If you don’t yet know your Myers-Briggs type, take the test here: if nothing else, it’s an interesting conversation topic since so many people have taken it. And it’s always fun to see what people THINK they are versus what they actually are.
When I took mine (twenty-ish times, to ensure reliability), I had the following reactions upon reading my INFP results:
Relieved. All my shortcomings have a scientific explanation. I can stop worrying about them.
Resentful. People take a test and are given a label—really? Is there any mystery left in life–any allure of the unknown?
Disappointed. INFPs do not generally succeed in certain efforts. In fact, we are collectively among the lowest wage earners of all Myers Briggs types. Specifically, we are not often found starting multi-million dollar companies or promoting up through the upper echelons of corporate life. And so this explains why my dream of being a high-powered corporate woman strutting around in L.K Bennetts was such a short-lived ideal. Once I landed in the corporate world, I then wondered if there existed in all the land a more drawn-out, painful death.
Mad. After receiving an INFP result, I realized I worried down Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for naught. Because INFPs do not typically become CEOs. They don’t typically maneuver around on corporate ladders or—in Sandberg-speak—corporate jungle gyms. Why? Because we don’t give a damn about most of the things corporations give a damn about. Nor are we very good at pretending to. And if we manage to get there, we will most certainly face unhappiness and disillusionment. Which makes me wonder why Sandberg completely ignored INFPs in her effort to persuade women to strive for top executive roles, even if a woman hates her life in the process? I am a thousand percent sure she knows about personality typing….
Being an INFP isn’t necessarily what I would have chosen for myself.
Many of the pursuits I’ve wasted time over are not naturally suited to my type anyway. And what I love—that which whispers sweet nothings in my ear all the day long—are not what make money or make success or even make sense to most people. They are what I downplay or hide or talk little of because I learned at some point that talking in rainbows and what-ifs will mostly render a blank stare or awkward cough.
And as much as I don’t mind being different, I don’t like feeling misunderstood.
But there’s something beautiful about familiarity. And so I write this for all the INFPs out there who may read this—all the people who are coupled or friended with INFPs. My husband was thrilled when Myers Briggs confirmed that I am as normal as an INFP can be. It helped level expectations in our marriage.
Conversely, when I studied my husband, the quintessential ISTJ—so many things made sense. We conflict differently–are more apt to fight less and chalk more things up to his type/my type. (I’ll write more about an INFP/ISTJ relationship later—because it’s fascinating, really.)
For now, it’s all about the INFP, baby! This is what I’ve learned, including the BUTs:
We are Idealists. Big goals, expansive dreams, strong ideals. The INFP world is ripe with possibilities. Anything could happen—and while we may dip into depression quickly, we also soar to the heights of optimism and inspiration quickly.
BUT: We often never quite achieve our grand goals and are driven by ideals for which the confines of reality have no space for. Often, we settle for reality and spend a lifetime wondering if this is all there is. Our idealism is so strong, it can paralyze us when life doesn’t quite match up to that ideal.
We are very relational. People appreciate our sympathetic ear. We have genuine empathy, genuine concern with how people feel. Most of our decisions are made on the basis of how we think they will make people feel. We are friendly to all, but few enter our inner sanctum where we reveal our authentic selves. And we are fiercely loyal to those who do.
BUT: We form only a few truly close attachments, even though people will “dump” on us as we tend to be good and empathetic listeners. In fact, INFPs notoriously struggle with setting and keeping healthy interpersonal boundaries and often do not receive enough deposits into their own account.
The typical corporate job was not made for us. We struggle staying in jobs; INFPs die a slow death in a mundane, highly-controlled corporate environment in which data, collectivism and the bottom line are ruling factors. We evaluate everything through the lens of our values and how we feel; many companies place little value on such a non-analytical perspective. We CAN be analytical and successfully hone those skills; it isn’t our natural comfort level, however. And it certainly doesn’t inspire us.
As a result, we often “job hop”, searching for that right fit; or we stay in our jobs, miserable and resigned to living in gray-scale instead of full-color because, at the end of the day, inspiration and self-discovery must be sacrificed on the altar of bills and provisions.
