What follows is an ongoing project in which Personality Junkie readers of various personality types submit their career success stories for publication. If you are interested in submitting your own career success story, click here for instructions and guidelines. Otherwise, we hope you enjoy and benefit from perusing the stories of others.
I am a female INTJ—almost a textbook one, really—and am a doctor. I began training as a surgeon and after four years switched to become a pathologist.
Like many INTJs, I have a large number of broad-ranging intellectual interests and found nearly everything in medical school to be fascinating and appealing. One lovely thing about medical school is that you’re cloistered with highly intelligent people of nearly all personality types (though the SPs are rare birds). One less lovely thing is that being a medical student, as opposed to an actual doctor, relies nearly exclusively on SJ traits. We’re all forced to develop them, though the ISTJs and ESTJs take to med school like ducks to water—the discipline, rigorous schedules and most importantly the excruciating focus on minutiae and facts. I had a great deal of difficulty picking a specialty since I liked everything, at least intellectually, and general surgery seemed to be the last “do everything, know everything” field in medicine. The fact that it is completely dominated by Extroverted Sensors seemed to be something I could overlook.
It was fine at first. I liked the adrenaline and the sense of mastery, autonomy and competence a surgical skillset afforded me. The fact that nearly all of my colleagues were ESTJs with little tolerance for ambiguity, a focus on practical, technical solutions to problems as opposed to speculation on root causes, and a blunt, black/white communication style began to grate. I’m an independent INTJ, though, so I hardly chose a field based on hopes of collegial work relationships. I began to really chafe under the relentless, crushing, sameness of everything. The routine—rounds, patient notes, clinic visits, the operating room. I just began to feel like a monkey—someone else did the intellectual heavy lifting of making a diagnosis or sub-classifying a tumor, and I just cut it out. There are scores of sub-types of lung tumors, for example, with varying biology and etiology. Almost none of that really matters to a surgeon—you cut it out the same way, nearly every time. Also, nearly all surgeons sub-specialize once they’re in practice, and perform only a narrow range of operations. The idea of doing the same case over and over and over again seemed like complete misery.
If a surgeon is reading this now, I’m sure they’re rolling their eyes. “Just cutting it out” is a skillset that takes years to master and is literally life and death to the patient. Obviously I am not trivializing surgery. It’s just for me, the deeper motivations and intellectual rewards in medicine were sorely lacking.
Enter pathology. Pathologists are the bridge between the basic sciences and clinical medicine, and is often thought of as the most cerebral field in medicine. Our job is to know absolutely everything about everything, to deeply understand as much as is known about clinical medicine, and to make all of the diagnoses. Someone cuts out a tumor—we dissect it, process it, examine it and classify it. We are very much a behind-the-scenes specialty, so doctors whose primary rewards are interpersonal (the NFs) or people who enjoy glory and reward (ESTJs, ENTJs) won’t thrive. For a bookish, perfectionist, rigorous, speculative, theorizing, independent INTJ it’s like finding water in the desert. We’re the only specialty in medicine that can triage our time based on how interesting and complicated a case is (I can spend 30 seconds on my routine cases, and hours to days reading the primary literature, researching, opening textbooks, and showing it to my expert colleagues). I only liase with other doctors, not patients, so my discussions are always highly technical, abstract, and to the point—no need to translate for the layperson. I’m “the doctor’s doctor,” continually playing the expert role and never needing to sully my hands with the nitty-gritty of patient care.
I think my career journey, as circuitous as it was, encapsulates very well the dominance of Type. “Do what you are” is not really a prescription, it’s a law.
My personality type is INTJ. As a boy in grade school I found myself naturally drawn to finding patterns in what I observed (or proving to myself that there was no pattern). This took the form of everything from flipping coins repeatedly while keeping track of heads and tails, to seeing how many M&Ms for each color showed up in each bag (keeping records over the course of many bags, which I’m sure contributed to my growing up chubby!) I was the happiest when I was analyzing something, and that same pleasure persists today as older adult nearing retirement. My iMac at home is filled with spreadsheets analyzing one process or another – it really doesn’t matter what process it is; the analysis is what makes it fun.
Happily, what I do for a living is a good fit with this natural bent toward analysis. I’m an actuary by trade, and what I do for a great portion of my work week can be summed up in a few words: pattern recognition and the accompanying statistical analysis. As a young adult, I had a great deal of dissatisfaction with “regular” jobs, especially those that attempted to manage people’s behavior. “Herding cats” often came to mind as a descriptor. But, analyzing large numbers of people and their behavior… that I found to be much more pleasurable, particularly when I didn’t have to talk to any of them.
