Dear Type As:
I know you’re really busy making the world a better place and all, but can we talk for a just minute about Type A people?
Actually, I want to talk, too, about Type B and Type C and Type D personalities, but I figured you might lose interest if I opened this letter by saying that I wanted to talk about those other kinds of people. After all, both of us knows that a sustained interest in the eccentricities of the planet’s quieter folks isn’t always one of your strongest suits. But I’m not trying to pick on your orderly and outgoing tribe. I know you can’t always help it.
I promise you this isn’t another boring diatribe about how Type A folks are making the world worse in just about every way. Because quite the opposite is probably true.
Let me say, too, to all you Type As still reading: I love you. I really do. I am about as un-Type A as they come, but for whatever reason, throughout my life, most of my favorite people have been Type As. All but one of my closest friends is probably textbook Type A in some way or another. Even my boyfriend, I suspect, is an A, but more on that later.
My lifelong propensity to pair up with boisterous folks is as improbable yet completely second-thought-logical as salted chocolate, or purple pants with a yellow shirt, or the whole Obama-Biden thing: they talk, I listen. They perform, I observe enthusiastically. They dispense advice, I pretend to agree. It feels comfortable. Right.
I first started to think about writing you this letter a few months back, when I was on an errand with my mother and we got to talking about all the Type As we know. And there are many, in our mutual family and in our individual circles of friends.
She and I, on the other hand, are decidedly un-Type-A-like. We both get lost in a crowd, or even sometimes a small gathering, we speak in quiet voices, and if you catch us on an honest day, we’ll admit that, we kind of, um, don’t exactly like people all that much most of the time.
“But wait,” I asked her. “Are there, you know, other personality types besides Type As?”
She didn’t know. And this made us both giggle, because, yes, of course there must be Type Bs and Type Cs and perhaps even Type Ws, but nobody ever seemed to talk about those people. And why not? The answer seemed obvious, and it still does: because Type As are the ones doing most of the talking.
I did some research, and I learned that there are, in this particular personality taxonomy, three other personality types in addition to the As. Let’s review:
- Type As: You know the drill: competitive, high-achieving, busy, bossy, organized, proactive, managerial.
- Type Bs: Chill, steady workers, enjoy achievement but aren’t driven by it, creative, exploratory, reflective.
- Type Cs: Detail-oriented, reserved, stress-prone, followers, serious, hard-working, perfectionists.
- Type Ds: Perpetually distressed, depressed, inhibited, reticent, pessimistic, and easily discouraged.
Now, it’s certainly possible for a person to pull a bit from each category, or to jump back and forth between two depending on the situation, as I read up on the four types, I decided that I’m definitely a “B,” as are most of the people I know well who aren’t As to some extent or another. And almost as quickly, I became insufferably annoyed by the fact that most of the descriptions I found about Bs merely explained our personality type as a contrast to the Type A personality – its simple, direct opposite, and nothing more.
Wait a minute! We Bs didn’t even get our own definition, except to be described as “not Type As”? I wonder who thought that up?
This got me to thinking, and thinking lots, about exactly why it is that we never hear a word about anybody other than the A group, even when we are actively attempting to learn more about Type Bs or Cs or Ds. And that’s why I decided to write this open letter.
I’ve come to realize, oh Dear Type As, that it’s because you drive our culture’s conversation with itself in deep and powerful ways. It’s no secret that many As really enjoy talking about themselves. It’s what makes them such fantastic managers, politicians, and entrepreneurs. They’ve got lots to say, and lots of valuable stuff to share with the world.
And I suspect it’s also why I’ve lately been noting EVERYWHERE on the Internet, including in my own social media feeds, the regular appearance of viral stories and clickbait bullet lists trumpeting the unique genius of the Type A personality.
Recent examples from my own Facebook feed:
“22 Surefire Ways to Annoy Your Type-A Friends”
“16 Signs You’re a Little (Or A Lot) Type A”
“26 Side Effects of Having a Type A Personality”
These lists describe, in humblebraggy tones, classic Type A dilemnas, including: compulsively scratching out To-Do lists, hating to wait in line, leaving others in the dust in casual conversation, and being almost cosmically driven to achieve big things at work and home.
They are inevitably penned in an indulging, aw-shucks kind of tone that leads me to suspect they are being written, to a one, by people who are, themselves, Type As.
But they’re not the only ones on trumpeting on. As a culture, we all spend a whole lot of time celebrating the antics of our overwanking A-type compatriots: they just can’t stand it when you don’t check your voicemails for two weeks at a time. They go crazy when somebody refuses to tie a shoelace. And a dinner party is practically ruined when one of their number is forced to put out mismatched place setting. Guwaff, guwaff, guwaff!
