Burst of Insight

Burst of Insight

Last month I sent this text to a friend, 3 days before we left for our early summer vacation:

Burst of Insight | Modern Mrs Darcy
I just booked our vacation rental for Michigan. We’re leaving in 3 days. Can you believe that I used to think I was a planner?

And I realized something in that moment I hadn’t realized in my thirtysomething previous years: I’m not a planner.

If you know me, this will seem really obvious. But to me it was a revelation, because I have always liked to make plans.

When I was in high school, I read every page of the promotional materials for at least 200 schools.

When I was in college, I loved sitting down with the course catalogs and mapping out my future. I put together course plans–for my freshman year straight through graduation–mapping out exactly what potential paths might look like, how many courses I’d be able to sample, how many majors I’d be able to squeeze in.

Did you catch that key word up there? It’s “potential.”

Because of my love for the dreamy kind of planning, I thought I was an INTJ for a long time (which is laughable, if you know me. Or if you’ve read this blog for 5 minutes).

But I am not a J. Like Emily Dickinson, I dwell in possibility. (My ipod has those words engraved on it. It was a gift. Hmm.) I love examining situations and plans and ideas from every conceivable angle. I’ve always loved test-driving dreams and plans and potential life paths in my head. I’m a P to the core, but I confused this impulse to explore possibilities with the impulse to plan.

I’m a P: I want to map out a hundred possible plans-because Oh! Possibility!–but I’m not a planner. If I was, deciding on one plan–big or little-wouldn’t be such torture.

I hope you don’t find this morning’s navel gazing too indulgent (especially because I feel like there’s been a lot of it lately).

But I always like to talk MBTI, and firmly believe in the power of understanding your personality. A little self-awareness helps you see your strengths and your weaknesses. It helps you understand what’s upsetting to you and what makes you hum. And it helps you understand what’s causing friction in your relationships. (That’s been a big one at my house, lately.)

Just for fun: if you know your Myers Briggs type, leave it in comments. Don’t know your type? Head here to take this short (and free) test.

P.S. I wrote a book about personality! In Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, I walk you through 7 different frameworks, explaining the basics in a way you can actually understand, sharing personal stories about how what I learned made a difference in my life, and showing you how it could make a difference in yours, as well.

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118 comments

  1. Candice says:

    I’m an ISFJ, while my husband is an ENTP. So I definitely get the planner/decisiveness versus explore all the possibilities things. I really like that we represent both though because I think certain life decisions benefit from different approaches. With big life decisions, he helps me take time to think through the best choice. With little things, I help him not get too caught up in over-thinking. Good post!

  2. I took the test recently and got ENFJ. The only part of it that I’m not sure of is the feeling aspect; I got feeling because I am very empathetic and share my feelings easily, but I also make my decisions very rationally and don’t prioritize my emotions when discerning. Maybe I’m both?

      • Anne says:

        It’s a spectrum, so it’s definitely possible you’re in the middle. Or you could be like me, and just be terrible at answering questions about yourself. 🙂

        I’ve found the summaries of the different personality types at personalitypage.com to be really helpful in understanding myself and loved ones better. Check it out if you want to read up on ENFJ and ENTJ: one may resonate more than the other.

  3. I’m an ENFJ to the core. And it’s funny when you get those bursts of insight about yourself, isn’t it? It took me a long time to finally acknowledge that I was simply not a neat and tidy person. I think I thought I was because I like things to be neat and tidy in my interior life and I thrive on structure, but an honest look at my room, car, or desk belies the truth that environmental neatness is not a priority of mine.

    • Anne says:

      It is funny. It took me a long time to realize my results might be more useful if I answered the questions accurately, instead of choosing the answer I wished was true. Funny how that works. 🙂

      • Victoria says:

        Took this test online today, and I am an ENFJ. This surprised me, so I dug up the MB results from a 2009 work assessment. Then, I was an ENTJ. I align myself more as a T than an F, but having children has absolutely made me so much more emotionally sensitive. So, the F is probably more accurate right now.

