On FIRE and Personality Types

Every now and then I read a little on the subject of psychology. I think it stems back to when I was about 18 and I read The Road Less Traveled by M Scott Peck. I probably need to reread it as I only really remember the main themes (something about relationships requiring effort, and delaying gratification, right?), but one of the most fascinating concepts the book introduced me to is the idea that our subconscious and unconscious minds do most of the work of the brain, compared to the conscious mind – our thought processes – that actually do very little.

The best tip I ever learned for doing exams at school came from one of my physics teachers – he said to read all the questions before you start answering anything, because that will set your subconscious mind working and by the time you get to the later questions the answers will spring to mind. It’s like when someone asks you a question and you can’t for the life of you think of the answer, like ‘Who sung that song, Spaceman?’ or ‘Which actor stars in Snakes on a Plane?’, but then 5 or 10 minutes later when you’re talking about something else you’ll suddenly remember (it’s Babylon Zoo and Samuel L Jackson if you were wondering, wouldn’t want to distract you now). Where was the information? Well it must have been stored away in the brain somewhere but it takes a little bit of subconscious effort for the brain to retrieve it.

snakeplane
“I have had enough of these motherf**king snakes on this motherf**king plane!” It’s a motto for life.

Some people read and learn about psychology so they can help other people, and understanding other people can be helpful in business and other walks of life too. For me personally I’m not so interested in that, the main reason I like reading about psychology is so I can understand myself better. Know Thyself, as they say. Several years back I read a book called The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney, and it made so much sense to me as an introvert – there have been many times, especially at work or with friends, where I’ve felt out of place, or found some jobs challenging or draining that others find easy, but when I learnt about introversion it no longer worried me and I was able to pick a career path that better suited me.

More recently I’ve been reading a book called Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller which has been something of a revelation also, but maybe I’ll come back to that another time (I’m still reading it!). I suppose I also really ought to read some Freud, and Jung, but all in good time.

The Myers-Briggs Personality Types

A few years back my then manager introduced me to the Myers-Briggs personality test. I’d never heard of it but I went away and read about it. There are 16 personality types according to this test, and it turns out I’m of the INTJ type – a relatively small group of people that makes up about 2% of the population. Interestingly, it has been noted elsewhere that INTJs make up a larger proportion of those attracted to financial independence and/or retiring early. Why might that be? Well first, let’s have a look at what it means to be INTJ. So here I’ve shamelessly copied from Wikipedia:

  • I – Introversion preferred to extraversion: INTJs tend to be quiet and reserved. They generally prefer interacting with a few close friends rather than a wide circle of acquaintances, and they expend energy in social situations (whereas extroverts gain energy).

  • N – Intuition preferred to sensing: INTJs tend to be more abstract than concrete. They focus their attention on the big picture rather than the details and on future possibilities rather than immediate realities.

  • T – Thinking preferred to feeling: INTJs tend to value objective criteria above personal preference or sentiment. When making decisions they generally give more weight to logic than to social considerations.

  • J – Judgement preferred to perception: INTJs tend to approach life in a structured way, planning and organising their world to achieve their goals.

I remember doing the test with my ex-girlfriend and finding out she was an ESFJ, basically the complete opposite of me apart from the fact we’re both very judgemental. Ha! In any case I don’t think it matters if your partner is completely different, I would guess the types can complement each other and they don’t necessarily lead to arguments, though it probably helps to understand each other better.

starwars
If I was a character in Star Wars I’d be Darth Sidious apparently. This seems a bit unfair.

So what does being an INTJ mean in practice, and what does it mean for FIRE? Well there is a very good explanation of what an INTJ is here:

https://www.16personalities.com/intj-personality

But here’s a sentence that FIRE enthusiasts might relate to:

“A paradox to most observers, INTJs are able to live by glaring contradictions that nonetheless make perfect sense – at least from a purely rational perspective. For example, INTJs are simultaneously the most starry-eyed idealists and the bitterest of cynics, a seemingly impossible conflict. But this is because INTJ types tend to believe that with effort, intelligence and consideration, nothing is impossible, while at the same time they believe that people are too lazy, short-sighted or self-serving to actually achieve those fantastic results. Yet that cynical view of reality is unlikely to stop an interested INTJ from achieving a result they believe to be relevant.”

Whenever I’ve tried introducing the concept of FIRE to someone I always get met with the same sort of resistance – ‘Oh it’s not possible’, or ‘Perhaps but if my net worth was £x I’d want to spend it all’, or ‘But what would you do with your time’ – and so on and so on. And I have considered all these responses, but that hasn’t stopped me from aiming to retire early. It really does take a kind of idealism on the one hand, and a strategic, analytic focus on the other, and to outsiders it probably seems a bit obsessive, perhaps crazy even. You have to be fairly independent of mind to take on and commit to FIRE, after all it goes against the social norm of retiring around 65 (60 is considered early in this country).

