A Letter to Myself, Age 23

Tomorrow marks another trip around the sun for me. This time I’ll be twenty-four years old. That’s kind of a cool number: 24 hours in a day, 24 elders before Christ’s throne (Rev. 4:4)—and growing up, Jeff Gordon was my favorite NASCAR driver in his #24 DuPont Chevrolet.

As I thought back on the past year, I realized how much I’ve experienced, how much I’ve learned, and how far I’ve come. I’ll be honest: Age 23 was a tough, trying year. I asked myself questions I never thought I’d ask because I felt things I never thought I’d feel. (Welcome to the real world.)

But I came through the darkness back into the light. I am in a much better state of mind as the meter rolls over once again. And I’d like to think I learned some things along the way.

As a way of recollecting, I decided to write my 23-year-old self a letter. It’s the letter I probably wouldn’t have expected at the time, yet it contains everything I would need to know to get through this rough patch of life.

And instead of journaling it and tucking it away to get musty on a shelf, I am writing it publicly in the hopes that perhaps it will help you, too.

Without further ado, here it is.

Dear Matthew,

Congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished so far. You’ve worked so hard to be where you are today, and now you’re starting to enjoy the fruits of your labor after all these years. Having a job and a stable income, with some spending money to boot, is a birthday present all on its own!

For your birthday, I want to give you something more important than money, and that is wisdom. Not just any wisdom, but some lessons I’ve learned that you’ll do well to keep in mind as you go through this next year.

You see, for better or for worse, you’re about to enter what is going to be the darkest time of your life so far. I don’t mean to scare you, but I’m not going to sugar-coat it, either. I know you’d rather have someone tell it to you straight. I know—I do, too.

But you’re not going to go into this blindly. I’m not going to tell you everything that you’re going to experience, but I am going to tell you what I’ve learned after coming out on the other side. This is by no means the ultimate guide to life, but I think it’s the guide you’re going to need for this season that God’s about to allow you to be in.

The first thing you’re going to feel is a sense of helplessness. Even though you’re well-off financially, you’re going to feel that your life—your career, your future—is out of your control. You’re going to feel like someone else—a man, The Man—is running your life. You’re going to feel trapped in a job you don’t want to be in, doing things you don’t want to be doing. And being the independent-minded individual you are, you’re not going to like that feeling. You’re not going to like it at all.

As a result of this helplessness, you’re going to start feeling that God has abandoned you. You’re going to call out to Him—cry out to Him on many an occasion—and you’re not going to hear an answer. It’s going to make you question your life and your faith up to this point. You’re going to start to wonder whether He led you to a stream of water that’s suddenly dried up—and now He’s nowhere to be found.

To quote a Styx song, you are going to feel like a man in the wilderness.

The good news is, there’s hope—both in this life and in the next. You confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and that guarantees you eternal life with him. Just remember that one day, all this pain is going to be washed away, and he will dry every tear from every eye.

“That’s great to know,” you’re going to say, “but I’m still living in my earthly body! I’m dealing with problems in this life, not the afterlife!”

And you’re right. So let me offer you what I’ve learned from the wilderness so that you can survive it, too.

First, the question is not whether God has abandoned you, but whether you have abandoned Him. I’m not going to speculate—you know where you need some work. Start by getting on your knees and rededicating yourself to Him. Do this daily, every morning right when you get out of bed. He wants to be number one in your life, so put Him first—and don’t even have anything else on the list.

Second, understand that life is full of pain and suffering. You don’t need to look very far to see this. It’s a result of The Fall, of sin entering the world and corrupting God’s very good creation. Until Christ returns and sets things right, this is a fact of life.

Along that line, don’t try to find some deep meaning in life except for God. Nothing else will satisfy. It might fill you up for a bit and make you feel good inside, but before long it will leave you feeling empty and depressed—longing for more, for something else. The wisest man in the world said so himself: “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless!”

But that same wisest man also said that to fear God and keep His commandments is the end of all things. In other words, that’s the meaning of life—of every life, including yours. Fear God and keep His commandments. This is the duty of all mankind.

Outside of that—listen to your emotions. If you feel strongly about something in your heart, pay attention to whatever it is. Especially if you feel it in your solar plexus—what one might call your “heart of hearts”.

