There are three career paths. One will fit you.

There are three career paths. One will fit you.

I am reading Miranda July’s book because she made a great ad for her book. It’s like a little film and after I saw the ad I got upset that I cannot make such good ads for my books. But then I read that what she really loves is filmmaking. And anyway, I really don’t love writing books.

Books are too long—my writing sweet spot is about as long as a good blog post. Do you want to know the rule for blog post length? Eight hundred words. Because every big idea in the last 100 years has launched in an op-ed, which is 600 words, so how could you need more? I have been preaching this rule for years. And now I’m breaking it. You haven’t gotten to the end of this post, and, frankly, neither have I. But we are both pretty sure I’m not going to stop at 600 words.

I’d better put something really juicy in right now, because there has to be a lot of value in a post if it’s going to be longer than my rule. So I’m going to tell you that people are driven by one of three core things: achievement, affiliation, competence. When I was first learning about this, the coach gave me more simple words: winning, friends, craft.

I took the test and found I was 100% motivated by achievement. I looked at my boss, who was sitting next to me, to make sure that he was not looking at me and thinking I was an egotistical money grubber because of my score. Then I saw that his score was the same as mine. I already had a huge crush on him, but that really put me over the edge.

I wish I could find the link to the test but I can’t. But so what? So what that I’m going to write a whole post based on a theory that appears to exist only in my head. Because once you see that there are three key motivators, you can see that there are three paths to being successful at work.

The path to ruling the world.
People think that the CEOs of Fortune-500 companies are self-involved jerks, but that’s actually not true. The transition to top levels of management requires that you are not only a star performer but also that you care immensely about the growth of the people around you. The Harvard Business Review shows that narcissism is what holds back a lot of middle managers from reaching the top.

Another thing you have to do to get out of middle management is shift from being a specialist to a generalist. I know, I know, I tell you all the time that you have to specialize. And it’s true. You do. It’s so true, that on the roadmap that the Harvard Business Review presents for people to move into senior leadership roles, the first assumption is that you became a specialist to get to where you are. But to get higher, you need to get good at a wider range of corporate skills.

So the path is this: early in your career you jump around to figure out what to do with yourself. Then you specialize and become a star performer in that specialty. Then you start cultivating an ability to help people, which will open up opportunities to get trained in new arenas of the company to prepare you to be at the top.

Most people think, for a surprisingly long time, that they will be one day running a big company and making a lot of money. This will probably not be you just from the odds of it alone. Almost all Fortune 500 CEOs are ENTJs but only 2% of all people are ENTJs. And, let me just remind you that I’m an ENTJ, and it would take me a mere month to run a Fortune 500 company into the ground, so way fewer than that 2% is actually capable of running a huge company.

The path to building a career based on relationships.
A much wider spectrum of you will be better at storytelling than running companies. And there are so many jobs that involve storytelling that we don’t think about. Sure, a novelist is a job that involves storytelling, but look, even Miranda July can’t make a living at it: she needs to do films that have big budgets so she can siphon off a living wage in sneaky ways.

But all of marketing is storytelling. You can’t sell something that doesn’t have a way to connect with buyers, and buyers connect with stories.  Marketing is the place where stories are created, and sales is the place where you test those stories to see if they work. (This ad for Scotch tape is a fun example of storytelling.) This is a career path for people who care most about caring about  people.

Also, here’s some good news: Ode magazine reports that people who tell stories are healthier. Which means that all the commenters who have read the stories of my life and then said that I’m messed up are actually misguided. That’s really all I wanted to say. But I had to tell you the story about getting jobs as storytellers in order to get to where I can say this. See? That’s the power of storytelling.

The path to living in details, and mastering your craft.
There are sixteen personality types. By focusing on either being king of the corporate world or being a storyteller, we have covered a large swath of those sixteen. But some people are too analytic to guide either companies or stories. They need to work with data.

I might be one of those people, because I keep links to articles I like in folders and spreadsheets and piles on my desk, and I think I’m going to die if I don’t tell you about all the best links. It’s like link Tourette’s or something. (Here’s one!) But actually, I’m not one of those people because I like obsessing about details more than I like details. I actually hate details.

A lot of detail people focus on craft. They like order and precision. The photo up top is my seven-year-old son’s self-portrait. “What’s the line on the side of the page?” I asked him.

He said, “That’s my ear drum.”

Below is a picture of me waiting around at cello lessons. Right after piano lessons. Both lessons make me die of boredom because music is math and I can’t do math. But I take him because I really do believe in our power to know what we want for ourselves.

I am alleviating my anxiety, and clearing off part of the pile on my desk, by telling you about this article I read furtively in the Harvard Business Review, during cello class, titled, Big Data: The Management Revolution.

An aside: Have you noticed that most of the links in this post are from the Harvard Business Review? It’s because I noticed that most of my pile is old issues of the Harvard Business Review. And I thought if I would just put these articles into blog posts then I could throw out the pile. I am cleaning house today.

