At its outset, the day of interest to this post gave no indications of being anything other than ordinary. If memory serves, it was a Tuesday, in fact, the most ordinary of all days. Saturday and Sunday are the most exciting and anticipated, for obvious reasons…at least to the standard issue working stiff. Monday is Newton’s 3rd Law on the weekly schedule, the equal and opposite reaction to Saturday and Sunday. Wednesday is hump day…insert your own joke if you desire. And Thursday is Friday Eve, where everyone so diligently reminds each other, all day long, that “It’s almost Friday.”
Tuesday, however, is just Tuesday. Taco lovers may take issue with my saying so, but you can eat a good taco any day. While I concede that “Taco Tuesday” is a clever catch phrase for advertisements of pseudo-Mexican eating establishments, I’m certainly not moved enough to purchase the bumper sticker.
But on this ordinary Tuesday, after brushing my teeth, eating my breakfast, putting on my clothes, and taking a shower (not necessarily in that order), things took an interesting turn:
Whether British or Australian – or some far of land of multiple personalities – I still didn’t understand what this ghost-looking dude with a New Zealand accent was doing in my house. Or how he got in there.
“How did you get in here?” were the words I used to ask the most predictable of questions.
“Your garage door was open,” he said rather matter-of-factly.
“Damnit! Why is it so hard to remember to shut that thing?!”
“Your neighbors didn’t seem to have the same issue.”
“Alright, alright…why, then, are you here?”
“I’ve made a great journey from the land of…”
“Multiple personalities, I know”
“Will you just!”
“Yeah, sorry…go on…”
“I came here to help you understand yourself, your personality.”
“And you couldn’t even get dressed first?”
“This is how I dress.”
“I’m an avatar, Bert. Your avatar. I represent your personality type, and I’m here to explain to you what that means. How you communicate. Why you do the things you do. Why you struggle with things and succeed in others. What makes you comfortable and uncomfortable.”
“You without pants, that’s making me a little uncomfortable.”
“Oh, for the love of…I came all this way to help you, and you’re making me mad as a bag of ferrets, mate!”
“I thought you WEREN’T Australian? Nevermind, I’m sorry. What did you say your name was again?”
“What kind of name is that?”
“Well it’s a clever little name made up of your four-letter, Myers-Briggs personality type, which happens to be INFJ. See…IaN FanJoy.”
“Ah, yeah…I can see it when you speak in capital bold font.”
“Wonderful, then. We’re off to a smashing good start, aren’t we?”
“Is that your famous British sarcasm, I presume?”
Profiling the INFJ (and a Refresher on MB)
Right, then…since it’s been a while since I started this Myers-Briggs series with Personality 1, let’s refresh, shall we? I’ll be hasty in rehashing…like cooking leftovers for breakfast. Imagine for the next few minutes that I’m talking as fast as I can to get through this review in one, large breath.
First, you have the Myers-Briggs dichotomies:
Then you take the test to determine which side you fit on each of the four to get your four-character type. Again, we’re talking about INFJ here, so we have introversion, intuition, feeling, and judging.
Then we have the cognitive functions that underly each type as described below:
Remember, with cognitive functions, order matters. The first is the strongest, almost instinctive, the second also strong but not as dominant or embedded, the third usually takes some practice and is a growth opportunity, and the fourth can be a growth opportunity too, but it can also be a bit of an achilles heel bugaboo.
In that last post, Personality 1, we used a random type, ENFP, as an example for a starting point, so now we’ll diagram, specifically, the INFJ:
I also plan to dig deeper into cognitive functions in a future post, but it’s a bit hard to understand any type without knowing what the functions mean, so I’ll give it a cursory overview:
Introverted Intuition – The intuition part of things is about synthesizing information together until it “clicks” and fits together, and since this form is the introverted form, it’s going to occur from within, during solitude, rather than, say, an outward brainstorming session (as would be the case with Extroverted Intuition). Introverted intuition is often referred to as the function that produces the “Aha!” moments, perhaps after a night of “sleeping on it.” Meatloaf preferred to use this function when dealing with tough relationship crossroads discussed by the dashboard light (let me sleep on it…).
