I’ve long been fascinated by the personality typing, especially the Myers-Briggs® personality types. The first time I was introduced to that system of grouping and naming our individual preferences was a massive breakthrough for me. Most people wander the world forever thinking that humanity is divided into dyads like “nice guys or jerks” or “free spirits or anal retentives” or “artists or accountants.” But Myers-Briggs groupings finally untangled one big mystery for me: Why didn’t I ever seem to meet people who saw the world—and interacted with it—like I did? What kind of freak was I?
In the first time through with it, I learned I’m an INFP, representing roughly 2-4% of the population. So what a revelation that was for me: I wasn’t a freak, I was just an unusual personality type in the big scheme of things, not likely to meet anyone who thinks the way I do. Not weird; just different.
For those who don’t know anything about INFPs, I’ve heard them described as the “determined dreamers.” Here’s the rundown on some of our general preferences as a group, to illustrate why that is:
- Love freedom to pursue our vision or follow our sense of purpose
- Guided by our principles/integrity rather than rewards, punishment, or “the way things are”
- Intuitive communicators and tend to listen more than talk
- Often imaginative/creative/outside-the-box thinkers
- Reserved but mostly kind and empathetic, comfortable withdrawing into solitude/deep thought
- Detest superficiality, bureaucracy, and tedium
- Averse to criticism or harshness
I once asked a psychology nerd friend what kind of an entrepreneur an INFP would make. He laughed, “Well, as long as people are willing to come find you, do all the talking, and fit into your vision of an ideal world, you’ll do fine.”
He’d be happily surprised to learn that I’ve done fine, but unsurprised to see that my version of self-employment is quite a bit different from most other people I know. I match many of the preferences listed above and had to either leverage them or reshape them to be beneficial tools for me.
Since many of you are also INFPs (it’s been wonderful to learn that) I wanted to share a little bit about that. Even if you’re another type, it really helps to explore how your own strengths are either propelling you forward or slowing you down…consider looking yourself up and seeing what you learn!
We Can Be Idealistic/Altruistic
Of course, I think this is wonderful. It’s my default setting, right? But it can lead to two challenges for INFP business owners: The idealist in us can morph into a kind of perfectionism that never lets us get our work “out there.” And the altruistic part of us can lead us to focus on others’ needs more than our own, and internal others’ pain a bit too much. If you’re always mindful of the risks, though, these traits are honorable and rare these days.
Our Sense of Purpose Drives Us
I can often identify the INFPs in my circles just by asking them, “Why do you do what you do? How do you see it as making the world better?” (Other types will look at me blankly like I’ve just sprouted antlers. Purpose who?) The ability to choose the course of our work based on our own principles? Priceless. There is no downside to this as an entrepreneur, in my book. Having a strong sense of purpose is a powerful ally which will carry us through many bumps and bruises on the road to a successful business.
Principles and Integrity Have Benefits
Everyone in every type will say that they have principles that form the backbone of their business. But many INFPs are almost obsessed with integrity, to a rare degree. Shady marketing, making promises they’re not sure they can keep, impersonal selling tactics…these would weigh heavily on the conscience of most INFPs I know. Being trustworthy and honest can be a beautiful trait, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It may take longer to grow an audience when you’re not using fakey, formulaic, scarcity-based offerings (“only 2 spots left!! don’t miss out!!”) but the audience you grow will be rock solid.
Intuitive and Deep Communication – Essential
Clear, thoughtful, and empathetic communication is the foundation of every good business. The ability to communicate well, say what you mean, describe things succinctly and clearly…this is all incredibly powerful in terms of making strong connections with people—by understanding their needs and explaining what you offer that can help. Lacking this ability, many people who have beautiful services and products to offer may never succeed in the way they wish. Rock on, INFPs.
Ability to Work Both Inside AND Outside the Box
This is the Swiss Army Knife of business management. The ability to draw into ourselves and find answers. The ability to generate ideas (sometimes TOO many!) The ability to see all sides of issues, many different possibilities. The ability to see (or create) a path forward during slow times. These are all positives.
Quiet but Empathetic Deep Thinkers
This can be a double-edged (but very beautiful) sword. We loathe to shoot our mouths off, or even risk dominating a conversation in most situations. We’re often the quiet friend that people know they can trust to be on their side, or at least the one who takes the time to understand their side of things. There is such a thing as being TOO quiet, especially when it comes to self-promotion, so INFPs have to always keep an eye on this trait. The world needs what you offer; be sure they know about it!
Bureaucracy- and Tedium-Averse, Me?
It was a big shock to me when I discovered that leaving the corporate world didn’t mean I’d never again have to deal with bureaucracy. You may not work IN it, but with your clients and client organizations, you’ll still have to work WITH it. In addition, there are times when the mundane parts of running a business can just get you down. Endless tiny details. Billing that doesn’t balance (or doesn’t pay the bills). Technology that breaks. Little seemingly-superficial tasks that need to be handled. We have to find a way to deal with both the inspirational AND the tedious parts of working for ourselves. I suggest George Kao’s swell book Joyful Productivity: A Solopreneur’s Guide To Creativity & Well-Being for a ton of tips on pulling this off.
There will be well-meaning fellow businesspeople who look at the way we do things and feel the need to tell us we’re doing it wrong. Try to take criticism/advice with grace, put it in your pocket, and take the time to analyze it quietly, later on, to determine if it has merit or not. I have some friends on the Thinking side of Myers-Briggs (the “T” as opposed to the “F” for Feeling) I tap into when I need a second opinion on that.
We are an unusual type. We lead with our hearts and our consciences, we aren’t afraid to be alone or be quiet, we communicate in a unique, personal style, and we need time and space to build our businesses at our own pace.
It’s “our business, our way” for us, and the result can be beautiful, solid, AND profitable.