INFJ, ENTJ, otherness, and the world at large

I’ve written before that I am an INFJ.  And I’ve also described the basic discomfort I felt while at business school.  Recently, Penelope Trunk wrote about something that explains the latter in terms of the former with a clarity that was like turning on a light.

I probably ought not have been as surprised as I was by the data Penelope Trunk shares that less than 1% of all women fall into the Myers-Briggs type ENTJ.  Yet that is the dominant personality type at the business school I attended, enormously disproportionately represented in the class.  I know this because we all had to take the test, and the results were shared widely and clearly, and it was said over and over again that ENTJ was “the type” that had long succeeded at the school and, perhaps more germanely, in the business world.

I sort of can’t believe I have never known this single piece of information, which seems to encapsulate so much of the dissonance that many women I know feel in today’s business world.  I am not sharing this to point fingers or to complain.  Not at all.  I think there is much to be said difference and for forging a new path in a well-mapped and crowded terrain.  But this data point does help me understand myself and the world better, much the same way reading Susan Cain’s Quiet did.

It makes me wonder how it is I wound up in an environment where I was (and am) so different.  Why did I seek out a place where I did not fit, where I felt so other?  Maybe, however, circumstances matter less than our internal wiring, because the truth is when I think about it I have almost always felt  somewhat other.  I have almost always felt as though I was watching the world through a thin pane of glass, close to but essentially apart from the action.

And maybe some subconscious part of me knew that aspects of me did fit in this world. l am both an introvert and a connector, and I do genuinely love the significant part of my life that occurs in the business world.  Maybe there isn’t one single place I fit, after all.  I have more than once described the contradictions that exist in every cell of my body.

I think it’s notable, though, that at least one business school the dominant personality type is one that is so minutely represented in women.  This can’t be separate from the passionate response to Anne Marie Slaughter’s piece about having it all.  That response interested me because it was twofold.  Yes, there was the assertion – and I agree with this – that traditional models of professional success are often incompatible with a hands-on approach to parenting small children.  But even more, I observed many, many women, myself included, writing whole-heartedly about how “having it all” meant many, many different things to different people.

I wish I had a clearly defined thesis, or any kind of neat conclusion to this post.  I’ve been thinking over this tangled mess of themes and questions for a long time now, and a clean answer eludes me.  I think there is value in continuing to expand the notion of success in the world.  I also think that recognizing the norms of situations we find ourselves in is powerful, because it helps explain why we may feel dissonant inside them.  I suppose that is the conclusion, after all: there is power in understanding, even if it that knowledge does not offer neat solutions and tidy resolutions.  Life eludes clean categories, I’ve found.  The best we can do is continue to try to understand ourselves and the environment in which we live.

Tell me, what is your Myers-Briggs type?  I am endlessly fascinated by this.


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  1. Posted October 16, 2012 at 4:38 am | Permalink

    I think I’ve told you before that I am INFJ too. What I don’t remember if I told you is that until I made my 180 degree turn in 2006, I thought I was an ESTJ. That’s what I tested the first time I took the test before we got married in 1994. I admire the fact that you knew who you were in the midst of a place that probably almost demanded you be something else. My confusion had much to do with the soil in which I grew up, and influenced/was influenced by my career choice. It took some time away from both home and career before the true me could begin to emerge, and it’s been at times a painful hatching.

    I worry that the danger in facts like those you presented about your school and career is that instead of braving difference and forging new paths, many of us feel unconsciously compelled to deny who we really are in order to attempt to have it all. Defining “all” differently, bravely choosing to not quite fit, takes more than we have to give sometimes. A more fluid workplace – generally speaking – that celebrated difference instead of rigidly claiming one way is better might help more of us give up less in order to find equilibrium.

  2. Amy
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Life eludes clean categories. So true.

  3. Posted October 16, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Interesting fact: When I was young (~18), I was an ENTJ. As I got older and wiser, my Myers-Briggs type drifted until by the time we met each other at HBS (~24) I was an ENFP.

    I’ve always felt that while the younger me was a classic, hard-charging high achiever, the older me has been much more effective at making things happen in the world (and less intent on claiming credit!).

  4. Robert
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Why do we really care, are we really only for letters that determine our personality? I am not the “same” at work, at home, with my parents, on the field hockey pitch… with the kids, with friends.