I hope the publicist at the Harvard Business Review is reading this. Her name is Julie Devoll. She will probably see the post now because publicists are addicted to their Google Alerts so they all have their own names in there, just in case.

Anyway, I need to make sure she knows that I’m writing about the Harvard Business Review because she gave me a complimentary subscription, and it’s expensive. I don’t want to have to pay for it myself, but I need a paper copy so I can read it in the bath.

Big Data is where the jobs are right now, and the jobs in that field will actually explode in the future. It is no coincidence, that among me and my three brothers, the only one of us who actually goes to work and collects a paycheck is the one working in big data. He talks all the time about buying up content sites so his company can manipulate data and sell it. I can’t tell you where he works. My brothers are fine if I write about our crazy family and frequent visits from the police. But mentioning their companies: forget it.

So anyway, learning how to analyze data and draw larger conclusions from reams of small pieces is where the big job growth will be in the future. Right now, the Harvard Business Review reports that there are not people officially trained in this field. And there’s a huge shortage. The people are mostly self-taught and they have a knack for understanding how to bridge the gap between big data and big business. Think Facebook: they have more data than God, but they can’t translate it to profits. They are not the only company like this, though. And there are very few people with a track record for knowing how to approach data problems like this.

So the important thing about a career is that you are doing something you are good at. The thing I really get from Miranda July is that I’m not a writer like she is. She’s a craftsperson writer. She is a details writer. I’m a writer like my writing is a company. I got really good at writing blog posts, and that’s my specialty, but I like that my blog is a company also.

It’s so useful to know what motivates you: winning, relationships, or craftsmanship. If you asked me early in my life, I would have said being really good at something, because I like to write. But I see the life of writers, and I see that I consistently make the choices entrepreneurs make, not that writers make.

Choosing a career seems endlessly difficult, but actually, most of work falls into just a few categories, and most of what we love to do falls into just a few as well. Look at your choices. They probably reveal to you which of the three paths you should take.


102 replies
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  1. Jim
    Jim says:

    All three are important to me. Which one is more important depends on what mood I’m in when I wake up. I woke up irritable today, so ruling the world is more important.

    Oh, and I’m INFP. Sometimes I think I should just be a hermit.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You are a relationship person. The first way I know is that you have an F in your score. But also, you’re an idea person. So you have no patience for the BS of corporate leadership life, and you have no patience for sitting in a room all day, alone, getting the details perfect over and over again.

      So you want to use ideas to make people think in ways that make their life better. Your focus is people, your tool to connect is probably ideas or art.

      If anyone else is curious, here is a link to the personality type INFP:


      • Anna
        Anna says:

        Reading this analysis and summary (by Penelope in response to Jim on October 30, 2012) gives me such a relief. Finding one’s type and then seeing it silhouetted against other types sets one free from a lot of activities akin to shoving a square peg into other-shaped holes, to state the obvious.

        I’m INTP (I think), and I love to sit in one place alone and get the details right for days and days. I’m a data person. I’m starting to know why things that interest me bore others and things that interest others bore me and why there is a gulf of estrangement and alienation between me and some people. Ahhh… it feels good to learn more about Myers Briggs types. I’ve been familiar with them since I was 16, 21 years ago, and it still helps to find out more.

        One more note, much to the surprise of certain other types — I really, really like being an INTP!

      • Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel
        Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel says:

        Blog question. Why don’t you open your links in a new window? I click on your links, then I forget I was really reading your post. So I was thinking, why do you do this, it doesn’t seem like a good idea. Everything you do is deliberate so I am curious. I do like your links and see them as Easter egg hunts. If I have time, I click click click. I liked the misfit surprise link.

        • Zellie
          Zellie says:

          Yes, I’ve wondered too. If they opened in a new window I could click them all as I read the blog and then read the links at my leisure later.

          • Jack
            Jack says:

            It’s old school blog protocol apparently

            Press ctrl as you click on the link and it will open up in a new page for you.

            This leaves you free to read the whole blog and then treat yourself with the links afterward…………..

          • Angie T
            Angie T says:

            I just right click on the links and select “open in new tab”

            I always end up with about 10 tabs after reading her posts. She is the link master. And I love it. What should take me 5 minutes to read (her post) has me hooked for 30 due to tangents. And don’t get me started on if she links back to her own work and then I get link happy in another post…..

            Sometimes I just want to spend my entire day on this site. I could read her intelligent frankness all damn day.

      • JML
        JML says:

        This is a really good idea. I rarely click on the links because I hate being interrupted while I’m reading. Sometimes I will go back and click a link that I thought I might find interesting. Or maybe if the link opened in a new page? That somehow feels less disruptive to my reading of the post.

        I did interrupt my reading for the scotch tape link. I’m glad I did.