But be sure to use some logic and reason before you go off and make a decision based on emotions alone. You could make a serious mistake and derail your life—your job, your career, your future—for years to come.

The exception is a “gut feeling”. If you feel something deep in the pit of your stomach, regardless of what it is, follow that instinct. It’s the strangest thing, but you’ve got to do it.

Now, aside from that, you need to strive for optimization in all four aspects of your life: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Being sick or out-of-shape in one will start to affect the others, and your whole well-being will deteriorate.

Exercise consistently. You don’t have to work out every day; two or three times a week will do. But be sure to push yourself so you can become stronger. Don’t stagnate—that’s a great way to become mediocre in any aspect of your life. And the neat thing about working out is that it stimulates the other aspects of your life. It’s also a natural stress-reliever!

Do things that mentally stimulate you. Read books—you enjoy doing that anyway, so carve out time to read. But be sure to read books that you enjoy, or that edify you in some way. If you don’t like book, stop reading it! There’s no law that says you have to finish it!

Oh, and keep your German skills sharp. You never know when they may come in handy. In fact, consider working on another language in your spare time. You’ve wanted to pick up some French—maybe even Koine Greek or Ancient Hebrew—so why not start now? There’s no better time than today.

In terms of emotions, one of the most powerful things you can do is to choose to be a glass-half-full person. Yes, you can choose to be positive. The lenses that you wear determine how you perceive the world. And you live in a vibrant, colorful, bountiful world that God has given mankind dominion over! Celebrate that! Celebrate life every day! Celebrate all the possibilities that you have!

Also, surround yourself with positive people as much as possible. That’s not to say that you should cut negative people out of your life completely—sometimes that’s not feasible, and even if it is, it’d be pretty rude to do so. But you have to look out for your own emotional well-being, and if that means spending less time with people who drag you down, then so be it.

On the flip-side, always be an encourager. Listen to those who, like you, are walking through the wilderness. Remember that each of us is fighting our own battle of survival every day. Have mercy and compassion, and show the love of Christ to everyone you encounter.

And I’ve already addressed the spiritual aspect somewhat. Pray every day, read the Bible every day, and obey the Lord’s commands. Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord your God.

In all things, strive for balance. Strike a balance between work and play. Strike a balance between producing and consuming. Strike a balance between order and chaos. (Have one foot firmly planted on the shore of order while you dip your toes into the sea of chaos!)

Take things one day at a time. Live for the day while keeping an eye on the future. Again, strike a balance—between today and tomorrow.

Remember that you have only one life, and that there’s a unique place for you in the grand scheme of things. So, while I don’t advise you to make rash decisions, if you feel like you’re the square peg trying to fit into the round hole—make a change! Do something different! Take a step, even a small one, towards what you think you were made to do.

I’ll wind this long-winded letter up by saying that you’ve always navigated through life by finding out what you don’t like to do. There’s nothing wrong with that. On the cusp of age twenty-four, I still haven’t found that “one thing” I love to do above all else. You may never. And that’s okay. As long as you can find pleasure in your work, your play, and your people, you’re doing pretty well for yourself. In fact, if you can manage that, you’re already a wealthy man!

Oh, one last thing: Never let go of your dreams. They are what drive you when you’re down. I happen to believe that they’re uniquely yours, given to you by God Himself. Keep that boyish gleam in your eye, that roguish smile on your face, and don’t chastise yourself if you catch yourself looking out the window and thinking about what could be. Do what you can to make those dreams reality. Follow them, even if it will take years to get to the end of the trail. It’s better to wonder “What if I hadn’t?” (which you won’t) than to wonder “What if I had?”

That’s all I’ve got for now. I think this is enough for you to chew on and digest over the coming year. You’re young and you’ve got a big, bright future ahead of you. (Look at all that you’ve accomplished already!) Just don’t let a few black clouds obscure those silver linings.

Stand firm,

Matthew

The Three Best Personality Tests (So Far)

An unexamined life is not worth living.

Socrates

I wouldn’t go so far to say that it’s not worth living, period. But it’s a bad mistake to go through life without some self-examination.

Without self-examination, you may find yourself in the wrong career. You may find yourself in a relationship with the wrong person.

And if you’re a young person, like myself, this is the prime time to start self-examining. You can course-correct with minimal change!

