It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. No, not Dickens, but an apt summary of the radical opposites taking place between my INTJ psyche and the corporate world I found myself working in for almost 16 years. It's a story of contrasts and comparisons between the massive success I achieved and the desperate, inescapable desire to "get out while you can."
The story begins many years ago when I was a fresh-faced graduate, starting my very first job as a junior lawyer in a multinational law firm. This was not in corporate America, but in the City of London - a square-mile sized financial district which may as well be the 51st state. Strenuous workloads, high pressure and unpaid overtime are par for the course in the square mile, but the pay is exceptional and the prestige unparalleled. This is, after all, an area that generates almost three-quarters of Britain's entire GDP.
I was naive about the corporate world, but not that naive. I understood that I'd have to work harder than I had ever worked before. I understood that I'd be expected to hand over every ounce of my youthful energy and the company would never hug me back. But I figured, corporate life has so much going for it. Where else on earth do you get paid to learn?
Being the spreadsheet queen, I carefully vetted the firms I could potentially work for, choosing only those that met my strict criteria. Not too big and not too small. A top-quality training system. A history for hiring broadly, not falling back on the tiny minority of lawyers who attended Oxford or Cambridge. Staff who spoke with a regional dialect. A reputation for excellence and - if such a firm existed - a culture of slight irreverence; an organization that didn't take itself too seriously and displayed a healthy disregard for the rules.
Somehow, I skipped past the gatekeepers at my chosen firm and landed myself a job.
And over the next decade, I rocked the corporate world.
INTJs, Corporate Power Players
I didn't know anything about personality science before I started work in law. By some quirk of fate, I landed a job that, on paper at least, is a perfect match for INTJs who like to read, write and argue. My early experiences bear this out.
For one, I got to do tons of busy, complex work. File after file, case after case landed on my desk, and I got to figure out ways to make those cases run more efficiently. I became a master of processes, cribs, automation and shortcuts. I got stuff done faster than anyone else in the office. I spent my days digging into complex pieces of legislation and coming up with commercial solutions to knotty legal problems. The clients were happy because I got results. The firm was happy because I generated lots of billing. And my numbers just kept getting better over time. This was my perfect environment.
Second, I got rewarded for my work ethic. Law firms - and I suspect, all profit-oriented business organizations - love those who work hard and settle for nothing less than results. If you're self-disciplined, utterly driven to produce your best work, and adaptable enough to handle anything thrown at you, the corporate world will kiss your bottom line. Perks, promotions and bonuses were thrown around the City like water, and they were largely reliant on your billing figures - basically, how much revenue you generated for the firm. It's a transparent and highly pleasing system for INTJs who love the idea that achievement equals reward.
Third, there were just so many opportunities available to people who worked for a City brand. I can't tell you the number of doors that opened because of the strong corporate firm on my resume; the quality of training and experience you get from these big players rarely goes unnoticed by prospective employers. Even if you take a different path as I eventually did, the credibility you get from working in the corporate sector really does help boost your career options over the long term.
There were deadlines of course, and risk, and pressure, and all the stress that comes from having millions of pounds at stake. If I'm brutally honest, I sort of loved the survival-of-the-fittest aspect to it all. There wasn't much room for the plodders, the dimwits, the work shy, or the stooges - success came in the form of achievement. The cream rose, talent thrived, and this made sure you pushed yourself to the limits where others might give up and move on. It was efficient, it was ruthless, and it was fascinatingly Darwinian.
For a few years, I thought that I had grabbed the brass ring when I took that job.
Turns out, what I had actually pulled was the short straw.
You Are What You Do
A few things went down.
My boorish boss went on vacation leaving a pile of files on my desk with a post-it note saying "pls deal." No briefing, no client introductions, no list of critical dates. His behavior amounted to negligence, but ultimately, he did not have to worry about the repercussions because he had power. He knew that an overworked underling would step in to save his skin.
Then, I ended up having to cancel a New Year's trip I had been looking forward to because my managing partner "needed me in the office." A high-value client had to get a deal over the line before their financial year end, which just happened to be December 31st, and the partner couldn't close the transaction on his own. I arrived at work on December 27th and did a few insignificant bits and pieces. December 28th was as quiet as the night before Christmas. 29th, 30th .... On December 31st, the partner didn't even show up. "Deal's not happening," he said, "Happy New Year." The worst thing wasn't missing the New Year's trip to Edinburgh, it was the realization that there was never any pressing deadline at all. I felt like I'd been gaslighted.