        • Sally
          Sally says:

          Yes I find it difficult to follow all the links and not lose my place in the blog. I’ve noticed many other blogs/news sites allow the link to open in a separate page. But for now it’s handy to know about pressing ctrl. Thanks!

        • Burton Kent
          Burton Kent says:

          The problem with opening a link on a new page via the current page is that the new page gets the focus. The best thing I’ve found to do is to right click, open in a new tab, and it’ll show up next to the current tab. You can continue reading uninterrupted.

  2. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    I’m discovering that I fall into the second path….relationships/storytelling. After making the decision to have a preventative mastectomy this year, I began to write and share my story with as many people as I possibly could….because it was a way for me to heal, and deal with my own emotions surrounding the decision. In the process, I began to discover that telling my story helps other women think differently about breast cancer. So I keep writing…and now I have created an independent fundraising campaign for breast cancer research (

    I’m not sure where to go from here….but I’m just so glad I have started down a path to something fulfilling!

  3. HBD
    HBD says:

    Hello Penelope,

    I wish you could develop about the relationship focused career.
    I am an ENFP, but I disagree with the career paths proposed. I am not interested in HR, marketing, or consulting. I find these suggestions simplistic. It’s like, “you like being with people, so work in HR. Simple.”

    I am for exemple really interested in entrepreneurship. I want to build something tangible. Yes, I am relationship oriented, but I am not bubbly. I wish I could find information that would enable me to do what I want, by telling me HOW to use my strengths.
    I mean, Warren Buffett is a very different kind of entrepreneur than Steve Jobs, Pete Cashmore, or Richard Branson. There is no generic CEO.

    But all find about the ENFP is that I am inspiring but I can’t focus for long, so I should do projects instead. Not helpful. I want to be more than a fun butterfly. What I want to know is how I can leverage my strengths?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The common thread of all the entrepreneurs in that list is that they are NTs. The reason that NTs are good at entrepreneurship is because they come up with ideas. An ENFP can get people excited about a company, but they are less likely to come up with the idea. That’s why an ENFP is too people-oriented to put relationships aside to be king of the world. And they are too consumed with vision to put logistics ahead of ideas to run a big company. So, ENFP falls squarely into the relationship career path.

      As a reference point, here’s a link about ENFPs:


      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        “king of the world” might be more of an ENTJ thing than NT thing, though. I think every NT type has a slightly different reason for why they come up with ideas, but the important thing is they have them. For example, I’m an INTJ and I come up with ideas because I’m always looking for how things can be improved. Whereas my ENTP husband comes up with ideas because it’s fun for him.

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      The careers that people typically think of as “people careers,” or “investigative careers,” or whatever, are often not always for these types of people. Sometimes workplace responsibilities overlap in ways that make certain jobs less stereotypically for one type of person than another. Sometimes workplaces are dominated by certain types of people and having someone of a mediating temperament is helpful–even if that temperament is technically ill-suited for that type of work.

    • Erica
      Erica says:

      I so feel your pain! I am also an ENFP (actually midway between I/E) and find that most of the suggested careers are *ridiculously* hypercompetitive. “Actress,” “reporter,” and “artist” come up a lot – not exactly helpful unless you have a very high tolerance for the risk of unemployment. Are there any in-demand, bread and butter careers that involve storytelling and building relationships? I feel like path #2 translates into forever being broke and struggling to find work. (The other perennial suggestion is marketing – but I’m enough of an idealist that while I’d *love* to do marketing for a worthy cause, I’d absolutely *loathe* selling corporate junk I didn’t believe in. I many will criticize me for that fact, but I doubt it would be possible for me to change it. And it seems that to get the opportunity to do nonprofit marketing, you must first hone your chops doing consumer marketing.

      So because storytelling skills are less sought-after than, say, data skills, I find myself trying to be someone I’m not in an attempt to be employable. My current job is all data analysis, all the time. I find this genuinely interesting and challenging for about 2 hours a day, at which point I am restless and jonesing to interact with people. Teaching adults would be my dream job, but as Penelope has repeatedly pointed out, not a lot of gigs in higher education these days.

      I dunno. I definitely have employability-envy for those more inclined towards paths 1 and 3!

      • HBD
        HBD says:

        Thank you so much for your comment! This is EXACTLY how I feel.

        Most of what I read about the ENFP type is that how I am basically ill-adapted to the real world.

        I do have plenty of business ideas (and NOT about people), I am ambitious and I do want to accomplish something tangible…yet all I read is how good and funny and entertaining and awe-inspiring I am. I am sick of that. Yuck.

      • Erika
        Erika says:

        Hey Erica! I feel your pain! I’m an ENFP as well and I’m in the same boat. I’m currently in a Master’s program for HR, but the field is becoming less and less about direct impact with people and more about indirectly managing them. Also, the program focuses on the business side when really, I’m interested in talking about the details OUTSIDE of work. Sigh. I thought I finally chose something that’s right for me and that would make me happy as an ENFP, but I’m back to feeling lost again.