Extroverted Feeling – This function revolves around the desire to connect with others and share experiences and thoughts. It’s also a very empathic function, meaning one feels the emotions of another and is often compelled to take care of others. Strong extroverted feelers have a good sense of what others want or need and may often seek to provide those very wants and needs.
Introverted Thinking – This is the function of the analyst. Whereas Introverted Intuition is more of an unconscious process resulting in a transcendent idea or summary of a pattern, Introverted Thinking is a very conscious, active analysis of data. It is all about sorting, bucketing, and labeling in a very precise manner. The function is heavily driven by logic and seeks the most efficient solution to a problem.
Extroverted Sensing – This cognitive function is about one’s interaction with the physical world around them. This one heavily relies on our five physical senses to gather as much input as possible from our environment. It also is very much about the present moment, being immersed in the situation of the here and now. Professional athletes, for example, have a finely tuned Extroverted Sensing function, both for physical skill as well as the ability to get in “the zone” of the present.
For the Love of OCD…
As stated earlier, the order of cognitive functions matters, so to say that these four functions of the INFJ are their strengths isn’t at all accurate. In fact, the third and fourth ones may even be extremely weak and detrimental to our being if not practiced throughout one’s life journey. Instead, this list more defines the order of preference in which a given personality type is likely to leverage each one.
In that same token, if someone of a certain type is put in an environment where they are pressured to heavily rely upon their third or fourth function, say for their job or career, it can creative a very stressful setup for failure and result in less than ideal behaviors. And it is within these exact nuances and subtleties that we can begin to dig into the interesting attributes and test cases of Bert as an INFJ.
EXHALE! Phew…I almost passed out there for a moment.
The INFJ’s Big Revelation
Ah, I almost forgot…Bert and Ian were in the middle of a discussion:
If there’s one thing to know about a typical INFJ that both gives the most insight into their personality and simultaneously explains the genesis of this blog post, it’s that, partly because they are the rarest type (and partly for other reasons), they tend to feel a bit different and misunderstood. As a result, however, an INFJ usually has the most intense revelation upon discovering their type, reading about their traits, and finding and talking to other INFJs out there in the world.
It’s almost as if INFJs feel that personality tests were created as Christmas gifts perfectly tailored to fit their quirky-shaped stocking and the stockings of others like them. In fact, if a friend of yours recently sent you a personality test and raved about how amazingly insightful it was (and wasn’t your boss, teacher, or psychologist), you can almost bet they, in fact, are an INFJ. I say “almost” because the person that originally sent me the test was not an INFJ, but she’s potentially an exception to the not-so-hard-and-fast rule.
I can actually tell you from experience…I mean…Bert could tell you from experience that…wait a minute…
Straight-up Honest Truth Sidebar: You know…(sigh)…we can probably cut the Mickey Mouse charade at this point, huh? If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m Bert. Bert is I. Finkle is Einhorn. That’s right, I’m Bert, Bert is an INFJ, I’m an INFJ, and this post is mostly a rather indulgent, lengthy, but also marginally educational self-reflection serving as a character description of INFJs. Which, by the way, also happens to expose another frequent trait of the INFJ; while typically a bit guarded up front and in person, for some reason they seem all too willing to explore themselves publicly as a case study, either through writing, acting, or some other indirect means. Back to the post…
So yeah, I can tell you from experience that when I first learned of my INFJ-ness, I was as worked up as a puppy seeing themselves in a mirror for the first time. And being the skeptic I am, I figured maybe they (the profilers – 16 Personalities) just used generic enough language, like a horoscope or tarot cards, so that it gave the impression that they really knew you (or anyone else, for that matter). So I decided to read other profiles, all sixteen, in fact, to see if they also seemed to be eerily accurate.
I started with the other types that were similar to me. For example, I am an INFJ, but my feeling/thinking trait was just barely an “F,” so I read the INTJ profile. Sure enough, there were some things that made it sound like a magician’s card trick, but not near as much. I felt like I had a fair amount in common with the INTJ profile, but I wasn’t actually an INTJ. Then I just kept reading, and the rest of them seemed less like me for sure. The ones that were very different, almost opposite from me (like ESTP), sounded nothing like me.
