My back straightened. I was 13, had just finished 7th grade, and was teaching a group of younger kids as part of a volunteer program. I had just found my purpose — the one thing I was meant to do.
Or had I?
I won’t spoil the ending, but this was the beginning of the identity crisis I would have fifteen years later. As a 13-year-old teacher, I discovered my love of sharing insights and helping others discover new understandings. Seeing them make connections lit me up inside in a way that nothing ever had before.
INFJs Crave Meaning
As INFJs, we must have meaning in what we do. We want to feel like we’re contributing to something bigger than ourselves. We need to feel purposeful. Our Extraverted Feeling function, which is outwardly focused, means we often connect feeling purposeful with impacting others. We see possibilities and potential in others. We typically see a clear path to this potential, too, thanks to our Introverted Intuition.
(What’s your personality type? Take a free personality test.)
When I asked the INFJ women I work with in my coaching practice to tell me what “purpose” means to them, they said things like:
- Finding a career that gives me a sense of meaning
- Finding what I’m meant to do
- Using my skills where I can have the most impact
- Feeling useful
There’s nothing wrong with any of these desires. If you had asked me this same question before I reached my late 20s, I would have said the same things.
But then something happened that made me rethink everything and left me feeling untethered — a very uncomfortable feeling for an INFJ.
To make a long story short, an unexpected move across the country meant quitting my teaching job. I had just finished a master’s degree in education and desperately wanted to continue teaching. It was the end of September, though, and there were no openings in my new town. I applied for random jobs that would keep me connected to the school system, but nothing worked out.
I had spent eight years in the school-driven calendar cycle. This meant I didn’t know what to do with myself as an unemployed teacher in September. Teaching was my identity. That’s where I found my worth and value. Now that I was no longer a teacher, who was I? What did I have to offer?
That experience was the inciting incident for the story of my self-worth journey. It also led me to a series of other amazing careers and, eventually, to the discovery of my INFJ personality. It led me to the discovery that I’m still a teacher — that I’ve always been a teacher — although my title has shifted from photographer, to videographer, to graphic artist, to communication director, and now, coach for INFJ women. Now my purpose is connected to my understanding of who I am and the unique ways I’m able to serve others.
When people ask me what I do, I say that I help INFJ women increase their confidence and leadership abilities so they can live their purpose. The ultimate goal is to help INFJ women uncover the true meaning of purpose.
Spoiler alert: it’s not a job.
I believe purpose is, as one INFJ woman put it on a recent survey, to be “comfortable being me.” The comfort of knowing who you are brings confidence. This confidence means you can help others, no matter your role. It also means your self-worth isn’t determined by the way others respond to you.
Self-Worth Must Come First
All the examples of purpose above are dependent on things outside of ourselves. Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing wrong with having a meaningful career, feeling useful, or feeling successful when your skills have an impact. In fact, when you’re living your purpose (being who you were made to be), you will have all of these things.
The issue is when our sense of self-worth is so intertwined with these things that we depend on them for our sense of value. Self-worth must come first.
Our sense of purpose must come from a deep connection to who we are and the understanding that we have value, no matter what we do. What happens if you lose your job? Or have to relocate without a new job lined up, as I had to? If your value is defined by your work, you’ll end up feeling worthless and depressed without it — just like I did.
The “leadership abilities” I mentioned above include our ability to lead ourselves through self-awareness. As an INFJ, you know the quest for self-development involves an ever-moving finish line. There’s always something more to learn and work on, right?
You don’t like to be rushed by others, so don’t rush yourself on this one. There’s much to discover at each mark on the self-awareness spectrum.
How to Connect to Your Purpose
To help my INFJ clients understand who they are so they feel fulfilled no matter what they do, we often focus on the following three areas. Focusing on these areas will give you a strong foundation. It brings the clarity you crave and opens up more possibilities for you than any job could offer. I know you always want to be farther along than you are, so be kind to yourself during this process. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Dig deep into your INFJ personality type. You know you’re an INFJ. That’s an amazing first step! There’s a lot of information about INFJs online. Some of it’s contradicting or makes broad-sweeping claims about how we behave. Look to trusted sources for your information, like this website and materials produced by certified MBTI® practitioners. We’ve been through rigorous training on the strengths and limits of this personality system. There’s an understanding of the MBTI® system that only comes through the certification training.
- Be clear on your values. This means identifying your values and holding to them despite the requests that come at you from others. Our Extraverted Feeling reveals our preference to make decisions based on how they impact other people and our values. If you ignore your values to maintain harmony at all costs, you’re expressing an unbalanced (and unhealthy) version of Extraverted Feeling.
- Become more consciously aware of your thoughts. You tend to be more aware of what others are thinking and feeling, so this self-awareness takes time and practice. To identify your automatic thought patterns, examine the beliefs that may be holding you back. Identify the assumptions you make. Identify the inner critic, or “gremlin” messages as we would say in coaching. A gremlin message is rooted in the idea that you’re not good enough. It’s the hardest piece to conquer because the roots go so deep. Once you identify these things, write new beliefs and thoughts you want to have. Practice repeating them every day, even if you don’t believe them yet. It will make a difference. Your thoughts impact your feelings which impact your actions.
So many INFJs want to know their purpose. Their “thing.” But what if your purpose is to know who you are and to be that person? When I finally stopped rejecting who I was and setting unrealistic expectations for myself, I settled into someone who knows her value, no matter which job title she holds. This foundation gave me a glimpse of my potential. It also led me to being a coach for other INFJ women to act as their guide along this not-so-well-beaten path.
If you’re an INFJ woman, I write a weekly email called The INFJ Life, just for you. You’ll receive tips, action items, and stories about life as an INFJ woman, from an INFJ woman. I’ll give you questions each week to help you live your purpose. It’s like having an INFJ coach right in your inbox. You’ll get my free Values Assessment just for signing up. This will help you identify your values and evaluate how aligned your decisions are to what’s most important to you. Click hereto sign up and get the free assessment.