Why do Magazines Have These Silly Quizzes and Why Do We Take Them?
I was in my early teens and reading Seventeen magazine when I figured out how to game a magazine quiz to get the desired answer. Though regardless of what any quiz might say, I wasn’t going to be cool enough to move to California. If coolness is required for something, I’m automatically disqualified. So over the years I rarely took magazine quizzes. If I was supposed to gain any important life knowledge from quizzes in Cosmo, I don’t have it.
Recently O Magazine issued its first ever quiz issue. I have no idea why anyone thought they needed it, but here it was. And there I was in a doctor’s waiting room for an hour why my son talked to a therapist. When I ran out of articles, I was left with the quizzes. I decided to take one. The quiz was done up in a lovely flowchart graphic. I thought that was a nice twist on the concept, so I started out on my journey of self-discovery. The quiz was designed to help you learn about your personality and how you handled conflict. I worked my way through a series of questions until I reached the end and was labeled “The Smiler.” That was too close to the Joker for my comfort, but I went to the sidebar to read what it was supposed to mean. Positive that I had messed up the test – perhaps jigging when I should have jagged – I took the quiz again. For the second time, I finished up at the Smiley face.
The quiz described me as The Smiler because I’m someone who always has a smile on her face and keeps her cool in all situations. And what I needed to learn? I needed to work on expressing my true inner feelings and telling people what I really thought about stuff. When I read this, I started laughing so hard that I had, not one, but two choking episodes. I was sure that one of the therapists from the offices quite close to my chair was going to charge out her door because of the ruckus I was making, but I couldn’t stop laughing until the choking put an end to it.
I’m not well known for my smile. I’m not grim, but smiling takes extra concentration when in constant pain. When I’m not focusing on smiling, I’m usually not doing it. If you told my children that I was great at keeping my cool in all situations, you could probably reduce them to rolling around on the floor, laughing until they injured themselves. I don’t explode regularly, but I do explode. I’ve been working on it ever since I became chronically ill, and I’m doing better than seven years ago. Nevertheless, no one is going to label me as cool as a cucumber or even remark on my long fuse. (At least not with a straight face.)
But while all that was silly nonsense, the truly, wildly inaccurate advice was that I should be more honest with people. People who knew me well might pay me to be less honest. I’m renowned for my bluntness. One employer (back when I was well enough to work outside the home) hired a coach to develop me. The primary purpose of this coaching seems to have been to make me more palatable to executives and less frightening to my co-workers. The objection was that I spoke my mind far too easily and without enough diplomacy. Not once over several months of testing, coaching, etc. was there a whisper of my needing to speak up more. Actually I was advised to speak up less in departmental meetings because I had supposedly intimidated my co-workers into silence. I add the “supposedly” because to my face, my co-workers assured me that everything was fine. As I tried to follow the coach’s advice, our meetings became much longer as the frightened lambs sat there silently, looking at me, waiting for me to say something.
If you’re wondering whether I used my bluntness to belittle my co-workers or try to make their ideas look stupid, no, I didn’t do that kind of thing. When one of them did speak up and I disagreed with a suggestion, I tried to be as calm and dispassionate as I could be, always avoiding any ad hominem attacks. I’d even wait for a bit to see if someone else offered a better alternative or pointed out the problems. My fault was that my mind ran ahead faster, sorted through the options more quickly, and hopped several extra steps down a road before anyone else had started working on the problem. Worse, while I wasn’t trying to showboat, neither did I try to hold myself back to avoid looking smart, or, gasp, competent at my job. (This behavior also explains my paucity of dating options in high school.) As to making my demeanor palatable to any lengthy visits to a boardroom, it is probably just as well I became ill.
When I told a former co-worker about the quiz, he laughed at great length. We worked together a couple of employers ago, and we were surrounded by amazingly stupid people. So he got to see me when I was trying my hardest to get people to pay attention to pesky facts that didn’t fit their world view. When I told him about the coaching, he just shook his head and said that it was an impossible task to try to contain me. He seemed to consider me more a force of nature than a co-worker. He meant that in a nice way, right? If you haven’t figured it out by now, I don’t suffer fools patiently or well. Ignorance I can deal with; stupidity, at best, irritates me.
So no more quizzes for me. And for those of you who’ve met me, you can be assured that I won’t take the advice and be even more blunt. The world just isn’t ready.