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life as an ENFJ
by kristy kowalske wagner

Feel like you need to take a trip to your therapist? Think again. You don’t need a certified specialist to investigate your ups and downs, ins and outs. You may find all the answers you need by taking a trip to a Myers-Briggs website and getting a detailed analysis and description of your personality type. The information I found changed my life and allowed me to justify past injuries and incidents I could never really explain. I hope an investigation of your own can help you find peace with your past and better equip you for a happier future.

While creating a unit on career research and speech writing for an eighth-grade honors class recently, I decided to incorporate a personality investigation to add a level of rigor and depth for the gifted students. I required students to research their personality types and careers that would correlate with their "types", which was actually a lot more fun than it sounds. Students then produced movies, some with lots of images and even sound effects! Oooh, sound effects—it’s the small things that keep eighth graders entertained.

Middle school students, as you most likely remember from personal experience, deal in a world of peer pressure where cliques are formed and an outstanding amount of time is dedicated to the pursuit of morphing into the same image —usually found on the walls of Abercrombie and Fitch. So, by having students analyze their personalities, I thought I might help them realize that everyone is different, and encourage them to embrace their own unique selves, possibly soothing some of the pain of those tumultuous years.

I’ve been sucked into units I’ve created before, but little did I know that this personality investigation would catapult me into an obsession that I wouldn’t stop talking or thinking about for weeks. Even at midnight while playing darts with a few friends at a local bar, I asked the other players if they knew their personality types and if they thought that knowledge might affect an individual’s perception of god. My husband whispered in my ear that the guys were twenty-one and more interested in shots of whiskey than my personality/god questions, but that didn’t stop me. I persisted. They shook their heads politely and nodded as I rambled on, but halfway through my dissertation they abruptly left the table in search of red bull and vodka.
Undaunted I pursued others and have found that a majority of people took the Myers-Brigg in college, either to determine their roommate selection or to be able to utilize the information for future employment. But if you happen to be an undiagnosed character, I’ll break down the personality traits for you.

The test comprises four categories, with two options per category. Category one is the easiest to determine—Introvert or Extrovert. You either receive stimulation from within or from other sources. The second category consists of how individuals absorb information: through the use of the five senses or based on instinct—Sensing or Intuitive. Determining how an individual makes decision, either through logic (Thinking) or based on a value system (Feeling), constitutes the third category. The final category examines if an individual prefers structure (Judging) or a casual environment (Perceiving). After determining which of these categories you fall into, you become one of sixteen personality types, such as an ISFP, ETJP, INTP, ESTJ…(in order not to repeat the 'I', they use 'N' for Intuitive)

Having taken the Myers-Brigg in college, I was familiar with my classification as an ENFJ, but, my god, the difference twelve years can make. Back then, did I just not care? Did I not understand the relevance of understanding my place in the universe? I can’t believe I didn’t focus in on the intricacies of my own personality. The last decade could have been so much easier if I had just paid attention back then. Was I that blinded by all those jerky frat boys and Pabst Blue Ribbon?

As I read the words on the page, so many issues became clear. As an ENFJ, your greatest joy in life is helping others achieve their goals and dreams. Yes! I’m a good person. Your interpersonal person skills are so extraordinary that you can make most anyone do what you want. Hhhhhmmm, could this help me get rid of my husband’s Theo Huxtable sweaters he’s so attached to? Most people understand that your motives are pure and unselfish in nature. I want to be a valiant knight, riding the countryside in search of people in distress? Hey, I do. Okay, that’s cool. But—warned the website—there are some out there in this world who see your actions as manipulative. Manipulative? Me? And then the words settled in and a flash from the past began to make sense.