  5. Posted October 16, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    You caught my attention with the subject of this post because ever since I took the Myers Briggs (among other tests) while pursuing an MBA, I’ve been fascinated by the subject. And I have gone through a cycle of thinking my type was the best and then the worst and then the best and then coming to a conclusion that we’re all unique and there is value in all of us and knowing someone’s type helps facilitate communication. I’m an INFP/INFJ though at the time I took the test I was going through a divorce and turning my life upside down and I was off the scale P. I couldn’t plan for the future because I couldn’t even plan for the next day. I live in the engineering world in which details (S) are a big deal and I’m a intuitive (N) that gets frustrated with the slow speed of details. What I have discovered is that even though you wouldn’t pick engineering for a person with my personality type, I found the exact perfect type of engineering position for me. I think all intuitive feelers (NF), and especially introverted intuitive feelers, are bound to in find themselves in the minority, feeling like outcasts. 75% of the world at large is Senate (S), but intuitives get things. Sometimes without even knowing why. Love and celebrate your type. It’s a good one. It means you can sit down with anyone and empathize and connect, sometime without even knowing why. In this day and age of rapid anonymous communication, that means a lot. You may not always feel like you belong, but years from now people you barely remember will come up to you and tell you they remember you and you impacted their lives by just listening to them. 🙂

  6. Kate
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    As a fellow INFJ (there should be a club for us), I remember sitting in a Wharton class that was an elective for my graduate program and being just blown away by all of the students practically throwing themselves out of their seats to be heard. It was alien territory for me!

    It wasn’t until I read Quiet that I understood why I used to come home from a previous job in a completely open plan setting (only desks, no walls) and absolutely collapse on Friday nights.

  7. Posted October 16, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I am an INFP… and when I learned more about the Myers-Briggs the whole world opened in a new way. A new language to describe myself, a realization that the reason that often I felt so different than others was becuase I was 🙂 There was a celebration in learning that 1-3% of the world were INFP.. and yet there was this amazing thing that happened once I realized that I was different… I started to see all the similarties.

    Once I gave myself permission to be who I was not only did I learn to love and embrace myself… but others as well. And now I have found “my people” and know my strengths, my gifts and my needs in a whole new way. To fully embrace my Iness in a culture that celebrates Es… that was a huge turning point for me.

  8. Colin Rowan
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I was an INFP at business school, one of 2 in a class of approximately 900 students. The day that the results of Myers Briggs were handed out, I was sitting next to the other INFP. That odd coincidence (or not), combined with the language that M-B gave me to better understand myself left a permanent and deep impression on me. I have continued the process of trying to better understand my evolving and changing self to this day and will carry it forward to the end (the end of me, not total enlightenment!). Thanks for all of the thoughts above – much food for thought.

  9. Posted October 16, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    I’m an ENFJ — though an introverted “E” and becoming increasingly “P” all the time — typical for my training as a career counselor. When I used to work with clients who were in occupations that were not “true to type,” I often noted that these people forged unique paths in their professions that allowed them to “live” their type — often inadvertently — and were usually valued members in their workplaces for offering different perspectives/POVs/skills.

  10. Posted October 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Great post! I love, love love the Myers-Briggs Type indicator. I am a solid INFP and have been everytime I’ve taken it, but I am really interested in some of the comments above about people whose type changes. I always thought it could.

    I also wonder if a lot of those ENTJ’s in business school might change in another setting or time in their lives, like Chris Yeh mentions above. It seems to me that you could always answer the way you *want* to be, rather than how you really are — consciously or unconsiously. Wonder if thats not happening with atleast a few of those future MBAs. Then again, I never had to sit through class with them, so what do I know? 🙂

    Off to go read Penelope Trunk’s article!

  11. Posted October 16, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    INFJ, of course. Though I land near the mid-point rather than the far edge of each. Like with so many other identifiers, including the darn zodiac, I sway tantalizingly close to the things I’m not.

  12. Posted October 16, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    INFJ here too. And your post reminds me that I really need to move Susan Cain’s book to the top of my reading pile.

  13. jenna @auntie_jenn
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    ISTJ, though in business school I was an E. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more introverted and find that’s where I’m most comfortable. I can do the E for work, but it exhausts me.

    Have you read the book DO WHAT YOU ARE? It gives you ideas for what jobs would best suit you based on your type.

    Love MBTI…so helpful for groups to understand dynamics, strengths, roles.

  14. Posted October 16, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I am a definitive INF, but am split right down the middle as a J/P. Some great reading recommendations in your post and in the comments.

    It’s amazing how inventories like these affect us. Any time I have ever taken one – any type – my response to the results is always the same. Yup – not surprised. I guess I mean I’m never shocked to see how I turn out on paper because I think I’ve always known those things about myself.

  15. Posted October 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I believe I’m an INFP which matches my personality quite well.

    I don’t understand how there can be assumptions that one personality type fits a specific job. Introverts aren’t shy, for one thing, they just prefer alone time to group time. Perhaps if introversion and extroversion were understood a little better there wouldn’t be those false pronouncements about which is better for which field.

    (Forgive me, I’m feeling a bit sassy today.)

  16. Posted October 16, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Gosh. I took this test in a college psych class and must admit that I don’t remember my type although I must say, I am quite sure I have changed- once if not twice…

  17. Posted October 16, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Permalink


    I’m struck by how many INFPs read and follow you.

