Jinnie English. (Photography by Dan Dry)

What’s your ick factor?

For $10, Jinnie English, AM’99, helped alumni find out.

“There is something wrong with you,” says Jinnie English, AM’99. “There is something wrong with all of us.” The 40 participants in English’s career workshop, “Your Ick Factor,” laugh nervously.

By the end of the 90-minute program, English promises, we will all identify our personal ick factor—something that repels others and keeps us from succeeding professionally and personally. “Everyone has at least one,” English reiterates. “Many of you have, like, 12.” The group laughs again.

The process of discovering that ick factor will not be pleasant, says English, who runs her own psychotherapy practice, International and Chicago’s High Achievers. “It will hurt,” she says. “A lot. If you’re going to do therapy, you have to be in a lot of pain, or else outright crazy.”

Next, English gives the group time to fill out the questions in our “mini-workbooks.” The unsparing questions (“What criticisms are made about you? Do they hurt your feelings? Are they consistent across situations and environments?”) are designed to increase our self-awareness. “And that takes a lot of courage,” she says.

After just a few minutes, English asks, “Does anyone want to share?”

One middle-aged man volunteers almost immediately. For “How would others see you?” he reads out, “Kind. Boyish. Intense. Thoughtful.” For “How do others describe you?” his answers are “Charming. Smart. Serious.”

“Okay,” says English. “And do you feel comfortable telling us how you describe yourself and see yourself?”

“Sure,” he says. “Kind …” The rest of the participants interrupt him by laughing.

“We’re looking for contradictions,” English says.

“Oh, you’re looking for contradictions,” he says. “Boy, I guess there’s not a lot of contradictions in the way other people see me and the way I see myself.”

“OK,” English says gently. “That could happen for some folks. I would encourage you to push past that and see if you can get a little deeper.”

One woman asks about criticisms that only her husband makes and no one else. English suggests tactfully that her husband may be right: “The people who are the closest to you often see the things that most people don’t.”

By the end of the workshop, just a few people have shared their “ick factor” with the group (one woman, for example, admits to checking her e-mail at work while her colleagues are trying to talk to her), but most have kept any revelations to themselves. The participants scoop up their incriminating mini-workbooks and scuttle toward the door. As English gathers up her materials, she turns to the event’s organizer: “I’m just glad nobody cried.”

So what was my ick factor, you might ask.

Well … my tendency to procrastinate is just one of many.

And when did English hold this workshop?

Ah … it was … February 8, actually.

I’ve identified my ick factor. Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to doing something about it.