BUT: INFPs, when given the freedom to work creatively and independently on something we believe in, have the ability to focus and dominate in powerful ways. We have excellent intuition; the ability to see “big picture”. We also can walk into a room and understand moods and nonverbal cues better than other types. We hate conflict, but possess excellent mediation skills.
We love to be around people/we hate to be around people. We are consummate introverts: we must have alone time to recharge, connect with our authentic selves, meditate and make sense of our world. Live in the rich color of our internal thought processes.
BUT: We are fascinated by people. Their stories, they’re varied lives. They inspire and intrigue us. We cannot exist completely separated from humanity as this is part of what feeds our insatiable curiosity and our need to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
We have to be creative. Learning to be an authentic INFP while supporting a family sometimes feels like an impossibility. Not because family is a drudgery; in fact, most INFPs become parents and fully embrace the opportunity to invest in the emotional, mental and spiritual development of their children.
But, providing for a family often means there is little time, opportunity or resources for INFPs to tap into their need for authenticity and creativity. As a result, working INFP parents struggle to find balance and harmony in their own lives. We have very little desire to achieve status and money beyond what will allow freedom to explore and discover; however, for happiness’ sake, we must find ways to develop our own passions.
If we are lucky, we can achieve this through meaningful work or creative pursuits either within or without our day jobs. Some INFPs spend a lifetime feeling “lost” and unfulfilled while the smoldering flames of passion and curiosity wane over time. Many actors, artists, musicians and writers are INFPS; the down side is that most INFPs will not be able to make a living as an actor, artist, musician and writer. Like everyone else, we are forced to play by ordinary rules and take ordinary jobs in ordinary cubicles.
BUT: Hopefully, our day job isn’t data analytics or accounting as these will mostly certainly bring career disillusionment for INFPs. We do best in “helping” roles such as teaching, therapy, counseling and—my own career path—human resources.
(Although, I struggle plenty as an INFP HR professional; not because I dislike the work, but because the dogmatic bureaucracy found in most organizations is the very bane of the INFP soul. For example, I could care less about many HR policies. Why do grown-ups need so many rules, anyway?)
INFPs want to change organizations—the world—for the better. Not by inflicting rules, but by allowing and encouraging people to be THEIR best authentic selves. We are also inspired by information and knowledge because it lends to our quest for an ever-expanding sense of the world. We work best independently, in environments that encourage our “big picture” skills; we flourish when we are free to work out our own magic creatively.
We are not well-suited for management roles. INFPs have no desire to control people, and so management roles can be a challenge. We prefer to allow people space and freedom in order to develop their individualism; this is lovely, until people actually need to be held accountable. Delivering performance reviews can be a real problem for INFPs who often default to the idea that, in spite the glaring evidence, there is SOMETHING good in even poorly performing employees, thereby warranting a positive note.
BUT: In the same manner that we cringe from controlling others, we have a strong aversion to being controlled. As such, INFPs can quickly become rebellious when micromanaged, our values are trampled on, or when we feel that our introversion has rendered us invisible. We will sometimes behave in uncharacteristically harsh, loud, eccentric or even childish ways in order to ensure our ideas and individualism are not ignored for long. (As an INFP, can you perhaps attest to how shocked people become when confronted with this side of an INFP? There is a real fighting power behind the empathy and quiet introspection.)
The good news is that if—IF—an INFP can figure out how to stay the course of something they truly care about, then all else pales against the intensity of their passion. It is a combustible, all-consuming force that enables the INFP to focus and to dominate for the sake of this certain ideal.
I want to be that INFP. I’ve experienced hints of being that INFP. It is an exhilarating peak to summit; the air is clear, there is purpose and transformation, and even the mundane pulses with meaning.
It isn’t Utopia, but it doesn’t need to be because the allure and the idea of Utopia is far sweeter than the actual thing.
Alas, it can be a struggle to experience this because, first, one must gain altitude. For many an INFP mired in daily life, this is challenging.
But the effort is well worth it. At least that is what the INFP, ever the dreamer, dreams of.
How do you gain altitude as an INFP living in a world that isn’t quite set up for Idealists?