        • Eric
          Eric says:

          Let me add my voice to this ENFP chorus, I’m in the same boat. Having stumbled into Ad Sales years ago, I find myself constantly disgusted by the mercenary materialism of that game, and wanting something meaningful and creatively expressive, but not wanting to put my family through the sacrifices of a transition period- and into what? Add to the mix that I’m a male with what is a much more typically feminine personality type, an “assertive” variant, and boarder-line scores on all constituent traits, such that I feel like I could take this test 10x and get 10 different types. I’ve always had tons of diverse ideas, contrary to the usual ENFP profile, but have never managed to take even one of them to fruition, instead hamster-wheeling between them in self-aware futility, as their burden increases with every new addition. For a tidy feedback loop, add the fact that my life is pretty fantastic by most measures and I feel totally spoiled and frustrated for/with feeling frustrated. Graah! The only solution I’m perhaps finding is entrepreneurship in partnership with others, which seems to keep me on focus – we’ll see what happens. Great post Penelope; thanks for the chance to vent – I hope this helps the others like me out there…

  4. Meghan
    Meghan says:

    Oh what I would do for a free subscription to the Harvard Business Review. I’ve been begging for gift subscriptions to the Economist for the last few years and might actually have to pony up for my own this year.

  5. Liz
    Liz says:

    Hi P,
    I am a little confused about the part where you talk about telling the stories and then telling us all that we are misguided about you being “messed up”. If that is the case you aren’t effectively telling us the story, you are only telling us the part of the story that you want us to know and then we don’t have all of the information to make an informed decision. We all just want to help you. I hope you are correct in that we are misguided. We want you to have a fulfilling, interesting life, even if it is not 100% happy.

    • Diana
      Diana says:

      Unless you are her mother, I very much doubt if it would be beneficial for anyone to try and help someone without their specific request. It would be rather arrogant to suppose that Penelope is writing in order to get help from her readers and that any comments could offer any real, tangible help. I don’t see why Penelope should need anyone’s help at all. Her blog is meant to GIVE career advice and not get help. That’s patronizing.

  6. Jill
    Jill says:

    I’m a total INFJ. I work in marketing (copywriting), but my “real” job is “apiring YA novelist.” So, seems like I’d fall into the affiliation path, but I feel drawn to achievement. I write to tell stories, yes, but I think more about writing an awesome book and getting it published and reviewed wll than I do about the kids who will eventually read it.I do love the craft of writing fiction, so, maybe I fall into the competence path? I like the creative parts of my marketing job, yet hate the part that involves numbers and spreadsheets. I don’t know…it’s confusing. Maybe I’m following the right path but still don’t know what that path is?

  7. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    I love the simplification of overly tough concepts (and it just so happens that picking a career is something I’ve been struggling with for a long time now) so I loved this post.

    I have not clicked on every link, typically I read your entire post and then scroll through for links. Anyway, you mentioned that data and analyzing data will become more and more popular (which I completely agree) but you said that at the moment you can’t really go to school for that sort of study.

    What should someone do if they want to get into data analytics?

    Thanks for the great post!

      • Cameron Plommer
        Cameron Plommer says:

        Market research is also another discipline that is heavy in data analysis. Everything we do is about interpreting data (often for ad agency clients).

        Social media data is a big new direction.

      • channa
        channa says:

        I work with a lot of analytics applications and organizations, and I would say that getting an entry-level analytics job would be a risky way to enter the field – most enterprise data applications are so fragmented and hard to change that they hire armies of marginal people to learn the nuances of the legacy systems and write reports, and there is not a great path upward from there because they are siloed into the business teams and very vulnerable to the application being replatformed (therefore your skills become less relevant) or the job being offshored to someone cheaper.

        I’m normally fully in agreement about grad school being a waste of time but I’ve seen a number of people with master’s degrees in econometrics, statistics and informatics get jobs paying close to six figures right out of school with little to no work experience. There are plenty of people who can develop specialized knowledge about a company’s data applications but a shortage of people who can structure ambiguous data problems or who can design data applications and services that enable the users to serve themselves with analysis, which is a major trend.

        Also – this is why I say you have to teach math to all kids – right now this is something that businesses are hiring specialists for but in the future it will be a baseline expectation that even relationship people need to be competent with analytics because increasingly that’s how organizations will make decisions, and if you can’t follow along then you can’t be given responsibility for decisions.

    • TD
      TD says:

      Hi Amanda –
      Data analysis is primarily mathematics. Learn math, statistics, programming, data structure. I have friends who are data analysts and business analysts. Most of them studied computer science, some have business degrees. The healthcare industry data analysts hires Bioinformatics majors (masters degree). Data modeling is a high potential field. A math or statistics degree can help you do this if you want. Most really good data modelers have at least a masters degree. I believe data entry positions can be a good entry level position to transition into data analysis. I hope this helps a tiny bit.

