Special is as special does




I’m special. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator told me so. As an INFP, I’m 1-5% of the total population. On the days I want to be more special, I quote the 1% number from Keirsey’s Please Understand Me instead of the 5% number from CAPT.org. Luckily, I don’t believe everything I read.

Being 1-5% just makes me different not special. I haven’t done anything particularly special. As an INFP, I’m aware of our need to feel special in a world that just recognizes us as different. However, instead of doing things that make me feel special, I waste time telling people I’m special in various subtle ways like quoting Myers-Briggs stats. It’s like being the guy who tells you he’s going to be famous and then has to move back in with parents because he couldn’t find a job that wasn’t beneath his sense of specialness.

People admire Olympic athletes and entrepreneurs for a reason. People don’t admire the natural inborn talent. We’ve all heard stories about the valedictorian that ends up working at a bookstore or the kooky genius that never made it out of his parent’s house. We admire Olympic athletes and entrepreneurs because they’ve proved it. They dedicated years to athletic training or risked everything to invest in their company. These people become recognized as special because they’ve done something special.

INFPs sometimes confuse different with special. Mensa estimates that 2% of the population has a genius level IQ. Being born with a genius level IQ makes you different. Doing something special is what differentiates a patent clerk who gave us the Theory of Relativity from Chris Langan, a bouncer in Long Island with a 210 IQ. Einstein managed to do something with his genius.

Unfortunately, I wasted so much time trying to convince people that different meant special. I became very subtle at telling people I was special. I was vocal about disliking the popular. I derided the mundane. I mean, if I didn’t like what everyone else liked then that must make me special.

On top of the list of things I disliked was small talk. Everyone talks about the weather, and I wanted to be above that. Kin Hubbard, an early 1900’s cartoonist once said, “Don’t knock the weather. If it didn’t change once in a while, nine out of ten people couldn’t start a conversation.” I was that nine out of ten people. I wondered why people didn’t like me. Apparently, people like people who take action and talk to them instead of being in some corner.

My other subtle way of telling people I was special was by showing off my esoterica. Usually, this took the form of slipping specialized knowledge into conversations. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to slip anything from my encyclopedic recall of Dungeons & Dragons into a conversation with people talking about the weather. As I grew older, my esoterica became more sophisticated. I discovered it was just as hard slipping Rimbaud, Objectivism, Joel-Peter Witkin or whatever I learned that I thought was cool into a conversation about weather.

After years of being different, I embraced my differences as a badge to prove that I was special. Other people didn’t think like me so I must be special. I thought I had higher standards than other people so I must be special. I thought I had some deeper understanding of the universe that no one else could see so I must be special. I convinced myself that I so special that only other special people would be able to recognize my specialness. I started an exclusive club called “my good friends” and we didn’t talk about the weather.

What I couldn’t get was that people didn’t want to join my club. People are attracted to the special, so why weren’t people seeking to be my friend. I was always the one wanting to be friends with someone else. Even worse was that my good friends would leave my club for no reason. With a club based on exclusivity, if others don’t envy that exclusivity, you’re just a bunch a nerds hanging around not talking about the weather. What didn’t I realized was that I wasn’t doing anything special. I was just being different.

Maybe the world is just screwed up for not valuing the different. It’s them not me. Hundreds of thousands of years of biology have shown that different gets you killed. The black wolf stands out against the snow and scares off game. Basically, being different is inherently selfish. Being different doesn’t benefit anyone until you do something special.

So how is winning an Olympic medal not a selfish endeavor? Because in doing so, the athletes remind us that everyone has the potential to do great things and that inborn talent isn’t the only factor. I’m never going to be an Olympic athlete, but being reminded that if I get off my ass I might do something great makes me feel special. It’s not disempowering because it reminds me that I control my destiny. On the other hand, someone telling me I’m sheep for liking what everyone else likes and thinking what everyone else thinks , doesn’t benefit me, doesn’t make me feel special.

INFPs seem to forget that being special requires other people to acknowledge it. People recognize actions. They recognize me when I do something, not when I am something. Unless I do something special, the world has no reason to recognize that I am special. Maybe the answer is some zen approach where I just have to accept myself as special separate from the outside world. However, I always end up with a bunch of INFPs telling me how they’ve managed to do it and wanting to be acknowledge for letting go of the need to be acknowledged.