  4. I just spent a few minutes procrastinating (!) by taking that short test. I’m an INTJ. I’ve overheard my husband on calls for years introduce himself as an INTJ (his company seems really into personality types…) It turns out I’m one too. But I think a number of them are not that strong preferences. My introversion is moderate. I plan a lot — but my desk is always a mess.

  5. Barb S says:

    ISTJ. Off the charts on I and J, hanging out in the middle on S and T. I love talking MBTI but Hubs can’t stand being categorized so I’ll have to get my personality fix here.

  6. Jen says:

    When I take these tests 50% of the time I come out as an ISFP and 50% of the time I come out as an INFP. I totally see myself in the descriptions of both ISPF and INFP, so I don’t think I’ll ever be able to choose one over the other. I love MBTI and am always going back to it to learn more. So don’t feel bad about the navel gazing. I’d love to see more posts on MBTI stuff!

    • Anne says:

      Also, Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me II has some really interesting breakdowns on the SP vs. NF. (These were HUGELY helpful for me in understanding my kids.) If you want to geek out a little more, I’d recommend checking out those sections.

      • Jen says:

        Ahhh, you sent me down the rabbit hole of MBTI introspection today! I just did some reading and I’m still not fully convinced I lean more towards either SP or NF. The worst part is that I took a few more tests and in addition to ISFP and INFP, I’ve also received ENFP and ESFP. At least I know the FP is correct!

        I did read that book a while ago. I cannot remember what I related to most. I may have to take it out again 🙂

  7. I’m an INTJ, but the J & P are really close. I’m almost off the charts I, and almost as close with the N & T as well, but the J is just a slight leaning. I’ve taken the test several times and have flip flopped the J & P, at times, but generally land on the J side of things.

    And I found this post fascinating, because that sort of planning is the type I like – I could do this or this or this! Wait, pin me down and finalize things? Oh, horrors. I hate vacation planning because it takes it from the realm of all the options to: we are doing this, so we are not doing that that and that.

    • Anne says:

      Oh my goodness: YES x 1000 on the horrors of moving from the realm of possibility to the One Final Decision. (Are you sure you’re a J? 😉 )

      • I think the last time I took the test where it gives the results on a range from 1 – 100, I was like 51 J, 49 P.

        One thing I do wonder though, is I’ve also read that as you get older/wiser, you can realize what you really are or like, versus what you’ve been trained to do or like, and your test answers become truer for what you really are, instead of what you think you should answer. I think of it often with the J/P split for me, because I took the tests several times when I was in college and grad school, when I had to work my J traits a lot harder. Am I really much more of a P, but I’d skewed towards J because that’s what school rewarded and developed?

  8. Courtney says:

    I’m a textbook ISTJ. Just the facts, ma’am.

    I do love to write, but I couldn’t figure out why I would start writing for a month or so then lose motivation. It was because I was trying to be all touchy-feely and introspective. That’s not me! I thrive in how-to, aha! moments, steps, outlines, descriptives. Not my feelings. I have them. I experience them. I’m just not expressive about them.

    Sharing my learning experiences and discoveries? That’s where it’s at. Writing is fun again.

  9. Cara Strickland says:

    I am an INFJ, which is kind of like being an extroverted introvert. I have a lot of characteristics of an extrovert, but am a classic introvert in a lot of ways (and a HSP, as I mentioned last week. I am a planner for sure, and honestly, this is something that God is really working on me about. I can make all the plans I want, and He still decides what happens. Embracing that has been really hard for me, but so liberating in the moments where I really do.

    • Anne says:

      I’ve read that most bloggers are INFJ. I like the nickname your type gets, too: the “mastermind.” 🙂

      Nodding in agreement to the planning thoughts.

  10. allie245 says:

    INFJ. I have taken the tests a few times (for different life stages) always wondering if it will change…and it hasn’t yet. I wondered after reading what you said about living in possibility if I would be a P instead of a J (as I am not the best planner myself and throughout my life have made scores of future potential plans and goals), but, alas, I am still a J, albeit a moderate one.