  8. Amy
    Amy says:

    I´m an INTJ and would love a job analyzing big data. I do what I can with the data my company has and try to pass those insights on to the sales team I manage. As far as achievement, affiliation, competence, I´d say achievement or competence, in that I like to be right, but I´m more concerned with self-improvement than being better than someone else.

  9. Lisa S.
    Lisa S. says:

    I love that you’ve boiled the dilemma of choosing the right career down to 3 specific paths. I’m an ENFP and my friends often call me for ideas on everything from marketing their small business to decorating their car for a school Halloween event. I think the real problem (for me and I suspect for many others as well) is where do you start? Once you find out what path is right for you – how do find the entry point (of your career path)? I’m a Gen X person (in my early 40’s) and I’d love to hear what you suggest for those of us who are looking for their entry point at this juncture of their lives. I would love to turn my “talent” for coming up with great ideas into a business where I get paid to help others with their projects.

  10. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I’m still not sure what I’m good at. Not ruling the world, since I can’t even organize my life even when I use Siri to put stuff in my calendar. I have no executive skills.

    And I do wish I was more analytical. Enough to be good at Big Data. Companies like Target are using Big Data in such interesting ways, like how they track what people buy with such precision they can tell when someone is pregnant, and then start marketing to them right away. Of course this landed them in a bit of trouble. But it’s fascinating to think about.

    As for relationships. Maybe? I had the best first date ever on Sunday. I was invited to a fancy dinner by a med student who trusted me enough to be his date even though he’d never met me. He had been invited because he has a scholarship, and everyone else there was old and important. And apparently my online dating profile put enough confidence in him that I would not ruin his medical career (or be ugly). I even managed to direct the conversation at different times to dogs on Christmas cards and James Garfield having the poor luck to be shot just before germ theory. So now I’m thinking, surely there is something there that is a marketable skill??

    • Sadya
      Sadya says:

      Harriet, you are a storyteller. I read most of the comments you leave on PT’s posts and i even subscribed to that newsletter you stopped sending out – it wasnt the best newsletter, but in every comment you tell a nice short about yourself. i like that , i like you.

    • Sadya
      Sadya says:

      Harriet, you are a storyteller. I read most of the comments you leave on PT’s posts and i even subscribed to that newsletter you stopped sending out – it wasnt the best newsletter, but in every comment you tell a nice short story about yourself. i like that , i like you.

  11. David
    David says:

    This seems to be right. I have been an accountant for 12 years. As I move up the management ladder I find that my accounting skills let me talk to others across different positions. This helps move to a more general discussion of financial information that creates relationships. I am able to help others understand how to manage the data which helps them grow as accountants.

    Any hope of an INFJ becoming a CEO?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The short answer is no, you can’t be a CEO. The longer answer is you don’t even want to be a CEO. You like connecting with people, you like sharing ideas, and you no interest in power. So, it’s true that any personality type can run a company, but an INFJ would run a one or two person company.


      • David
        David says:

        I agree with you. I feel I would be a great #2. One skill I have is the ability to make order out of chaos.

      • Joe
        Joe says:

        God, I wish I had read this column in 1996; it might have changed my life.

        I’m an INFJ, and I basically tanked my whole career to avoid having to be in charge.

        Instead, I thought there was something fundamentally damaged about me that I didn’t want all the power and money. To this day, I can’t figure out why people want that. I just want to connect, have friends, and help people with my ideas. I have no drive to make money, though I do have a fear of running out of it (a very different thing, and a self-extinguishing imperative.)

  12. redrock
    redrock says:

    ah, this is a nice one. In my profession the talk is competence should rule the day, in truth power/achievement is what gets you ahead. And we are still kidding ourselves that it is competence…so there in essence two layers of rules: one which are projected to the outside and one which is then used to judge people. And I realize this is the case in many places of work, but in a place of learning one should think the shift is towards competence.

  13. TD
    TD says:

    I am an INFJ. Technically it seems to to make sense that I would enjoy positions with focus on relationships, but I don’t really. I am not interested in many relationships that are needed in sales and marketing, I am interested only in a few relationships. The whole concept of being an idea person and working on the big picture seems too vague to me. In entrepreneurship, the idea has a direction – it leads to forming a company that makes some product or service. But this concept is so vague in most jobs I have come across. In building a manufacturing plant for example, I see scope of using idea generating tools only in the initial stages of conceptualizing the plans. But such opportunities are hardly ever available in entry level positions. Troubleshooting in designing a plant requires mostly industry specific knowledge and a tiny bit of creativity. I sometimes hate that I am not more detail oriented. As awesome as it sounds on paper that my fulfillment comes from ideas and creativity and relationships, in practice I find it an inconvenience given the job market’s current inclination towards rewarding those that can analyze numbers. Perhaps my schooling and training has taught me to respect numbers above ideas and that causes this conflict.