The challenge I faced was to find a profession that not only allowed me to do this, but paid me decently as well. My father was an insurance salesman, and during the summer before my senior year in high school, he dragged me along with him in the car when he went to visit the headquarters of the insurance company for which he worked. He took me to the top floor of the building – the executive floor – and walked me around it, pointing out the large corner offices while saying: “Son, you’re good in math, your National Merit scores proved it. See these big offices? The people in them are actuaries. They are good in math like you. This is what you should do for a living.” I never forgot his admonition, even though it took me several years of career frustration to get around to trying out the profession. I’ve been in it ever since, and while I don’t exactly have a corner office, I make a good living and am doing what I love. Thanks, Dad!
Ralph: Computer Programming
I am an INTJ. I love to analyze, what a surprise. Early on in my life I discovered that preference of mine. It was never things nor people that I was interested in—meaning that I did not take apart the transistor radio of my dad nor analyze my friends. Speaking of transistor radios, I am giving away my age, telling you that I have some experience under my belt. Talking of friends: there were so few, and still are, that there was and is little to analyze. But this is going to be about my career success.
I love to analyze problems and theories.
In high school, I had a great German and history teacher. We looked at the idea of man a certain epoch had, and derived from it the reasoning behind historical events, and vice versa. This was so interesting that I decided to study history. Yet history at the university was something totally different: learning by heart all the dates. So I gave it up and became a computer programmer.
Early eighties, a great time to be a programmer, with the personal computer starting its success story, and programmers being the whizz kids of the time. Programming, and soon project management played right into my ball field. Every few months there was something new to analyze. A new programming language, a new field of expertise, a new problem. Clients were as divers as banks and industrial companies, scientific and business software.
After 7 years of work, I decided to go back to university and study computer sciences and math. As I did it alongside my work, married, starting with two kids and finishing my studies with three, it took a little longer than anticipated.
Back in programming full-time, I discovered that the field had changed. It had matured. Programmers were to stick with a project, a product, a programming language over a longer time, and expected to know about the customer’s area of expertise before the project started.
My interests have shifted. Programming, solving the same garden-variety problems over and over again, has become utterly boring.
My new interest: analyzing the Bible. Getting to know God. This will never grow old, as his grace is new every morning.
The content of work is secondary. It wears off anyway. The structure of analytics is trump. The tools are unimportant, but one. One of the greatest gifts God gave us: the ability to think.
To read about what I think, feel free to visit www.rickenba.ch .
Jessica: Product Designer
I’m an INFJ working as a product designer in Silicon Valley. As a product designer, I frequently have to dabble into user research to understand how to design an experience that best serves both the business and the users. Therefore, empathy and genuineness is helpful in this field — luckily these come naturally to the INFJ. This field requires thinking about the holistic experience: the perceived look and feel of the product, the interaction between the user and the interface, and the long-term impression of the product on the user.
Prior to becoming a product designer, I intended to further my studies in psychology as a researcher. Although I still feel compelled to return to psychology, I realized that product design was a natural fit for both my need for creating experiences and for researching human behavior. My professor individually recommended that I apply to graduate school, but I had already decided that I wanted to be a product designer. He gave me a strange expression. He was not the only one to question my decision; my family and friends were also unsure about starting a career in design. Honestly, I wasn’t sure that I could do it.
The person who urged me to try is my boyfriend who I have been dating for almost 4 years. He is an INTJ, and we had worked very closely as a developer-designer pair. His intuition told him that I had what it took to be a good designer, so I gave it a shot and applied to several jobs. I never had affirmation from my environment to pursue a career in design until I met my boyfriend whom I completely trust. To be honest, I feel like I have become successful in my career due to learning from working with people I trust and love.
At the company where I am employed, I still feel that I am most successful when I get to work with people that I trust and care about. They’re people who are loyal to each other, responsible, diligent, intelligent, and honest about their opinions. We could basically sit together for a whole week and not get tired of each other, which I can’t say about everyone at the company. When I am working with a good team, I feel that we are producing the best work at an amazing speed. However, we frequently move around at my company, so the pleasure of working with a close and amazing team is short-lived. To this day, I am looking for the best team because there is no other formula for great work.
Eventually, I intend to start a company with my boyfriend. We both plan to learn as much as we can while being employed at our respective companies, and one day we will be the best designer-engineer pair to start a company together.
