of a problem child look great at every spelling bee and comprehension contest in the southern United States. If one were to make a Venn diagram of traits which the school valued and things I could realistically execute with minimal suffering, being a giant literary geek would have fallen perfectly in the center.
My plan to MacGyver my own academic reputation had worked perfectly, though not for the reasons everyone else assumed. Externally, it appeared as though I had a sudden burst of motivation to turn my life around and part from my old ways. This was far from the truth.
Behind the scenes, my old ways were chugging along just as aimlessly as ever. I had simply accepted that focusing on one book was never going to be my path to success, stopped attempting to jump-start my motivation to suit that goal, and instead gave myself permission to explore all of the other ways I could use my towards intense, short-term fascinations to achieve things that would satisfy both me and the school.
Though I still recognized it as a weakness, I relinquished my guilt over my lackluster self-discipline. It was time to focus on what I could do rather than what I could not.
Playing To Your Strengths And Weaknesses
As I progressed through life, this outside-of-the-box approach to my own self-guidance continued to reappear in profoundly positive ways when I needed it most.
As an overworked and overwhelmed high school freshman, I sought out alternate education programs only to end up graduating early with dramatically improved grades and a hefty amount of college credit the next year. As a perpetually tardy and painfully bored grocery store employee, I sought out less emotionally-draining jobs only to find success as a writer within months.
Even something as simple as switching from taking graduate classes in person to online ultimately allowed me to land consistent work in both comedy and in modeling -- two interests I had previously just seen as distractions from my ‘real work.’
Throughout all of these life adjustments, I had to continue reminding myself that it is okay that I don’t possess the organizational skills most traditional systems reward so heavily. I wasn’t letting the institutions I had parted from down -- if anything, I was ridding them of a less-than-ideal team member, giving us both more room to thrive. I, like any ENTP, still possess qualities that can thrive tremendously in non-traditional circumstances, and just a bit of our signature resourcefulness can go a long way in bringing these situations to fruition.
The moral of this story for other ENTPs?
Recognize your distractibility, but forgive yourself for it. Don’t be afraid to throw yourself into whatever pit of innovation your curiosity leads you to. Instead of attempting to force yourself into one box, take steps to ensure that you can afford to bounce around between your three or four strongest passions and still remain productive. Most importantly, choose your environment based not on simply what interests you (because let’s be honest, that’s everything), but also on what will allow you the most freedom to be the brilliant, messy, unconventional powerhouse that you are.
It may seem easier said than done, but you’re an ENTP - you can always make it work.