So while I continue to say that a person can’t necessarily let a Myers-Briggs test define them, that it’s only a general profile, that it’s only a tool for good when used in the right way, I will openly admit I was stunned at how in-depth it described me, how much my further readings on the profile type have resonated with me, and how much I can relate to INFJ folks I’ve heard or talked to since then. So, without further ado, and after a massively long introduction, review, and preview…here’s a little about me and INFJs like me. Enjoy the show!
Mental Break Sidebar: I feel obligated at this point to give you the chance to stretch your brain and maybe drain your bladder…and be completely transparent in informing you that you’re only about one-third of the way through this post. But, the best stuff is yet to come, I promise. Have I ever lied to you before? I mean, really, seriously lied? Let’s face it, you’re pot committed at this point. That underwear doesn’t even need to be folded today; no one will see it if it wrinkles anyway.
Getting to Know the INFJ
To kick things off, how about a few fun facts about the INFJ personality type, eh? For starters, INFJ’s are the rarest type making up perhaps less than one percent of the population. They are among the most likely to stay in college and maintain some of the highest GPAs. Some famous INFJs you may know include MLK Jr., Gandhi, and…well…Adolf Hitler (personality is a complex and nuanced beast). They’re also the most likely to be afraid of the dark. I can vouch for that, even at age…well, not a child.
That’s all well and good, but it’s the minutiae, really. There are plenty of listicles and profile descriptions out in the vast interwebs spouting on about INFJs, not to mention every other personality type, so I’ll pass on repeating the obvious. What I want to do is take some of the big-picture, overarching themes that I noticed while synthesizing all the information I found on the web with my own life experiences as an INFJ and give you an idea of what it’s truly like to, well, be me, I guess. Or an INFJ in general. If you thought you knew me before, maybe you did…or maybe this is about to get much more interesting.
Oh…also, we don’t have all of the transcripts of the conversation between Bert and Ian (mostly because cartoons take a painfully long time to create), but I can assure you the rest of the educational self-reflection contained in this post was as a result of enlightening and humorous conversations that would have been accompanied by thought bubbles and clever little facial expressions.
The Ambiverted Chameleon Doesn’t Know His Own Colors
The INFJ is the most extroverted of the introverted types. You can see how this could get confusing already, both to other people as well as to INFJs themselves. Society has certain expectations of the extrovert and the introvert, and it’s beginning to become more widely known here in the states (thanks, in part, to Susan Cain) how the introvert also fits into their role within society rather than trying to pose as an extrovert. But what good are expectations when you don’t know which a person is? Or if that person doesn’t know which they are either?
It wasn’t until stumbling upon all the info I provided in my previous introversion post that I truly knew what I was, because, before then, I didn’t know the entire equation. I was thinking in simpler terms of just outgoing and talkative vs. reserved and shy. Once I understood the energy problem, though – whether a person recharges via socializing or hibernating – I knew for sure that I was an introvert. Probably.
Well, maybe I still didn’t know. Because the truth was, there were times where certain social interaction totally charged me. I also once had a job where I worked at home 25% of the time, and after a few weeks I started making conversation with the furniture. Yet I also didn’t want to go out at night and just belly up to a bar and talk to random people either. The more layers of the onion that I peeled, the more it stunk and made me want to cry…from the fumes, of course.
When I figured out my personality type of INFJ, this all started to make sense to me. My introvert testing alone is definitely on the introvert side of any spectrum I’ve ever seen, but it’s never WAY over there, it’s usually in that ambivert territory. Thus I’m an introvert who recharges alone but also has tendencies and abilities to be quite social. The trick was finding out when and why those social tendencies would reveal themselves.
There are two situations here that the INFJ profile elucidates:
First, INFJs are very empathic (more on that later) meaning that they can intuitively sense, and sometimes even feel, the feelings of others. For this reason they are naturally drawn to connect to others and help out if possible.
Second, we INFJs are also very driven towards having a meaning in life, some greater goal to add value to society in some way. We’re not very good clock watchers and timecard punchers. And in the process of finding and taking action on whatever noble endeavor we decide upon, we are very much willing, and sometimes even overjoyed, to talk to and work with others in the process. The drive to achieve and make the world a better place provides more life energy than what socializing may drain, hence it’s a net credit to the energy bank (FDIC Insured but not “too big to fail”).
