The Mastermind & the Inspector
How I get along with ISTJs as an INTJ
The MBTI and the rest of the typology culture in general leave a lot of room for improvement. For MBTI at least, I heard it was supposed to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of a personality, providing insights for how to deal with people in a work setting. They’re used for people in HR and managers who want to conveniently put us into boxes. That means a lot of the popular systems based on MBTI only show the external side of us. And that’s crock of shit. Because of that, I’m seen as this badass with superpowers. You are seen as this dumbass yes-sir bean counter.
From my experience, the ones most creative at flipping the middle finger at the authority have been ISTJs. It’s done with such conviction that can only be manifested from deep inside your being. When you stand up against what’s wrong with the world and society, you know you’re right. You know you’re in the right. Anybody can relate and root for you if they catch a glimpse of understanding where you’re coming from. I’d wager that the ISTJ is the strongest and deepest personality type. Hell, perhaps even the most human.
With Introverted Sensing and Introverted Feeling, the ISTJ is the type who’s reality is experienced mainly from reflecting on their identity. You are constantly pondering how you relate with the world around you. Metaphorically, you are sculpting an artwork that symbolizes your story. For any event past, you’re engraving a surface. For any judgement made, you’re carving a line. Each of them tells a tale. And that artwork is yours to revel and reflect on. In other words, ISTJs — you know who you are.
This makes you a much more receptive person than the mindless drones the type descriptions make you out to be. SiFi gives you full control of your own character development. You’re the one who truly understands how life is the best teacher. And it’s the cruelest too. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. There’s no straight line for personal growth. And it was never meant to be easy. That’s just the way it is, right?
Life itself is an invitation to build character regardless of what life actually is. Nobody’s got it all figured out right out of the womb. Wisdom and experience don’t just get uploaded into our minds. We’re not promised anything. And nature has a way to make you suffer when you least expect it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t appreciate what’s good if we don’t know what’s bad. We wouldn’t know what it means to stand for something, to get a sense of who we are, to know what’s meaningful.
Defining meaning is a philosophical question many people don’t have an answer for. It’s hard to describe what it is, but we know how it feels. It can feel light, heavy, blissful, painful, and any mix in between. That’s all influenced on what we decide to care about; or what we set our goals to be. And what we choose to value becomes an outlet to imprint our will and pour our emotions into; it’s an interplay between reflecting how it shapes us and how we represent it. We start to relate to it, identify with it.
For example, what it does it mean to be a professional? What does it mean to be a friend? A successful person? A person of integrity? “What makes a good King?” Tywin Lannister asked in Game of Thrones. He surely believed that “any man who must say ‘I am the king’ is no true king.” That’s what the T in our 4-letter personality code really means. It’s not just about being logical or practical. Extraverted Thinking is what turns meaning into purpose. It’s an aim for self-realizing, inserting our humanness into the mechanistic world of structure and matter. It’s what we do that defines us.
Very quickly we weed out disorder and inefficiencies to better align ourselves with our objectives. We hold our end of the deal, finish what we start, keep our word. We soldier on until the job’s done. Many misunderstand thinking we’re doing this out of some obligation. No, this is our way of being. It’s how we find our Zen, how we harmonize our individuality with the world. Our only duty is to exist truthfully. We don’t waste time for what’s not true to us. We’re just doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Just being us.
Coupling with Extraverted Intuition, you get that we’re cogs in a big machine. And most importantly, you value that we’re all unique individuals with our own ideas for how to run it. As such, the possibilities for how it could evolve are endless. Time moves forward, and nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. NeTe is an overview orchestrating you and everyone else to do their job to keep that machine running smoothly. It’s a synergistic idea, a set of principles to follow, karmic rules given by the universe.
People mistake this as blindly following traditions or routines. But it’s deeper than that. It’s how you show your individual worth while contributing for something bigger than yourself. It’s giving respect and decency in a world that lacks both. For example, anyone can appreciate the idea of punctuality. Taking a page from the late Anthony Bourdain:
I’m relentlessly, pathologically, a punctual. I think that comes from all those years as a chef, more importantly as a cook. You show up late as a cook you’re letting your people down in very tangible way. Somebody else has to physically do the work, do the setup. Or you lose the shift, or you get fired. Cooks who showed up late, who were disorganized, who couldn’t keep a lot of stuff going on in their heads, they failed. And when they failed, we all went down with them.
When I’m cooking I’m cleaning up after myself, constantly keep things organized. I write lists, I keep my schedule up to date, I am never late. As part of that, if I say to you I’m gonna meet you tomorrow at 12 mins after five, I will be there 5:02, hanging out across the streets discretely observing what time you show up and I’ll be making some very important decisions based on your arrival time.
