As I sent resumes and participated in interviews during late spring and early summer 2013, I thought private industry would be the answer to the emptiness I felt from public accounting. Corporate accounting is the traditional refuge sought out by those who are retreating from public accounting, so it was the logical and practical solution for me. Yet I had a nagging feeling that something far more fundamental was amiss. If I hated putting numbers in boxes in public accounting, why wouldn’t I hate it in private industry? By mid-summer, I gave in to the nagging and on a whim, for the first time in a long time, I entertained the illogical and the impractical. What if private industry isn’t the answer? Master’s degree, CPA, CCIFP, and eight years of my life—who cares about all that, what if I just don’t like accounting? What do I like? What are my passions? Why the hell am I here? I had opened a can of worms.
It seems whenever I need a solution to a simple problem, or need some insight into life’s unfathomable mysteries, common sense be damned, I find a book about it instead. So naturally, Liza and I spent a morning at Barnes and Noble pouring through career transition books. I purchased three that day, and one would have an especially astounding impact on me. It is titled Do What You Are, and it uses the MBTI personality typing to identify possible career matches. MBTI, or Myers-Briggs Typing Indicator, is a method of categorizing an individual’s personality into 16 distinct types. Obviously, every person is different and is never an exact match for any one type, but we do have general behaviors and thought patterns that make one of the 16 types a better match than the other 15. As I read the book and conducted more research on the side throughout the summer, I was shocked and almost horrified by what I was learning—it did not have good things to say about my career choice.
MBTI categorizes personalities by assigning one of two letters for four different traits: I or E for introverted or extraverted, S or N for sensing or intuitive, T or F for thinking or feeling, and J or P for judging or perceiving. I’ll provide a Cliff’s Notes version of what this all means. Introversion or Extraversion concerns our relationship with the world and where we direct our energy. It’s much more than being either shy or outgoing—in fact, an introvert can be someone who enjoys social interaction and who is quite warm and friendly. A good analogy is to say extraverts ask “how do I affect this?” when encountering a situation, and introverts ask “how does this affect me?” Sensing or Intuition concerns how we gather information. Sensors concentrate on what can be seen, heard, tasted, etc. Sensors tend to be concrete people who trust what can be documented and measured, and they focus on realities. Intuitives, on the other hand, are far more concerned with what could be than what is; they look for deeper meaning, prefer the big picture over details, and value imagination, abstract ideas, and inspirations. Thinking or Feeling is rather self explanatory—it concerns how we make decisions based on the information we have gathered through our S or N function. Thinkers tend to be analytical and make decisions logically and impersonally. Feelers tend to adhere more to a personal values system and will base a decision on what they feel is right rather than just analyzing a problem logically. Judging and Perceiving concerns the timing of our decisions. Judgers tend to live structured and orderly lives and prefer making quick decisions so that matters are settled and they can move on to the next task. They want to regulate and control their lives. Perceivers, on the other hand, thrive on flexibility and spontaneity, preferring to remain open to possibilities rather than making quick decisions. They are far more concerned with understanding life than controlling it. Of course, none of this is to say a Thinker is incapable of making an emotional decision, or a Judger of “flying by the seat of one’s pants.” Rather, MBTI is concerned with one’s natural tendencies. Each of us is a unique individual with a combination of characteristics from all types, but typing is based on our habits and fundamental dispositions.
After taking several personality tests and doing a great deal of research, I typed out as an INFP. One test was able to measure the extent to which each function contributes to my personality. I am a strong Introvert, an overwhelming Intuitive (90%, yikes), almost equally Thinking and Feeling, and finish out as a distinct Perceiver. And it’s no wonder I always felt out of place in an accounting firm—there are practically no INFP’s in accounting, and for good reason. One need not be Carl Jung or Sigmund Freud to see from the descriptions above that someone with a predisposition for accounting would be a strong Sensor, Thinker, and Judger. In fact, some studies have shown that a vast majority of accountants in the US are either ESTJ’s or ISTJ’s. My personality type is at the exact opposite end of the spectrum and make up less than 1% of accountants. One percent. In fact, INFP’s are one of the rarest personalities in the general population. That’s only one reason why the proverbial deck is stacked against this type. They also don’t usually thrive in work environments that are competitive and structured, and which do not allow for a great deal of creativity and personal fulfillment. I’ve just described about 70% of all workplaces in the United States, and probably an even higher percentage of traditional corporate office jobs.
Doing this personality research was like reading an unauthorized biography about Steve Grimes, which is indicative of just how much I did not understand or know myself. I believe I knew some basic facts about my personality, but I had no context in which to put these facts. For example, I knew that I am a pretty introspective person, but I didn’t realize that not only do I crave time alone, as an introvert I need time alone to recharge my batteries and process the world around me. I knew that I do not tend to think in black and white terms, but I didn’t realize that I am a strong abstract thinker who prefers creative possibilities over practical realities. I knew that I rarely had a detailed plan for any personal endeavor, but I didn’t realize that I am prone to experience a great deal of stress if subjected to a highly structured or regulated environment. Yet when I read these things, dots suddenly connected and I became aware of a lifetime of truths. It was a humbling, reassuring, and enlightening experience. It just shows it’s possible to be 35 years old and not know very much about oneself. I have since learned it’s not all that uncommon for INFP’s to live well into their 30s before they have a real sense of who they are—they have complex personalities that are not easily understood even by themselves.
Using my personality type as a guide, I may be described as an autonomous, imaginative person on a continuous mission to understand life and its deeper meaning, who is a predominantly big-picture and abstract thinker, who keeps his options open, and enjoys being flexible, laid-back, and spontaneous. You would think suggested career choices for my personality type include hippie, ski bum, surfer, or pothead. Truly, career choices for INFP’s are often untraditional, unconventional, and highly abstract. One rather ordinary suggestion that piqued my interest was something that had been percolating in the back of my mind for quite some time—a college professor. Specifically, a history professor. History had been one of my favorite subjects in school—if not the favorite—especially in college. My obsession with history continues to this day and manifests itself through some annoying traits. I remember riding the Georgetown Loop tourist railroad a couple of years ago with our friends Jason and Crystal, when out of the blue I pointed to a spot along the tracks between Georgetown and Silver Plume where miners in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s would play baseball at a crude diamond that no longer exists. I could read the look on Jason’s face: “Who needs a flippin’ tour guide when you have this moron with you?” My patient and understanding wife Liza can tell you stories of just how annoying I can be—for instance, when on a quiet drive through the Colorado countryside I suddenly break into a dissertation about how some ghost town or something once existed nearby, complete with a founding date, names of founders, significant events in the town’s history, and how the town was instrumental in the development of the state. She hates it. When she asks how I know these things, my answer is almost always, “I dunno, I read it in a book or something.”
So at the same time I was questioning the status quo, I was beginning to open my mind to possibilities. I understood accounting wasn’t a good fit, but I wanted to attempt to make a career of it in private industry. I still felt I had committed too much to accounting to completely turn my back on it. Even though I had spent several months and a great deal of spare time on personality research, it was more learning than soul searching. The soul searching would come later. I had only planted a seed.