Often called The Mastermind, INTJs have some big strengths (this list is stolen from www.16personalities.com where there is a lot more information):

  • Quick, Imaginative and Strategic Mind
  • High Self-Confidence
  • Independent and Decisive
  • Hard-working and determined
  • Open-minded
  • Jacks-of-all-Trades

However they also have glaring weaknesses:

  • Arrogant
  • Judgemental
  • Overly analytical
  • Loathe highly structured environments
  • Clueless in romance

I always find it amusing reading through these lists and going ‘check, check, check…’ Clueless in romance is definitely true of me, here is another apt quote from the above website:

“Needless to say, finding a compatible partner is the most significant challenge most INTJs will face in life.”

True dat, as they say.

I’d be interested to know what the actual breakdown is of personality types in the FIRE community. They can’t all be INTJs surely. I wouldn’t be surprised if ENTJs are quite common also, as I don’t really think that the extraversion/introversion axis makes much difference to whether someone commits to FIRE. But in terms of the other groupings… Well let’s have a look at them:

Extraversion (E) vs Introversion (I) – As mentioned above I don’t think being extraverted or introverted would make any difference to someone’s likelihood to aim for FIRE or not. Having said that, the extravert would probably need to substitute the social aspect of work for something else in retirement, so I could see extraverts reaching early retirement and then deciding it isn’t for them, at least, not until their friends have caught up.

Sensing (S) vs Intuition (N) – I suppose it’s possible to be a Sensing FIRE enthusiast, say if you knew someone who’d FIREd or seen good evidence firsthand of its possibility. You probably get a lot of people who retire at say 55 or 60 being Sensing types because they’ve seen others do it and know it’s possible. But for those that aim for a very early retirement in their 30s or 40s, then I’d say FIRE is an abstract concept, a mathematical extrapolation, and as such I would guess most FIRE enthusiasts would be of the Intuitive type.

Thinking (T) vs Feeling (F) – I would guess that Feeling types don’t usually decide to try and retire early, and if they do end up retiring early it’s because they already had strong values of frugality and/or saving that naturally lead them to the same end state. The Thinking type on the other hand makes decisions based on logic, and employs an analytical, detached approach. Which to me makes perfect sense for committing to something like FIRE, once you’ve analysed it and understand the theory then the decision has already been made – it’s obviously a good idea.

Judgement (J) vs Perception (P) – The Judgemental type plan out and structure their lives, exactly the qualities of a FIRE enthusiast. Keeping a budget, tracking your spend or net worth, these are the sorts of things the Judgemental type naturally gravitate towards and these are also some of the main steps one will usually take when progressing towards FIRE. Those with the Perception personality type are more inclined to go with the flow, and respond to situations as they arise, which doesn’t sound like a FIRE enthusiast to me.

harrypotter
Voldemort?! This is grossly unfair.

So what to conclude? Well if you start trying to explain the concept of FIRE to a Feeling or Perceptive personality type your words will probably fall on deaf ears. Likewise the Sensing type unless you can show them enough evidence to convince them it’s possible. Having said all that, there are always exceptions to the rule, and everyone has their own life story that has lead them down a particular path, so I wouldn’t rule out any particular personality type, it’s just that some are more likely than others.

Having said all that, I did find a survey of people either retired early or interested in early retirement – here’s the link. The sample size isn’t massive so I’d be hesitant to draw too many conclusions but it does seem to show some pretty stark results. Firstly, 90% of respondents were introverted (introverts usually make up about 28% of a population). Secondly it seems the main groups are INTJs, ISTJs, and INTPs. Perhaps the ISTJs are convinced by the weight of evidence mentioned above. I’m a little surprised to see so many INTPs in there, though it looks like not so many of them actually make it to early retirement so perhaps that’s the lack of planning taking effect.

I’d be very interested actually, if anyone is reading this what your personality type is? And if you are of the Feeling (F) or Perceptive (P) tendencies how did you become attached to the concept of FIRE? You can take the personality test here:

https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

Have fun!

Oh and also, Happy New Year!

Wephway

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26 thoughts on “On FIRE and Personality Types

    1. That’s interesting, actually when I took the test above I was 80% introvert to 20% extrovert, and then on the other measures I was 70% one way 30% the other. So it’s not always clear cut and I guess it’s perfectly possible to be a 50/50 split, or 60/40 in some ways and 40/60 in others.

