I would like to begin by issuing a correction to one of my previous posts. In September of 2014, I wrote a piece titled “BuzzFeed, Myers-Briggs, and the Typology of a Generation” in which I addressed the uniquely Millennial obsession with personality typing and my general aversion to it. In this piece, I referred to myself at one point as a Ravenclaw. I am here to tell you today: it is not true.
Since 2014, my disposition toward personality typing has softened. My friends and I went through a brief Enneagram craze in 2016, during which I learned that I’m a seven—enthusiastic, extroverted, flighty, and fearful to commit. One phrase from the type description sticks in my head like a pitchfork: “they can also misapply their many talents, becoming over-extended, scattered, and undisciplined.”
I also learned about the Big Five Personality Test, an evaluation painstakingly engineered by social scientists who embarked on a Holy Grail-type search for concrete, measurable personality traits that everyone can be proven to exhibit. In the end, they uncovered agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience to be the aforementioned “big five.” Upon taking the test, I was not surprised to find that I’m in the ninety-seventh percentile for extraversion. I was surprised to find hesitation in my index finger when faced with statements like “I work hard,” “I keep my promises,” and “I use others for my own ends.” My thoughts snagged on the novel remaining half-written in my hard drive and deadlines I’ve blown through and times I’ve relied too heavily on my charm.
But the most sobering assessment came when I, at long last, sat down to take the Pottermore Sorting Hat quiz. Pottermore, J.K. Rowling’s ever-expanding online universe designed to host her additional writings about the wizarding world, sprung into existence with a big bang in April of 2012. For it, Rowling penned detailed accounts of Floo powder production and careful comparisons of different types of wand woods. But everyone basically just clicked through to the official, the authoritative, the utterly unarguable Sorting Hat quiz.
Everyone except me.
The blunt finality of the Sorting Hat intimidated me. I needed to delay the deliberation until I was prepared for its verdict. I wanted to wait until a day when I felt centered, collected, as fully myself as possible. An impulsive stab at the Patronus Test had previously yielded a thoroughly underwhelming black and white cat, so I was not going to rush into one of these assessments again. That day came last year, after five years of grueling anticipation (not to mention a nail-biting failure to remember that the quiz existed for months at a time).
Steadily, assuredly, I sat down at the kitchen table and watched the screen ripple and roil. It presented me with mystifying choices between dusk and dawn and between various roads not taken. I felt like a nervous first year, trying to think all the right thoughts beneath the Sorting Hat’s musky, furrowed leather, hoping desperately to hear “Ravenclaw!” trumpeted from his cracked lips.
The final question asked me to choose between four sumptuous boxes—gleaming, glittering, and gold-flecked. I selected the unassuming pewter box with an enticing inscription, sure that an erudite Ravenclaw would not be so easily seduced. Satisfied, I exhaled and awaited the verdict years in the making. I would also have been pleased with Gryffindor—cliche, but a morale boost nonetheless. I had steeled myself for the possibility of becoming a bumbling Hufflepuff. But, what I had not prepared for—nor could prepare for—was…
The word hung on the screen—green, algal. I share a house with every dark wizard that ever lived. I spend my days slinking through dungeons. I am viewed as venomous by the likes of Harry, Ron, and Hermione—by every character I love. I am a Slytherin. My Patronus is a cat. The reality sunk in like basilisk fangs: I am Millicent Bulstrode.
For those without a working knowledge of obscure Harry Potter characters, Millicent Bulstrode is mentioned only seventeen times across three scenes in the entire series. She is introduced in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when she abandons her wand during Dueling Club and instead seizes Hermione’s head under her armpit. Her most notable mention comes later in the same book when Hermione is clandestinely concocting Polyjuice Potion in the girls’ lavatory and attempts to transform into Millicent only to learn that the hair she plucked from Millicent’s robe belongs to Millicent’s cat. Finally, Millicent appears once more in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as a member of Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad where she spends the entire book trying to squash the swashbuckling of everyone’s favorite characters.
Millicent is a loathed and loathsome character. Millicent is a half-blood in a house that thirsts for pure blood. Millicent is derided by the series’ heroes as “ugly” and “no pixie.” Millicent probably spent much of her young life getting her name confused with that of former Minister for Magic Millicent Bagnold. Millicent is hideous and covered in cat hair. I am allergic to cats.
And yet, there is no appealing the Sorting Hat’s assessment.
For a year, I sought simply to forget the sorting, to tell myself that TIME Magazine’s Sorting Hat quiz was more grounded in research, to insist that we should all have input in the house we call our home and that my opinion was clearly not accounted by Rowling’s algorithm. I wouldn’t be a Millicent. I couldn’t be!
But over the past few months, I have come to find an unexpected camaraderie with Millicent. For so much of my life, I have expected so much of myself. I expected myself to be a star student and a formidable athlete and an unfailing friend and a pious Protestant. I was hard-working, friendly, smart, funny, and kind; negative adjectives need not apply! I was a golden boy, and I savored the weight of it.
But then college came, and adulthood and teaching and a move to Seattle followed, each peeling back a bit of that idealized self-image, revealing that I was only ever flaked in gold leaf. I’ve watched with dismay at how stress invites all my negative qualities out to play—avoidance, impatience, and unnecessary secrecy. There’s nothing like transplanting yourself thousands of miles away to make you intimately aware of every deficiency stunting your growth. In my case, I allow simple choices to paralyze me. I let indecision choke out my potential and comfort constrict my ambition. I am afraid to take ownership of my own life, thinking of it instead as a group project and bemoaning the fact that others aren’t pitching in more, even when it becomes pathetically obvious that they’re the only ones securing me a passing grade. I misapply my many talents. I become over-extended. I use others to my own ends. I pity myself.
Poor, ugly Millicent, trudging through the dungeons, awash in cat hair.
Yet there is a solace in discovering my inner Millicent. A release. A return to the basics. There is a catharsis in shaking off my expectations for myself and staring at my reality, enumerating my blemishes and dissecting the mangy, stray thoughts that I take in and feed even though they make my eyes swell and scalp itch. There is a freedom in no longer pretending that I am a Hermione, defying time to prove my virtues. Or a Harry, destined for fame and soaring to inevitable heroics. There is a hope in knowing that only when I accept my inner Millicent can I begin to make Millicent the bad-ass protagonist I want her to be.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.