    Love MBTI and have coerced my soon to be (less than two weeks) husband into enjoying it and having conversations about it as well. I did, however, have a slightly rude wake up call after getting my parents to take it out of curiosity only to discover my mother and I are both INFJ. Considering that is supposed to be the rarest of types, it was a bit disconcerting to say the least!

  11. Sarah R says:

    I’m an INTJ. VERY strong I (96 out of 100 on the introvert scale), but I am not a strong J. Love to make decisions, though. I think that’s what keeps me a J!

  12. I’m an ISFJ but the J is only a very slight preference according to the quiz which would explain why I also love planning lots of potentials but often act on impulse. Basically I am extremely loyal and want to help people and feel needed.

  13. Jeannie says:

    I don’t think you’re navel-gazing at all! Understanding oneself is very important; it helps us understand why we do what we do and to accept who we are and acknowledge who we aren’t. I think the difference you highlight between planning and enjoying the exploration of possibilities is very insightful and I can see it applying directly to some “P” friends who always have a dozen schemes going on at once.

    I always come out either INFJ or ISFJ — I’m very borderline on the Sensing-iNtuitive scale so it just depends on the given day which one wins out. And that makes sense to me: I love to create but am conventional in my lifestyle. As for the other combinations, I’m very introverted and while I know I seem reserved externally, I’m vey emotional. I am definitely a diehard “J,” as is my husband. We think things out and are very cautious and slow in decision-making. We’re always on time; we always keep our commitments; … OK, I admit it, we’re kind of boring! 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Not boring! Solid, dependable, trustworthy. 🙂

      I said this above, but if you’re interested in reading more Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me II says some very interesting things about the NF (idealist) and SJ (guardian) types

  14. anne says:

    INTJ I have always been the same. My T and J are marginal. I love to plot out and plan for possibilities but I do it so my final plan is perfect. Just reading the differences between Judging and Perceiving, I cringe at the idea of being a P. Though my space is always messy. I love this test. The DISC personality test is another interesting personality test

  15. angie says:

    Wow, this is really fascinating! I checked out Please Understand Me II at your recommendation, but had too big a stack of library books, and had to turn it back in before i got to it. 🙁 I need to check it back out. I got ISFJ, and read the description at personalitypage.com, which was right on target. However, I’m HORRIBLE at making decisions. It was hard for me just to take the test! I’m usually paralyzed at making any kind of decision, no matter how small, for fear of making the wrong choice. Sadly, I have passed this on to my oldest son as well. 😛 But as a SAHM, I am in charge of planning most of the details of our family’s life. And I love planing trips–a few years ago I went to London with a girlfriend, and planned the entire trip–she was thrilled not to be bothered with it, and I was thrilled to get to plan it all. Hmmmm..maybe I’m just a basket case. 😉

    • Anne says:

      hahaha! I know you’re not alone. (I have a kid like that, too, and my husband was like that as a kid–maybe it does get passed on?)

  16. Karlyne says:

    How fun! Thanks for the link, and as I look at my results (INFJ), I think they are probably right on. It’s always fun (and instructional) to look at your life and see if your personality is in tune with it. I think there’s a “kicking against the goads” mess we get into when we stray too far from whom we are and are meant to be.

    • Anne says:

      Kinda. 🙂

      I’ve known for ages that I was really a P, and remained puzzled by my planning mojo. Until I realized that wasn’t what it was.

  17. Colleen says:

    INFJ – strong on I and strong on J. Married to an ISFJ. Very happy to be paired with a fellow J.

    I know my mother’s and sisters’ types and it’s very helpful in understanding family dynamics. I should have my kids take the test!