This usually leads others to question – if not take outright offense to – the fact that “You can be Mr. Social for reason XYZ, but you can’t blah blah blah!?” I know, right?! This is a general question I’ve been asked – in tones ranging from curious to quizzical and mild irritation to outright anger – by my parents, my siblings, girlfriends, teachers, coworkers, bosses, and friends. And the only true answer I can give them is…”Yes.”
The truth is that “Yes, I’m going to struggle with itchy awkwardness at your family reunion one day and speak like Tony Robbins the next when giving a talk about something important to me and my life’s work.”
That’s just the way it is, baby…I give what I can, but sometimes the reserve runneth dry when it’s not something near and dear to my own beating blood pump. INFJs have a bit of a selfish streak, and this is surely part of it. Whether it’s just a matter of biological energy reserves that we cannot bypass or something that can actually be worked on or improved is matter for endless debate.
Yet as confusing as this social dynamic is for you out there trying to deal with the rare INFJ in your life (if you’re “lucky” enough to know one), you might be surprised to learn that the struggle is real even inside our own head, especially for those of us who haven’t read about or reflected upon our personality type. Before putting some of these pieces together, I had many days of feeling like a former blonde who died their hair so many times over so many years that they simply couldn’t remember what their original color was or how to ever get it back. And while those days are fewer now, they aren’t altogether gone.
I spent so many years trying to be the extrovert society wanted me to be, then recoiling into massive introvert mode and resenting the pressure, then reinventing myself because INFJs are always striving to grow and improve, then getting tired and withdrawing again…my ego feels like it’s on a yo-yo being thrown towards the vast pool of society only to be yanked back inside the comfort of solitude over and over and over again.
If ever there were a person that could convince you they’re something they’re not, it’s an INFJ. That’s a quote I got from a fellow INFJ with a YouTube channel, Tom Davison, but I could again extend that and say they could even convince themselves they are something they are not. The INFJ is a chameleon, a convincing actor, probably a good poker player, and could be a good undercover detective or international spy if they had the balls to put their life on the line and could get past the necessary (even if harmless) manipulation of others (the empathetic “problem”) and move on from unexpected collateral damage along the way, but many probably can’t. I suspect I can’t.
A Fish Out of Water, Physically Speaking
An INFJ’s inferior, fourth function is Extroverted Sensing (interacting with the physical world around them), and until they are able to fine tune that function later in life, they’re likely to be as comfortable in their surroundings as an unkept mutt as the Westminster Dog Show. Or a left-handed baseball player hitting a golf ball with a right-handed seven iron. Or worse, a two iron. Maybe a sumo wrestler on the uneven bars. Austin Powers driving on the right side of the road. Stephen Hawking in a yoga class. Too far? Do you see the irony in Hawking being a genius in the field of physics, by the way? Anyone? Bueller…?
They say the best way to maintain credibility and respect is to be a self-deprecating, equal-opportunity offender, so here’s something you may not know about me: I couldn’t ride a bike until like age twelve. We cool again, Stephen? If we are, I’m donating my respect to Rodney Dangerfield’s estate for the karma points I’m going to need to get through the rest of this post.
Despite being born with an athletic, capable body and some of the genes of my Adonis father, I struggled putting them to good use as a child. I was a late “Bloemer,” if you will. Heck, even today it’s something that doesn’t come easy to me. I’ve always had to practice twice as hard as the next guy to be half as good. My brother always had a natural golf swing. I had to spend hours on the range to keep up with him. And oddly enough, I preferred spending hours on the range. Another INFJ quality being perfectionism, I struggle putting my skills on display until I feel I’ve perfected them for fear of failure and ridicule.
For similar reasons, I had a really tough time with driving cars as well. Or perhaps it was anything with wheels that terrified me. Regardless, imagine not trusting your physical skills, or the world around you, and having to come to terms with driving a two-ton hunk of metal down the street that could mutilate anything you accidentally ran into?
The presence of perfectionism is extremely correlated, and exponentially driven by the assumed risk of the activity. I said to myself, “At age fourteen, I shouldn’t be allowed to drive and take the risk of others’ lives in my hands.” So I didn’t. I put off driving, and I subsequently failed my driving test. Twice. Bike riding was simply a microcosm of the same phenomenon, although it was mostly my own life at stake careening down the street at a frightening four miles per hour.