I worked as a licensed counselor for ten years, when I slowly became disillusioned by an unethical system and a profession that was notorious for closing its doors. I always had a knack for writing and loved literature, so I sat down at age 38 to begin writing a memoir. In the process, poems began to emerge and a new fire ignited for poetry. I realized, as a literature professor had urged me at age 20, that this is what I should have been doing all along. Now, I had to figure out how to fund my love, since poetry writing doesn’t exactly pay the bills, so I decided to pursue my next love, animals. I started advertising myself as a pet sitter and connected with a local provider to freelance my services. Now, I have about a dozen clients and enjoy each day I go to “work.” As an INFJ, this has helped me pursue my love of working alone but also helping people, because my clients (both people and their pets) are very grateful for my assistance. I finally feel like I’m being of use to society (both through my writing and work).
Aaron: Software Development & Project Manager
I had my first encounter with MBTI 4 years ago in an advanced management course for my software company. A large international conglomerate had just acquired us and the course was an effort to help integrate me into the larger organization while leveraging my strengths and interests. They used the MBTI score quite prominently throughout the week for coaching and career development. I scored as an INTP, and for the first time in my life, my journey up to that point started to make sense.
I had an incredibly winding (and somewhat confusing) path to my role as head of R&D for a large software group. In college, I had a very hard time picking a clear major. Every subject was fascinating to me, and by the end of sophomore year I had such a mish-mash of courses under my belt, it was difficult to chart out a clear curriculum. I took math, economics, chemistry, film studies, (and on and on) but the bulk of my studies centered on Western Civilization – history, art, language… My proud explanation was, and remains, “I really need to understand why we are where we are”…
Fast-forward nearly 20 years… How on earth did I go from broad liberal arts education in humble Ann Arbor to head of a global software team out of Silicon Valley? When asked this question, I would shrug my shoulders, laugh and say I got really lucky. But the INTP score (and subsequent reading on it), pointed out something very important to me, and the progression suddenly seemed logical: I’m extremely captivated by problem finding and problem solving – no matter the subject. I like reflecting on ideas and seeing all sides of an argument. I like synthesizing observations and testing those theories out with others. I have absolutely no qualms with making a decision and experimenting with the results. I find failure as informative as success.
Today, I consider myself a dyed-in-the-wool Silicon Valley Product Manager. Modern products, if designed well, solve specific problems and, hopefully, create an emotional connection. Products, if engineered creatively (to defend against easy copying) and efficiently (to reduce costs), make money over sustained periods of time. Silicon Valley Product Managers have to orchestrate the creation of these products with some of the most intense, intelligent and unique people on the planet. It’s the ultimate intellectual, entrepreneurial, and interpersonal puzzle – and it changes daily. This level of intense, 360 degree problem-solving perfectly commands my attention.
20 years ago, this flavor of career did not exist and I certainly wouldn’t have imagined my life today. I credit my curious and questioning INTP nature for guiding me to California and establishing credibility with some of the smartest people in the world. I also credit it for my urge to seek out complex challenges with curiosity rather than fear. The methods and techniques made little sense to my family, my peers, and oftentimes to myself, but that was surface level assessment – understanding the motivations that drive INTPs revealed the common thread.
Carrie: High School Spanish Teacher
I’m an INTP and the road to teaching for me was both clear and rocky. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. For me, the question wasn’t, “What should I do?” but rather, “What should I teach?” I was always fascinated by different people and different languages – I dreamt of living abroad and created my own languages in stacks of notebooks. So when I took my first Spanish class, I knew exactly what I wanted to teach: language.
At first, everything seemed great. Language came easily to me, and my first year of college was fantastic. Until then, I had never before had the opportunity to be around so many intelligent, passionate people. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like I was “strange”. I took a job as a TA to an English professor that taught English to international students. I was given a lot of freedom and prepared and gave lessons and tutored students. I loved it.
But as the years progressed, it became clear that I didn’t really fit in in any of my education classes. Most education students were there because they loved kids and wanted to coach. I liked kids, but what I loved about (the idea of) teaching was autonomy and the ability to use my intellect and creativity. Coaching was my idea of torture. The few academic equals that were in the teaching program quickly left, and I found myself alone.
My student teaching experience and my first year of teaching were horrible. I was truly worried I would fail/lose my job. I felt so incredibly incompetent, foolish – truly one of the worst feelings there is for an INTP. I was stubborn and decided to stick it through three years and then decide to leave if I still wanted to.
I’m so grateful I didn’t. Now, teaching is just what I need in every way. I work in a school that gives me a LOT of autonomy in what and how I teach. I am the only Spanish teacher – and I really like working alone. I love planning for class and designing curriculum (almost all of it is something I create). I also really do love working with high school students. They still have passion and curiosity, and they make me laugh! They bring out “fun” in me – my ideas of “fun” don’t normally make me laugh or smile or spend time with others, so it’s something I need. I’m definitely not the “typical” teacher and I still have little in common with my colleagues, but I’m happy. And I’m really good at it!