  14. Albert Okagbue
    Albert Okagbue says:

    I definitely want competence first. Then affiliation. Couldn’t care less about achievement.

    I don’t want to build a career on anything people already know – so I have to learn everything my peers know, THEN create something on top of that. Talk about work.

    But once I learn something or make something, the first thing I want to do is share or teach it.

    I don’t care to be rich (“achievement”), but I will have to become so just because that way I can just focus on the first two for the rest of my life. If I have it my way, I’ll be like Warren Buffet and wash, rinse, repeat the same thing for the rest of my life – with multiple different people/companies along the way.

    I’m an ENFJ.

  15. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    I’m an INTP. If I took that career orientation / motivation test, I would certainly score at least close to 100% in competence / craft.

    I don’t care, AT ALL, about achievement (one reason why INTP’s are often stereotypical slacker nerds living in their parents’ basement playing WoW–though, this scenario is not me personally). I care about people, but I don’t care about relationships for the sake of relationships, AT ALL.

    I care about knowledge and, no that’s it. Just being really knowledgeable and I suppose skilled in areas of expertise I choose.

    It seems like being a “J” correlates most strongly to “achievement,” especially if paired as either “SJ” or “TJ.” (So, XNTJ, or XSXJ, but especially XSTJ).

    E or I can both correlate to “affiliation,” just in different ways. “Affiliation” is mostly an “F” thing.

    I think craft is highly tied to “TP.”

    I don’t have time to further analyze how the MBTI types fit with these. I also really enjoyed this post.

    • RachH
      RachH says:

      I’m a fellow INTP and I couldn’t agree more. I don’t care whatsoever about achievement. My job requires that I do, though, so of course it’s never going to be a good fit.

  16. For Her By Her
    For Her By Her says:

    I’m absolutely motivated by achievement.

    I’m an ENFJ and sometimes I wonder if this actually hinders my business. I love coming up with new ideas, but struggle to keep myself on one idea before moving on to the next. As a people person, it’s no wonder that I chose a career as a headhunter. I wish I could focus on the details a bit more and am certain I’d be far more successful if I could. My problem is not where I start, but rather following through without getting impatient.

  17. Laura Williams
    Laura Williams says:

    Great post! I have never heard of the idea that people are driven by achievement, affiliation, or competence, but it seems perfectly valid. I’ll need to ponder what drives me most.

    I think the next step after knowing what drives you is learning how to take the next steps. A short blog from ImUnsinkable describes this well.

    Also really enjoy the link you shared to type-coach. I am an ENFJ. It was especially positive which is nice – I don’t really like reading the insufficiencies in my personality!

  18. jennifer
    jennifer says:

    1704 words. I had to paste this into Word and find out. Pretty sure I’m in the craftsmanship category and also an INTJ.

  19. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    You seem to have a lot of INFJ-ish type people reading this blog. I thought they were suppose to be a minority too. Maybe your type attracts my type.

    • Lauren
      Lauren says:

      Agreed! I’m another INFJ and love the blog. Rare to see so many “I’m an INFJ” posts, but it’s nice to have good company :)

    • TD
      TD says:

      Now I am very curious about why so many INFJ’s find this post so intriguing! I sometimes find Penelope’s ideas outrageous and unhelpful. But they always make me think, and that is always an useful exercise. So I keep reading whatever she posts. Plus she tries to be honest, and I really appreciate that.

    • Rebecca
      Rebecca says:

      Hi Rachel! And fellow INFJs

      I’ve been reading Penelope’s blog for the past few months but this is my first comment. I was thinking the EXACT same thing! Lots of INFJs here. But amongst my friends, I haven’t met another INFJ and it’s strange to try to explain things to them at times.

      I think INFJs have a tricky situation with this idea of 3 paths. I think foremost we are focused on people. I’m not sure about the rest of you, but personally I’m not super big on storytelling. I DO like ideas and thinking about people and social interaction and human behaviour, but I don’t like to talk about specific stories from my life.

  20. Clay
    Clay says:

    Indeed, this is so important to know what category you belong to. The trendy “find your true passion” speech can be so stressful when we haven’t found it yet, that’s why I think that instead of obsessively looking for this particular “passion” or activity, we should rather first focus on what motivates us in general, and from that point explore the spectrum of activities that could relate to this kind of motivation.

  21. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    I’m an ESFJ and I keep thinking about going into Human Resources (right now I’m a dorm mother at a high school). Part of me fears the tedium of paperwork and compliance issues, but I also crave the definitive nature of rules. I think I’m motivated by relationships, but I wish I were motivated by achievement or competence, because the measures of success for those motivations seem more concrete.

