First, some personal backstory: after a few meetings with a career counselor not long ago, I took a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test and a Strong Interest Inventory. The assessments were extremely satisfying and helpful for me: it’s not that I learned anything about myself that I didn’t already know, but the assessments gave voice to and legitimated my preferences for the work sphere. I’m introverted, intuitive, thinking, and judgmental, but I have a stronger interest in artistic pursuits than is usually associated with the INTJ type. This means that I’m often the person who provides structure in a creative environment; I’m inventive, but will take no risks without scrupulous research; I’ll take charge when needed, but prefer to work quietly in the background.
I know that such tests, MBTI in particular, have their flaws, but I found my results tremendously empowering. Instead of feeling self-conscious about the dynamic I introduce when I focus on bottom lines and practical applications, I consider such intervention a strength that I can offer. Instead of feeling harassed by emails and phone calls and frustrated with my own lack of patience, I can remember that I prefer to be the one to initiate interactions, and make informed choices about when and how to make myself available to others. (Theoretically one would discover these work style preferences through the Two Exercises I advocate for jobhunters, but the temptation to downplay introverted idiosyncrasies in favor of a ready-for-anything Game Face is strong.)
Still coasting on the glow of these revelations, I gleefully followed a Tumblr meme to learn what characters in literature share my MB type. TV Tropes calls INTJs the “Mastermind” type, and its examples are mostly nerds, outcasts, and villains: Ross Gellar and Ben Wyatt, Jafar and Scar, Batman, Smaug. How unflattering! I’m reminded of a book my press published some time ago about eggheads in popular culture: during an awkward phase between the calculated mass destruction of WW2 and the physics-powered Space Race, while Americans were both fascinated and terrified by the power of the atom,the planners and schemers of television and literature tended to be suspicious characters. Even today, you rarely encounter a kind mastermind in popular culture: at worst, you get megalomaniacs and villains; at best, even the good guys tend to lack emotional reasoning and social bonds.
Such characterizations make me long for representations of INTJ-types who use their powers for good instead of evil: characters who are introverted, but not sociopathic; intuitive, not irrational; thinking, but not unfeeling; judging, but not always judgmental. Here is a short list of relatable and even emulatable characters who may or may not be INTJs but share a characteristic love of logic, self-sufficiency, and pragmatism:
Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice. Say what you will about his charms or lack thereof, but when the people he cares about need help, Mr. Darcy gets shit done. Then he gets all flustered and weird about people knowing and thanking him for his help.
Sherlock Holmes, various adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. Although Sherlock Holmes is pretty terrible about human interactions, he is a mastermind who more or less acts in favor of the common good–or at least reacts, since he’s not so much devising benevolent schemes as dismantling malevolent ones. The BBC adaptation in particular dramatizes this juxtaposition of Sherlock’s particular skills and limitations with those of evil geniuses.
Olivia Pope, Scandal. Olivia solves problems for a living. She is a quick thinker and a pragmatic planner, but also a quiet aesthete who values her alone time. As I noted in Things I Love About Scandal, it’s unusual for an introverted character to carry a company and a television series the way Olivia Pope does. But other characters allow her to tell them what to do, not because they fear her or love her, but because they know she’s right.
Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit. Bilbo makes a much better INTJ than Smaug. Sure, they both live in holes and prefer not to be bothered, but when it comes down to a battle of wits, it’s Bilbo who bends the slippery logic of riddles in his favor. Smaug loses his head and flies off in a fiery huff; Bilbo, who (like me) abhors a risk, adventures with caution.
Violet Baudelaire, A Series of Unfortunate Events series. Violet has a talent for inventions, a practical form of problem-solving that is most effective when combined with her little brother’s imagination and her baby sister’s brute force.
Tali’Zorah vas Normandy, Mass Effect series. Even during her adolescent pilgrimage, Tali is already a mechanical genius with enviable survival skills and enough self-possession to travel the galaxy on her own. But like most quarians, she understands pragmatism doesn’t mean self-interest; she is deeply invested in promoting positive outcomes for her community and team.
I welcome further examples of introverted leaders and unlikely heroes who use their analytical prowess for good.
More fun with personality types:
- MBTI in Fiction Tumblr (also linked in the Mr. Darcy and Sherlock Holmes bullets)
- The Toast – Sorry I murdered everyone, but I’m an introvert
- The Onion – I’m an ENTJ, Destroyer of Worlds