As an INTP, my intuition has been my biggest guide when it comes to making big life decisions. I tend to overthink and overanalyze everything. I’m a thinker by nature, but all of the “good” choices in my life that make me happy were made by my intuitive side, and I’m grateful I listened to my intuition when it came to my career choice.
I am an ISTP and have worked as a trader for ten years now in various investment banks. I did not “pursue” this career.
My degree is in Law and Accounting. I took this degree because it sounded like something that would lead to a professional career as opposed to say, an English degree. I was terrible at Law and decided it would not be a job I was suited for. I did not apply for any of the big accountancy firms in my final year of university because I missed the deadline due to drunkenness.
In the final 6 months of university, I estimate that I applied to around 240 vacancies. I did not apply for legal or government work, but apart from that I was not selective about what industry, role, or salary I applied for. I was very clear that I wanted to work and not study any further, as I did not enjoy university but I had 2 retail jobs whilst there which I enjoyed immensely. I maintain that I learned more from the low paid jobs than I did from the joint honours degree. I did not have a career plan but I had a very strong need to get my career started.
Ironically, I got offered a graduate job in London at a Wall Street firm, which is normally an area that attracts the most aspirational candidates. I was offered another, better paid position but turned it down in favour of the investment bank because investment banking was somewhat prestigious back in 2005. After several trainee rotations, I was approached about a trading role by an ENTJ manager who was manipulating me to take the trading job so that he could fill an upcoming vacancy with someone else without having to advertise it and interview multiple strong candidates. He predicted I would apply for the vacancy and so shepherded me into the trading job to remove me as an obstacle. I do not resent him: his actions yielded the best results for everybody. I have been trading ever since.
I am a mid level employee. My promotional progression has been slower than average for my workplace and my remuneration has been higher than average. I am very ok with this.
I enjoy my work as it allows me to develop my own systems and put them to the test in a harsh environment. It is possible in my work to score the financial equivalent of a home run and I get a thrill from this when it happens. I like the involvement that comes from having to pay attention to every headline. There have been times when I have mentored young recruits and I found this very satisfying. I have been over-heavily compensated in the past (and arguably the present) and this has enabled me to live a life where I don’t have to worry about the bills. I have no responsibility for managing people, am not excessively managed, and I can effectively do my job without having extensive personal interactions with others, especially strangers, so this is a job where I can operate within my comfort zone.
Although acting is not a career many would consider to be ideal for ENTJs, I have found it to be incredibly rewarding, both professionally and existentially. One prevailing maxim for actors is that we have to think of ourselves as CEOs of our own small business. In addition to preparing for auditions and fitting those auditions in between our inevitable day-jobs, actors must also be able to do excellent cost-benefit analyses of the various projects we’re asked to be a part of. Time is money, and every second we spend doing a free concert or out-of-town gig is time we could be doing something else to further our career. Therefore, an actor needs to be able to act decisively with very little information (Te) and do so in a way that not only fits into her long-term plan (Ni) but also accounts for constantly changing circumstances (Se). We rarely have the luxury of being able to weigh all the pros and cons at length, so being able to make the right decision “right away” is crucial. To date, I have yet to turn down a project or an audition for a project and regretted it later. I’m not saying it won’t happen at some point, but definitely it hasn’t happened yet.
But the most rewarding part of being an actor is that it allows (or, you know, forces) me to directly engage with my inferior Fi. At the end of the day, an actors job is to create effective storytelling for audiences. But it has been shown time and time again that the most effective art happens because the artist has some deep need to express a personal truth about how they see the world or how they believe the world ought to be. Studying acting and, consequently, studying people on an individual level has enabled me to acknowledge and embrace my own quirks and personal truths that don’t always fit into the Macho Alpha Male ENTJ archetype (which is also a huge, defining part of my personality).
As I mentioned before, being an actor often means that something else will pay most of your bills. In addition to pursuing acting, I also tutor high schoolers preparing for the SAT in a one-on-one setting. Being a tutor is also a career in which I get to use all four of my cognitive functions, though in a completely different way. My first responsibility is to connect with my student on an individual level and help her figure out how her system naturally likes to solve problems (which engages my Fi, Se, and Ni), and then help her apply those problem-solving skills in a standardized, predictable way (Te).
All in all, I can’t imagine having anything but one of these two careers. Yes, I could have ditched the arts when I was 19 in favor of the corporate ladder, or found a career that wouldn’t depend so heavily on my ability to tap into my Fi. But I feel more human now than I ever have, precisely because success in both fields requires me to be. I honestly don’t know what kind of person I’d be if I didn’t have to be so keenly aware of my own personal values.
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