Basketball? I rarely had the balls to handle any that weren’t my own, at least until I was in college. I figured it best to defer to my teammates who’s ball-handling skills I trusted much more than my own. I got to be a pretty good passer. When I finally grew into my body, and trusted my own abilities, I was able to score twenty points in a game during college intramural leagues, but by then it was too little too late for primetime glory. It sure felt good when it finally came, though. The innuendos were mostly unintentional but quite unavoidable for my inner comedian.
As INFJs, and even as introverts in general, actually, we can sometimes become overwhelmed with external stimuli. All those signals flying at me while driving a car, the signs, the lights, the other passing cars, the elderly woman summersaulting over my windshield before her ambulance ride moments later with the first responders…it was all a bit too much early on in my life.
I could sense my father’s dismay given that – at least in my best estimation – his body never knew such struggles, and sometimes that only made it worse, wanting so badly to make him proud. But we’ve gotten through it as my struggles of the past shrink ever further in the rear-view mirror…oh, and there’s grandma too! Does she know what that finger means? Sorry, grandma!
Now I continue trying to balance learning new things and adventuring into new environments while not stretching my comfort zone to the point of total mental shutdown. I give myself plenty of opportunities to succeed on the turf of the familiar too for confidence’s sake. I’m good with directions when I’ve lived in the same town for ten years now. I can fix a few things in my house after breaking them a time or two first. The physical world is a trial-and-error game for me; I try to count the successes and learn from the errors.
But we (I) have to be careful here too. Given our inferior fourth function, and our perfectionist nature, our tendency upon becoming aware of limitations is to overcompensate like a small dude driving a Hummer.
Especially under stress, we start to panic and focus so hard on our fourth function and unsuccessfully attempt to make it our first, our strongest function, and that’s a recipe for disaster. While most of the “bio-hacking” stuff I’ve written about in the blog can be helpful (things like cold thermogenesis, earthing, optimizing food, etc.), there’s always a risk of stretching them too far into obsession territory as I have before. Don’t obsess, kids.
You Might Be a Schizophrenic…Get a Grip, Man!
Redneck jokes are funny and likely harmless. Schizophrenia jokes may require a bit more tact. For more interesting Betterman musings on schizophrenia (the figurative kind, not the literal), click here.
Schizophrenia is a condition that ought not be taken likely…but very often it is, especially in comedy. Perhaps we’ve all less than tastefully called someone “schizo” before when we think they’re acting “crazy.” Or perhaps we’ve exclaimed in exasperation “I’m feeling so schizophrenic!” when our mind feels fragmented, torn, and unable to grasp reality and make good decisions.
Where does all this schizophrenia talk fit into the discussion of my personality? So glad you asked, Bert. It fits right into the fragmented mind of the occasionally dysfunctional household of the Introverted Thinking (Ti) function who just kicked over the Introverted Intuition (Ni) function’s sweet sand castle only to start an endless cycle of retaliation. Introverted Thinking cited “failure to comply with zoning issues” as cause for the demolition. We’re talking about the Ni-Ti loop, or what some people in the personality biz refer to as being “in the grip.”
As we saw earlier in the cognitive functions diagram, the primary (strongest) function for me and other INFJs is Introverted Intuition (Ni), while the third function is Introverted Thinking (Ti). When you’re in the zone, “killing it” as they say, these two are working in beautiful harmony. In fact, INFJs, because of this combination, have the rare ability of being both an intuition-driven visionary and a logical implementer that can follow through on a great idea and see it through to the finish line, kind of a true one-man team in a way.
But sometimes, especially under stress, the two functions can start to clash and argue, and decision-making becomes a vicious cycle of inner hell. Call it analysis-paralysis, the question of trusting your gut vs. logical reasoning. Your intuition gets a great creative idea, but your brain thinks of all the roadblocks stopping you and gets bogged down with the massive checklist of reality. The two volley the idea back and forth like Nadal and Federer at Wimbledon to the point where you’re so exhausted that no one wins. Or you don’t care who wins.
That’s exactly what Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer look like…when you don’t have the license to reuse their images.