Everything important I ever learned as a dishwasher and a cook: you show up on time, you stay organized, you clean up after yourself, you think about and respect the people you work with, and do the best you can.
Trust, camaraderie, wisdom, and character are all vague ideas that become clearer with consistent and disciplined performance. They’re NeTe concepts that deepen synergy and provide sense of belonging. But when we talk about belonging with nature itself… it’s so infinitely open ended, it deflects the question of what’s the point of it all. It forces us to come up with our own answers. “Follow your heart and let everything else take care of itself” is a cliché everyone has heard.
But again, life is the cruelest teacher. No matter how much we’re trying to do the right thing, we’ll all eventually experience unfair judgement, bear through trauma, lose loved ones, and carry the burden of our failures. We’re imperfect creatures who have no idea what we’re doing. We just know the future is filled with regrets and mistakes. We’re trying our best here. And this is what separates ISTJs from everybody else. You face these hardships in stride.
These situations are what have shaped you into the person that you are today. You hold yourself accountable, because rationally you are the most constant thing in your own life. How you decide to react and view the world is all within your control. You process through them until you find a way to overcome them. You’re humanity’s rock. Life’s most resilient student. You’re the one most ready to face the harsh unknown, the one we’ll need to make the hard decisions.
Before I knew anything about Carl Jung and cognitive functions, I grew up idolizing fictional ISTJs characters. We were the same in my eyes. I, too, march to the beat of my own drum, and let my actions speak for themselves. I learn a lot from seeing how ISTJs handle conflict. Their journeys heavily influence my moral compass. Fiction has a great way, with monologues and expressive close-ups, of presenting their internal process that reality can’t.
However, fiction overdramatizes the story. We watch protagonists coming of age, and superheroes saving the world. With music and aesthetics, it’s all so excessive. The real world is much more mundane. Everyday is the same grind of eat-sleep-work-repeat. Most of us will spend our entire lives just collecting stuff. Most of us won’t be remembered. That’s what I see from the bird’s eye view of Introverted Intuition. It’s all a depressingly boring meaningless cycle.
I want a life worthy of a fictional story. If NeTe is to practice a way of life, SeTe is to fulfill a mission. I want to make this all a game I can win. I won’t stop until I finish it. Extraverted Sensing is the “eye on the prize” function. It’s tunnel vision focusing on a specific goal. It becomes my sole purpose, nothing else matters. If SiFi is to character development, then NiFi is to character endgame. Fixating on the idea of what it would be like to reach max level.
In other words, I’m envisioning the best version of myself, a future self, like get rich or attain enlightenment or something, without caring much for how to actually get there. “These steps are frivolous details,” an INTJ would say. And as long as the important things were heading towards the right direction, I didn’t care how it was done. Whatever my circumstances were at the time, the future was worth it. We were taught growing up to pursue happiness. I took that literally. I didn’t let anything get in the way of my goals, myself included. I won’t be happy until I reach them.
From time to time, I’d have something gnawing at me deep inside. I would neglect those feelings, thinking I had bigger things to worry about. They’ll drift away like everything else anyway. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing is worth holding sentimental value. Memories fade away. They were replaceable. We were replaceable. I looked down at the world thinking I figured it all out. I grew numb with everything, forever aloof with what was in front of me.
Many times I’ve projected that, and sneered on those who got caught up with the small things. I soured relationships, isolated myself, and withdrew from what was real. Whatever. They-just-didn’t-get-me™. I’ve never belonged anywhere anyway. I thought I was doing the right thing for being patient and sticking to my plans. For one day, I’ll be rewarded. One day, my sacrifices, my delayed gratifications, will be paid off. One day, I’ll prove I’ve been right and establish my place here.
A friend once called me a legless bird, a mythical animal famously referenced in a 90s Hong Kong cult movie called Days of Being Wild. The plot follows Yuddy, a 20-something playboy in search for his mother who left him in a brothel at birth. Growing up in a shaky past, he leads an empty life obsessing over finding his mom, avoiding commitment, and running into trouble. He identifies with “a kind of bird without legs that can only fly and fly, and sleeps in the wind when it’s tired. This bird only lands once in its lifetime… That’s when it dies.”
Yuddy eventually finds her, and realizes she doesn’t want to see him. She never did. His lifelong mission, the one thing he was fixated on, failed. The movie progresses with Yuddy mentioning again about the legless bird who spends its entire life in the air. He infers “that it actually hasn’t flown anywhere, it was dead from the beginning.” Such tragic poetry that he finally got physically close to his mom, only to subsequently find himself into another altercation that led to his death.