The problem with telling people you’re special no matter how subtly is that you are telling yourself at the same time. When someone tells us that they’re special, we’d like them to prove it by doing something we recognize as special. When we tell ourselves that were special, eventually we’re going to have to prove it or else we feel like a fraud. As INFPs, we tell ourselves most our lives that we’re special, but we never seem to get around to doing anything to prove it. Each day, we don’t prove what we tell ourselves, our self-esteem sinks a little lower.

INFPs have a greater need feel special than other MBTI types. That’s not a bad thing. It’s our nature. Fighting our nature just causes unhappiness. However, INFPs focus on the wrong thing. INFPs want to BE special when what we need is to FEEL special. Being special and feeling special are two completely different things.

INFPs instinctively understand this need to feel special and that’s why we’re desperate to connect to another person. INFPs feel that life would be better if we had that special someone because it only takes one other person to make us feel special. Unfortunately, we forget that feeling special doesn’t actually require us to move to the world. We just have to connect to another person. So all the people I use to exclude for talking about the weather was one less person who could have connected with me.

Accepting that I needed people was a risky prospect because I had been so invested in that me vs them mindset. For the longest time, I protected myself with reciprocal relationships. I call you. You call me back. I don’t cancel at the last minute. You don’t cancel at the last minute. I’ve never known a healthy relationship built on the expectation of reciprocation. That’s probably why those relationships never went anywhere.

I think INFPs would be happier if we focused on feeling special instead to trying to prove to ourselves that we are special by virtue of being different. I discovered a motivational speaker named Brian Tracy who introduced to me to concept of indirect effort. If you want to be admired, then admire someone. If you want to be feel special, make someone feel special. What’s great about making someone feel special is that we’re doing something that benefits someone other than just ourselves.

Sometimes, making another person feel special can be as simple as telling them they’re special. It’s easy, but not many people do it. And the best thing about telling someone they’re special is that they rarely ask you to prove it.

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23 Responses to “Special is as special does”

  1. Landan

    Mar 23, 2010

    12:55 am

    I’ve found that you also have to be careful about how you show interest. This is especially true of males.

    The friends I tended to attract by just taking an interest in someone tended to be people who didn’t very much like themselves. These people are no fun because everything turns into a pity party of self-devaluation and anger at the universe’s lack of fairness. These people cannot give you anything. You end up giving the whole time and you start to feel used and not special at all.

    I’ve found that to form good male friendships you have to remove yourself from being personally invested in what they think of you. Don’t fall into the mind game of wondering whether this person likes you or not, that leads to a lack of respect. Basically neediness pushes people away, whereas self-confidence attracts. You have to take interest in people not because you’re lonely or you want friends. You have to take an interest in them without needing/wanting these things.

    Learn to joke and chide. This will initially go against your instincts of putting people up, but if you see it as a friendly game of wits then it’s easier to do. I was initially surprised at how much respect and friendliness this little form of competition gained me with my male friends. You have to know how to do it right though, if you’re just a straight up dick to people then they won’t like you.

    The best way to form male friendships is through mutual activities. I’ve been in the position where I just asked people to go to waffle house and talk and eat. If this is the only thing you ask them to do then they might be cautious (homosexual liberation is great but it came at a cost to modern male friendships) and then subsequently bored. Learn how to do physical, competitive activities with them. You don’t have to be invested in winning, just learn to be a part of those activities.

    Just two cents I thought I’d add to your post. Otherwise, very good points.


    ockhamdesign Reply:

    I try to show interest with everyone. It doesn’t necessarily mean I want to be friends with them.

    I 20/80 everything. It’s the Pareto Principle – 80% of effects comes 20% of causes. So 80% of the feeling of goodwill and connectedness to other people only come from 20% of the people I know. I know which 20% those are and so that’s who I choose to focus my extra time on. Also, just because those people are in my 20% doesn’t necessarily mean I’m in their 20%.

    Showing interest is pretty easy. For guys, I figure out what their area of expertise is and ask advice. Guys are always willing to give advice and I honestly need that advice. I know crap about home electronics or cars or how to fix my leaking gutters. Someone always has some knowledge that I need. And they’re usually nice enough to give it to me for free.


    Nick Reply:

    Yes I agree with this as a male INFP this is true. I survived until 30 years old with my mindset of not calling people names unless I meant it. Then at 30 I went to work in a ISTJ, ISTP arena where they insulted each other all the time. They started to call me gay and make fun of me and at first I took great offence. It was only after a while that I realised it was gentle ribbing. I still find it hard to accept, in case I step over that line you never cross. But in situations since I have found it easier to step in with this concept. Though at the end of the day I still find it easier to hang out with male F’s because you can invite them for a beer or a Starbucks and a chat and they have no connatation that it is related to being a ‘homosexual’ thing to do. These people I find secure in their sexuality unlike the male ST breathen who tend to be more insecure. Just my opinion.


