INFJ
Careers

Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.

- Buddha

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A common refrain among INFJs -- of EVERY age -- is  "I don't know what I want to be when I grow up."  Another variation is, "I don't know what to do with my life."

Of course, many of them look like they DO know -- they are often successful and look quite "together" and on purpose.  Especially the ones with M.B.A.'s or lawyer credentials.  But sometimes that appearance is deceiving.  Real deceiving, because I get more hits and feedback on this page than any other page on my entire site.  So it's a bleeding wound for INFJs in some way.

Careers can be funny things.  Research has shown that most people just fumble around and finally end up somewhere in their thirties.  That's when they start wondering in a more proactive way what they should be doing with themselves.  (Oftentimes our tertiary  or even inferior function has the most influence over what career direction we ultimately choose, and then we feel somewhat unfulfilled by our choice.)

One of the most profound changes of the last decade is that each person today is now the architect of his or her own career.  You can no longer rely on a corporation to take care of you and accept responsibility for your long-term success in your work life.  Recent studies show that the typical adult now changes careers between 5 and 7 times during their lifetime -- a dramatic shift away from the sort of career path we were encouraged to follow as recently as 20 years ago.  As a result, you must think and act for yourself, and act as if you are president of your own personal services corporation.  Self-help experts insist that you are always self-employed, no matter who signs your paycheck -- and the biggest mistake anyone can make is to suppose that they work for anyone but themselves.

To make it worse, there are three kinds of work to be had.  There are jobs, there are careers, and there are callings.  (What INFJ would not like to find their "calling"?!)

So let's break this work question down into some component parts.

INFJs often ask what they're good at -- what they're naturally suited for.  And the answer is that every type can and does succeed in any career if they set their mind to it.  There is NO best-fit between a type and a career per se.

So if you want to know what career to pursue, it's a good idea to be selfish (gasp!) and get in touch with your interests, your values, your needs.  Don't think about an occupation -- think about an occu-passion!  And ironically, this can be one of the most difficult things for an INFJ to do, given that our introverted Feeling (the function that knows what we the individual want) shows up in 6th position in our function hierarchy.  That configuration creates a handicap which must be consciously overcome in order to obtain optimum work satisfaction.  If INFJs don't overcome it, it's all too easy for them to become "people-pleasers" and attempt to have the career their mother wants for them, or a favorite teacher, or their girlfriend.  They might even take a "job" to get by in order to support somebody else's aspirations.  It's vital for INFJs to act just a little bit "selfish" about pursuing work that is personally fulfilling, and not try to make somebody else happy. That may satisfy you for a while, but it will eventually grow stale, and then disappointment will come hard on its heels -- disappointment that you didn't fulfill your purpose on this earth.

Real success is finding your life work in the work that you love. 

INFJs are often satisfied with too little -- as long as they are being catalysts, they may feel that is enough.  As a result, they sometimes get drafted into others' agendas and supporting others toward success.  (I found I had to work with a coach to keep me true to myself and not automatically sell out to outer demands on me.  It is soo seductive to fall into a supportive role.)

The greatest crime in the world is not developing your potential. When you do what you do best, you are helping not only yourself, but the world. 
                                          -Roger Williams

Another component of the career challenge is usually, "What do other INFJs do for a living?"  Again, all types can and do succeed in all careers.  And Catalysts in particular are notorious for showing up in all the oddest places.  David Keirsey once remarked that the other Temperaments tend to congregate in certain "pools" of likeminded professionals, such as the way Theorists have collected in Silicon Valley, for instance.  But he commented that Catalysts can be found anywhere... doing anything... with anybody...  There's just no clear, identifiable pattern germane to Catalysts.  

Nevertheless, here's a typical way that Catalysts would like to experience work: click

The relevant question in looking at a job is not What will I do? But Who will I become?

- Po Bronson

I'm about to reference a myriad of books here (how INFJ of me!).  The first is "Quick Guide to the 16 Personality Types and Career Mastery: Living with Purpose and Working Effectively," by Charles Martin.  The notion of "career mastery" is all about clarifying your purpose, honing your intent, finding and managing a career, and working effectively.  Charles' book provides structured activities that can help you discover what you really want in your career, as well as offering insight into how having preferences for INFJ influences how you operate. 

