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Wandering or Lost?: How Different Personality Types Approach Uncertainty

6 days ago 4 comments

“It is because Humanity has never known where it was going that it has been able to find its way.”

Oscar Wilde

Human nature causes all individuals to question where they are going in their life at some point in time. Education, careers, and relationships all provide ample opportunities for doubt and confusion to seep in and create uncertainty. Is this uncertainty a bad thing? And how do different people deal with these periods of upheaval and emotional turmoil in their lives?

To determine how one’s personality type may influence their tendency to question their path in life, we asked our readers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “Sometimes, you feel like you do not know where you are going in life.” On average, 72% of readers agreed, suggesting that this is a fairly common experience. Yet at the same time, the data shows significant differences between every personality trait pairing.

Agreement with “Sometimes, you feel like you do not know where you are going in life.”

Introverts, Intuitive individuals, Feeling types, and Prospecting personalities were all more likely than their counterparts (those with the Extraverted, Observant, Thinking, and Judging personality traits, respectively) to agree that they sometimes don’t know where they’re going in life. The greatest divide was between individuals with Turbulent Identities (85% agreeing) and those with Assertive Identities (60% agreeing) – a difference of 25 percentage points.

Let’s dive into these results in detail.

Roles

Agreement with “Sometimes, you feel like you do not know where you are going in life.”

Diplomats (83% agreeing)

The highly empathic Diplomats often excel at helping others who are struggling to find their purpose, but it is clear that they often feel a lack of direction in their own lives. As Intuitive and Feeling personalities, Diplomats are constantly searching for meaning and purpose, and they may experience a great range of emotional turmoil in the process (especially the Turbulent types).

While this questioning can be both mentally and emotionally exhausting, many Diplomats actually thrive on this kind of existential thinking. Their strong Intuitive trait makes them mindful of the bigger picture and pushes them to explore possibilities and continually evolve.

Mediators (INFP) (92%) were the most likely of all 16 personality types to agree that they sometimes feel like they don’t know where they’re going in life. While some would believe this to be a bad thing, many Mediators might beg to differ. It could be said that their “purpose” in life is to search for purpose. These Prospecting personalities hesitate to settle on a fixed path, even if it’s one they enjoy, in case something potentially more meaningful comes along.

A great deal of uncertainty in life may overwhelm introspective Mediators, but as long as they stay in touch with their ideals and values, they’re likely to experience a certain sense of freedom in having the flexibility to explore different options. For the ever-seeking Mediators, the wise words of writer J.R.R. Tolkien would make an appropriate motto: “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Within the Diplomat Role, Protagonists (ENFJ) (69%) were the least likely to agree with our research statement. Unlike Mediators, Protagonists are more comfortable when they have a plan and a direction. Uncertainty usually does not bode well for Protagonists, as a result of their Judging personality trait. As Diplomats, they are proponents of personal development and are constantly seeking to better themselves. However, they prefer to determine life goals and to pursue them with a plan, as opposed to just “winging it.”

Analysts and Explorers (78% and 77%, respectively)

Analysts and Explorers may differ greatly in many ways, but the personality types in both of these Roles tend to be innovative, individualistic, and curious. Intuitive, Thinking Analysts often focus on intellectual pursuits, while Prospecting Explorers, the risk-takers, are more likely to seek adventure. Regardless of these preferences, both Analysts and Explorers are likely to question where they are going in life with relative frequency.

Logicians (INTP) (89%) were the Analysts most apt to question their direction in life because, well, they question everything. They are idea people who thrive on coming up with solutions for life’s problems. Unlike their Observant and Judging counterparts, they often lack the focus and the decisiveness necessary to stick to just one idea or direction in life. Logicians prefer novelty to predictability and autonomy over security, making them more prone to questioning whether they are achieving their full potential in a job or relationship.

Similarly, Adventurers (ISFP) (86%) will naturally question where they are going in life, simply because they’re interested in experimentation and personal growth. Adventurers like to be spontaneous and are generally averse to long-term commitments. Creative and confident, these independent personalities feel suffocated when they are unable to follow their curiosity to see where it will lead them. They are open to the idea of self-reinvention and likely find great freedom in questioning where they could potentially go in life.

Commanders (ENTJ) and Entrepreneurs (ESTP), both of whom agreed at a rate of 64%, were the least likely members of these two Roles to agree with our statement, although for very different reasons. Commanders are efficient, goal-oriented Judging personalities, known for their ability to develop strategic plans and carry them out against all odds. As such, they tend to know exactly where they want to go in life. Even when they do experience doubt, these natural leaders often prefer to project confidence and authority.

Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, live for the moment. Like all Explorers, they thrive on spontaneity and are unafraid of taking risks. To have a detailed plan or set path in life would be boring to Entrepreneurs. Uncertainty is a necessity because it gives them freedom to explore all of their interests and desires. They may assess and recalibrate their direction in life as those interests change, but that is generally a more comfortable process for these personalities than it is for many others.

Sentinels (61%)

Sentinels were notably less likely than the other Roles to indicate that they feel a lack of direction in their lives, although a majority still agreed with our research statement.

As Observant, Judging personality types, Sentinels excel at considering all the facts and plotting a detailed, practical course for their life. If there is one thing all Sentinels prize it is security, so they will often make every attempt to ensure that they stay on course. When circumstances do change and Sentinels are forced to reconsider their direction, that process is not likely to be an easy or enjoyable one for them.

Defenders (ISFJ) (73%) were the most likely Sentinels to question where they are going in life. Stability is just as important to this personality type, but they tend to be more sensitive to criticism and uncertainty than their Thinking counterparts. Helping others, especially close friends and family, is their primary focus. It can be difficult for Defenders if these relationships change over time, or if they are somehow rebuffed or criticized. Without someone to protect and support, Defenders feel at a loss and may question their own purpose in life.