If an INFJ wants to take personal growth serious – as we almost always do – it’s imperative to become aware of this loop and it’s dysfunction. In fact, I would also say that this loop phenomenon is the fundamental dynamic at the root of perfectionism. When we’re stressed, when we’re afraid, when we’re lacking trust in ourselves and our capabilities, our analytical brain (Introverted Thinking), will block out our gut (Introverted Intuition) and simply recycle the data points over and over again to prevent us from moving forward.
It’s at this moment where we have to simply step back and ask ourselves, “Am I really struggling because I don’t have all the data points, or because it’s simply a heavy decision and I’m afraid to trust myself?” And sometimes in life we won’t have access to all the data points, no matter how much we research and analyze. We have to recognize that truth, go with our instinct, let go a little bit, and allow for the possibility that it might be the wrong decision, that we may fail. But if we do fail, we learn from it and take that lesson forward with us.
I actually had a bit of a personal revelation a few months ago after understanding this “loop” concept and the importance of understanding the order of my various cognitive functions as an INFJ.
Looking back to earlier stages of my life, I could remember the way I used to rely on my intuition. It wasn’t something I was consciously aware of, as the primary function is often so ingrained, but it was obvious in hindsight. As I began to grow up and take part in the real world, however, I got into a field that I was “good at” as a result of skills developed from school, hence my day job as an investment analyst. I should probably highlight that word “analyst” there (Introverted Thinking).
I became very good at using my Introverted Thinking, but it still wasn’t second nature to me, and it never will be. I even came to identify with it and think of myself as an analyst, more of an INTJ rather than INFJ. To be sure, it worked in a matter of speaking, but it strained me. I was leaning so hard on my third function and all but forgetting my primary. Eventually I struggled with burnout and stress, so I started trying to slow down and not work as hard, but that didn’t seem to make it better; I was still stressed but with less to show for it.
It wasn’t until I rediscovered my other functions and found ways to tap back into those, especially my intuition, that I was able to better align with my authentic self again and start to feel some balance return to my life.
At this point you’re probably anticipating my plea of advice to “always find a job that showcases your primary function first.” To be completely honest, though, I don’t know what the best advice is. I’m actively trying to figure that out right now, whether it’s simply a matter of finding ways to bring more intuition to an analytical job, or if it requires a bigger leap. Perhaps, no matter how much I try to balance, it simply isn’t possible to restore harmony in a career that puts so much focus on a function that I’ve developed well but have to expel so much energy to use because it just isn’t that natural to me.
And here and now you’re witnessing a live Ni-Ti loop, straight from my brain to yours. At some point I need to decide if I have all – or enough – of the data points to move forward, or if I’m simply stalling because of the enormity of the decision and the fear that comes along with it. But that’s something not likely to be settled before the end of this post, so…to be continued, I guess.
What I can say, though, is that if you know an INFJ going through a serious loop right now (acting a little “schizo”) with all the telltale signs of staring out windows for a little too long, not hitting the gas when the light turns green, and taking ten minutes to decide on their Starbucks order, give ’em a break and just be there for them to talk it through. Sometimes that’s all it takes is someone to listen.
A Betterman Is Never Better Enough
Nor is the world around them. We are idealists, and we believe in utopia, at least in a loose sense of the word. From 16 Personalities:
INFJs tend to see helping others as their purpose in life, but while people with this personality type can be found engaging rescue efforts and doing charity work, their real passion is to get to the heart of the issue so that people need not be rescued at all.
I truly believe, as probably many other INFJs do, that humans are capable of creating a world in which we all find our place of happiness. There will be struggles, no doubt, but war? What is it good for? Absolutely nothing if we get to the core of our misunderstandings. The earlier mentioned Tom Davison fellow had raised the notion on one of his videos that emotional intelligence and understanding of personality types is the next step to bringing the world together and making peace. I happen to think he’s right, or at least that it’s possible.
And that’s why I write about these things so frequently and passionately. And as you can see in this snip-it from my INFJ profile, the researchers at 16 Personalities concur:
When INFJs come to believe that something is important, they pursue that goal with a conviction and energy that can catch even their friends and loved ones off guard. INFJs will rock the boat if they have to, something not everyone likes to see, but their passion for their chosen cause is an inseparable part of their personality.