Socrates’ quote links to the Delphic maxim, “Know thyself.” You could ask a dozen philosophers what “Know thyself” means, and you’d probably get a dozen (or more) different answers. I think the kernel of the maxim is this: You need to examine yourself so you can understand what—and how—you think, so you can find your optimal place in society.

Why is this important? As an example, if you don’t examine yourself, you might find yourself in an unfulfilling career. You might think you’re supposed to be an engineer, but you actually like working with people more than you like working with things. But you may not understand that, and so you’ll go to work every day feeling unfulfilled at best—or hating your job at worst.

Knowing yourself also helps you know other people better. You understand where you fall on various scales, like introversion-extraversion. You learn the oft-forgotten fact that not everyone thinks the same way you do. Even your friends think differently from you. That’s what makes us unique, and that’s what keeps society functioning—because if we were all wired to be doctors, who would write music?

But perhaps the most important reason to take a personality test is this: You start to understand how the world perceives you, and find areas where you can improve your life.

If you think you’re a psychological anomaly, you’re probably not alone. A personality tests shows that you fit into a category with other like-minded individuals. This is comforting.

You start to feel better about yourself, accepting yourself for who you are while working to improve in weaker areas. You start to make life changes that will lead to greater self-satisfaction. In turn, those life changes will help you better sympathize and empathize with others.

At the end of high school and through college, I was blessed to have taken personality tests several times. These tests helped open my eyes to understand how I work, how other people perceive me, and how I could best “plug in” to the crazy world we live in.

It’s been five years since I first took a personality test, and I took three recently to see if my traits would change. I explain each test below, and give my opinion.

So, take these tests, know thyself, and then get to work! Then come back, a few years from now, and try again—and see if your results change at all.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

A lot of people have heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Two ladies, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, designed the test during World War II. They based it on the four personality traits identified by Carl Jung.

It’s got its fair share of critics and some consider it pseudoscience, but don’t let that stop you. It’s great for an initial yet thorough self-assessment. I’ve taken it at least a half-dozen times over the years and scored pretty consistently each time.

The Myers-Briggs test gives you a four-letter abbreviation that represents your type. Each letter represents one end of a scale. The best way to understand this is to use an example.

My Myers-Briggs personality type is INTJ:

  • I: Introversion over Extraversion
  • N: iNtuition over Sensing
  • T: Thinking over Feeling
  • J: Judgment over Perception

You can find several Myers-Briggs tests online. My favorite so far is 16Personalities, which does a good job of not type-casting you, but instead showing where you fall on a scale.

For example, I may score as an Introvert, but 16Personalities notes that I’m in fact 72% introverted. That means I’m 28% extraverted. (At a party, I’m not the socially-awkward guy in the corner—just the guy who prefers smaller groups and more meaningful conversation!)

16Personalities also adds a fifth metric: Identity. Identity ranks how confident you are in your abilities and decisions, on a scale from Assertive to Turbulent.

So, with 16Personalities, your final personality type looks something like this: INTJ-A.

16Personalities gives you more than a rather vague four- or five-letter personality type. It gives you an identity to go along with that type. For example, being an INTJ, I’m considered an Architect.

Image courtesy of 16Personlities.com.

At the end of your test, 16Personalities provides a thorough breakdown of your traits. You can read how your type works best, fares in relationships, and so forth.

You can even pay to access additional resources. 16Personalities provides a type-specific e-book. They also provide an Academy, which consists of further assessments and improvement exercises.

Last week, I retook the 16Personalities test to see if I’d score would change. Turns out, this time I scored as INFJ-T, the Advocate.

Image courtesy of 16Personalities.com.

What’s the difference? The Architect thinks more than he feels, and the Advocate feels more than he thinks.


In looking at my results, I find that I’m only 60% Feeling. I recall from my first test that I was only about 60% Thinking, too. So perhaps I oscillate between Thinking and Feeling—or maybe I know a time to think and a time to feel!


All that to say, this is a great first personality test to take. Scientific or not, it should give you a better idea of who you are and what someone with your personality is best suited for in life, love, and work.

The Enneagram

The word enneagram comes from two Greek words meaning “nine” and “symbol”. Hence, the Enneagram is a personality test with nine types.