      I’d say if you’re an extrovert then the FI part of FIRE would be still be worth attaining, but the RE side may be more problematic. You’d need to seriously consider what you would do in retirement and how you’d cope with the loss of daily human contact the workplace brings. Still worth aiming for though, as I say financial independence means you have more security, freedom to choose a different job, and so on.

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  1. I am als INTJ. Being introverted is a massive drawback in the modern workplace, but when you do actually retire it is probably much more favourable. You are probably old enough by then to have lost the shyness that is often associated with introversion (introverts have less practice at dealign with people I guess, but this improves as you pick up the experience of age – I was shy as a child but not particularly now, I can stand up an speak in front of lots of opele etc) and with an internal locus of control you can make more of the opportunities of early retirement IMO

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    1. Yes, I was shy as a child, I’ve got much more confident as I’ve grown older. But still it doesn’t feel natural to me to make small talk for example, and in group situations (in meetings for example) I’ll often be the quietest person, listening and only really interjecting when I’ve something meaningful or important to say. The amount of bulls**t some people come out with though… Unfortunately most people seem to think that being outspoken is a good quality regardless of what is said. I remember losing out on a graduate job several years ago because of how I did in a group setting. But if 72% of the population are extraverted and you have an extravert doing the assessment, then that is what will happen. Not that I’m bitter or anything…!

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      1. Look on the bright side. You are a slow burn to the extraverts fast blaze. And you will seriously rock early retirement and crush the second half of life where there is much reward if you know thyself.

        Read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win friends and Influence people. Particularly in today’s gobby world very few people have regular experience of being listened to. Introverts do that well. Part of the tragedy of the human condition is that the world is indifferent to our concerns. The experience of being listened to alleviates that somewhat.

        Quiet by Susan Cain is also good. Part of the issue for introverts is they are in the minority, so they have the disadvantages any minority has, but they also have few obvious role models. INTJs have the added cross to bear that they play bad guys in movies 😉

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  2. hmm – i’d be interested to know if an INTJ exists that didn’t suffer a bit (or a lot) in their teens and twenties on the social side of things?

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  3. Hi, interesting comparison and comments on INTJ v INTP.
    I’m INTP and found the FIRE websites shortly after Fire-ing (under 50) a couple of years ago.
    My plan was clear in my head, but without the project manage style of RIT. With hindsight I don’t know if my lack of a hard Plan slowed me down or made the journey less monotonous.

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    1. Yes, the study seemed to show that while there were a similar number of INTJs and INTPs who are interested in FIRE, of the actual retirees none of the INTPs made it. The sample size was quite small so I wouldn’t want to draw any definite conclusions but I would speculate that INTPs can understand the concepts/strategies/maths and be enthusiastic about FIRE, but then the actual execution they might struggle with.

      Having said that, you made it so it’s definitely possible, it just might take a little longer and the path is less defined or structured. Which may not be a bad thing as you say! The INTJ approach is almost paradoxical – spending lots of time looking at spreadsheets and inserting order into life – effectively working – when the goal is supposed to be to give up work entirely.

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      1. For the INTJ, I don’t think its giving up work thats important – its having the option to not do a job that doesn’t float your boat. Being FI delivers autonomy and forces personal responsibility, as you lose the option of blaming someone/something else for your situation.. I think thats highly attractive to an INTJ? I hit FI in my early thirties but haven’t stopped working (I’m supposed to be working now 😉

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      2. Yeah I think that’s the main draw for me, the freedom to do what I want, rather than having to work to pay the bills. I might decide to travel the world, or do a PhD, or write a novel (I’m already trying to do that but it would be much easier if I wasn’t doing it in my spare time). Wow, you hit FI in your thirties, that’s impressive. I don’t know if I would continue working or not, I’d probably take some time out at least to reconsider. I guess if you’re already FI then any extra money you earn is ‘fun’ money, ie guilt free spending money! Or I suppose you could keep adding it to the pot and gradually increase your quality of life – maybe that would be the more sensible things to do.

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      3. work is a two-man tech startup so I’m highly incentivised to make a success of it.. walking away would be very unnatractive to me. Its a setup that lets me indulge my INTJ tendencies..

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    1. I’m starting to think on the Sensing vs Intuition axis it probably doesn’t make much difference as to whether you a FIRE enthusiast or not. Maybe they approach FIRE from different perspectives but they’re equally likely. Thanks for the comment!

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  4. I took the test four years ago before I was on the path for FIRE and took it again just now – I got the same result = ESTJ

    During the analysis of my original test, I was described as being an ‘introvert with some extrovert characteristics’ – certainly, I am not like my extrovert friends and colleagues and I’d say when I was younger, I was an introvert but became less so as I got older (past my late teens).

