30 Years of INFP
In 1989 at age 19, I found Please Understand Me and Type Talk in the psychology section of a B Dalton bookstore, a popular chain that no longer exists. I had recently moved out on my own, serving popcorn at a movie theater to pay rent. At that age, poor communication skills and an inadequate understanding of people kept me isolated.
Growing up introverted with the same group of D&D friends through middle school and high school doesn’t push you to learn better social skills. As always, I turned to books to find answers, but my real answers didn’t come until 11 years later.
The books were a great start, helping me type myself as INFP. They gave me an understanding of typical behaviors of other types and how to communicate with them. I special ordered a copy of Gifts Differing which had the medians and stats I wanted but what I didn’t have was practical knowledge.
Then came Yahoo! Groups in 2000. The INFP discussion board had a massive jump in popularity within months with thousands of posts so I was able to get first-hand accounts of how other INFPs experienced their lives. Friendster came in 2002 with an INFP group starting almost immediately. Then Tribe and MySpace in 2003. Often the stories and conversations from INFPs in their 40s and 50s were the same — loneliness, divorce, jobs they hated, financial debt and instability, no real friends and general unhappiness. The pattern I saw was not enough forward thinking about the consequences of choices they made earlier in life.
From my observations of INFPs over the years, their choices didn’t necessarily seem like bad choices, just INFP typical choices that usually don’t work out long term. I needed to make different choices if I didn’t want the same result.
Thirty years later, I’ve avoided most of the pitfalls that beset many INFPs. I credit escaping serious setbacks to understanding and developing all four of the INFP cognitive functions Fi-Ne-Si-Te. Using both thinking and feeling, both sensing and intuition to complement each other makes it much easier to create a life that aligns to my values. I never became the next Stephen King like I wanted in my early 20s, but I’m okay with that.
The Last 30 Years
Here’s what I think I did right over the last 30 years:
Money Is Important
The best things in life are free. The second best things, like traveling or health insurance, require money.
I don’t like what the monetary system has evolved into and the way the fractional reserve system keeps shrinking the middle class and widening the divide between the haves and have-nots. However, I grew up poor with seven people living in a two-bedroom 800 sq ft house so I remember what not having money was like.
Anything important, I spend time learning about. How does money work? What system should I use to manage personal finances? I read books. I attended seminars. I found a budgeting system that worked for me and followed it. I started investing in my late 20s.
If you make something important, the Reticular Activating System in your brain stops filtering out relevant information. It’s the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon where you start noticing the same car model you just bought. Now that you have the same car, that information is relevant and your brain stops ignoring it.
If money becomes important, then your brain stops ignoring important information about personal finances.
Your relationships with money is like any other relationship. Anything or anyone that you denigrate, ignore or hold contempt for will not stick around.
Become A Regular
When I didn’t know how to meet people, it was easier for people to meet me. Regulars feel safer to approach. I discovered I liked dancing at age 21. Actually, I love dancing so I went a lot.
If you show up anywhere weekly for 20+ years, people will talk to you even if you try to rush out as the lights come on. For the first six months, no one spoke to me, but I didn’t go to meet people. Then one night, someone intercepted me as I was making a beeline to the door at closing and complimented me on my dancing. She introduced me to her friends. A year later, there were a dozen of us that went out together.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve slowly met people who have become friends, not because I intended to make friends. They were people whose company I enjoyed and if you see and talk to people weekly for years and years, friendship happens.
Even now, I meet people because I’m a regular. I volunteer at a WordPress Meetup every 2nd Tuesday fixing broken web sites. I do photography at several monthly events. I’m don’t go to meet people.
Helping people who can’t afford to fix their websites makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile with my expertise. And I love photography, which I’ve done weekly for almost over a decade. Maybe over the next decade, some of the people I meet become friends.
Value-Oriented Personal Development
I had to move away from Result-Oriented Personal Development which is more geared for Te inclined personalities. Result oriented methodology starts with you write down your goals and then figuring out a step-by-step plan to achieve them. As Fi-dominant, goals that felt right in my 20s weren’t what I wanted anymore when I was in my 30s with kids.
Those goals in my 20s didn’t feel right anymore as my circumstances shift. However, my highest values — growth, freedom, connection, creative self-expression — were still the same.
Resulted-Oriented focuses on What and then figuring out How to get What. Value-Oriented Personal Development starts with How in order to clarify What.
Examples of Resulted-oriented goals:
What career should I have that I’m passionate about?
What relationship do I want to have?
What should I do to make myself happy?
Examples of Value-Oriented Personal Development:
If growth is a top-value, how do I continue to learn and grow so I don’t become bored with work or with anything I do?
If connection is a top-value, how do I create connection with anyone, not just people I’ve known for years who have busy lives that I don’t see as often as I like?
If freedom is top-value, how do I create more choices for myself in an economic system that requires a job?
Value-oriented personal development is about taking those things that I do in my life and figuring out how to align them with my values. It’s about a journey worth having, not a specific destination.
The Next Decade
The MBTI is one of my favorite personal development tools out of the many that I use. What I like is that Jung’s theory gives me an idea what to do next.
For the first part of life, relying heavily on the main INFP functions Fi-Ne and exploring different ways of using them gives INFPs the most progress. However as INFPs get older, Fi-Ne will only take us so far and we have to give more attention to Si-Te to get a different way of observing and interacting with the world in order to progress.
After 30 years, I think I’m at the limit of what I can learn about how Fi-Ne works within myself.