According to Charles, "INFJs are often attracted to careers in religious professions, teaching, fine arts, writing, counseling/psychotherapy, psychology, medicine, architecture, marketing, social sciences, research, and educational consulting.  But you may find enjoyment and excellence doing something entirely different.  Remember to ask, "What do I want?"  Type is about your approach to getting what you want.  Regardless of career, INFJs are attracted to environments or roles where they can approach problems creatively, understand and express complex ideas, show concern for and inspire others, and have some privacy in their work."  Charles suggests INFJs should "draw on your thoughtful, creative, and organized style as you manage your career."

The book Live Your Calling : A Practical Guide to Finding and Fulfilling Your Mission in Life says...

INFJs are most likely to find interesting and satisfying those careers that make use of their depth of concentration, grasp of abilities, warmth and empathy, and ability to organize. INFJs are often found in careers where creativity and facilitating human development are primary activities. Their orientation to people, confidence in their insights into the nature of things and people, and fertile imagination often attract them to careers where they can draw out the possibilities in others. These same qualities can also lead to exceptional empathic abilities.

Examples of careers often chosen by INFJs are the ministry, education (including religion, foreign languages, and the arts), architecture, medicine, psychology, media and marketing work, counseling, and fine arts.

A terrific book is What's Your Type of Career?: Unlock the Secrets of Your Personality to Find Your Perfect Career Path, by Donna Dunning.  This is the book you should buy if you want to explore this subject in depth.  Donna labels INFJs "Compassionate Visionaries," and she adopts a "big picture" approach to careers that greatly appeals to me.  Let me share a few examples from the wealth of information Dunning provides.  For instance, describing the ideal work environment for INFJs:

As a Compassionate Visionary, I prefer a work environment that is

  • Supportive and affirming

  • Collaborative

  • Conceptual, with chances to learn and develop

  • Meaningful, serving a higher purpose

  • A source of opportunities to work with and implement ideas

  • Focused on growth and development of people

  • A source of opportunity to organize projects and follow through

She goes on to say:

As a Compassionate Visionary, I value the following skills and activities

  • Collaborating

  • Communicating

  • Creativity

  • Facilitating

  • Organizing

  • Planning

She claims that INFJs balance visioning with compassion, and says what they do naturally is connect ideas to people and values.  She says they prefer to live their values, and they want to actualize their visions.

Even if you're not looking for a new job or career, Dunning's book provides powerful insights about how INFJs operate.  I can't recommend this book highly enough to fellow INFJ's.  (Donna's a really nice person, too!)  She names possible careers for INFJs, but her emphasis is less on a laundry list of careers than in showing how and where INFJs best "fit."  It really felt like she was speaking my language when I read her description of my type.

Perhaps the most popular type book on the topic of careers is next, and its title says it all.  "Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type," by Paul Tieger and Barbara Tieger-Barron.  Let's check out a few niches they suggest:

Great careers for INFJs

  • Career counselor

  • Special education teacher

  • Alcohol and drug addiction counselor

  • Universal design architect

  • Holistic health practitioner

  • Diversity manager/trainer

  • Speech/language pathologist

  • Environmental attorney

  • Director of religious education

  • Therapist

  • Editor / art director (web sites)

  • Writer

  • Mediator / conflict resolver

  • Planned giving officer

  • Religious educator

They seem to update this book on a regular basis, so if you are seeking laundry lists of possible careers, I suggest you drop by the local bookstore or library and thumb through a current copy (although I would never rely on such a list to select my profession).

Back to Charles Martin.  He describes the INFJ approach to career mastery, and then offers some advice:

You will quietly consider a number of ideal long-term career options before taking action, and will seek environments that meet your needs to be imaginative, focused, and to help others.  You will connect with a focal group of contacts but may miss opportunities that come from larger-scale efforts to connect with others who might have helpful information or valuable contacts.  Your interpersonal skills, insight, and ability to be a quick learner are pluses.  When connecting with others, be sure to sell yourself, your task orientation, and your ability to have practical impact, in addition to your people skills.  Feelings that the job search is grueling or that you cannot find your ideal position may get in the way of taking action.  You will naturally gather information through reading and get excited about a new career idea but may not register key facts and details about a career option.  You will weigh the impact of decisions on yourself and significant others but may not look in a tough-minded way at the pros, and especially the cons, of any given option.  You may weigh what others want too heavily.  You are good at setting goals but may need to narrow the focus on exciting possibilities to an explorable short list so practical action can be taken.

Challenge yourself.  Reach out to others, sell yourself, tentatively narrow your options so you can really move into action, and gather facts/data about your options.

