Just about six years ago, I started looking into personality theory. I was skeptical, curious and enthusiastic about finding a system that could help me understand the stranger aspects of human behavior. I hoped it would be the cornerstone of my success as I prepared to transition from one career into another. And it was, to a point.
I tested my personality several times and it was INTJ—the personality of knowledge and competence. I read voraciously about INTJ behavioral traits and most of them rang mind-blowingly true. Except for one part. The part that said I should be self-confident to the point of arrogance didn't register at all.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not a wallflower. I fall on the ambivert side of Introvert and occasionally—very occasionally—a personality test will point me toward ENTJ. But confident? Nope. Stick me in front of an audience and I'm a quivering wreck. Push me out of my comfort zone and my calm, cynical, full-of-quips persona morphs into this exaggerated caricature of Ron Weasley before the spiders.
Reading the forums, it was obvious that I wasn't the only one who felt that confidence was eluding them. So, I decided to do some digging. Here are six key lessons I learned about the INTJ confidence gap.
#1: If you're achieving something, you're confident
INTJs derive confidence from two places: being good at things and accomplishing things. When neither of those are happening, then your confidence will plummet like a wounded bird. There are times when I've felt like a crappy parent for putting my kids in daycare, a crappy employee for not focusing fully at work, a crappy daughter for not finding the time to visit my parents, a crappy wife for not giving my husband the attention he deserved, and a crappy person because I was still carrying an extra 5 lbs and it was August, not New Year. We've all had them—those days or weeks when you're not achieving much more than breathing.
Long story short: INTJs need wins to feel like they're winning. Confidence comes from regular task accomplishment—when you can point to something and say, "I am really nailing this."
#2: Confidence comes from trusting the gut
INTJs are good at many things, but for me the one that sticks out is decisiveness. I think about things a lot, but when something is right, and the time is right, I act. I don't need more information. I don't need to procrastinate. I just need to trust my instinct, go all-in, and see what happens. And I feel far more confident when I follow my antennae with gusto than when I over-rationalize and second guess myself.
Why is trusting your intuition so confidence boosting? I'm speculating, but I think it's because there's never an end point with the rational-analytic style of reasoning. There's always more to know, and more things that you realize you don't know, when you rely on analysis to make decisions. And through those knowledge gaps, doubt and uncertainty creep in.
Learning to trust your intuition is something that comes with maturity—my younger self definitely struggled with a top-down approach to decision making. But regardless of age, most INTJs feel much more confident when we balance our rationality and our instincts. Intuition is pretty crucial if we don't want to rationalize ourselves into existential crises.
#3: Confidence isn't one thing, it's many things
It's easy to lump the different types of confidence together and classify them as a single personality trait, but it's perfectly possible to be confident in one area and not in another. Like most INTJs, I tend to have knowledge confidence in spades. I know what topics I'm an expert in, and I rule the roost in those arenas. Social confidence is more problematic. Who else feels inferior when they're struggling to strike up conversations with people they don't know?
That INTJs are clueless in social situations is nothing new—nor is the assumption always right. But it's worth mentioning because it helps us to recognize the many subcategories of confidence (physical, emotional, social, intellectual and so on) and put some measure on the confidence gap. As INTJs, we have a habit of overthinking our flaws. If there's a confidence area we need to work on, we're likely to see it as a strong indicator of overall low confidence, instead of a tiny part of a much bigger picture.
#4: Failure gives us confidence...but we have to work for it
I'd like to say that I embrace failure and use it as an opportunity to grow. But it's subtler than that. I hate failure. Loathe it, despise it, will do everything in my power to avoid it. And because of that, I will do all the hard things to make myself better, sharper, stronger and more focused the next time I'm in a potentially vulnerable situation. It's less about embracing failure, and more about plugging the gaps so that I never fail again.
This is relevant for one reason: knowledge fuels an INTJ's confidence. It's only when an INTJ is ignorant of something that we experience self-doubt. Failing pushes us out of comfort zones and forces us to acquire more knowledge. It sets the scene for us to improve ourselves, so next time there will be nothing for us to feel nervous about.
#5: Sometimes, it's what's on the outside that counts
You might feel like a fraud, a hack or an imposter, but if you're cool, calm and collected on the outside, people will perceive you as confident. And if there's one thing INTJs are good at, it's faking facades and letting people see only what we want them to see.
Whether you buy into the whole 'fake it 'til you make it' mantra or not, there are lots of people who won't see through your pseudo-confidence. They will trust your fearless persona and feel relaxed in your company. It's amazing how that changes the vibe. Suddenly, you've made a connection with someone who is treating you like a put-together person. How do you respond? With confidence in kind.
For some of you, feigning confidence will feel like a violation of your values; better to admit that you are not confident than surrender to someone else's stupid expectations. That's honorable, and completely INTJ! But if you're up for a little faking, composure is your confidence-boosting friend. Love it and embrace it, even if it is phony.
#6: Confidence is low when awareness is high
For a long time, I assumed that I wasn't self-confident and, therefore, was a pox on the house of INTJ. Then I realized—it's not that I lack confidence, it's just that I have too much critical awareness. Like many INTJs, I'm acutely aware of every mistake I make, and set a high bar for my own behavior. I could spend an entire month beating myself up about a mistake that wouldn't even register if someone else made it. And thanks to my overactive INTJ imagination, I assume that others are judging me just as harshly as I'm judging myself.
The faults I see are not imagined, but my perception of them often gets exaggerated—sometimes to absurdity. I don't like that I do this, and it seems dangerous; taken to extremes, there's a risk that high self-awareness could turn into crippling self-loathing and doubt. I haven't found an answer to this problem yet. I suspect it's a cross that INTJs must bear.
Now, it's over to you. What does it take for you to feel truly confident? Let me know in the comments!