    My main question is if I’m crazy to consider going into human resources (and if not human resources, then I have no idea what), but I feel bad asking you because I think of how busy you must be and how if I really want your advice I should figure out how to pay you for it. (This is how I know that I’m motivated by relationships.)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      An ESFJ needs to feel like they are taking care of people. Human resources will probably be too bureaucratic for you. And also, it’ll kill you to interview tons of people and then not hire them. It’s the opposite of taking care of them, really.

      You wil be great at office jobs where you are helping someone to do their best. Administrative assistant, office manager for a small office, roles like that. Mostly, these rolls do not pay very well. However there are executive assistant jobs that pay six figures for people who are absolutely great at making someone else’s day run smoothly.

      I really want to add here that most ESFJs will be very happy staying home with kids. So if you are an ESFJ at the beginning of your career, consider marrying a breadwinner type who would be terrible at raising kids but wants them: you’d make a good team.

      reference for ESFJ:

      reference for one (of many) breadwinner types that is not generally good at staying home with kids:


  22. GingerR
    GingerR says:

    I think you’re right that this is a good time to get into Big Data.
    It’s new.

    Before long graduate schools will all offer degrees in “Big Data” and it’ll become another commodity with all kinds of barriers to entry.

  23. karelys
    karelys says:

    Holy cow! What a great post! made my life so much better. Hope one day I can give back to you and others the way you infuse interesting and useful stuff into mine. Thank Penelope!

  24. Johnny
    Johnny says:

    Great post. Where does that leave a forever jumping ENTP like myself? When I see those 3 choices all I can think of is “Yes”.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Most ENTPs are forever jumping. The strength of an ENTP is they can do a wide range of things, but it’s the weakness, too, because it means they are drawn a wide range.

      The key to being a successful ENTP is followthrough. Because lack of followthrough is such a huge risk factor for an ENTP, it’s almost more important to followthrough on anything than to followthrough on the right thing.

      You are not motivated by relationships because you’re not big on the commitment involved in them. You probably like winning because you will eventually be able to commit if you think an idea is a winner.

      ENTP reference point:


  25. Annie Kip
    Annie Kip says:

    penelope, just discovered you and have been consuming your posts for the last few days – LOVE how authentic and vulnerable you allow yourself to be. thanks for leading the charge in blogging about REAL.

    I am an ENTJ and find that I really connect with other ENTJ’s. (maybe why you resonate so much for me!?) I love working but am frustrated trying to figure out how to bring everything I love together into one synergistic effort. You seem to have very clear vision – will keep reading and thinking – I think you are awesome! Thanks!!!

  26. Candace
    Candace says:

    This is a very interesting article grouping careers on a large scale and as an ISTJ I think I definitely fall into the data category.

    As a person who works in biotech research (bench work) with a MS in Biochemistry I am extremely detailed, process oriented, and following through every task is my strength.

    Currently unemployed I always wonder if I should leave bench work and go into admin work because without a Ph. D (no interest in pursuing one) the career ceiling is very limited and pay is not as great. Jobs are very scarce in my skill set area especially since I am still entry level (4-6 yrs of experience).

    But great article Penelope! Been following your blog for many years now and I’m especially interested in your career articles as trying to figure out the path I should take and plan for it. I also feel I should get some career coaching as well. Thanks for writing this article.

  27. Denise
    Denise says:

    The ad by Miranda July is quirky and funny. It makes me want to read the book not knowing what the books are about, and the ad is so simple. And you are right that your blog posts are the best sales pitch for your material.

    The scotch tape ad is wicked! I have been a long follower of your blog, and yours is the one I always read when it shows up on my RSS feed. Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom.

    btw, I’m an INFP (I learned from the link you provided in the comments)

  28. emily
    emily says:

    Are there novelists who success with a company like approach? How about Stephenie Meyer? Or Steig Larsson? I like the idea that writing is a skill that can be applied in all three directions, depending on your strengths.

    It’s so helpful to have the myers briggs simplified a bit. Also it’s a relief to just pick one of these three directions and be comfortable with one focus rather than strive to achieve all three. Must be part of that growing up thing I hear so much about (not over rated, i’m learning!)

    Although I wonder whether Miranda July is actually a storyteller, rather than a crafts person. Her movies aren’t really big budget and her books are more about her interactions with people than they are about her own voice, in my opinion. Also she has a book about meeting people through craigslist.

  29. jenx67
    jenx67 says:

    I really like this post and can’t wait to click the links, but what I love about this post is the photo. I know exactly what you saw when you took this picture: the pattern created by red. You are a great photographer. It doesn’t matter if you have skill. Everyone who ever obsessed about F Stop sucked at photography. You have something that can’t be taught — you know – the seeing, not the setting. I read your post about Aspergers and patterns. I was doing the rule of three and finding patterns through my viewfinder before I even knew it. An editor friend of mine pointed it out. Anyway, I love that photo.