Being so intimately entwined with our life’s work can also be motivation like no other. We’re literally fighting as if our own precious life is on the line. It creates a huge sense of ownership, not to mention massive amounts of personal validation while achieving milestones along the way. An attack on our cause is an attack on us personally, and certainly we won’t allow ourselves to be attacked without a fight.
At the same time, this also highlights how important balance can be for INFJ peeps. We’re given a lot of firepower to accomplish things in life, in this case massive amounts of determination, but it has to be harnessed. Letting the passion run wild and unchecked can lead to burnout and stress. We can also lose sight of other things in life that are important along the way too. And given that sometimes our “chosen cause is an inseparable part of our personality,” anything less than success can leave us not only feeling as though we’ve failed in the task at hand, but that we, ourselves, our failures.
I’ve experienced both sides in my life. I’ve experienced riding high on the success of things important to me, and I’ve crashed and burned from exhaustively pursuing them with intense focus. The most important thing, though, is that we play the game at all, and that we play the one we love.
We could talk for hours about the art of balance, of managing our intensity and preventing burnout. It’s important, to be sure, and I hope you give it some thought and attention. But the true fatal mistake for the INFJ is losing sight of, or simply failing to identify, the great purpose behind our life’s work. There has to be a cause near and dear to your heart to keep you excited to get out of bed in the morning. If you get ahead of yourself from time to time (which you will), you can always pull back, recover, apologize for mistakes made. But if you have no cause, no mission, no purpose, I can say with emphatic certainty you will wind up lost. I’ve been there.
There’s another quote I heard, yet I cannot remember the source to attribute it to. Nevertheless, it may be the best one-sentence description of how an INFJ navigates their world:
They make it their duty to find the purpose and connections behind everything they touch and think about.
That sounds eerily similar to the tagline of this blog:
For a better (and sometimes funnier) understanding of humans and their world.
I swear on my life I came up with that on my own, by the way, before ever even knowing what an INFJ was.
I’m Not Telepathic, I’m Empathic
As a group, we INFJs are notoriously hard to get to know, hard to read, and a little enigmatic. We’re staunchly private and hold a lot back. It takes serious investment in time to earn our trust and friendship. And my theory on why that is the case? It’s because of our large capabilities for empathy…and thus our abilities for reading YOU.
Empathy is the ability to feel what others feel, and this comes from our second function, Extroverted Feeling (Fe), and probably also as a tag-team effort with our Introverted Intuition (Ni) to derive a gut feeling about the “subject” of our social interaction. It doesn’t take long for us to get a grasp of how that person’s day is going, or perhaps their life in general, even if they haven’t spoken a word.
This insightfulness into others is so ingrained in us that we kind of assume everyone sees and feels it the way we do. But after reading more about this, and meditating on the subject within myself for a while, I’m not so sure that’s the case. Nevertheless, I think we, or at least certainly I, get a bit guarded because we’re wary of others being able to see into our souls as well as we can see into theirs. Once you know how the hot dogs are made…
I can literally remember thinking certain thoughts while walking down the street and then passing strangers and becoming very self-conscious wondering if they could “hear” those thoughts of mine, as if somehow my brainwaves could be translated and interpreted from the movement and demeanor of my physical body. Maybe I’m not alone in these thoughts, but I now suspect it’s a small minority of us, not the majority…though feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
Being an empathic person can have it’s benefits: it makes for good friends, good listeners, and good counselors. But it can also have its drawbacks.
If you soak up the feelings of those around you, then you can imagine how much your state of being is impacted by the people you choose to spend time with (or are forced to spend time with). It can become an important but awkward task to try to manage such a situation. Nevertheless, if follows that if you spend a lot of time around angry, irritable, or sad people, you can expect to find yourself angry, irritable, and sad.
The silver lining here, though, gets back to purpose. If you simply soak up the energy of others’ emotions and carry that home with you, it can have unfortunate consequences. If, however, you engage those people, befriend them, and attempt to listen and help them through it, you both wind up resolving feelings along the way, and you get a jolt yourself for having helped. It’s important for us not to bottle up our feelings, and it’s also important to volunteer to help others through theirs when the opportunity presents itself.
Such is the beauty and harmony of our universe’s design, in my opinion. So many times the best course of action can benefit us all. I don’t believe life has to be a zero-sum game. The utopia may be possible, my friends. Speaking of which…
The Selective Socialist
Just kidding…we’re not talking about economics here.
