I don’t fit in here. More than 10 years working in tech in Silicon Valley, and I look around at all of my peers and feel more like an alien than ever. Don’t get me wrong — I highly respect my peers — but I’m not one of them. While diversity of thought is valuable in any industry, it’s clear my thought is not welcome as is.
However much you believe in Myers Briggs as the be-all-end-all truth of personality definitions, there is a fairly common theme in technology firms of personality type: the INTJ. While my introversion is not judged as harshly in the tech industry as it would be outside of it, my complete anthesis of the typical Silicon Valley worker otherwise makes it vital for me to be an “E” — the “E” (extrovert) which is a value add since many of the folks here are introverts. Limited senior leadership roles that are open to non-engineer types often look for “E’s.” There are enough introverts to go around who are practically rocket scientists, but as an extrovert there is less competition to make it to the top – if you’re truly charismatic (which I am not. I am an awkward introvert and despite dreaming of having the presence of a Michelle Obama I realize that will never happen.)
ISTJs are Introverted, ‘sensing,’ ‘thinking’ and ‘judging.” This is opposed to my personality type which is introverted, ‘intuiting, feeling, and perceiving.’ ISTJs make for great engineers because they focus on sensing what is real (the here and now) instead of thinking about all of the unproven possibilities of the future (intuiting), they make decisions based on “thinking” (analysis) vs feeling, and they judge vs perceive — (J vs P) — which is the biggie — judgers view life in a more structured way creating plans and organizing their world to achieve their goals and desired results in a predictable way. Perceivers, on the other hand, perceive structure as more limiting than enabling. They prefer to keep their choices open so they can cope with many problems that they know life will put in their way.
Silicon Valley is chalk full of ISTJs and INTJs. Silicon Valley does not value “FP’s” for leadership roles. When I speak of Silicon Valley, I’m really talking about the job market overall as our entire world becomes more automated. The value a human brings to work today is either:
Repeatability: you are good at doing a role over and over again and doing this at consistent high quality. While automation is eliminating many of these jobs, there are roles like medical professionals which, at least for now, require individuals to repeat the same role over and over again. There may be unique problems to solve, but the role is designed not to innovate but instead to apply already-proven processes and solutions to problems.
Optimization: you are good at taking existing processes and optimizing them. This is the most valuable type of employee today and will be even more so going forward. You are an NTJ or STJ – you do not spend your time meddling in bigger picture thinking of the future or what could happen, you are fully satisfied in focusing on small changes — A/B testing if you will — every single thing that can be improved on until you can improve it no more, and then you move on to the next program or process to optimize. Eventually — many, many years from now — everything is so hyper optimized that there are less roles for optimizers and this is when we have an issue of not enough jobs to go around, but this will take many years, likely well past our lifetimes.
The Creators/Entrepreneurs: this role is one that perhaps will never be able to be taken away by robotics and automation, but it is also the least valued in society — until “proven.” Most entrepreneurs fail and end up having to take on a repeatability or optimization role to afford life. Creators can be creatives (actually creating the product of entertainment) or they can be entrepreneurs starting new businesses. The Entrepreneur type does not want to optimize existing processes or repeat ones that are already proven to work well enough – the entrepreneur dreams big and thinks of new ideas. Plenty of actual entrepreneurs are actually optimizers seeing short-term business value in creating a product which automates optimization for any given industry. But true Entrepreneurs (think Elon Musk) are a rare breed, and there’s only room for a few of them in the world. There’s more room for creatives, but creatives surely find that their work – at least the work that pays — ends up being more of an optimization or repeatability role. Being a true creative or entrepreneur is one of the hardest roles to obtain and even harder to keep.
I live in a world that pays optimizers generously, that sees repeaters at necessary evil but low value, and that only respects creatives and entrepreneurs in their ability to come up with new processes and products which can then be optimized and eventually repeated.
Which bucket do I fall in? I’m definitely a creative & entrepreneur type. I have many ideas and when I am working on an idea I feel alive and passionate and can work all hours of the night and not get exhausted. But being in a role that is a mix of repeatability and optimization is draining to say the least. It pays well – especially as I become better at faking my ability to optimize (slash learning HOW to optimize) — but this takes a toll on my well being. I’m gaining weight, I don’t sleep enough, I feel horrible because I’ll never actually be good at my job, and I just overall don’t see how I can ever be the right fit for this world – unless I were to create a new product as an entrepreneur, but this is a whole other level of risk in which I am incapable of handling.
I turned down a job offer the other day. It was a decent salary – less than I’m making now, but a much shorter commute. It would have been a similar role. I keep telling myself next time I’ll just figure out how to fake it better. I’ll know more so I can not make the same mistakes I did last time. But then I remember that I’m still in an entirely different planet here. I don’t belong here. Sure, some companies say they value creative thought and new ideas but at the end of the day they just want you to optimize. And I don’t disagree with that philosophy – optimization and repeatability is low risk and creates scalable and consistent results. You may swing and miss but chances are you won’t miss that badly. You can course correct without anyone really noticing.
I am so fortunate for the role I have and the life I have but I don’t know how to maintain it. I’m now in my mid 30s and I’m finally at the point in my life where I can at least get job interviews for this one specific type of role, but my heart just isn’t there.
INFPs are called “The Mediator,” “The Idealist,” and “The Healer.” I relate to all of those. INFPs compose just 4% of the population (my husband is one as well so clearly we do exist) and truth be told INFPs are not ideal worker types.
INFPs are guided by their principles, rather than by logic (Analysts), excitement (Explorers), or practicality (Sentinels). When deciding how to move forward, they will look to honor, beauty, morality and virtue – INFPs are led by the purity of their intent, not rewards and punishments. People who share the INFP personality type are proud of this quality, and rightly so, but not everyone understands the drive behind these feelings, and it can lead to isolation.
This is exactly what I feel today. I feel isolated. I think that explains my current depression. Luckily my husband is also an INFP (although a very different type of one) so together we see the world similarly and feel less alone. But life as a whole as an INFP is super lonely right now since I spend most of my days at work and no one shares in how I see the world. No one feels as deeply as I do (or if they do they are great at hiding it) and I have to hide my true self to survive. It is suffocating.
As a result of all of this, I’m starting to make more effort in considering a career change. Although I will likely take on one more role that matches my current responsibilities and try to do it better, I need to figure out a new path. Careers which are good for INFPs are listed below. Unfortunately, salaries for most of these are rather low. But I’m definitely at the point where salary is only one portion of what I’m looking for in a career. I turned down the job that paid less than my current role because it would be the same exact job. I’ll take a lower salary, but only if I have the opportunity to truly change paths. I hope I can figure that out, and soon.
INFP recommended jobs:
- Landscape architecture
- Forestry, parks, recreation; park ranger
- Environmental scientist, geology
- Social sciences (sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science, geography, history)
- Librarian, library sciences
- Investigative journalist, reporter, editor
- Physician: psychiatry
- Philosopher, theologian, linguist
- Humanities/liberal arts
- Graphic/website design
- Painter, sculptor
- Photography, photographer
- Poet, creative writer, novelist
- Author, self/Indy publishing, blogger
- Playwright, dramatist, screen writer
- College professor
- Physical or occupational therapist
- Yoga instructor, homeopathy, naturopathy, music therapy
- Nurse, nurse practitioner
- Mediator, peace studies
- Psychologist, clinical or counseling
- Counselor, social worker
- Speech language pathologist