Larry Demarest offers the following:

Motivation

INFJs often see work as a mission or service and want work to make a difference for others.  They want to grow through their vocations.  INFJs have an idealistic belief in people and in what they can accomplish, and they act to promote the alignment of values and actions, calling upon organizations to "walk their talk."  They also like variety and opportunities to be creative and dream up new approaches.

So that's what leading Type authors have to say.  Now I'll give you my answer to "What do other INFJs do?"  Realize, of course, that I'm only talking about INFJs I know personally!  If I lived in a small town and attended church regularly [say], I'm sure my examples would be different!

I'll describe myself first:  I've held down all manner of jobs (my resumes are online if you want to read them).  I used to be a tour guide on the Queen Mary, many years ago.  I worked in retail clothing as a saleswoman (boy did I suck!) and store manager.  I tried to become a dance instructor at Arthur Murray, but that fizzled.  I was a keypunch operator for years, which is how I initially learned about computers.  My degree is in theatre, so I call myself an actress and still perform occasionally.  I co-wrote a number of scripts -- some of them quite famous that I never got credit for (another common problem with INFJs).  I've temped for all kinds of companies (my worst gig entailed identifying lawn mower parts).  I was a night-shift word processor for a time, and I typed scripts for "The Cosby Show," "Footloose," "Flamingo Kid," and even the "Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon," among others.  I became a freelance computer consultant in 1985, and later enjoyed developing databases.  Nowadays I write, I'm teaching myself to develop websites and blogsites, and I've begun presenting publicly about Type (and designing my own sessions, which are getting fabulous feedback).  I'm also doing Life Coaching and have been credentialed as a CPCC -- Certified Professional Co-Active Coach.  (We'll see how that goes, since only a small percentage of coaches earn enough to make a bona fide living doing it.)  I'm loving it so much that I went through Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC), and even pursued certification to administer and coach around a Team Assessment instrument.  I am enjoying working with teams (systems) immensely!  As a type expert friend of mine jokes, every INFJ is a social engineer at heart.

(Update: I've achieved the status of PCC with the International Coach Federation now -- Professional Certified Coach, which means I've logged over 750 professional coaching hours.  I've completed a ten-month leadership development program that included 2 high ropes courses and 4 retreats "off the grid" in the redwoods.  And I've just been accepted into Pacifica Graduate Institutes MA/PhD program for remote student, specializing in Jungian and Archetypal Studies, which means I'll be Dr. Vicky in three years if I zip through the program.)

Have I ever had a career per se?  Well, freelance computer consulting came closest thus far -- but it felt more like a survival strategy than a chosen profession, and it was never as rewarding as I imagine a career should be.  I love taking people through a structured Type Insights process and helping them discover who they are, coaching them beyond that, and also delivering type workshops via webinar and in person.  I can't think of anything more rewarding.

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She became a telephone operator
because it was her calling.
                              -Anonymous

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So here's some stuff about other real-life INFJs I know:

My INFJ girlfriend is an administrative assistant for a chemistry professor at her day job, but her real love is reading and writing.  She holds a master's degree from USC in "Professional Writing" -- so while she's somebody else's slave by day, at night she goes to the cinema and writes online movie reviews.  She's also written a number of scripts, including one that became an episode of "Star Trek."  Likewise, I know another INFJ whose college degree is in filmmaking.  She's an administrative assistant at a film studio by day, and she writes scripts at night.  She recently produced a full-length play, and that's being developed into a low budget film (so they say).

I know a couple of INFJs who are lawyers, but in my opinion they aren't very happy people -- maybe even a little bitter and mean-spirited.  (They display a bit of "Tin Man" syndrome.)

I know quite a number of INFJs who are editors and/or writers, and there are more INFJ bloggers online than you can imagine!  (Although I take it with a grain of salt when someone claims INFJ preferences -- many, many people are mis-typed as INFJs.)  I know two INFJs who work happily in Human Resources.  I know anothern who works as a recruiter.  I know two INFJ coaches--one of them works as a professional office organizer when she's not coaching, and then there's Career Coach Helen Scully.

I knew an elderly (70's) INFJ who worked as an on-site property manager until she died.  She turned the apartment complex into a lovely retreat, despite being situated in a poor, rundown neighborhood in seedy Hollywood.  Like me, her so-called career path was pretty "checkered."  She was an interesting character, having relocated here from her home in England many years ago.  She had a hard life and was dreadfully enmeshed with her adult children, who took deplorable advantage of her.  (She was a great example in many ways of how to fail as an INFJ.)