I can think of no better compliment than for someone to say that they find me “interesting.” Attractive? Sure. Smart? Yeah, that’s flattering too. Talented? Hells yes, who doesn’t want to be considered talented? Funny? That’s a very close second…I do love finding people who share and/or appreciate my bizarre sense of humor. But if someone truly finds me interesting, and says as much, they’ve won me over. And that’s the quality I prefer to find in my own friends and acquaintances as well.
Often times us INFJs prefer to operate on the fringes of a social gathering, independent until we find someone unique that draws our attention. Basically we’re gauging the “conversation-worthiness” of the various guests, much like Elaine (from Seinfeld) determines whether or not her dates are “sponge-worthy.” Some of this is certainly due to our introversion in that, crude as it may sound, we have a finite reserve of social energy and want to save it up for just the right occasion. But I also think it has something to do with our intellectual curiosity, a desire to find something uniquely stimulating and novel.
An evening filled with nothing but social introductions and surface level conversations, the obligatory small talk “How do you do?” that comes part and parcel with an introduction, necessary as they may be, will leave us unfulfilled at best and often irritable at worst. The first person to greet us with something unique, though, has a chance at keeping our company for longer than those trotting out the old “How about this weather?” routine (unless done in parody of this very topic). To be totally honest, we’re conversation snobs. We’re only human; not all of our qualities are redeeming.
If I can find one person with which I can make a genuine connection, with content rather than facade, I’ll consider it a worthwhile success. And given my levels of empathy and sympathy, I enjoy seeking out others that I can tell are as uncomfortable at the “party” as I am to see if I can’t make the best of the moment for both of us.
Of course, this can be a high standard to hold, one that is also prone to disappointment. You can’t catch a trophy fish on every cast, and not every social encounter is going to be exhilarating or even memorable. And if our losing streak continues too long, we have no qualms tossing invitations in the trash and spending more evenings at home, possibly seeking novelty elsewhere. The Internet has made this fabulously more convenient, by the way. Modern day YouTube makes the old circus look like a black and white documentary of the world’s most efficient assembly lines…plus less animal feces.
As I’ve encountered more discussions with and about my INFJ kin, I’ve consistently found this term “old soul” to be used as a popular descriptor. I don’t know if it’s necessarily exclusive to the INFJ community, but there are few INFJs who don’t relate to it. In fact, INFJs are considered to have the highest “mental age” of all personality types according to Thought Catalog, a whopping ninety years old!
Chances are, some part of you has always felt older than those around you. You dwell eternally in the deep end of life – questioning its nature and meaning in-depth, while remaining endlessly patient with those around you. You have the empathy and insight of someone much older than yourself – you are a natural sage, regardless of your biological age.
I’m not sure how quantitatively rigorous that “study” was that came up with the various “mental ages,” but I digress…
When we look at it this way, through the bifocals of an anciently old soul of ninety, I suppose it’s no surprise we INFJs have always felt a little out-of-place at the center of a raging party and might prefer to have a deep side conversation out on the balcony as we tune out the “noise” inside the ballroom. At least for me, the insatiable thirst for wisdom, meaning, and deeper understanding always trumps the rest of the bright and flashy stuff dancing around me. As an avid people-watcher, though, I can’t help but occasionally look back and take in the show.
And Now…Wait for It…the Conclusion
And that finishes what should have been about five separate blog posts that I stubbornly decided to combine into one epic ride. What can I say…other than “I had a lot to say?” To those of you dedicated souls still reading, the “I ain’t no quitter!” types, or the other INFJs that no doubt found some interest, I commend you for your tenacity. And for those of you who were just waiting for some crazy ending, an encore, that little extra minute of movie right after the credits of a superhero flick…well…good thing you stayed in your seats until the bitter end:
Whichever reason it is you wound up down here at the end of the post, I express true, unending gratitude. Perhaps you could leave a comment below, let me know you made it home safely and didn’t fall asleep at the wheel.
If you liked this post, you’ll probably also like this one about introversion:
And if you read this post before the first one I did on personality, well, you’re doing it wrong…but you might as well catch up now:
Hope to see you again next time.