  2. AJ

    Mar 23, 2010

    11:57 am


    I enjoy your blog. My question is what Brian Tracy book/program did you find helpful? I’ve read some of his stuff, and enjoyed it, but it was so long ago.



    ockhamdesign Reply:

    Right now, I’m going through his tape series the Psychology of Achievement. Every couple of years when I need to get off my butt and get something significant done, I start listening to his tapes. What I find interesting is that this is the 4th time I’ve gone through this particular series and I’m hearing something different. I’m at the part where he’s explaining negative behavior patterns like procrastination, Type A behavior, and other behaviors that hinder us and how it originates from parents. Every time he lists things that parents do that affect their kids, I keep trying to recall if I’m doing any of that stuff to my kids, even by accident.

    I like all his other tapes especially the Luck Factor. As I’m going through the tapes, I’m trying to just take small ideas and see if I can figure out how I can reword it so it makes sense to an INFP. His stuff is wonderful, but it’s definitely geared towards ESTJs. I’m trying to find a way to have it makes sense to an INFP.


  3. Kheiron Quayle

    Mar 24, 2010

    9:04 am

    Great post. Very good points; would elaborate a little more, but need to get ready for work! 🙂


  4. johnnyb

    Mar 26, 2010

    10:25 am

    I wanted to stop by and let you know your blog has helped me a great deal. I can identify with each post and your well-worded insights help me see where I’ve gone off track in life, both the day-to-day and the long term. I’ve completed two projects in the past month because of the self-awareness I find in your writing. And linking to that “Cult of Done Manifesto” literally kicked me into another gear. Thank you! You and you efforts are appreciated 🙂

    In regards to being/feeling special, I tried for a long time to tell myself that I didn’t care what other people think, that “specialness” was a quality unto itself, whether others could see it or not. The truth is I do care about feeling special (I’ve always felt different so nothing new there :P) and I have to remind myself that there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way because “fighting our nature just causes unhappiness.” Like many people, I was never “taught” how to take a compliment. Blushing, I’d try acting modest, gently dismissing the positive remarks I’d receive by citing a list of flaws. I now smile and say, “Thank you,” and usually leave it at that. It feels so much more empowering and… genuine… As for receiving criticism, I still working on that 😉

    Great work, sir! Thanks again!


    ockhamdesign Reply:

    Thank you for reading.

    I’ve been very lucky in that I found my wife fairly early at 26. I get to feel special by making her feel special by doing things that let her know that she’s the one. I thought that having that one person in my life should be enough and that I’d be magically fulfilled. But that feeling of wanting to be accepted, wanting to be liked doesn’t go away. My theory is that this is the cause for failed INFP relationships. INFPs think that since this one other person hasn’t filled our emotional needs than he/she wasn’t really the one. Making one person responsible for filling that void is tough on a relationship and not to mention, it’s a crappy thing to do to another human being.

    Luckily, I didn’t blame her and finally accepted it was me and that it was okay to be this way. I’ve been experimenting ever since to figure out what to do about it. This blog is an experiment in another long line of experiments. Thanks for coming along for the ride.


    John Reply:

    I think I rely on my past creative work too much, and use it show people that I’m different and special. I probably also hope that they’ll see how it’s hard for someone as talented and different as me to find a place in this world (giving me an excuse to carry on being a bit of a failure careerwise).

    Unfortunately I don’t really try hard to produce lots and lots of new work so I CAN find a place that’s ‘worthy’ of my gifts.

    I don’t feel self-confident enough to do the work and then have it judged. This is why I often think of doing menial work in supermarkets, earning just enough to survive, while doing my own projects in my spare time. I can then put my creative work out there, free of charge and get lots of compliments! Social Media is the most wonderful means of showing off how different and special you are, and getting some (often meaningless) ‘Likes’.