Again, let me say to you Type As that I love you. You guys are driven, focused, exacting, and unafraid to advocate for what it is you think is right. And because of that, you effect change quickly and get what you want a lot of the time. I can get down with that, and I love a good To-Do list and a meticulously organized computer desktop just about as much as you do.
I acknowledge, too, that if Type Bs like me ran the world, traffic lights would burn out, faulty potholes would swallow up small children on the regular, and a lot of shit would generally be broken and in disrepair.
My own immediate family has two Type As in it: my older sister and my father. They are cut from an uncannily similar mold: ambitious, self-confident, and whip-smart, with little patience for sloth. There is a legendary story in our family about a trip my mother, two sisters and I took to Disneyland a decade-and-a-half back. As usual, my older sister commandeered the map and had our days planned out to a T. Or should I said, to an “A.”
Granted, the rest of us took zero issue with her self-appointed promotion to tour guide. Hell, we happily elected her to the post. We are horrible at directions and would otherwise have ridden half as many rides half as many times, skipped the best scenic viewpoints of the park, and probably spent a good chunk of our day wandering in circles, attempting to sort out the difference between “Magic” and “Splash” Mountains and endeavoring not to step in gum. In short, we would have been terribly inefficient amusement-park-goers.
Our first day in the park was going swimmingly, at least until the mid-afternoon. We were walking to a far end of the park, my older sister in her usual spot at the head of the family pack, when my little sister stopped and asked to see the map.
“Why?” older sister asked suspiciously.
“Because I have to pee,” little sister said.
“Me, too,” I said.
“But that’s not on the itinerary,” older sister said, her eyes scanning the map for confirmation. “Nope. There’s no bathroom on the way to the next ride. Can you hold it?”
“Yes, sir!” mom barked, saluting.
And we all laughed. Because it really was funny, and still is to me, how so so very different people who are so much the same can really be. Even people who share scads of DNA and an equally long comet’s tail of happy history.
Now I’m fully grown, and I share a home with my partner, Emiliano – the suspected Type A personality I referenced earlier on. We get along fantastically. He plans all our vacations, right down to making lists of all the coffee shops and beer bars we’ll visit, while I lovingly document those vacations with my many cameras and my obsessive journaling. He encourages me to come out of my shell and reach for distant dreams, while I teach him how to relax, to listen to his body, and to take vitamins when his energy flags instead of just barreling through.
There’s just one (big) little issue. The toothpaste. Before my rather unflattering vignette, though, a caveat: I’d never describe Emiliano as rigid. In fact, he works hard to subvert his Type A tendencies, because his greatest fear is becoming too controlling. He makes concerted efforts every day to let go, to allow, to ask my opinion. For that, I love him so so much. But it isn’t always easy. Not for him. Not for me.
Exhibit A: the toothpaste. Emiliano insists I don’t screw it all the way on after I use it. I apologize and resolve to try harder. But I never manage, it seems, to screw it quite all the way on to his liking.
A month ago, things came to a head. He was in the bathroom brushing his teeth. I’d already finished and was snuggling into our bed.
“CAP!” he shouted through the half-closed bathroom door; his shorthand way of reminding me that I’ve failed, once again, at executing the cap-screwing-on mandate.
I was stunned. I had been working SO SO hard the past weeks to right my wrongs, to screw that stupid cap all the way on and so avoid this very conversation. I wanted to change! I did!
“Let me see!” I said.
He walked out of the bathroom, toothbrush hanging from his mouth, and handed me the tube for inspection.
And I swear to you, it was perhaps a mere half -revolution short of being completely, tightly closed. I was beyond annoyed.
“It is on,” I hissed.
“No it’s not! Look! I can twist it around two more times before it’s completely tight,” he said, using both hands to monkey wrench the cap a couple more go-rounds.
I felt the heat rising in my face. Because even Type Bs have their limits. And because Type Bs can be dramatic and absolutist, too, when pushed far enough, I said: “If that cap doesn’t qualify as being screwed completely on, then I give up. I can’t do any better than I’m already doing.”
I pulled the duvet over my head. Even though it was stupid, and he wasn’t trying to be mean, I felt like crying. I felt like yelling. Of course, I did neither. Because it was a tube of toothpaste. Because it shouldn’t matter so much.
It’s only just that I suddenly felt so, so tired of living in a world in which Type As called all the shots and the rest of us scurried around in their wake, apologizing profusely and tidying things up to their specifications. Why were all other worldviews required so consistently to yield to this one single worldview? Who on God’s Green Earth had made them boss?