Si tells me that I don’t have the unlimited time that I felt I had in my 20s. Te tells me maybe it is time to make a list of the most meaningful things and focus on those finally.
Jul 3, 2019
This is great post – thanks for posting. Your advice to become a regular, and your story of acquiring a supportive and social group of friends is similar to mine – this exact thing happened to me from attending exercise classes regularly for a long time.
Jul 3, 2019
Hi, thank you for writing this. It was a positive reminder of some things I’d not considered in a while. At the moment I’m making choices which will shape my future career and you talking about value-oriented decision making was a breath of fresh air. You reminded me that it truly is about the how and not the what, and that’s okay. Also, thank you for your advice on “being a regular.” I hope to begin putting your advice into practice soon. Nazy
Jul 4, 2019
Thank you for this post. What you wrote about utilising systems that work for you, doing what you enjoy consistently, and focusing on how we live our lives rather than where we want to end up is an inspiring reminder for the importance of habits and relationships. Building healthy habits, even if I enjoy it, is not always easy for me. Sticking to a structure is not always easy for me. Making decisions with the long-term in mind is not always easy. I’m too easily distracted and swayed by the impulses of my feelings in the moment. I wonder if you’ve had any similar experiences? xRi
Jul 4, 2019
This was a inspiring and relatable post. I recognise my life so much, and am in the cross-roads of having to somewhat change my perspective a bit. To learn new way(s) to enhance myself and my life. The part of changing from “result-oriented” to “value-oriented” personal development made such sense. Thanks.
Jul 5, 2019
Thank you. This is the kind of information I wish I had more of. Coming to INFP in my late 40’s and early 50’s, I really want to find precious nuggets other INFP’s have learned on how to thrive as one.
Jul 9, 2019
This is so beautiful. Thank you
Jul 14, 2019
This is a great article. I’ve found my own life hitting a lot of these same notes in terms of being misunderstood. It also doesn’t help to be a compassionate person in a network of subcultures which thrive on hustling and putting oneself first at the cost of all others. Just the same, I can see the value in shifting my own thinking to the broader value-oriented mindset. This is great advice.
Aaron from INFP Muse
Jul 31, 2019
I’m so glad you’re still writing, I drink your words haha.
The difference between value and goal oriented mindset sounds like a really valuable lifestyle tip, not just for us INFPs. And making friends by letting it happen and choosing activities instead of forcing it, that’s so cool imo.
I’ve started a blog recently on the MBTI, and hopefully a place of inspiration for INFPs and everyone. Even if not, I still found a way to do what I love.
I’m gonna read your blog every day, that’s for sure.
And hoping maybe one day, we can do a collaboration or something.
Aug 14, 2019
It’s nice to see that you are still active on this website. I find myself coming back and re-reading your articles more often than I would expect. Your insights are both motivating and reassuring. That being said, I find myself at a crossroads of sorts.
I graduated last year with a degree in accounting and have been working in the industry for the past year. I loathe my job and feel as though majoring in accounting was the worst possible decision that I could have made. I, like many other INFPs, am a very creative person. I like to read and write and create artwork among other things (I minored in studio arts). I desperately want to quit and try to figure out what my “hedgehog concept” is. However, I’m paralyzed by my inability to make decisions regarding such a major change. Every time I think of a new career path that I might enjoy, I decide that it ultimately won’t be the right fit, and I will end up in a worse position than where I currently am. Do you have any suggestions for overcoming this fear of failure/inability to move forward? What are some strategies that I can use to find my “hedgehog concept” and be more confident with the direction that I want my life to head in?
Christine Christine Reply:
October 4th, 2019 at 6:36 pm
I just posted about my issues and one of which is the fact that I’m probably going to be an accountant. I’m not passionate about accounting. I’m not really passionate about anything. I used to be, about writing, but then I changed. I became someone else, someone I don’t know and it’s scary because it’s like the real Christine has died.
If you’re reading this, do you think you could message me and we can chat?
Oct 4, 2019
Freedom is what we do with what was done to us.
So now the question is— what am I to do? My life has taken a DETOUR like nothing I had ever imagined!
I’m 30 (turning 31 at the conclusion of this year) and I haven’t done what I’d always wanted to do— write a book.
I used to love writing and somehow it got away from me…
Is it childish to ask?
I’m taking an accounting course now and it’s…decent. I know it’s a needed profession and I enjoy being needed. No more desperate clinging for me!
I like being someone whom people can depend on. And people depend on accountants!
Of course, people also depend on doctors, nurses and health professionals…and yes, I made a decision to never become a doctor because I didn’t want to be a stereotype (I’m Indian)
So here I am, 30, turning 31 soon, and I am a complete idiot!
May 16, 2020
This post is very insightful. I’m an INFP and 41 years old. I feel like I’m just now getting started in life after raising 5 kids for the past 20 years. I married young and had kids a couple years later so figuring out who I was and what I liked, etc., was just not something I had the chance to do. Honestly, I feel like my personal development was put on hold for 2 decades. Your insights about system has given me a lot to consider. Thank you so much!
Jul 1, 2020
Hi, I’m an INFP in my last 20s, and I think your advice is useful for all INFPs.
I am an English to Portuguese (Br) translator, and I would like to translate some of your texts into my language, there is little Portuguese material for INfPs, and I really think many of us can benefit from your texts.
I hope to discuss this with you soon.
Nov 30, 2020
Nice blog 🙂