    As per someone’s comment on a recent article on Simple Living in Somerset, most of the people I’ve met at the UK FIRE gatherings would definitely be E as opposed to I, some more so than others, eg Huw from Financially Free by 40 who organises the gatherings would be a prime candidate for someone who has is an Extrovert and who has achieved FI, though he hasn’t RE.

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    1. I guess there are a lot of people that become more extraverted as they get older, as especially in terms of social and workplace interactions it’s helpful to follow the characteristics of an extravert. We adapt and some are better at adapting!

      Yeah it’s the self selecting thing isn’t it – an extravert would be far more likely to attend something like a FIRE gathering than an introvert would. I’m not sure if I would attend a FIRE gathering, it all sounds very awkward! But maybe I will if there is another one. It must be a while since the last one hey.

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  5. Hmmm, I appear to be ISTP, which based on my sketchy memory of my last test, is the same as it was then (10 years ago ish). Having said that my “I” is only 51%, so I am only borderline introverted.

    I believe as I have gotten older I have developed coping strategies to deal with things I don’t want to deal with, and try and balance any bias towards behaviours that are “less” desirable.

    I think I answered the test correctly and honestly, but you wouldn’t meet me and say ISTP. I don’t think most people would behave to the pattern of their personality type would they?

    As for FIRE, I can’t tell if i suit the process or not…..I am resisting calling this personality profiling a bit of BS….having said that…..that’s what my ISTP self would say!!

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  6. Ha, I know what you mean about calling it BS! I’m not convinced you can really categorise all personality types into just 4 either/or questions, there must be more complexity than that, what with everything we experience in life. Still, it was designed by academics who’ve devoted their lives to psychology, and it does raise some interesting thoughts especially regarding something like FIRE, the sorts of people attracted to it, and also the sorts who will be able to follow through and carry it out!

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  7. I’m INFJ – which is slightly different to when I took this test some years ago when working as a manager at a previous company where I was assessed as INTJ. I was also assessed as being good manager material – Ha!

    I think my feelings side has come to the fore in recent years, maybe my cynical side has affected my emotions and flipped me.
    I have always been a saver and thought about giving up the rat race to do something more appealing instead from an early age.

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    1. That’s interesting, actually there are a few people that have said that some aspect of their personality type has changed over time – I wonder if it’s because the test questions are slightly different, or we answer slightly differently depending where we are in life, or perhaps it’s just that our personalities aren’t fixed. In a way I find that idea most comforting, that we don’t necessarily have fixed personalities and we can change or adapt if we so choose. I find I’m always quite organised these days, but it wasn’t like that when I was a child, and I hope actually that I can mellow out a bit as I get older. I also hope to be able to move a bit more towards the Feeling side when I (eventually) have a family.

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  8. I’m INTP, according to my HR manager friend “as far from J as it’s possible to be”. I FIREd just before my 50th b’day with a v fortunate redundancy. It’s possible I might have suffered from “1 more year syndrome” if fate hadn’t intervened with a definite date because my personality won’t do spreadsheet spend tracking and all that malarkey. Pretty sure I’m good financially and if it looks precarious my mindset is “I’ll sort it; it’ll be fine”

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  9. INTP and FIRE here. True I did not plot my path and track my plodding progress against plan as you (villainous?) masterminds are wont to do, but I did make the most of opportunities that arose, and here I am (blessedly far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife).

    You correctly point out the weakness of the INTP wrt FIRE. Our strength is an ability, to paraphrase the above commenter, to just sort it out as it needs sorting. We may depend more on favorable wind than purposeful oar, but we are capable of navigating these waters. Provided we don’t get too distracted or bored.

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  10. INTP here scoring very high on the I and T traits. I’m not generally organised but I do have loads of retirement spreadsheets, scenario models, etc. To me it’s like the ultimate logical puzzle. I think FIRE is about independent thinking and distain for established conventions which fits my personality type well. How did I get hooked? Well Monevator certainly got me motivated. Simple Living showed me how it could be. SHMD showed me how not to do it. 😉 theEscapeArtist helped me make sense of my clueless peers, MMM made me feel better about being a tight wad. And DLUK made me wonder whether I am actually just an INTJ in denial. I certainly have some J traits but P is dominant in every test I’ve done.

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  11. Well a fair few INTPs, I wasn’t expecting that! Actually it sort of makes a mockery of all of us INTJs with our fancy spreadsheets and plans when you guys have managed to achieve financial independence without all that! Really for me I just feel more comfortable when I have it all planned out and organised but fully appreciate that not everyone needs that sort of detail. Thanks for the comments!

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