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My generation grew up in the era of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I’ve honestly lost track of how many times I’ve taken this test, but my results are always the same: I am an INFP (introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiving):
“Idealistic, loyal to their values and to people who are important to them. Want an external life that is congruent with their values. Curious, quick to see possibilities, can be catalysts for implementing ideas. Seek to understand people and to help them fulfill their potential. Adaptable, flexible, and accepting unless a value is threatened.”
This sounds quite impressive, but it has actually made me something of a square peg among my military officer colleagues. I just don’t encounter a lot of people like me in my current profession. It’s the FP part that’s different, according to a 2001 study of military officers in which the authors assert that:
“Ninety-five percent of senior military leaders are thinkers, leaving only five percent as compassionate feelers.”
In fact, I remember one staff psychologist looking at my MBTI profile in open astonishment and asking me flatly, “How on earth did you make colonel?”
She wasn’t trying to offend, and I wasn’t offended. I have long since come to terms with being a unicorn among my military colleagues. Every personality type has strengths and weaknesses as applied to various environments, so I have tried to capitalize on the former while taking steps to mitigate the latter. That’s not revolutionary; it’s really just simple self-awareness.
It does serve to point out one of the truisms of a military career: personality isn’t everything–adaptability is key. I’ve had dozens of assignments over 34 years, and have had to survive and thrive in a wide variety of jobs. Some were a more natural fit than others, but I had to deliver in all of them. There was no option to go to my boss and say, “This assignment really isn’t me.” In fact, I’ve generally found all of them to be interesting and enjoyable in various ways.
Moreover, just because Myers-Briggs thinks I’m intuitive and feeling doesn’t mean I don’t value the systematic application of logic and data analysis. I would say instead that I have a healthy respect for such things and deep admiration for people who master them, even as I personally gravitate more naturally toward context and narrative.
Every once in a while, of course, I really did fall into jobs that seemed to fit like a glove. 16Personalities describes my type as The Mediator and places me in the “Diplomat Role group”, which perhaps explains why I thoroughly enjoyed my time working in embassies over the past decade (well, except maybe the receptions–introverts aren’t much for large crowds and small talk). I’d go so far as to say that wife and I would have been perfectly content to continue doing diplomatic work forever, but that road isn’t very open to a transitioning military officer at my stage of life.
What does make this stage so fascinating is that for the first time in my life I am completely free to choose a career that suits my personality preferences. My financial and family situations are such that I don’t have to chase a paycheck. The road is wide open.
So, what exactly should I do now? Well, the MBTI gurus at 16Personalities have deemed Frodo Baggins as one example of the INFP type. So … does anyone have any problematic jewelry they need tossed into a distant volcano? I have a Top Secret clearance, so expect no issues with polygraphs, elf-queen magic mirrors or questioning by orcs.
I also have an extremely faithful companion who has proven willing to follow me just about anywhere. Happy 30th anniversary, Mrs. Jailer.Published in