Wednesday, March 12, 2008


What do Mary, Mother of Jesus, and I have in common?

Apparently we are both INFPs, one of the 16 personality types according to the Myers-Briggs personality preference indicator. So, what does INFP mean? "I" stands for introverted, "N" stands for intuitive, "F" stands for feeling, "P" stands for perceiving. Each of the four letters represents a component of psychological type as determined by Carl Jung. As for mine and the Virgin Mary's type, INFP describes a person who - at their best - is sensitive, concerned and caring; idealistic and loyal to their ideas; curious and creative; have long-range vision. At worst, or if not properly supported and appreciated, INFPs withdraw from people and situations, have difficulty expressing themselves verbally, become easily discouraged, and reject logical reasoning.


The reason I took this personality test in the first place is that I'm enrolled in a career exploration workshop and in our last class we discussed Myers Briggs types in some detail. The result is a useful piece of information to include when mulling over one's work life and the kinds of circumstances and occupations that will be conducive to satisfaction and happiness.

Interestingly, I had scored differently the last time I took this test, about 12 years ago. Then I turned out to be an INTJ, someone with a clearer preference for thinking over feeling and judging over perceiving (what "judging" means in Myers-Briggs terminology is a preference for structure and planning). That just shows how years of yoga practice, spiritual re-education and plunging into a creative line of work can transform a "TJ" into an "FP", while leaving my "IN" intact; for the sake of accuracy, I must admit that my scores for I and N were quite strong, while my tendency towards F and P were less conclusive. And it is possible that the last time I took the test I answered the questions inaccurately, responding aspirationally (how I wanted to be and/or how I thought I should be) rather than how I actually was. It's also possible that I'm a bit of a flip-flopper. In certain group work situations, I can quickly morph into an INTJ if I sense (intuitively, of course!) that there is a need for a decision maker or someone to be in charge. I can play that part, but I don't necessarily enjoy being in that role. Indeed, when I read a bit more about how personality type manifests in the workplace it became clear that, on the job, I am an INTJ.

And while I normally hate being put into a box and reject almost any categorization of my "type", the woman leading my career workshop told us that INFPs are rare indeed, occurring in about 1% of the US population. That made me feel special again, until I realized that I am just one in a 100, not one in a million. Then she pointed out that INFPs, of the 16 types, have the hardest time finding satisfaction in or fitting into the contemporary American workplace. Many of them just quit. It felt validating to have my own highly disappointing and discouraging corporate experiences corroborated by the research, although then I started to worry that I might never be able to tolerate a job that actually offered benefits and a 401(k) plan. My detour into anxiety and self-pity abruptly ended when I Googled "INFP" and discovered that, according to Wikipedia, I am in pretty amazing company. In addition to Jesus' Mother, other INFPs include Homer, Shakespeare, Princess Diana and Mister Rogers.


Kristin said...

I too am an INFP, though several years ago took the same test and was very strong in the Extrovert Category. After working in big pharma for a few years, I was deiscouraged, burnt out, and left feeling empty from all that the job entailed.. So I resigned a few months ago and am now in search for a new career. While doing so, I came across the Myers Briggs test and took it again, showing that I am indeed an introvert... among other things. I am having the hardest time finding a position that is fulfilling and one that I will feel really good about doing! Discouraged, I googled "INFP" and found your blog- how inspiring!! thank you thank you!!!

Kristin said...

The site below may also be relevant/helpful:

I. said...

Thanks, Kristin, for reading and commenting. I'm so glad you found my words helpful.