I've met two INFJs in Colorado who are stay-at-home moms.  There's another INFJ I know who's homeschooling her six kids, but I don't think she's very happy because she too seems kind of bitter and mean sometimes.  I don't know whether that's a "career" problem or something to do with relationship disappointment...

I know two wonderful INFJ ministers.

One INFJ I know located in Boston is a "philanthropy consultant," and it looks like he does interesting work.  He used to be co-president of Boston's APT chapter.  Another INFJ is the president of the San Francisco Jung Society.  Another INFJ works as a director in Career Services at an East Coast college.  One is a music professor.

I know an INFJ English teacher in Louisiana, and I know an INFJ college professor in Santa Barbara (but I don't know what he teaches exactly).

There's an INFJ who got an M.B.A. (and always tests INTJ!), but she works as a trainer in the field of adult education, which seems rewarding for her.  She's expert at designing adult coursework, which seems like a good use of her natural INFJ skills.

There's yet another Type author/expert who started out by getting her M.B.A. before she started working with ministry and writing about Type.  (I wonder just how many M.B.A. INFJ's are out there...?)

I eventually realized my realtor and my financial planner both happen to have INFJ prefs (and I've been getting the sense there are a lot of INFJ financial planners running around out there).

I've met several INFJ counselors, and at least three INFJ Jungians at the Jung Institute.  I know an INFJ licensed psychologist who came to her career fairly late in life.  I'm not sure what she did before that...  I just met another INFJ psychologist from Tennessee who also works as an OD Consultant.  Plus I've met two INFJ head-hunters, one INFJ who does team coaching, and one who does instructional design-work.

There's an INFJ I know who wanted to be a priest but dropped out.  Now he's an actor and screenwriter who works as a substitute teacher part-time... and I think he's trying to be a "house husband" to his high-profile movie director/producer (ESTP) wife, although he just became a semi-finalist in a playwriting competition.  Another INFJ has a degree in Graphics Design and is an aspiring writer who is developing his own animated film projects (he works at a church to pay the bills for his wife and triplets, although I think he's become a house husband recently and the wife is going back to the workforce).

Whoops, just met three more INFJ life coaches!  They showed up at a meeting I attended last night!  One of them is focused on abundance/scarcity issues, working with money as an "archetypal" energy, while another styles herself as a "grief coach."  Both have designed their own training curriculums.  (I don't know what the other one specializes in.)  An INFJ went through my Leadership training with me -- she's a yoga teacher and considers herself a "spiritual guide" in her coaching work.

Let's add three more to the list:  one is a business coach, one is an internist, and another is an ethno-biologist.  Fascinating!

I know several INFJs who were electrical engineers, computer programmers, mathematicians, and scientists -- but on further study they always turned out to be _NFPs who had mistakenly tested as INFJ.  If that's your situation, you may want to heed this as a clue for clarifying your own type more fully.  According to Do What You Are, INFJs are usually involved in technical fields as a "liaison" between the technical people and the end user (which accurately portrays my own recent work in the computer field).  The so-called technical careers listed for INFJs include:

  • Customer Relations Manager

  • Staff Advocate (technical consultant)

  • Coach

  • Project Manager

  • Engagement Manager

  • Human Resources Recruiter

As you can see, none of these positions emphasizes the technical component over a communications/relational aspect.  (When someone demonstrates a lot of competence with extraverted Thinking, my antennae go up quickly that this person may be mistyped.)

I should note here that INFJs (and Catalysts in general, for that matter) don't always seem particularly career-driven.  With their uncommon gifts, they don't always find that society asks for or appreciates the sort of talents they naturally offer.  But overall, I have personally witnessed INFJs attracted to (and happiest in) these areas (in no particular order):

  • Writing & Editing

  • Teaching (English or Adult learning)

  • Acting

  • Ministry

  • Coaching & Mentoring

  • Therapy & Counseling

  • Human Resources

Hey, my list matches Charles Martin's list pretty closely!

A little modest self-promotion:  I became a certified JCDC (Job and Career Development Coach) several years ago, and there are now a few career assessments I can offer.  They are very simple and yet powerful -- and here's a 3-minute video that describes them.

Contact me if you'd like to learn more about or purchase them.  (They're inexpensive.)  It's a helpful way to gain some internal guidance about what career path is best for you!  They helped me clarify my own interests and articulate what I wanted to explore work-wise, and I notice I am moving more and more in the direction of what I identified during that experience (almost subliminally so!).  I now offer them to you.