  18. Cari says:

    Today I am a INFP (about 33% for all of them). A couple months ago I was INFP with the I and P being about 50%. I am for sure an NF but the other two depend on my mood I guess. I was a psych major in college and I know we probably took this test….I really wonder what I was back then. I was definitely more organized in general, a rule follower and was very good about getting my homework done. I find I am much more lax in my schedules unless someone is really depending on me to have something done. I am still a rule follower but definitely not as rigid in the rules I follow. For instance, my nephew piled lot’s of my son’s things in a corner in his room including his mattress and I didn’t think it was a big deal but the hubs and mother in law were not happy about it. I am definitely a dreamer and love to plan possibilities and but have an extremely difficult time with decisions and following through. I have no idea what the hubs is but we are pretty opposite in most categories. I would guess he is definitely a T and a J. He could go either way for the I and E but I have a feeling he leans more I. I am going to say he is an INTJ.

    • Cari says:

      Duh alert, I just realized I was reading the percentages wrong. I was thinking 50% meant you could go either way. I had my son take the test (he is 10 so I am not sure how accurate it is for his age) but he is ESFP (with the S being 1% so he could also be an N) and I was right about the hubs, he is INTJ.

  19. Tim says:

    I scored an ISTJ today, which was slightly surprising as I’ve always been N before and not S. But my N has always been marginal too, so no surprise I suppose. Or perhaps I’m turning into an old softie. The ITJ stuff was clear in their categories, with Introversion practically off the charts.

    Cheers and I’ll now be spending time by myself thank you,
    Tim

  20. Katie says:

    I’ve always tested as INTJ, though everything is fairly moderate except the I. Today, though, the test came back as ISTJ. By one percent, but still! Reading the description, I suppose that’s me somewhat, too, but I do think INTJ is more accurate.

    When it comes to planning, I am AWESOME at it for other people and TERRIBLE at it for myself. I will plan your trip down to a T, taking care of all the little details (bring cash for the tolls, get off the metro at this stop, etc.). I can do this at the last minute, too–much of my old job was essentially being the personal assistant to the CEO, and he was always coming in on Monday and telling me he’d decided he needed to be in Aspen by Wednesday or leave for Maine tomorrow, and by the end of the day he would have a folder with everything from his airplane e-ticket to a map showing how to get from his hotel to the local Y for his daily swim. I am very, very good at telling you what to do.

    But when it comes to my own life, I am famous for not even being able to decide where to go for lunch. I think, however, that this is because of the people-pleasing/shy part of my nature–I don’t want to choose something you won’t like. What if I say, let’s meet at Taco Cabana but you hate Mexican food? You might decide you also hate me. It’s better just to let you decide. I’m trying to be better about this, especially with my husband–it’s not like he’s going to divorce me because he doesn’t care for my restaurant selection. So I should just state a preference and move on.

      • Katie says:

        Though I suppose you could also look at planning things for someone else as exploring possibilities–it’s not something you have to commit to. It’s just a possibility, what you could potentially do if you were the one going on the trip. But since you’re not the one going, you don’t feel as committed.

        • Anne says:

          In the Heath brothers book Decisive, one of their tips for making better (or any) decisions is to pretend you’re advising your best friend instead of deciding for yourself. It’s a trick that helps us be more objective. I keep thinking of that while I’m reading your comment…

  21. Nadine says:

    Oooo I just took the quick test. I love taking personality stuff. As of today, I’m a “ENFJ”, and as always, I’m RIGHT in the middle of everything.

  22. Jessica says:

    I love the Meyers Briggs conversations, which is kinda funny considering I don’t really know ANY of you :).

    I am ESTJ. And way strong on the Sensing and Thinking and Judging. I’m judging you, I’m judging you. Hahaha

    My husband thought he was and ESTJ too, but he is NOT. He not an S or a J. I have serious doubts about him being an extrovert also. I should have him take the test again.

    I find it funny that extroverts seems to be few and far between in blogging land. Out of this whole list of comments, I think I was the only ESTJ? Maybe we (extroverts) are reading and not commenting….

    • I hear you Jessica. Extroverts are the minority of my online writerly friends. So, when I see books like Quiet by Susan Cain, or similar ideas of extroverts ruling the world and what about the introverts?, I feel it’s opposite in my online world. The introverts rule (smile). I found your comment Jessica by searching for ESTJ on this page. Looking for MBTI buddies. I’m also ESTJ and have met very few women, online or otherwise, who share this type with me.