  18. Posted October 16, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    another INFJ here but I’ve resisted reconciling to “labels” from M-B and other personality tests as there are so many roles in my life where I truly must adapt to what is needed where it is needed. And I’ve yet to find a test that measures “curmudgeon.” 😉

  19. Posted October 17, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I wanted to “Reply” to Amber’s comment above, but it wasn’t letting me, so I’ll add it here. A common misconception about MBTI is that certain types equal certain occupations. However, the way the assessment is validated, what it really means is that certain types are naturally attracted to certain occupations. For example, they look at the results of thousands of, say, ENFJs and find a high concentration of this type working in the career counseling occupation. Of course there are many other types that are working in career counseling, but you are more likely to find an ENFJ than, say, an ISTP working there. I think this method adds some validity to the assessment. I hope that helps to clarify and not further muddy the waters! ~ Signed, MBTI Geek

  20. Amy
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never “been” with so many INFJ’s who went to b-school! Oddly comforting, actually. I’m another INFJ who felt out-of-place in business school. I’ve been working in MBA-land for a decade now with lots of ENTJ/ESTJ’s and find it’s harder to be fully appreciated when your bosses are your opposite.

  21. Haile
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m an ENTJ.

    I knew that I wanted to have the choice to stay home some and work some, so no MBA, rather an MFA in Graphic Design. Although, I’d love to have an MBA, too.

    As it turns out, it is simply not in my being to stay home full time. I struggle with balance, but in reverse – the struggle (and guilt) comes when I put work first. And I have to fake it sometimes to relate to other Moms. Never thought about my ENTJ-ness and motherhood!

  22. Caroline
    Posted October 18, 2012 at 4:38 am | Permalink

    I took that test as part of outplacement after a layoff in 2004 or 2005, and if I remember correctly was INTJ. I know that I was off-the-chart I, and it amused me that the man I spoke with there was surprised by that, apparently because I was comfortable talking with him. He didn’t really understand the meaning of “introvert”, I think!

  23. Claudia
    Posted October 18, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Another INFJ here! And I TOTALLY know what you mean about feeling close but just a little distant from the action. I feel just this way, too, especially when I’m in larger groups of people (even people I know well). I’m less likely to fee lonely and set apart when I’m alone, I think, than I am when surrounded by people. Thanks for the commiseration – I’m glad I’m not the only one!

  24. Posted October 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    It doesn’t surprise me at all that we are both INFJ. I’m also HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). I am a beautiful, quiet mess 🙂

  25. Suzanne Nolan
    Posted October 18, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey –

    I happened across your blog over a year ago and follow it religiously. I have intended any number of times to comment on your postings or send you a note to talk about how funny I find it that our proverbial paths crossed again… That I found your words so many years after knowing one another on Cape Cod. Your introspection, self-awareness, and ability to articulate what, I believe, so many of us feel as women, mothers, wives is both moving and heartening.

    That said, something about this post prompted me (finally) to comment. As with most, my life has taken a circuitous route to the point I am today. I have an established career and had my first child 7 months ago when I was a month shy of 39. I am an ENTJ… but very close to an ENFJ, so was fascinated (and relieved) by Penelope Trunk’s caveat re: the inherent conflict of being committed to both career and being a mother (particularly as an ENFJ). Still trying to find my sea legs on this topic.

    Thank you for touching on this.
    – Suzie

  26. Posted November 17, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    INTJ, which is not only difficult in biz school but in the business world as well. I always thought business school (and my stagnation in my career) was because I was not as ambitious and smart and confident as everybody else, but I think more than anything it’s my unease with putting myself out there.

  27. nancy
    Posted December 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Still catching up…and while there are other posts I’d love to respond to (you and I share a love for Annie Dillard and Mary Oliver, for example…)–I HAD to tell you that a) I still don’t know my Myers-Briggs type; but at age 55 (as of just a couple of weeks ago), I have literally just figured out this past fall that I am an introvert, not an extrovert. You’d think it would take me less than five decades to work this out; but my parents always told me I was an extrovert, and all this time it had never crossed my mind that they might have been wrong.

    So there you go….

  28. Posted January 10, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I resonate with what you say. I am an INFJ as well and so relate to always feeling “other.” Even now writing this! So happy to have discovered you.

  29. KathyS
    Posted February 18, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    ISTJ … And I too find this subject matter and it’s influence in of life’s areas fascinating. In fact, shortly after high school my eldest daughter took the test and we had a good laugh and aha moment in saying… that’s why such and such drives us crazy about each other! We are both I’s and have put Quiet near the top of our reading lists.

    admin Reply:

    Yes – my mother is 100% P and I’m 100% J (surely not a coincidence!) and I often say that that is at the room of ALL of our issues!

  30. Amy
    Posted February 25, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    INFJ as well 🙂 Was ENFJ pre kids.

  31. Posted May 12, 2013 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m an INFJ – see my art journal page here… though I function as an ENFP a lot of the time.

    It’s helpful to know about the others ‘like me’, their interaction with the world and other personalities.

  32. Posted August 5, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I stumbled across your site from Pamela’s and found this post quite interesting. I am an INTP that functions well with an office of E and J personalities though I am exchuasted at day’s end. Like comments above, i find the categories interesting for communication – though I do believe that we each have something to bring to the table.

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