The last words on this topic I want to share are these two quotes:

"Real joy comes not from ease or riches or from the praise of men, but from doing something worthwhile." 
-Pierre Coneille

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"Work is love made visible.  And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.  For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter loaf that feeds but half a man's hunger."
-Kahlil Gibran

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A Poll

If you are absolutely 100% confident your preferences are for INFJ, would you participate in my poll?

It's only one question:  how fulfilled are you with your work/career?  And then, after you vote, if you are feeling generous you can share what your greatest challenge is to being fulfilled.  (I love reading what other INFJs are up against -- thank you!)

Again, only vote if you are absolutely confident your preferences are for INFJ.  Don't worry, you can still view the current poll results & the challenges that have been shared by clicking on the "view results" link at the bottom of the poll box.  (Be sure to click "View All Comments" to see all the marvelous things people have written -- though I harbor doubts about some respondents' type patterns given the occasionally dicey replies.  So don't assume everyone truly has INFJ preferences..)

Postscript:
If you're an INFJ looking for a new career, you might consider career counseling.  No kidding!  I've already met a number of INFJs in this field, AND there is an *incredible* amount of interest from this group about this topic.  (I can't believe how many hits I get on this page, and how many people are anxious to comment.)  If that seems counter-intuitive because, after all, how can you help somebody else figure out their career when you can't sort out your own -- on the other hand, notice the energy you have around this topic. You're thinking about it anyway!  Imagine being trained and paid to figure out this topic and get on the other side of it for yourself and for other people.  From that vantage point, it might be a highly worthwhile venture!  (I'm entirely serious.  Why not get paid to figure out something you're already enthusiastic about figuring out anyway?  Why not?)

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"It is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction."
            -Pablo Picasso

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Postscript #2:

Two additional items I want to add.  In the poll comments, somebody wrote something about studying adult instructional design, and it really hit me how that sounded like something INFJs would enjoy doing.  Major wow even.  The second thing is, I keyed in "life purpose" as a subject search with the L.A. public library database system, and I was astonished by how many hits came back with titles about "finding God's purpose for your life."  And it suddenly showed up for me that INFJs need to express their spirituality (meaning their spirit) in the work they do.  If that isn't present, then what's the point?  So I make up that it's necessary for INFJs to align their spirit and their life purpose to their career or they feel dead about their work.  The third thing (yes, that's one more than I promised) is that as part of my coaching skills I facilitate guided visualizations.  It's a fabulous way to access your own iNtuition, which can unlock all sorts of doors for you!  

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"Your profession is not what brings home your paycheck.  Your profession is what you were put on earth to do, with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling."
                            -Vincent van Gogh

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Postscript #3:

I don't even want to bring this up, but it seems I must.  I've gotten soo much email on this topic.  One person wrote me to learn which careers would make him successful and rich!  (As if I was keeping those a secret from him...)  I got the impression this person wanted the job that would instantly make him a cross between, I dunno, the Pope and Donald Trump or something.  He wanted the magic combination of power and money -- huzzah!  Oh my goodness.  Just give me a minute while I stop laughing.  I'll quote Martha Beck here.  Take this in and hold it close:  "No soul's mission in life is to make money.  Fulfill your mission, and you'll find a way to earn money as a byproduct."  

Amen, Martha!  As proof, I had the good fortune of meeting a woman two weeks ago who left her corporate job and was now working with orphans.  She wasn't earning as much money, but she actually loved to go to work in the morning -- that was more important to her.  (She'd learned the hard way, after years of selling her soul to the corporation.)  Now she was watching her daughter struggle to find the occupation that would pay the bills and also be rewarding.  

I'm not saying it's easy to do.  But our culture has us brainwashed that it's all about money, cash, greenbacks.  And if you buy into that belief, You Are Destined To Be Miserable.  There are amazing stories of people who followed their heart, their dream, pursued what they loved, what made them happy -- and they became successful.  But you never read about the person who chased the money and suffered for the sake of a paycheck suddenly realizing their dreams.  It doesn't happen.  They have to forego that before they get on the path that's right for them.  So you have to get your values, your priorities straight coming out of the gate.  Do the thing that makes you happy, and your life will somehow work.  It really will!  (It always does.  That's the reward for demonstrating courage.)

Alright, enough.  Over and out.

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