A few years ago, a new teacher named Jenny joined our staff and she immediately disliked me. Alright, alright, I accept there might be one or two reasons why people could simply not like me, but I don’t really want to! I know I have a tendency to be a bit blunt. My biggest pet peeve is people munching on cereal or slurping their soup, and I think I may have a tendency to make faces and grunt in disgust when I encounter an unknowing offender. I live in a delusional world where everyone loves writing and should devote their life to a literary pursuit, even the PE teachers at my school. I also play a mean game of pool—people hate to lose at pool. But besides those qualities, what’s not to like?

Well, apparently something.

It’s just so much sweeter to think that the new teacher didn’t like me because of a reason that I can live with, especially if that reason absolves me from any guilt. As I do with all new faculty members, I befriended her immediately. I might add here that my husband discourages this behavior by suggesting that maybe people don’t always want an instant friend. But he’s an INTJ, otherwise known as the scientist. He wouldn’t befriend anyone without years of investigation. What does he know?

Now with this newfound understanding of my personality type, I think she misinterpreted my benevolent nature as manipulative. That has to be it, right?

Jenny’s disdain for me burgeoned into a social campaign. The entire circle of friends she made treated me with apathy for the most part. Apathy sucks. People tolerate you, but when you walk away you’re left with an odd feeling in your stomach wondering if you said something wrong or maybe your deodorant isn’t working. I fretted and worried and worried and fretted (another trait of my personality type, not a form of mental illness as I always assumed). How ironic to be dropped from a group of friends as a middle school teacher—mimicking my exact middle school experience.
So, what did I do about Jenny? I’d like to say I made peace with the fact that I don’t have to be liked by everyone or that the circle of friends ignored what she might be saying and accepted me into their group anyway or even that I resorted to vengeance and beat Jenny at her own game, causing her as much pain and worrying as she caused me. But, no, I suffered in silence and then to add to it, I came to Jenny’s rescue when a fellow worker persecuted her program. As a bona fide ENFJ, I stood up for her! I convinced others how important her role was in the workplace. After enduring two years of pain that she caused me, I turned around and helped her. That’s what ENFJs do. We help people. Even if they’re supposed to be the enemy.

Researching ENFJ also helped me conquer another struggle. For years I’ve wrestled with the fact that I hate to be alone. I use the word hate here lightly. I actually detest, deplore, abhor, and despise time spent by myself. Growing up as a twin, involved in every sport available, waitressing, and babysitting every weekend kept me deep in the company of others as I grew up.

But when I reached twenty-one and secured a job as a teacher, time spent surrounded by eight hundred people ended at 3:30. After that I faced eight hours to fill until bedtime. Time extended, lingered on endlessly. Loneliness set in heavy and dark. I enrolled in classes, met the girls for drinks, cooked dinner, exercised…anything to avoid having to go home and be alone. Something was desperately wrong with me—or so I thought. But right there in the second paragraph of my personality description the words jumped from the page—ENFJs hate to be alone. ENFJs avoid time alone because their thoughts turn to the dark side.

Well, hallelujah! My problem with loneliness wasn’t really a problem after all. It’s part of my core being. I’m not suffering from some strange disease. It’s just me.

My personality type is also unhappy when dealing with facts and logic not connected to human interactions. No wonder crunching numbers and analyzing test scores literally cause me to either have a panic attack or put me to sleep. I’m thinking about letting my supervisor know that all the paperwork and analyzing test scores just doesn’t meld with my psyche, and could she please find a nice INTF to take on my workload? I live in a world of possibilities, ideas, and dreams. I should be free to think and plan and do what I do best, socialize. What boss wouldn’t understand that her employee needs more time to socialize?

Going back to revisit my personality type provided more insight than a week of one-on-one therapy. And, of course, in true ENFJ fashion, I had to pass that information on to you.

To learn more, check out personalitypage.com.

Did I mention Oprah is in an ENFJ? How cool is that!

Kristy Kowalske Wagner is a middle school AIG teacher and freelance writer. She lives in Hendersonville, NC, with her freelance-writing husband and enjoys their quality time even if he is an INTJ. [ kowalske@excite.com ]

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