Over the next few years, 10 hour days turned to 12 hour days, 12 hour days turned to 14 hour days followed by heavy compulsory drinking with clients and company picnics on Sundays. Then up at six the next morning to show your dedication. The deals I was working on were starting to look a lot like the deals I'd been working on the year before (and the year before that). The training pool was desert-dry for senior associates whose only purpose was to rack up the billable hours.
Then I received the killer blow. "We can't make you a partner just yet," the (negligent boor of a) partner said. "The new policy is that you have to have brought in a client worth £1 million per year." "What about James?" I asked, speaking of the new junior partner whose head was so far up the department head's ass, he could have performed a colonoscopy (name changed to protect the innocent). "You've made him up and he hasn't brought in any clients." "Yes, but we think he might," came the instant reply. "He's really good with people."
A few weeks later I was in a bar, chatting to a terribly handsome young man. Inevitably, he asked me what I did. "I am lawyer," I replied. He wasn't impressed. "Yeah," he said. "You look like one."
The following day, I bleached my hair and had my navel pierced. Part of me minded looking like a lawyer. But a bigger part of me minded being one.
It's All About the Politics
It is often said that the people who succeed in corporate America aren't those who are best at their jobs, but those who are good at office politics. Do INTJs want to work in an environment where perceptions, presentation and schmoozery carry more weight than talent, output, and how effective you are at your job?
Don't answer that. It's a rhetorical question.
All businesses are political - and to some degree, they have to be. The primary reason is that they employ people, to work for people, in order to make money for other people. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out, in order to achieve this objective, that you have to get along with people. More accurately, since politics is aimed at improving someone's status within a hierarchy, you're supposed to get ahead of people, or at least try to keep up with people who are trying to get ahead of you. This is not a logical or a meritocratic process. As the great Dale Carnegie once observed: "When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity."
For INTJs, this means finding a compromise between what should be done and what actually can be done within the confines of office politics. Because of the personalities involved, the most you can hope for is a zero-sum game. Too often, an INTJ ends up brushing against a (negligent, boorish) boss or flying under the radar just because they've - shock, horror - made the work a priority instead of feathering the right nests. And all the while the company is erroneously associating leadership skills with a particular type of extroversion - the overt display of ego, being "good with people," driving through goals with sheer force of will. There's a reason why people elected Donald Trump as the exemplar of a great leader, and not Hillary Clinton.
Playing the game, in order to get a promotion, is a stye in the eye of the beholder. INTJs are firm believers that good work, in the sense of creating something of real value, lands you a senior role. In reality, it's people like James who get rewarded for not putting in the hard work and not doing anything for the good of the company other than kissing the right behinds. It makes me mad. But it never made me mad enough to compromise my principles and behave like him.
The Barrier of "Otherness"
At this point, we start seeing how truly difficult and challenging it is for anyone "other" to break the glass ceiling. Otherness, in this context, is usually referencing women, minority groups, and people of color. But it applies equally to personalities that do not fit the image of the corporate beau ideal. ISTP, ISFP, INTP, INFP and INFJ personalities fare particularly badly in a corporate world that has no idea how to access their skills and capabilities.
Do we include INTJ as an "other?" My gut feeling is no. With the right motivation and the right reward system, the INTJ has every chance of flying high in the corporate world. We're smart, we're adaptable, we're grafters, we're fixers and we're cynical enough to recognize that everyone is a small cog in a large money-making machine. Mr Corporate recognizes these skills far better than it recognizes, say, an INFP's altruism or an ISFP's creativity.
In any relationship, there are two sides of the fence. Instead of waging war against the corporate world, I do wonder if we should be looking closer and understanding the role we play in it. The INTJ, the rarest of types, has the uncommon position of possessing great potential in whatever field she is compelled to, but at the same time, understands that she does not fit the mold of the corporate master plan. How does she apply that knowledge? Does the ship steer a fairer course with an INTJ at the helm? Should we all bail out of Corporate America for sanity's sake, or should we use our peculiar talents to change the system from within? I don't know the answers to those questions, but I sometimes wish I'd been brave enough to try to make a difference.
The long and short is, that if you want or need the corporate world to achieve your goals, you have the potential to do it, and to do it well. You have the potential to play the system, add value, and not slip through the cracks.
No one can tell you what to do with your life and it's trite to say there's no one-size-fits-all career that will lead you to happiness. What does work, however, is exposure to new ideas, like-minded people and a safe environment for you to explore your interests. What's an INTJ to do if the corporate world is not that environment? He learns to adapt. It is, after all, our biggest strength.