Before I get into the weeds of why society’s preferred way of doing things isn’t designed for creatives, let’s start with a story.
Imagine a third grade classroom in America. “Timmy, what’s the answer to number four?” the teacher asks from the front of the room.
“Eight,” Timmy quietly answers, sensing he now wobbles precariously between the trauma of shame and the fleeting joy of approval.
“How did you get that answer?” the teacher asks.
“Um…I just knew?”
“Come to the front and show us your work, please.”
Timmy’s face heats and his stomach cramps as all eyes go to him. His classmates snicker.
“I, um, just knew,” he mumbles.
“I see,” the teach says, her voice heavy with disapproval and disappointment. “Marjorie, what answer did you get?”
“Please come to the board and show us your work.”
With delight and pride, Marjorie sashays to the front and does just that, basking in the approval of the teacher and admiration of her classmates.
Fast-forward to Timmy as an adult. His life has been full of unfulfilled ideas for stories and inventions, as well as insightful observations and moments of knowing that he can’t explain. Currently, he has his best idea yet for a novel series, which came to him out of the blue.
He’s always wanted to be a novelist. It calls to his heart. But his parents told him writing stories wasn’t practical. Writers don’t make any money. He couldn’t support a family with it. And by the way, it’s time to be a responsible adult and get serious about his career.
Is it any wonder Tim’s tried to write a novel countless times and always abandoned it?
Sometimes the dissatisfaction, torment, and feelings of isolation get too much for him and he finds the strength to give writing another go. Something short. Not too intimidating. On those occasions, Tim finds himself in front of his computer, excited and ready to start. He begins to write….
And then his stomach cramps as his mind spins out future scenarios of disapproval, rejection, and judgement. He buckles down and writes a page, anyway. Then rewrites the page, finding new flaws every time. Discouragement builds. Why does he want to do something he stinks at?
So he takes a break. Cleans up his files. Scrubs the kitchen spotless. Binge watches a new show to find inspiration. Guilt torments him because he’s not keeping his promise to himself. He’s not doing what his heart calls him to do.
Not understanding why he can’t perfectly create his dreams, and that his efforts always end in failure, Tim pushes down his deepening depression and slogs off to his day job on Monday morning.
PERFECTION — WHO’S IDEA WAS THIS, ANYWAY?
The above story is a fictional composite of experiences creatives I’ve known and myself have had. Tim’s story is sad, but sometimes, outcomes among the best of us are tragic, as with Hemingway, Virginia Wolf, and Robin Williams, for example.
The suppression of those wired to create is not a small thing. However, digging into our struggles to adapt, understand, blend in, and cope within a non-creative social structure is not what this article is about.
To start, please know that your creative gift is a rare, amazing part of who you are. It expresses the magic of the universe, not the pedantic training of human society. Which is why we’re needed.
Unfortunately, the dominant personality preference in our world, particularly in America, can’t fully understand what we bring to the party because it’s not how they’re wired. And because they’re the majority, education, business culture, and even organized religion has evolved from and for them.
In this status quo, methods and solutions are right or wrong, rules are king, and everyone gets tagged and put in a box. That’s “just how it is.”
Then a creative like you has the nerve to come along, and you are not in the majority.
Instead, you bring to the world something that cannot be measured by quantifiable means. Creativity doesn’t have one right answer, and is often messy and chaotic.
It cannot show its work because solutions come from somewhere beyond the cause-and-effect mind. Somewhere even creatives can’t name or describe. And why would we want to?
Creativity is the unchoreographed dance with an undefinable realm that generously and continuously pours new ideas into a perfection-obsessed, only-one-right-way world.
CREATIVES & MYERS BRIGGS
In this blog, my goal is to provide some understanding of why the status quo is what it is, and why creatives don’t fit in it. My hope is that we come to a place of acceptance and forgiveness along the way. The chosen vehicle for our journey is the Myers-Briggs type indicator model.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one of the more highly regarded methods used to determine an individual’s personality preference. Scientifically designed and vetted, it’s been around for a long time, is a favorite of the corporate world, and is often used in career counseling, team building, and traditional therapy.
The personality elements Myers-Briggs uses are:
- “E” extrovert, vs. “I” introvert,
- “N” intuitive, vs. “S” sensor,
- “F” feeling, vs. “T” thinking, and
- “P” perceiving (also called prospecting), vs. “J” judging.
For creatives like us, this well known test and its long history brings something enlightening and profound to the table.
Creatives are rare.
But we’re not alone.
WHO ARE THE CREATIVES?
A majority of us are the Myers-Briggs type known as Introvert-Intuitive-Feeling-Perceiving (INFPs). They comprise only 4% to 6% of the world’s population, depending on the source.
Creatives are also found in the Introvert-Sensor-Feeling-Perceiving (ISFP) camp, which makes up 6% to 9% of the population.
Another interesting breakdown, is ISFP women edge out men by a noticeable margin of 2% (women at 10% and men at 8%). Yet, INFP women only dominate the guys by .5%. Why either of these is the case, I couldn’t begin to tell you, but it would be a fun discussion.
