Growing up, I always felt different from everyone around me. I was quieter than most, I overthought everything, and my emotions tended to overrule me. It wasn’t until I hit my mid-20s that I discovered I’m an INFJ — the rarest of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types. INFJs tend to operate on a different wavelength.
I remember reading the description about it, and everything suddenly made perfect sense. I understood why I tend to think and act the way I do. What a huge relief it was to feel like I finally made sense, and to know that, best of all, I was not alone!
Looking back on all those years I spent thinking I was different from my peers, not quite fitting in and wondering if maybe there was something wrong with me, I wish I knew then what I know now. If I could write a letter to encourage my younger self with my newfound knowledge, I’d say the following.
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5 Things I’d Tell My Younger INFJ Self
1. There’s nothing wrong with being the quiet one.
We live in a world where extroversion is more admired than introversion, though that’s slowly starting to change. Throughout elementary school, my teachers always had the same feedback for my parents: “Your daughter is very smart, but she is too quiet!” How frustrating it must have been for them, my dad especially, who easily befriends any stranger he comes across.
Every time someone pointed out that I was too quiet and made it seem like it was a crime, the more uncomfortable it became for me to actually make an effort to speak up and fit in. After classes were dismissed, I retreated to my books, where I’d get lost in another world. And that felt so much easier for me — being an observer in another person’s story.
But remember, INFJs are quiet not because we don’t necessarily have anything to say. Like many introverts, we prefer to think long and hard before we speak. We consider our options and weigh the consequences before we act. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
2. You’re not weird for thinking and feeling too much.
One very vivid childhood memory that made me wonder if I was a bit odd was not being able to fall asleep because I had so many thoughts running through my head. I had creative ideas I wanted to try out, reflections about what was happening in my life, recent dreams I wanted to decode, and questions about my purpose in life. I remember tossing and turning and wondering if friends my age were thinking about similar things or if they were just concerned about the latest fads in school.
How simple it would have been if my mind had a switch I could turn off! INFJs are highly introspective and self-aware, which explains our tendency for overthinking. We also crave deep meaning and purpose in life, which can make us feel restless and out of place as we see our peers going about their day with such casualness. It is not always an easy path for a young INFJ to tread. But when we’re able to harness our unique qualities, such as emotional depth, intellectual complexity, and a desire to make a difference, our capability for immense personal, professional, and spiritual achievement can surprise even us.
3. Celebrate your creativity.
Years ago, I showed a good friend a painting I made. He took one good look at it and said, “This painting is made by an artist who is dying to express herself, yet is terrified to be seen.” That resonated with me so deeply that even now I find myself replaying our conversation in my head.
We all know that INFJs are pretty complex individuals. We frequently take up creative pursuits, such as writing, art, and music, all of which tend to focus on deeper themes of personal growth, morality, and spirituality. Our creativity reflects our insights and hopes about the world — and about ourselves. We are also extremely private, so we take our time getting to know people before we slowly reveal parts of ourselves.
This paradox of expression has caused me so much unease in terms of sharing my art. I felt like I had something valuable to say. Yet, to share it meant willingly putting myself in a vulnerable position. On top of that, our constant aim for perfection as INFJs makes us extremely sensitive to criticism, from others and from ourselves.
Over time, I began receiving feedback from friends and strangers. I’d hear stories of how my artwork inspired them to pick up the paintbrush again after years of hiatus. Or how a story I wrote made them feel understood. Art can change lives. Allow yourself to play a part in that. Be authentic in your creative expression and be proud of yourself for being brave enough to put it out there.
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4. You can be a great leader as an introvert.
I used to believe being loud and outgoing were necessary to become a leader. After all, how else could you get people to pay attention to you if you weren’t? Ironically enough, despite my being petrified of being in the spotlight, I found myself being voted class president in high school (much to my dismay!), team leader in class presentations and study groups, and vice president of my university’s Council of Student Organizations, among other things.
Despite being soft-spoken and a person of few words, it surprised me to see my peers listen to what I had to say, as well as seek my opinion on certain matters. It wasn’t until many years later that I really began to appreciate what real leadership looked like. In the words of American immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, “Leadership takes many forms, including the quiet leadership of example.”
Famous INFJs in history like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. have demonstrated how this couldn’t ring any truer. INFJs possess certain characteristics that make us ideal leaders. We are incredibly skilled at adapting, learning how to become better at something, and rising to the occasion when a situation calls for it. As empaths, we are able to gauge people very well. We know when to push and when to pull back, when to offer guidance and when to promote independence. We care about inner growth, and we desire to better ourselves, make impactful changes, and inspire other people to do the same.
5. Some friendships will end, and that’s okay.
Young INFJs are usually shy and sensitive when it comes to meeting new people. It’s not uncommon for us to have just one or two close friends because we often struggle with breaking into social settings. We’re private individuals, but have a strong desire to be liked. And because INFJ is thought to be the rarest Myers-Briggs type, it is often difficult to find someone we connect with.
INFJs tend to form and maintain friendships with delicate care, taking our time to gauge the other person, putting into consideration their interests, passions, beliefs, and ideals. Even with friendships, we can be perfectionists — we’re always looking for the ultimate compatibility. When we finally find people we can truly connect with, we will hold on to that relationship with fervor.
However, like with everything else in life, people change. We wake up one day to realize a friend we once considered our soulmate now very much looks like a stranger. We find out that we no longer share the same values. Conversations now seem dull, empty, and hold no meaning. It is time to move on. Not all friendships transcend time and distance, and that’s okay.
Ever since I learned about my personality type, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that I am an INFJ. For me, life will continue to be complex, and I will always be that someone who thinks and feels too much — the emotional, idealistic advocate who lies awake dreaming. The years have taught me that I don’t have to fit in, and I don’t have to be confined by what I perceive to be my limitations. When you take the time to develop self-awareness, acknowledge your weaknesses, and cultivate your strengths, you’ll be astounded to discover how much you’re truly capable of. Hang in there, little INFJ. The world will blossom for you too.