  5. manar

    May 25, 2010

    3:09 pm

    Quoting Myers-Briggs stats.
    I wasted so much time trying to convince people that different meant special. I became very subtle at telling people I was special. I was vocal about disliking the popular. I derided the mundane. I mean, if I didn’t like what everyone else liked then that must make me special.
    I disliked small talk. Everyone talks about the weather.
    Slipping specialized knowledge into conversations.
    I embraced my differences as a badge to prove that I was special. Other people didn’t think like me so I must be special. I thought I had higher standards than other people so I must be special. I thought I had some deeper understanding of the universe that no one else could see so I must be special. I convinced myself that I so special that only other special people would be able to recognize my specialness.
    I started an exclusive club called “my good friends” and we didn’t talk about the weather.
    Actually this is what I’m doing right now, I thought that the weather thing is my theory , I didn’t know that someone else had thought about it before . this post is really helpful . now I know what it would be if I continued what I’m doing right now and I know what to do at this moment . A very very very very very Big thank you


  6. Jen

    Oct 7, 2010

    6:57 am

    As an INFP, I can’t tell you how much I can relate to all of your posts and especially to this one. Just like Manar’s comment, I also thought of the weather thing too…I always thought that other people were so superficial, especially when I was a teen. I really felt different and special. I kind of got over it when I was in college because I met more interesting people with whom I connected more.
    But now I’m 29 and I feel like I’m falling back into this pitfall all over again. I’m unemployed by my own fault. I quit my job in sales last year (yeah I know how can an INFP go into sales !!!) Actually I wanted to work in marketing like brand/product manager but I never found a job in that field because there are way too many candidates and way too few job offers. So anyway I won’t go into detail here but I had to fall back on sales and I did it for 3 years !! I got so exhausted doing something I hated that I quit and now I’ve been struggling for over a year to find a more fulfilling job that would be compatible with my “specialness” . After 2 jobs that didn’t work out because I was fired more or less because of a lack of competence and experience, I lost all my self-esteem. I have come to the conclusion that I’m so different that I’m can’t work in a “company” because I don’t have the “business” qualities that companies require such as : very dynamic, results oriented, entrepreneurial spirit , proactive bla bla bla. So I’ve come to think that I should do something more human and that has real meaning to me, maybe like teaching, but that means going back to college for a few years and I can’t afford it. I feel like I’m totally stuck and that at some point I will have to take up any job even if I hate it just to sustain myself. And that really hurts my “specialness” because I feel it would be so beneath me.
    You are so right about the fact that we want to BE special but we never do anything to prove it and that’s why we don’t feel recognized. I feel like I have achieved nothing in my life and yet I keep whining about people not understanding me and not seeing that I’m special. What I should be doing is taking action but I don’t have a clue as to what that action might be. On a lighter note, I must say, thankfully my partner makes me FEEL special even though as an INTJ he really really doesn’t get me…lol


    John Reply:

    I feel like you. Like I haven’t achieved anything careerwise.

    I worked in I.T. And web design, most of the time, which I bloody hate. I was the odd one out in the office. The arty one. Not techy or businessy like the rest of them.

    Being a fish out of water, going against my nature like this, I was still pretty good at what I did but was losing ground and falling behind as things got more techy and more complex and annoying. The result now is that I feel that I’ve failed and my self-esteem/confidence are shot to hell.

    If I’d stuck to being an illustrator 18 years ago, I’d probabky be at teh top of my game now, and getting better and better. And you what what they say: Competence builds Confidence.


  7. Rania

    Jan 26, 2011

    4:19 am

    Hi there,
    There’s a more appropriate word I think that different, that I learned in CODA and that is the word ‘unique’ (unfortunately it applies not just to us INFPs but to every single human being on the planet!). It sounds better that just different I think. Although I have been feeling ‘special’ for quite a few years now (lol!), somehow I made the association that special has a bad connotation, so it was easier to stop using it.


    Corin Reply:

    I wanted to talk specifically about being special vs. being unique. The difference is that being special external recognition. Everyone is unique. You don’t actually have to do anything to be unique. It’s self-recognized.

    However, I find that many INFPs want others to think that they have qualities that are above the norm, i.e. “special”. In order to get that external recognition, you have to do something externally to be recognized. They just can’t be unique and want to recognized externally for it.


  8. Rania

    Jan 26, 2011

    1:32 pm

    Yes, you’re right – I jumped to conclusions after all, since browsing through your blog, I saw later on that you used the term ‘unique’ at a different post.

    Yes, we are special! lol!

    I guess if I want to be honest, especially when I was younger (I turned 40 last year too), I had an issue with being ‘ordinary’. Kinda like that girl in American Beauty played by Mena Suvari that at 17 she really thinks she has earned the ‘extraordinary’ title, only to be told later on by her friend that she is absolutely ordinary…

    I really do enjoy your blog – only came across it yesterday after trying to get back in touch with my INFP side which I renounced for a year or so, thinking that I was just ordinary (ok, guilty) and I really want to thank you for bringing me back in touch with all the small things and the special characteristics that makes us really unique as MBTI that at the end are neither good or bad, they just are. It’s who we are.


