In all my years of coaching, I’ve run into a definite pattern with INFJ and INFP artists and writers. It seems that most of us don’t decide to pursue our true calling until later in life. Usually, it’s after 40. Now, this doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the stirrings of inspiration or the pull to create long before then, but it’s not usually until we’re entering the latter half of life that we make the conscious decision to take the plunge and just do it, whatever “it” may be.
Why does it take us so long? Is it true that most INFJ and INFP personality types are just late bloomers and need more time than the rest of the population to figure out what they really want to do in life?
Well, I would say that this is part of it, but only part. There is another, deeper, reason that so many sensitive intuitive people seem to have a whole lot of trouble with picking one path and then taking it.
Because that’s not the way our brains work.
Although there are differences between how INFJs and INFPs process information, there is one big similarity that affects our ability to choose one story, one project, or one trajectory. It’s that—always—we go deep, and we go wide. Our minds are like giant nets that we’re constantly pulling through the ocean of the world, always hoping to catch the sparkling, luminescent sea creatures for which we never stop searching. Those glowing evasive creatures are the ideas that turn us on and light us up from the inside out, and to capture them we instinctively know that we need to focus on expansion, not limitation.
This is the way we are wired, to see all the possibilities at once, even if some of them are maybe less “possible” than others.
The other piece of the puzzle for artistic INFJs and INFPs is that our various interests in different projects are frequently necessary to prevent against creative burnout. I have more than a few INFP clients who will work on writing their book until they reach the point of complete exhaustion and then they collapse for a while and can’t do anything. Interestingly, these same clients almost always find that if they devote time to painting or working on a musical project for a few weeks, they are able to recuperate much faster and get their strength back in half the time it usually takes.
For INFJs, the best recuperative strategy seems to be switching focus from working on the book to exploring a set of totally unrelated ideas they’ve been holding on the back burner. For instance, I’ve spent the past few months immersing myself in religious studies and stock market theory in order to finish my novel. When I finished, I was totally depleted. I’ve found the most restful activity is to now devote myself to studying the Vietnam War, another topic in which I’ve been very interested but haven’t had time to pursue.
And this brings us back to the brain that thinks constantly, which comes as part of the package of being an INFJ or INFP. When you combine this brain that thinks constantly, and that always wants to go deep and wide, with an artistic temperament that is wired to include various realms of creativity, you get a whole lot of INFJs and INFPs out there asking themselves, “Why can’t I stick to one thing? What’s wrong with me? Am I quitter or am I flaky or what?”
But instead of leveling hurtful questions like these at ourselves, and comparing ourselves to all the other people we know who don’t seem to feel like us, or be like us, or struggle with these same creative problems like we do, it’s going to be most helpful to revise the questions we’re asking to more accurately reflect the knowledge we have of ourselves as intuitive personality types.
That means, instead of asking, “What’s wrong with me?” We ask:
What do I need in order to feel creatively fulfilled?
What feels like fun to me, and like it would give my busy, overthinking brain a rest from my main creative activity?
Would it bring more balance into my life if I took more rest breaks?
Can I give myself permission to work on more than one project at once, or to suddenly switch to a new project if I lose interest in the old one?
These are just a few of the questions we might ask ourselves as we begin to examine our own unique creative cycles and what works best for us as writers and artists. As an intuitive personality type, we are already very different from most other people, and so most other people aren’t going to understand what we’re going through when we feel pulled in ten different creative directions. They’re not going to understand that we tend to work in circles and loop back to ideas using our own (sometimes erratic) rhythms. They’re not going to understand any of this, so it’s pointless for us to questions ourselves in a way that most other people would question themselves.
Knowing that we are INFJs and INFPs, and everything that knowledge brings with it, it’s time for us to ask ourselves new questions.
It’s time to ask the questions that will serve our highest creative good.
Lauren Sapala is the author of Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers, a guide to help any HSP, INFJ, INFP, or introvert writer move past resistance to selling and marketing their work. She is also the author of The INFJ Writer, a writing guide made specifically for sensitive intuitive writers.