Survivor Qualities Quiz

As seen on OPRAH!

by Al Siebert, Ph.D., author of The Survivor Personality


Life's best survivors thrive in situations that wear others down. To thrive means to gain strength from adversity without becoming a victim. Thriving means to become better in circumstances that make others bitter.

The survivor personality research shows that a person who thrives in a world of non-stop change is much different than a person who was raised to fit into a world with little change. Every survivor and thriver is unique, yet they all have similar strengths and skills.

This seven item quiz was given to the Oprah studio audience before the "Would You Survive?" program (aired primarily on March 11, 1997). The "A" choice in each pair is the answer describing an important survivor quality.

Which one of the following statements describes you best, statement A or statement B?


Item One
  1. When there is an emergency, I control my feelings and focus on handling it until it is over.
  2. I get so frightened and anxious in emergencies, I don't know what to do.

Survivors avoid feeling overwhelmed by paying close attention to what is happening and to what they need to do. When Jerry Schemmel's plane was about to crash, for example, he was concentrating on how after the crash he would help the two mothers with children sitting in the row ahead of him.

How well have you handled an emergency?


Item Two

  1. When trouble develops I expect to handle it and make things turn out well.
  2. When something starts to go wrong I fear the worst and hope someone will stop it.
Your habitual reactions to daily frustrations and disappointments develop the reflexes you will have in emergencies. When hit with some difficulty do you complain or do you cope?


Item Three

  1. When I don't handle a person very well, I try to figure out a way to handle them better the next time.
  2. When I have a bad experience with someone, I try to avoid them in the future.
Your version of a survivor personality will develop from the lessons you learn in the school of life. Self-managed learning directly from experience is how you get better instead of bitter. Avoid thinking "If only..." after an unpleasant experience. Focus, instead, on thinking "The next time...." When you mentally rehearse how you will handle a situation better the next time you increase your self-confidence and look forward to future encounters. Question: What important, useful lesson have you learned in the school of life?


Item Four

  1. I've gotten into trouble asking too many questions.
  2. If people want me to know something they tell me.
A sign of a curious mind and a playful, impish spirit! Employers today want people who are curious and constantly learning, but have you ever been to a commencement where a student was honored for being the best student in the class at asking questions?


Item Five

  1. I have so many contrary feelings I puzzle people and myself, too, sometimes. I'm both playful and serious, pessimistic and optimistic, selfish and unselfish. The list goes on and on.
  2. I'm predictable. I'm basically a helpful, cooperative, nice person.
    (or) People don't mess with me. I'm tough. I have an attitude.
About one-half of the Oprah studio audience marked the "B" alternative. Not a sign of being highly flexible and self reliant! Survivors are unpredictable because they are so mentally and emotionally flexible they are paradoxical. That is, they can feel, think, and act in both one way and the opposite. "Nice" people often suppress the rebellious spirit found in survivors. Dr. Bernie Siegel points out, for example, that "pleasers" are the ones most likely to conform to doctors' predictions and die, while the exceptional cancer survivors, the ones more likely to live, are not good patients.


Item Six

  1. I trust my intuition when I don't have all the facts.
  2. Going on feelings is unreliable. I go on facts and good logic.
Women know this better than men, but successful male executives also score high on intuition. Intuition is a logical talent, actually. It is simply a matter of having a quiet mind and non-verbally scanning for subliminal perceptions. It is there for anyone to develop. Has following your intuition ever paid off for you?


Item Seven

  1. I'm a better person because of the bad experiences I've been through.
  2. I'm worse off today because of the bad experiences I've been through.

The talent for serendipity is the best indicator of all. Cindy Wells, featured in the May, 1997, Thriving Story of the Month says:

"I have found that the purpose of dealing with chronic illness is not to necessarily get well but to live well.... Ironically, even with this illness I am probably more alive than most people will ever be."

To overcome a rough experience keep asking: "Why is it good that this happened? What is the gift? How can I make things turn out well?"

Oprah is an outstanding example of a person made stronger by bad experiences. Her story is so inspirational, I featured her in the April, 1997, Thriving Story of the Month.

Adapted from The Survivor Personality, by Al Siebert, Ph.D.
© 2010 Berkley/Perigee Books

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