I find the Enneagram the most confusing of the personality tests I’m sharing with you. To me, it takes some extra effort to wrap your head around the results. But that doesn’t mean that it’s any less valuable.

Image courtesy of EclecticEnergies.com.

The essence of the Enneagram is that you fall into one distinct personality type with a “wing”. That is, your dominant type also possesses traits of an adjacent type on the circle.

When I took the Enneagram, I scored 5w4. That means my personality type is a 5 (The Investigator) with some traits of a 4 (The Individualist). That makes me a “thoughtful identity seeker” who is observant, unique, and different. I’d say that’s accurate.

I can definitely see how my Enneagram results complement my Myers-Briggs results. Both emphasize introversion, intuition, and thoughtfulness.

Another interesting note is that I retook the Enneagram last week and this time scored 1w2. Type 1 is The Reformer, and Type 2 is The Helper. I suppose that makes me a “perfectionist helper” who is responsible, selfless, and socially aware.

I’m not quite sold on these results, and I don’t see much of a correlation with my newer INFJ personality type. I see the perfectionist in myself, and I’m happy to help others, but not to the point that either overrides my tendency to deeply analyze things.

If you’d like to take the Enneagram, the site I used is Eclectic Energies. And no, I don’t do any of the chakra stuff, nor do I intend to. I’m just there for the test.

Understand Myself by Dr. Jordan Peterson

Hey! We’ve been talking about knowing thyself, and here’s a test called “Understand Myself”. What a find, right?

If you’ve never heard of Dr. Peterson, I’ll give a quick introduction. He’s a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, and he’s probably best-known for his YouTube channel where he posts clips of lectures, talks, and more. He’s also written a fascinating, highly-informative, and best-selling book called 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. The book rolls psychology, philosophy, and more into twelve rules you can follow to live maximally, as he would say.

You owe it to yourself to check him out.

I’m a fan of Dr. Peterson because his take on things is a breath of fresh air in the post-truth, politically-correct culture we live in. Dr. Peterson tells it like it is—and if you’re looking for some intellectual entertainment, check out all the videos of him “destroying” feminists, postmodernists, social justice warriors, and more.

And if you’re a feminist, postmodernist, or social justice warrior, well—to put it politely, maybe it’s time you examined yourself and your beliefs.

Anyway, I learned that Dr. Peterson developed a personality test of his own called Understand Myself, and knew I had to take it. Unlike the previous two sites, Understand Myself costs $9.95 one time—and you can only take it once.

Image courtesy of Understand Myself.

This test is the most scientific of the three. It evaluates you based on the five personality traits generally accepted in psychology: Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience.

At the end of the test, you’re given a fifteen-page breakdown of every metric, tailored to you. You get to see where you fall on the spectra compared to the hundreds of thousands of other examinees. Pretty impressive.

Some of my results didn’t surprise me very much. For example, I scored in the 93rd percentile for Orderliness—that’s why, when my brother and I take trips, I’m the one who does the planning! (And why, for the most part, things go as planned!)

Other results did surprise me. I scored in the 40th percentile on Extraversion, which classifies me as “Typical”. Guess I’m not as introverted as I thought! But the description fits me like a glove:

People with average levels of extraversion are not overly enthusiastic, talkative, assertive in social situations, or gregarious. They enjoy social contact, but are also happy spending time alone. They will plan parties occasionally, and make people laugh, but are often willing to let others take the lead in organizing social situations and entertaining. They have a balanced view of the past and the future, neither over-emphasizing nor dismissing the positive.

Needless to say, I’ll be reading and reviewing the results of this test for a while. It’s by far the most comprehensive I’ve ever taken.

Conclusion

So, should you take all three tests? That’s up to you. I recommend you at least take the Myers-Briggs test to get an idea of where you stand personality-wise. If you want a second assessment, take the Enneagram.

That said, if you don’t mind spending $9.95 and you can be completely honest with your answers, take Understanding Myself. Remember, you can only take it once—and Dr. Peterson advises taking it when you’re not hungry, tired, or under any kind of stress. If you can do these things, you may find that $9.95 to be the best $9.95 you’ve spent in quite a while.

If you take any or all these tests and want to share your results, please drop them in the comments below. And if you know of other personality tests worth checking out, let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time—make it a great week, and don’t stop improving!