Now I don’t think I’m like Yuddy. But I wouldn’t say my friend was wrong about me. Like the legless bird, I can’t deny that I’ve always needed to fly towards a goal, in fear that I would die without one. But she made me realize that maybe I never really lived in the first place. It never occurred that maybe those little gnawings I’ve ignored was nature’s way to tell me I was dying inside. I’ve been a bad student.
One time, my friend was consulting me about how she was supposed to emotionally deal with something. I wasn’t expecting this kind of humility from her. She dealt her little gnawing right away. It was admiring, even humbling. More and more intensely I felt her love for self-help books, her job, the foodie scene. She looked happily at peace gazing at the New York City skyline — I saw that she was in a place she could call ‘home’. And there was nothing she would change about it.
Joining her starring at the skyline, I softened my gaze. I felt the vibe above the buildings. There was nothing woo-woo about it. It’s an emergence of human cause and effect, a sum of our hopes and beliefs. We’re all in it and contribute to it. For a little bit, I started appreciating being part of something bigger than myself. I started to believe the world is pregnant with meaning, because we’re the ones giving it meaning. I started to understand what ‘home’ feels like.
Home is also an abstract concept. Pizza is home. There’s more to it than its ingredients. I used to balk at materialism, ironically I looked at the world too literally. I didn’t care that it was your grandma’s recipe. I didn’t care about how she lifted the hearts of her community with her baking during the rough times of years past. I didn’t care that what you’re doing is carrying on her legacy, and for it to continue being an influential part in people’s lives. I looked at the pizza for what it was, not what it represented.
Suddenly this pizza carried loads of meaning. Thinking about the stories that led this slice to land on my plate, it started to taste better. And then I thought about how I discovered pizza from Ninja Turtles, my first time eating it at Papa Gino’s, my start of liking spicy food from the pepperonis, attending random college events because pizza was free and I was dead broke… Pizza has held a lot of meaning for me too. So that made it taste even better!
For being such a big picture person, I missed the forest for the trees. I got too caught up with my own thoughts. I got too attached to an idea that only existed inside my head. My pride couldn’t let go. Truth has been starring at me since the beginning. Mortgaging my present self for a future self accrued a lot of emotional debt. It was time for me to get back on the ground and face reality.
The reason that I’ve been drifting around is because I’ve been scared of admitting who I really am. Having a God complex hid the fact that I couldn’t bear the thought of being imperfect. I’ve been conflict avoidant to myself, the exact opposite of the ISTJ characters I looked up to. I was doing things backwards: I followed objectives and let my heart take care of itself. I wasn’t proud of how rotten it was, and swept it under the rug.
Since that time watching the skyline, I learned that true strength means to listen to my heart attentively. That accountability means to deal with my shit now, no matter how big or small. That pursing happiness means to find it within me, not out there by some metric. That no end can justify the means of neglecting my present wellbeing. It all seems to be very tough, but there’s no just shortcut for doing right by me. It makes me feel like a smaller person. But that’s wrong. It makes me accept I’m only human.
With this new perspective, what was once mundane now sparks little magical experiences beyond my senses. A great morning starts with my own way of brewing coffee. The best times are catching up with old friends over beers. Perfection is when I can say “I’d come here again” after a meal. Even with the hard times that test my hope and faith, it’s hard to not come out a little appreciative. For the pains and sufferings made me stronger, wiser, and more compassionate. Overcoming them led me to look even more forward to the future.
Taking in the fond memories, the tough times, and everything else that came to be for me to be standing where I am now, I’m drowning in gratefulness. There’s no need to fly anywhere. Like when work doesn’t feel like work. Life doesn’t feel like suffering anymore. This cycle that was so depressing now feels like playing my new favorite song on repeat. There’s nothing I’d want to change about this. I hope to savor this for a good while. It’s hard not to feel and act a certain way here. I can see why you’d do anything to stay at this place.
Maybe there’s truth to life being but a dream. Maybe it’s all fate, I don’t know… I guess everything really does take care of itself as long as I follow my heart, have faith, and trust the process. Maybe everything does happen for a reason. I’m just trying my best to be happy. Maybe I earned it. Maybe it’s pure luck. In any case, of all things that could’ve happened to me, I’d never have imagined it’d be like this — to finally feel at home, to feel like I belong.
To say living has been a privilege is a little weird, since living in itself doesn’t have meaning. We’re the ones providing it. Therefore my appreciation goes to those who played a part of making who I am today. So, from the bottom of my heart, to my family and friends, to the essential workers who keep my community safe and running, to the brightest minds who push our health, education, and environmental technologies to a sustainable future, and to so many others, thank you for helping making this world feel like home. I’ll do my part to appreciatively pay it forward.
And to you ISTJs. You, who’s just as proud and straightforward, yet whose worldview is so different than mine. Thank you for helping me see what my eyes couldn’t. It’s been a privilege knowing you.