Executives (ESTJ) (48%), in contrast, were the least likely of all 16 personality types to agree with our statement and the only type that did not agree in a majority. Executives are confident, organized personalities who get things done. They are extremely dedicated to any responsibilities that they take on, such as their job, family, or community roles. Stubborn and, at times, downright inflexible, Executives may sometimes choose to continue on dutifully with a job or relationship that doesn’t make them happy rather than risk change, instability, or uncertainty.

When it comes to assessing one’s direction, purpose, or sense of emotional fulfillment in life, many Executives (especially Assertive ones) might agree with the concise conclusion reached by the Dowager Countess, the Downton Abbey character played by actress Maggie Smith: “No life appears rewarding if you think too much about it.”

Strategies

Agreement with “Sometimes, you feel like you do not know where you are going in life.”

When we take the Identity personality trait into account, the gap between the highest- and lowest-agreeing personality types grows even wider: 95% of Turbulent Mediators (INFP-T) said they sometimes feel like they don’t know where they’re going in life, compared to just 38% of Assertive Executives (ESTJ-A). Let’s consider the influence of the Mind and Identity traits.

Constant Improvement (88% agreeing)

For Constant Improvers, Turbulence is the greatest factor causing frequent feelings of uncertainty about life. As their name implies, Constant Improvers have perfectionist tendencies, and they’re always striving to better themselves. That drive can be a great thing, but when it combines with the lower levels of self-confidence and increased emotional turmoil common among Turbulent personality types, it can become a challenge.

Furthermore, as Introverted personalities, Constant Improvers are likely to look inward when feelings of doubt arise. Whereas Extraverts might be quick to seek feedback or reassurance from others, Introverts are often hesitant to involve others in their personal issues. This may result in a more persistent internal monologue questioning their path in life, which can become stressful and overwhelming for Constant Improvers over time. Engaging in healthy, balanced self-assessment, on the other hand, can be a positive motivator.

Social Engagement (81%)

The Turbulent Identity also plays a significant role in how Social Engagers view where they are going in life. Like Constant Improvers, Social Engagers tend to experience fluctuating self-esteem and emotions. Always striving for success, these personality types may doubt themselves when they feel that they are not meeting the expectations of themselves or others.

As Extraverts, Social Engagers draw comfort and security from positive social interactions. Engagement with the outside world gives them a sense of adventure, too, so a little uncertainty in the right social setting can be exciting. But the opinions of other people matter a great deal to Social Engagers. They may start to question their purpose or direction in life if they perceive any criticism or negativity, especially from those they rely on most for support.

Confident Individualism (66%)

While about two-thirds of Confident Individualists agreed with our research statement, the process of self-assessment in times of uncertainty is likely much less stressful for these personalities. Their Assertive Identity tends to make them more self-assured than their Turbulent counterparts. They typically don’t push themselves as hard to be perfect or to figure out all the answers about where they’re headed in life.

Confident Individualists are also fiercely independent and tend to view their Introversion as a source of self-reliance, rather than self-isolation. These personalities are unlikely to be influenced by other people’s opinions, and even when faced with doubt, they’re confident in the strength of their own ideas and abilities to see them through.

People Mastery (56%)

The combination of Extraverted and Assertive traits makes People Masters the least likely personality types to feel like they don’t know where they’re going in life. People Masters are generally quite confident in their abilities and choices, which in turn makes them somewhat more relaxed about the future, because they believe they can handle whatever life throws their way. Higher confidence can result in lower motivation to question their life’s direction or purpose in the first place.

When they do experience self-doubt, these sociable personalities don’t mind talking to others or asking for advice. At the same time, they don’t look to anyone else for approval or acceptance, which can help them stay true to themselves even while adapting to changing circumstances in times of uncertainty.

Conclusions

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.”

Carl Rogers

To be uncertain of where you are going in life is entirely normal and, in reality, an absolutely necessary part of life. To always feel completely confident about your direction is unrealistic and prevents personal growth. This is not to say that one should live in a permanent state of uncertainty. Rather, we must all acknowledge that life is a journey that we are on, not a destination that we hope to arrive at someday.

Some personality types are more likely to welcome some degree of uncertainty in their lives, such as Intuitive Diplomats who enjoy searching for meaning or Prospecting Explorers who want to try out as many options as possible. Others, like Judging Sentinels, are less likely to reevaluate where they are going because they prefer to commit to the path they’re already on, for the sake of stability and security.

Our research shows that Identity plays the most significant role of all in determining whether or not we feel as though we know where we’re going in life. Assertive individuals are more confident about their direction in life, but this can prevent them from reflecting on many of the choices they make. Turbulent individuals, on the other hand, are less self-assured and tend to struggle more with doubts. Confidence and certainty often go hand in hand, but truly embracing uncertainty in all of its messiness can bring the most tremendous opportunities for growth and self-discovery.

What about you: Do you often feel unsure of where you’re going in life? Are you comfortable embracing uncertainty, or do you prefer to avoid change at all costs? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Further Reading

What’s Next?: The Struggle of Constant Improvement

Asking for Help Part II: Some Stories Personality Types Tell Themselves

“Happiness and Life Satisfaction” Survey

“Doubts” Survey

NERIS Type Explorer® L2 Test

You can see the full set of data, including correlation coefficients, in the Academy. If you have a minute to help us with our research, check out our Member Surveys.

Also, consider subscribing to our newsletter to receive interesting and useful insights tailored for your personality type – we send them every couple of weeks, and you can unsubscribe at any time if you don’t find them useful.

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