All of this isn’t to say that other personality preferences don’t, or can’t, have successful writing careers. They do and can. For example, comprising 8% of the population are the Extrovert-Intuitive-Feeling-Perceiving (ENFPs) folks, who are people-centered creators and excellent communicators. Introvert-Sensor-Feeling-Perceiving (ISFPs) types are where you’ll find artists, sculptures, and composers. They claim 9% of our population. And ESFPs are the actors among us, making up 6% to 8% worldwide.
NOTE: In general terms, the difference between an I and an E is Introverts feel drained after extended socializing, such as a party or meeting, and Extroverts feel energized. However, it is a common misconception that Introverts don’t like to be around people. They do. Just in smaller doses.
All well and good, but what does this have to do with poor Tim? And you?
I’m glad you asked!
WHY ARE CREATIVES STIFLED?
Because we tend to be different. And although what we produce is appreciated, who we are often is not. Especially when we’re young and haven’t actually done anything.
Because while the majority personality type understands their enjoyment of a good book, movie, concert, or art show, they don’t always cope well with the personality preferences that create them. Particularly when they encounter them in their status quo worlds.
This majority type in America is Introvert-Sensor-Thinking-Judging (ISTJ), and they aren’t known for being comfortable with anything outside their boxes.
“ISTJs are responsible organizers, driven to create and enforce order within systems and institutions. They are neat and orderly, inside and out, and tend to have a procedure for everything they do. Reliable and dutiful, ISTJs want to uphold tradition and follow regulations.” (Source: Truity)
ISTJs comprise a whopping 12% of the global population, and nearly 16% of the American population. Drilling down, ISTJs make up over 16% of the global male population, and 7% of the global female population.
They are commonly referred to as “The Inspector” personality type.
Do we need them? Yes. Have they made creatives’ lives miserable? Yes. And guess what? As the dominant world population type, society has evolved around and for them.
Add in the 9% of their Extrovert counterpart, also known as “The Supervisor,” and so much of the Creative’s experience in society makes perfect sense.
NOTE: As an interesting sidebar, the ESTJ group comprises the second largest type for men at 11%, and 6% for women. The “why” of that sounds like another potential topic for discussion.
An admired and valued group, these personality preferences are often found contributing to science, engineering, medicine, and academics. I, for one, appreciate them tremendously. I really would not enjoy scrubbing my laundry on a washboard, or dying from tetanus.
That said, with all this dominant type has to offer, why have creatives suffered and endured so much in their world?
It’s a Judging thing.
The Judging sub-trait of the dominant ISTJ type brings the need for strict order and consistency. They are most comfortable when people:
- Follow the plan without deviation.
- Have a clear and definable outcome.
- Have a strong work ethic which entails putting your duties and responsibilities above everything else.
- Believe that rules, laws, and standards are the keys to success.
Not necessarily wrong, but not the creatives’ way. Ah, clarity at last.
Which brings us back to our sad protagonist, Tim.
As a child, what Tim couldn’t perceive through his emotional trauma was that only a few of the other children participated in his humiliation. Many, like him, were not the dominant personality type, and those who were, were also introverts. Unknown to Tim, these children were hunkered down, silently pleading with the powers that be that they would not go to the guillotine next.
What he also could not know, or understand, was that Marjorie was likely a developing ENFJ, one of the rarer types with a tendency to be a “people pleaser.” Her Judging sub-trait made her comfortable in the status quo school setting, and her Extrovert main trait worked nicely with the “pick me” scenario. The rest urged her to seek approval from the teacher. She wasn’t evil. She was merely herself.
Understanding does not minimize our fictional creative’s difficult experiences, or your very real ones. It’s only meant to offer up the possibility that it’s okay to put one’s past into perspective, and then choose a better future outcome.
We do not have to be imprisoned by our negative experiences. As adults, we do not have to allow them to stop us from doing what we love.
BE WHO YOU ARE, DO WHAT YOU LOVE
Your creative gifts express the wonder and beauty of “what if?”, not the pedantic training of a society that predominantly values the Introvert/Extrovert+Judging personality preference. In the creative world, perfection is not required, neither is it applicable. What matters more is freedom, outrageous idea exploration, and giving yourself permission to be messy.
With no right or wrong answer possible, mistakes can’t exist. Not at the creative level. Not in your Starter Draft.
And despite the use of statistics and personality profiling in this blog, the truth is that human beings are much too complex to be put in a box. Even by the venerated Myers and Briggs.
You are unique. We all are. Including those who track as ISTJs, plus every type in between.
Create like when the world of imagination felt limitless. Fly free when you brainstorm. Paint amazing adventures with your words.
Be who you are.
See you on the bestsellers list.
Take the test HERE.
Explore the world personality type percentages by country.
And if you wondered about the rarest personality preference types, they are:
- INFJ: Introvert-Intuitive-Feeler-Judging– 1% to 2% of the population, depending on the source. Also creative, but with a focus on service to others.
- ENTJ: Extrovert-Intuitive-Thinking-Judging — 1.8% of the population. The leaders among us.
- INTJ: Introvert-Intuitive-Thinking-Judging — 2.1% of the population, they are the scientist and programmer types, and the second rarest for women (.9%).
- ENFJ: Extrovert-Intuitive-Feeling-Judging — 2.3% of the population. The teachers of the world.