    Corin Reply:

    There’s a TED talk by Brené Brown called the Price Of Invulnerability that has me rethinking my views about relationships. In it she talks about how we try to protect ourselves from hurt and how it stems from scarcity and “not enough” thinking. She talks about how we don’t think we’re extraordinary enough and how we’ve come to equate an “ordinary” life with a meaningless life which isn’t true.

    If you get the chance, I recommend watching it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UoMXF73j0c


  9. Nick

    Feb 24, 2011

    9:08 am

    I would like to add my compliments to Corin for providing a great blog. You are putting ‘nicely’ things we really should be doing to survive in this world.

    As regards specialness personally, I’ve never felt special. Thats why I’m always trying to find something to make me special. I feel that everyone else is special but I’m not. I don’t want to be an INFP I want to be something else more ‘male’. I want to achieve something special so that I can prove to people that I am somebody. In my school years I was special academically but not socially. To my father, people like ‘us’ (the worker ants) are never going to be ‘special’ or ‘great’ and there is some part of me that wants to prove that we can be special. I don’t want to be special I just want a shot at it to say it is possible – to prove the the limited thinkers wrong.
    After years of searching a strong inner voice told me to be an actor. Me, I want to be a TV actor or Hollywood actor. Notice I didn’t put star. Money? I’m happy with a livable amount. I’d rather live in Winnipeg or Albany, than Beverly Hills. Fame, read the last sentence. I would like to be known so that I can be a figurehead to charitable causes I believe in.
    The problem for us INFPs is that our values hold us back too much. You talk about Olympic athletes and entrepeuners. Hardly any of them are great because they were 100% ‘kosher’. There are very few athletes who haven’t taken performance-enhancing drugs, or business persons who haven’t done something illegal or morally-wrong to get where they are. I think as INFPs our achievements are the results of our honest work. WYSIWYG. I work in a restaurant and I worked my butt off to prove my worth, then we get a female who comes along who is not a team worker. Nobody wants to work with her. She starts sleeping with the married boss and suddenly gets what the rest of us have been working hard for, for years.
    So if we can’t beat them, should we join them?


  10. Maica

    Apr 3, 2011

    12:50 pm

    Wow – so happy I found this blog. I’m an INFP going through a bit of depression, single mom of 11 yr old boy and been alone for too many years now… Besides being an INFP, I’ve also been feeling like a real outsider in the world of ‘married’ couples at school. Thanks for all the great articles, I’ve been reading them. I needed the shot of ‘community’ and am feeling better all ready.
    thanks for having the energy and drive to write this blog.


  11. Ruth

    Feb 6, 2012

    12:09 pm

    Wow. Thank-you so much for this blog. In true INFP fashion, I discovered it the other day while I was busy procrastinating. You somehow manage to elucidate so many of the questions and musings inherent in INFP-ness. I found this post on “specialness” to be particularly insightful – definitely something that defined me while I was growing up, and that I continue to wrestle with. I’ll be pondering it in the days to come.


  12. Serena

    Feb 2, 2013

    4:52 pm

    Corin, I found this post incredibly painful to read – it was all so true and so hard to face. You have been able to explain my problem in a specific, accurate way when I’ve paid good money to therapists for years who couldn’t do that. I’m completely changing the way I look at things now, thanks to you. Your blog is so valuable, thank you.


  13. Be

    Aug 4, 2013

    6:06 am

    Hello, I’m an INTJ. I just wanted to post and thank you for writing this. It spoke to me. I’m bookmarking your post for future reference.


  14. John

    Nov 5, 2016

    1:44 pm

    God, this really makes sense Corin.

    For myself, I try to be seen as different and therefore special without putting the work in to prove it. And it affords me the excuse that the world wasn’t set-up for people like me to thrive.

    I actually did put quite a bit if work into a comic project whilst unemployed in the last couple of years and I did get recognition and a ‘Best Webcomic’ of that year nomination. It hasn’t become a means of making a living though. I haven’t managed to commit to going at it more seriously, or leveraging it to get a job doing similar work. I feel the pressure to get a proper job (even one that I won’t like, as before).

    Still, it’s made me feel a bit special and did take a lot of concentrated work. If only I could make a plan, focus, and keep it up.


  15. Marsha

    Sep 23, 2019

    6:41 am

    I just came across your blog- brilliant! I’m a maturing (70) INFP and was still affected & affirmed by your writing. So wonderful you have learned so much wisdom so early in life!
    Your words will strike truth in most INFP’s and increase their inner happiness & peace 💜


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