      • Jessica says:

        Hi Renee, well, officially consider me a friend :).
        We completed a little Meyer Briggs with my fellow dietitians at work. 3 of 9 were ESTJs (all women too). The others 6, were all introverts. It was a fun exercise.

    • Kim says:

      I’ve noticed too that I see very few extroverts in any internet discussion of the MBTI. I made my boyfriend take the test awhile back and it said he was an ENTJ. He wasn’t remotely interested n what it meant, but couldn’t stop thinking it didnt fit. I eventually realized he was an ESTJ and he agreed it fit, still not exactly interested.

  23. Shana Norris says:

    Anne, do you think you changed to a P somewhere along the way, or just gained self-knowledge and answered the questions more accurately (and were really a P all along?)

    • Anne says:

      I think I’ve always been a pretty extreme P. I just didn’t recognize it for what it is. It’s possible (ahem) that growing up in a family of attorneys and judges and accountants influenced my ideas about which answers were “preferable” on the MBTI test. 🙂

      • Desha says:

        Haha that’s totally me! INFP to the core but tested as INFJ twenty years ago in university… I too live in a family of accountants and business people and I took on many of those qualities when I was younger. Now it’s a struggle between “oh I’d really like to plan things” and “oh look at that bright shiny object over there” (the many possibilities oh!!) 😍☺️😊❤️

  24. Krissa says:

    I’m an ISTJ, but very close on the line with T and F. My girlfriends and I just spend our entire girl’s weekend away discussing our types. 🙂

  25. LTut says:

    I’m INFJ. I’ve spent many years waffling between whether I might be INFP or ENJF, but after I delve into all the reasons/descripitions/in-depth analysis, I always come back to the recognition that I’m definitely INFJ. Have you studied the functions? They give a lot of help on accurate typing more than simply taking quizzes. After learning about them, I can almost always accurately type others without needing them to take a test. =) There’s a youtube channel that has lots of helpful info – http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWWwQlDFnYbX_dgDP8lJ09A

  26. Amy says:

    Oh my goodness, I might have just had an aha moment of my own! Since I’m computer sciencey, I always thought I was logical and very organized and was fine with ISTJ. But really, I totally relate to this idea of possibilities…I did the exact same thing with my schedule in college. I’ve also realized although I like the concept of organization I stink at it. Oh, the possibilities of the containers but WHICH would I like. Oh, I could sell this book here, here or here but I’m going to let it sit on a shelf since I can’t decide.
    Also, feelings were very sort of icky to me but as I’ve aged, they’ve definitely swayed me. I think I might be more ISFP.

      • Anne says:

        Hmmm, I’m interested in hearing what you decide on. Have you ever read The Paradox of Choice, or are you familiar with the idea? I sometimes have a difficult time tangling out personality issues from other factors at play–like too many choices adversely impacts everyone’s behavior, but it affects some people much more than others.

  27. Kara says:

    I love the Myers Briggs discussion! 🙂 I was an INFJ for a long while, but the J was fairly weak. When I spent a semester studying in Costa Rica, I figured out that one of the reasons Costa Ricans always come out on top when sociologists look for the happiest places on earth is that they have perfected the art of living in the moment. They don’t worry about the future a year from now. They focus on today. They can be spontaneous and enjoy quality time with people without worrying about the next thing on their to do lists. It’s remarkable, and I’ve tried to adopt that philosophy to some extent. (It helps that I married a Costa Rican.) Sure enough, the most recent time I took the test I had transitioned! I’m now an INFP. 🙂

  28. Anna says:

    Yes! Fellow INFP here – a very P, INFP – and I too love to explore all those possibilities. I read travel guides and job openings and books about homeschooling teenagers (my son is two). But if anyone starts to try to treat my knowledge bank like a plan I start to panic because in the end I don’t want to make a plan, I want to know what is possible.

    • Carolyn says:

      Me, too! My life possibility plans tend to get broadsided by my ESTJ husband’s actual life plans. In my head, we have lived abroad, adopted children, and worked for NGO’s. In real life- not so much. ( or is it just not yet???)