  30. Aaron Black
    Aaron Black says:

    I’m currently studying for my Doctorate in Management and I thought I wanted to be a CEO or something, then I realized that I’m an INFP, I like stories, but I also like data…hmmm.

    I would argue that story-tellers might be ideal for something in addition to what you mentioned. You said that the jobs are in data, specifically “how to analyze data and draw larger conclusions from reams of small pieces”. This is what story tellers do. We look at the world and put the pieces together. I’m not a data whiz but I’ve found that I’m very good at examining it and putting pieces together to make sense of it. It’s what my doctoral research is all about, and it’s come naturally to me.

    I say this because I believe in the power of the story, and the importance of the story teller. You mentioned Op Ed’s. Op Ed’s change the world because they help us make sense of it through analysis and the power of writing. Find a story, (in the data or wherever) and tell it powerfully.

  31. JML
    JML says:

    This really was an eye-opening post. And the link to type-coach is awesome! I have never seen myself so perfectly described! (I’m an ISFJ) Thanks!

  32. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    Any Penelope readers an ISFP? I never see any ISFP’s come up….we are quiet and introverted so maybe they are out there and just don’t comment?

  33. eleanor
    eleanor says:

    ISTJ never comes up either. The careers suggested don’t seem to match the personality type though maybe i am focusing on the introversion too much.

  34. Alex Morris
    Alex Morris says:

    I live in England and the pressure’s more about getting a job. Any job. Unemployment is very high after the recession and there simply isn’t any work at all for thousands of recent graduates. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs, but such is life. I do like your article though; for those lucky enough to be in a position of having a job you enjoy think about your career progress wisely. If there’s one thing my time in unemployment taught me it’s never to grumble about your job. Ever.

  35. ADV
    ADV says:

    Another INFJ here, who likes your blog and has been reading for some time now ;) Found the post very interesting, although what do you suggest, PT, for people “borderline” on some of these tests? I tend to score right in the middle on E/I and although I am definitely a relationships person out of the 3 you name here, after awhile too much “Extraverting” gets to me and I just want to be a hermit because I am an “I” at heart, but the “F” makes me want to connect with people. Small group interactions more than large? How would you build a career like that when I think to be successful you need both, ie to feel just as comfortable with large and small groups. Although when I do large group presentations I always get compliments but, it tires me Out!!!

  36. ADV
    ADV says:

    I will add that most of my jobs require both large and small interactions and to use all of the MBTI scales available. I find that us “Relationship” types tend to have the hardest time building successful careers because as others mentioned, we aren’t motivated by the same things as others. I don’t crave power or prestige at all- BUT I realize as I get older & became a mother that you do need money but its a different motivation-its neccesary. My dad struggled with this in an un-fulfilling career for years, he scores INFP. He and I are a lot alike, I can plan stuff though he’s last minute being “P”.

  37. miki
    miki says:

    Music is math, so you shy away? What an unfortunate misconception!! Music is not math, it’s aural architecture and an experience of emotions and sensations. I wish we could go to a concert together and I would show you otherwise. From a concert pianist, with love.

  38. Anne Rein
    Anne Rein says:

    There are craftsmen in many fields other than big data: some writers (but probably not bloggers) wine makers, actors, designers, chefs, artists, et al. You would have to remove the lens of ambition to see the variety of crafts in the world.

  39. Tony
    Tony says:

    Good post. I am much more into the data than I am into stories or achievement. Downside I get annoyed with having to deal with pushing paper or working with storytellers (ie annoying sales people). I guess I will have to work on that LOL

  40. Rachel D
    Rachel D says:

    I’m not sure what my type is anymore because my answers fluctuate between I/ENFJ and I/ENFP.

    Also, I think the only reason why I like my job now is because I’m in control of the rest of my life, so getting a grip on work is now easier. But if I think of a new direction to go towards, I’ll dive right in. That I am certain of.

  41. Amandah
    Amandah says:

    I looked at my personality test from last year and the result was ENFJ. I’m not sure I agree with this because I’m a writer who’s analytical; I’m always in my head thinking. And…I have two accounting degrees and a Master’s in management. Then again, I only got the accounting degrees because my father said, “Get a degree that will lead to a stable job. What are you going to do with a marketing or visual arts degree?” He meant well, even though he didn’t pay for my degrees. Oh well…that was a life lesson.


    I guess the “feeling” part was a bit stronger than the “thinker” part of me when I took the personality test, almost one year to the date. Maybe I’ll take another personality test just for fun. :)

  42. Clarendon
    Clarendon says:

    I discovered you whie doing a Google search and really love this post and your blog in general. You’re right in the way that “big data” analysis is where it’s at and where it’s likely to stay for the foreseeable. Would love to access that test you mention to see what my results would be!

  43. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    The test you took which discusses these 3 motivation types was probably a Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). It uses McLelland’s theory of three acquired needs: achievement, affiliation, and power.

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