If you’re an INFP, chances are you want a flexible life. A life of autonomy and authenticity, where you’re free to pursue your ideals in creative ways.
As a fellow INFP, to me this sounds wonderful. After finishing college, while living in a new city with no attachments, I expected to live this ideal life. My schedule was wide open and the possibilities seemed endless.
Rather than doing amazing creative work though, I found myself noodling on my guitar, following rabbit holes online and eating snacks throughout the day. I stayed up ‘til the early morning and got up in the late morning. Reality wasn’t matching my expectations. This was for a lot of reasons, but one of them was that I didn’t understand the importance of structure. At that time, I believed that any boundaries around a daily schedule were something negative. They were to be avoided wherever possible!
Time passed. I floundered. Then -- miraculously -- I got a full-time job. The job taught me how to get into a rhythm and produce something every day. It gave me guideposts that I needed but probably wouldn’t have chosen for myself.
How about you, fellow INFP’er? Have you ever had great expectations for a life with no limits, only to find the experience didn’t match the dream?
The Shadow Side of the INFP
Our personality has a lot of strengths. We tend to be open, trusting, compassionate and imaginative. When it comes to overcoming obstacles and creating change, we are just about the best there is. But each one of our strengths comes with a “shadow side.” If you’ve ever used the expression “to a fault” (ex: “Sarah is honest to a fault”) then you understand this intuitively.
The shadow side of our strength is what starts to show up when, paradoxically, we’re neck-deep in what we love to do. Consider these common strengths of our type, along with their shadow sides:
- Boundless optimism -- a strength which can help us overcome challenges -- can also lead to ignoring the facts.
- Complete openness -- an ability which makes us stand out as welcoming people -- can also enable bad characters to gain influence.
- Living without boundaries -- which was my dream -- can turn into living without self-discipline. Any strength, when it stands out too much, tends to throw us out of balance.
So, how can we “staff to our weaknesses” specifically as INFPs? Just as our strengths and their shadow sides are unique, so are the methods we can use to keep them in proportion. Here are some tips.
1. Create and Keep a Workday Schedule
Yes, I just used the s-word.
Especially for us, a workday schedule can be a very useful tool. In the words of author Annie Dillard, “A schedule defends from chaos and whim,” and whim, my fellow INFPs, is something we won’t be running out of any time soon.
When it comes to creativity, curiosity, and imagination, there’s no doubt we’ve got it. But to actually harness those things, to put them to use, we’ll need some boundaries. We’ll need some guideposts. We’ll want...a schedule.
If you’re wondering where to start, think about learning to ride a bicycle.
For many of us, we got practice riding even before we could balance ourselves on the bike. We did that thanks to an external structure that helped us -- training wheels. Until we could do it by ourselves, our training wheels gave us a necessary constraint.
When you set a schedule, consider what external constraints could help. Maybe you ask a friend to call and make sure you’re up by a set time. Maybe you commit yourself to a certain level of work output each week. The best way I know to build incentive for keeping a schedule is to get money involved. If your boss wants you in by 9, that’s a strong motivation to keep a workday rhythm.
When we’re first creating a schedule, relying on an external structure for help is a good starting point. But just like with bike riding, the goal is to eventually graduate to where we can provide structure on our own.
When you can do that, you have learned self-discipline. That’s when you really start to experience the freedom we INFPs love.
2. When It Comes to Career, Play the Long Game
There’s a story about a royal messenger and a monk. The messenger, wearing all the fine clothes of his position, travels to the monk’s home to deliver a message from the king. When he arrives, he finds the monk in very plain clothing, sitting on the floor eating a meal of rice and beans.
The messenger remarks, ‘If you would serve in the king’s court, you wouldn’t need to live on rice and beans.’
The monk responds to the messenger, ‘If you would live on rice on beans, you wouldn’t need to serve in the king’s court.’
I suspect we INFPs tend to side with the monk. We want freedom, even if it means living simply.
Our personality type is famously hard to please at work. Our idealism can be so strong that the natural imperfections of any job may make us want to jump ship.
To balance our idealism, consider the positives of the work you do now. You could even make a list of the ways your job helps you now (paying the bills, providing transportation, fun experiences, etc.) and ways it helps your future (allows you to save, develops skills, builds relationships, and so on).
The fact is, our imperfect jobs are helping us in many ways. We benefit from making an effort to see that.
One word that can help us INFPs at work is patience. Even if we don’t have our dream job right now, we can be building in that direction. Our current work can help us do that, even if it’s not where we ultimately want to be.
When it comes to your work, consider the long term and build for it!
3. Do Something INFP-Opposite
We’ve talked about how every strength has a “shadow” or weak side. We live most naturally in our strengths, yet recognize that even these can be a liability when taken to an extreme.
In a sense, personality type works the same way.
The “weakness” of the Introvert is extraversion. The “shadow” of using intuition is being data-driven.
To provide balance to your experience of being an Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling Perceiver, consider trying something clearly outside or opposite to these habits.
Perhaps for your next trip out of town, you’ll set a detailed agenda like a Judger might.
Or maybe you could sign up for a public speaking class that tends to draw Extraverts more than Introverts.
You might consider joining an amatuer investing club, which would likely interest Sensors more than Intuitors.
By stretching ourselves, we keep our strengths from becoming top-heavy, gain an appreciation for differently-gifted people, and may even discover a new interest.
We INFPs have all kinds of strengths to contribute. When we know how to channel them, they become that much more effective.
What’s one strength you have as an INFP? Have you ever seen the ‘shadow’ of that strength, and what did it teach you?