  29. Amy says:

    I, too, am an ISFJ married to an ENTP! He adds boundless energy and possibilities to our family while I try hard to slow things down to find the deeper meanings and the quiet moments (which isn’t easy in a home with 3 kids and a dog!). Our relationship requires a lot of compromise and commitment to honoring each other’s opposite energy levels. He makes life exciting while I strive to make it sane 😉

  30. Jamie Haney says:

    I laughed when I read your post because I recently had an epiphany regarding my own personality. I always thought I loved to garden because my sisters did. I realized that enjoying a ripe tomato doesn’t mean I love to garden– I really don’t like anything to do with gardening.lol. It only took me 30 years to face up to it:)

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  32. Katia says:

    I could have written that post myself, because you expressed my personal sentiments so well! 🙂 I recently realized that, contrary to my belief for many years (with planning my courses with my major, planning my career, etc.), I am not a planner and I actually dislike planning. And yes, I’m also an INFP. I think I used to be better at planning and would actually get excited about planning for something because, as you say so eloquently, I love the idea of possibility. Then again, I think I also used to be a lot more focused in university, many years before my children were born and the SAHM scattered brain took over. Nowadays, I catch myself making to-do lists just to keep myself in check, but the truth is that I don’t even enjoy making those to-do lists.

  33. Diana says:

    I’m an INTP. I love concepts and possibilities! Following through takes a lot of self-discipline. My husband is an INFJ. We’re pretty well suited as a pair of introverts, though, b/c I’m one of those extroverted-introverts. I grew up as the youngest of a whole family of introverts, so I thought I was extroverted for a long time. I’ve only owned up to the introvert part in recent years. We have three boys, and after reading a Meyers’Briggs book for kids, I think our oldest is an ENTP (emphasis on the E!) and our middle is ISFJ (a very different child indeed!). Our youngest is only 3 years old … still studying that one. 🙂

  34. Shauna says:

    I can completely understand being confused about whether you’re a P or a J. I’m an INFP who’s pretty close to even between P and J. At work I *have* to set and follow a schedule and meet deadlines. I’m one of the most organized people in my office, in fact! I get so used to being in the planner/organizer/checklist/schedule mode that it starts to feel like that’s what’s most comfortable. However, when I’m at home and have free time, I prefer to explore the possibilities and keep things flexible and open to change. I’m a P even though I have to take on J characteristics every day; personality profiles are about our preferences, not our abilities.

  35. Eleanor says:

    every. single. time. over the last 30 years, even when I feel like I have changed in the way I see and understand and approach situations and myself, no change at all: INTJ. Though I think some of the percentages have shifted. My I is only 50% which is surprising. I will have to look into that 😉

  36. Monica says:

    This made me smile. I am exactly the same way. I’ve taken the MBTI many times and have always been 50/50 on J and P. But I am much more a P and it’s for the reason you described. I love the possibilities and I want to learn so that I know every option out there. My husband and I recently went on our honeymoon to Bali and I planned everything to the T. But secretly I was worried that I had overdone it. I just didn’t want to miss out on anything. In the end, we were exhausted but had a great time. And then we went on a family trip where neither of us had much say in planning the itinerary. It was so freeing. Both of us felt more relaxed and I realized that I might not be a planner in the way that I thought.

  37. Carol says:

    INFP forever. At age 18, age 31, age 56. The range has varied on my “I”, but that’s about it. My mom is an INTJ and she has always had everything mapped out. I make lists, they grow, I lose them. The open possibility is the fun.

  38. Janis Williams says:

    I’m an ENFP and always have been. I used the MBTI in my classes and with my children. The one who didn’t want to take the test ended up in a class his sophomore year in college (looking for a major)using the book that I had at home: PLEASE, UNDERSTAND ME! I feel that MBTI gives insight to “what makes us tick”!

  39. Kathleen Gaughran says:

    I am an INFJ who has spent much of the last 40 years using the MBTI for personal growth, enhancing relationships and supporting my career/work.

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