Emiliano, too, looked crestfallen as he climbed into bed. We were both silent a moment. I softened, a little. Because, there’s this other thing about Type Bs: they really, really dislike conflict.
“I have an idea,” I announced a moment later, and I leapt out of bed and ran upstairs, where I rooted through a tub of toiletries I store beneath the bed in our guest room. I pulled out what I was looking for and then raced back down the stairs and into our room, giddy with self-satisfaction.
“Problem solved,” I announced as I tossed a brand new tube of toothpaste onto the bed next to him. It resembled the other toothpaste in every way except for one: there was no screw cap, but instead an attached lid that flipped on and off.
In my Type B heart of hearts, I was sure I’d hit upon the perfect solution to our ongoing disaccord: a Zero-Sum toothpaste tube whose cap was either on or it was off. There were no other possibilities. No room for dissent or inquisition.
I paused, awaiting praise from my Type A. He just stared at the tube, then stared at me. He started to speak, but then shook his head and smiled and said, “Nevermind.”
“What?” I asked, incredulous.
“Nevermind, it’s fine,” he said. “Thanks, sweetie.”
But Type Bs are nothing if not intuitive. He didn’t even have to say it: my solution was insufficient, because it only solved our disagreement by default. To his credit, he let it drop. To mine, I did too, and we’ve been peacefully sharing the new tube of toothpaste for almost a month now.
You’ve probably got a pocketful of similarly calibrated misadventure tales, Type A reader, which probably star you as Emiliano and a friend or parent or lover as me, the incorrigible, overly lax counterpart.
I know it’s hard for you to let certain things go, sometimes. And I realize that I should check my voicemail more than once every two weeks. I should apologize for leaving the towel on the floor for the third time, and for being careless with household items like toothpaste tubes and pickle jar lids.
But please bear in mind that these things we B Types do aren’t designed to upend the order of your universe. In truth, you make a grave mistake each time you imagine yourself to be the celestial body around which all movement and action on this earth orbits. In truth, we weren’t intending to insult or inconvenience you at all. We were probably just thinking about falling leaves or shooting stars or how beautiful the rain looked as it ran down the windshield on the drive home this afternoon. We see the world in big, beautiful, non-concrete terms. I know that might sound strange and even flighty to you, who sees the world so much more practically. But you know what? Practicality isn’t a universal religion.
I may not be any good at navigating car directions or pasting up wallpaper perfectly, perfectly straight or remembering to vacuum under the couch, but there’s plenty else I can do well that is of value and service to this crazy planet of ours.
Because I am a Type B personality, I can …
- Take genuine pleasure in the successes of others
- empathize deeply and listen very well
- Risk daringly and with little fear of failure
- mediate arguments pragmatically
- lose gracefully
- Recognize and respect the nuances of other worldviews
- Enjoy the moment
- Abide mistakes, both my own and those of others
I’m not asking you to be anything other than what you are, Dear Type As. Let’s face facts: you get a lot of important shit done, and you make sure a lot of important shit runs the way it’s supposed to. Details matter, and you are our world’s essential, irreplacable detail people. I get that.
I’m also not asking you to cede your power over to us Type Bs (although I do suspect that if we ran the world, there would be more flower pots and hot cocoa stands and definitely cooler public art). The thing is, our very nature renders the prospect of running the world completely unappetizing to us. Who wants all that stress and pressure and worry?
Not us! It’s yours!
We’re perfectly content to let you be our bosses and judges and micro-managers. But do you have to be quite so … well … bossy and judgy and micro-managerial about the whole thing all the time?
Sometimes, we’d like our opinions to count for a bit more. Sometimes, a person has got to stop and pee. Sometimes, it’s just a freaking tube of toothpaste.
Your nature compels you to rise to the top. And a culture presided over by loud alpha-types such as yourselves will instinctively showcase and celebrate the accomplishments of other alpha-types who are also shouting loudly about themselves. This is probably unavoidable. At the very least, my nature compels in me little interest to try and upset that ancient order of people and things.
All I’m asking is that a little of that trumpeting be directed, from time to time, in the direction of the quieter contributions the rest of us make to this busy, messy little planet. Just once in awhile. All I’m asking is that you listen more, and better, to what us Not Type As have got to say.
No, wait! I’ve got an even better idea. How about we just agree to observe an occasional moment of silence in recognition of us quieter folks? Yes. Silence. That sounds quite lovely to me.
What do you think? You can tell me! Don’t be shy! (That was a joke.)
Most Very, Truly Sincerely,
Erin, on behalf of Bs, Cs, and Ds everywhere