An INFJ in a Strange Land

I’ve learned something about myself in the last year or so, which is potentially laudable all by itself, but this nugget of wisdom was actually something of a master key, unlocking several doors at once, and shining a light on many mysteries that had been just out of reach for so long. It started, as many adventures do these days, with Facebook, a platform I frequent less than the average person in my unbiased opinion, where I started to see a recurring pattern of posts with a four-letter acronym that I had never seen before: INFJ. For reasons I am just now beginning to understand, these four letters “spoke” to me. I was drawn to them, for no discernible reason, but as soon as I started researching what INFJ meant and stood for, it immediately clicked and resonated with me, so much so that I eventually found my way to the site 16 Personalities, where I learned more about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test and the 16 personality types.

I took the test, and sure enough, the result was INFJ (INFJ-T to be precise). I felt like I had won the jackpot, saw that I had a BINGO on my card, and had finally discovered who I was, and WHY I react the way I do to certain stimuli and situations. I had found my people. And of course, as I was to learn, the INFJ “clan” is exceedingly rare; in fact, it’s the rarest personality type in the world, making up between 1% and 2% of the population (of the entire planet). And male INFJs are only about 25% of those. So if we remember our 5th grade math, that comes out to about 1/4% to 1/2% of the world are like me, a male INFJ. No wonder the world always seemed like a foreign place, and that I was a visitor in a strange land where everyone else had gotten the memo, but I was left scratching my head unable to understand those around me, and baffled at the inability of others to understand me.

Well, let’s look at what an INFJ is then, and compare the unique set of traits that this personality has with the vast majority of other humans on the planet. The letter positions in the MBTI occupy four specific traits, and have two options each, although the individual’s actual expression of the trait lies along a continuum between the two.

The first trait is “Mind”, which is how we interact with our environment, and at one end of the spectrum is Extroversion, and at the other end is Introversion. So this first position in the MBTI can be either an E or an I.

I is for Introverted.

The second trait is “Energy”, which is where we direct our mental energy. The two ends of this spectrum are Intuitive and Observant.

N is for iNtuitive.

The third position is “Nature”, which is how we make decisions and cope with emotion. This spectrum is between Thinking and Feeling.

F is for Feeling.

And the fourth position is for Tactics, reflecting our approach to work, planning, and decision-making.

J is for Judging.

A modifier element, which can be added to these four is the “Identity” element, which is a trait that can underpin all others, and represents how confident we are in our abilities and our decisions. This spectrum is between Assertive and Turbulent.

T is for Turbulent.

INFJs are highly sensitive, intuitive, creative, and fiercely loyal. We are sometimes described as psychic because of our uncanny ability to “know” things about people and situations that completely escape others. It’s just how we’re wired. We also have an innate need to make the world a better place. However, as I’ve been reading more about my personality type, something has still been missing; the “careers” that INFJs supposedly find themselves in are described in terms of professions that “help” people, because that is apparently what we want to do, but none of the careers listed have even come close to what I have pursued as a mechanical engineer.

So, what’s going on? Learning I’m an INFJ has helped me understand a lot about myself, such as why I have pursued specific jobs (and left others), and why I feel “in the zone” with some types of projects and “nails on chalkboard” with others. All of this after having earned a bachelor’s and a masters degree in mechanical engineering, which seems to be a less-than-common career choice for an INFJ.

But… I do find myself gravitating towards projects that will make the world a better place, at least in a certain sense. I have also found myself enjoying the role as a manager (with some people) as I can help them achieve their goals. So, maybe it fits. But, being an INFJ in the world of engineering, where there are probably fewer intuitive and feeling types vs the general population, has been difficult.

INFJs have some other interesting traits, which have certainly manifested throughout my career. We… do not appreciate authority and power structures (one reason the military is a very poor career choice for an INFJ). In fact, attempts to control us or manipulate us are met with fierce resistance, or outright rebellion. And we can see through even the most carefully-constructed facade. So, your charm act that has everyone else fooled… yeah, we’re not impressed. This brings us to the topic of managers. Most managers, especially in the world of engineering, are really not equipped for people management, which is all about motivating individual human beings to perform in a way that maximizes their own satisfaction while also attaining some collective goal. This is not an easy tightrope to walk, and most managers get it wrong. They’re good project or program managers, which require a completely different set of skills.

So in large engineering firms you get layer upon layer of this type of person, and often interest in any one individual is lost to the performance of the team, business line, geographical region, etc, which all just boils down to a few numbers, or KPIs (key performance indicators). As an already rare INFJ, and as a probably almost-unheard-of INFJ engineer, it’s no surprise then that my managers have been completely confounded as to the best way to manage me, and have often been very confused by my subsequent behavior (rebellion).

But, it’s starting to make sense to me now, so I’ll give you my insight.

It’s completely likely that my managers have NEVER encountered someone like me in their professional career given that 80% of the population are Sensors (vs Intuitives), and that INFJs gravitate towards careers more in the humanities vs the sciences (in general). Ok, so I show up and I literally think differently than the people they are used to interacting with, used to managing, and their rubrics suddenly don’t work. It must be me that is the problem, because “no one else” has an issue with (fill in the blank), or “no one” has ever complained about that before, etc. When they want to assign me tasks and then micromanage me, depriving me of my natural talents for creative problem solving and my need for autonomy, they get pushback, subversion, rebellion, and eventually they get a former employee. When they fail to recognize my contributions in meaningful ways, or worse they take credit for my creative ideas, they breed discontent in me. When they try to use me as a pawn in some larger power struggle, they suddenly find themselves with a very unruly pawn.

In short, they make a very powerful enemy. I try very hard to please everyone; it’s part of my natural empathy and aversion to conflict, but the thing about INFJs is that if you trigger them just right, you’ll be met with such a fury, in a form that is specifically tailored to inflict maximum psychological damage to you, that you will be left reeling, and by the time you’ve even begun to process what has happened, you will have been “Door Slammed”. This is a unique trait of the INFJ, and learning this term helped me understand various periods in my life where I have cut someone out of my life so suddenly and so completely, that I surprised my self. The INFJ Door Slam is caused usually by a number of injustices until the INFJ cannot allow the person (and I believe this can be true for institutions, organizations, religions, etc) to exist in their life anymore. It’s not just leaving them, it’s literally erasing them from your life, from your mind. One Internet meme I’ve seen on this topic is that as an INFJ, “I don’t hate you, I nothing you”.

In a future post I’ll explore the relationship between INFJs and narcissist, but for this post, let me say that the managers that I have door slammed have all had narcissistic traits, which leads me to wonder if there is a connection between engineering as a field, the role of managers in this field, and narcissism. It feels as if there is a systemic relationship here (that’s my introverted intuition [Ni] talking), which is why my wife routinely advises me to start my own company.

I would love to have a boss like me.



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