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What is Seriousness? Four Factors to Consider, and their Implications

Tuesday May 19, 2020

Here’s a label that deserves some scrutiny: “INTJs are serious.” What does that mean?

You also might have heard someone say: This or that INTJ is too serious. What is too serious? Let’s get into both of these questions.

First, what does it mean to be serious? Here are my observations, separated into four factors:

  • First, it means that one has a natural tendency to appraise and compare in a calculated way, a way which also leaves little room for nuance. “I see that I’m falling behind here, and this other person/thing is ahead over here.” Millions of other factors are discounted in order to get at this evaluation grosso modo. The “grosso part” in effect creates a “seriousness lens.” Moderated by time, it may create an “impending seriousness” effect which complicates things further.
  • The second factor is what I call a war footing, driven by a need to protect oneself from outside concerns. “I’m going to fight as if this (project/undertaking) is a war. If I win, I get to claim this experience and carry it forward, further displacing scrutiny and building relational capital.”
  • The third factor is finality. “I’ll do this once so it doesn’t have to be done again. And there will be no second place, even if just for contingency purposes.” This immediately complicates the question of energy inputs and outputs, requiring a strong commitment and seemingly mandating a painful recovery.
  • The fourth factor is applied competence. “I’ll apply the best approach.” This person has studied the masters (see step one) and knows that the master’s work is done at a different level. Therefore, the work must be elevated to this level, in the closing act of seriousness.

I can’t think of a single INTJ I’ve met, and known well, who hasn’t expressed most of that in some way or another. And that’s reflected in a lot of their past experiences.

Think about the way INTJs often relate their past experiences:

  • “You see, I used to be the most effective [type of person / job / etc.] in all of [area].”
  • “It so happens that I spent 20 years studying [thing].”
  • “What I’m about to say comes from doing this [number] times over the last decade.”

(And therefore? Think about what this person will ask of you next: “Listen to me. Understand me. Give my statements some weight. And lay off the criticism”)

What does it mean to carry this seriousness too far? Certainly that could be helpful to know:

  • Applying rough appraisals and comparisons where a different, perhaps deeper approach is warranted
  • Taking a war footing where a more synergistic, win-win approach would be best, or perhaps even a nurturing or playful footing
  • Aggressively reaching for finality and attempting master strokes when a perceptive, long-term, stabilized approach would lead to an easier success
  • Applying competence where incompetence or another oblique approach might create better outcomes
  • Needlessly pushing / working / deciding, as opposed to waiting / resting / being open-minded
  • Needlessly self-sacrificing / dedicating
  • Needlessly tying oneself to a specific outcome / committing

Maybe you can start to see blind spots forming. Some examples:

  • I was too black-and-white in my appraisal and my comparison / critique was too harsh
  • I went to war, when I regret that I didn’t go to play
  • I tried to finish the thing off, when we could have kept it open and celebrated it, carrying it forward into other pursuits
  • I tried to stay with it, when a looser approach would have been less embarrassing
  • I tried to improve myself and master the task…and inadvertently worsened the outcome / raised the stakes for everyone else
  • I pushed hard for something that really didn’t merit the hard work
  • I sacrificed myself for something that really wasn’t worth it
  • I brought a specific outcome into being, but the outcome was simply one acceptable outcome out of many
  • I brutally sacrificed my energy for outcomes which I must now defend, or else I’ll feel ashamed

This brings to mind some guidelines:

  • If you can continually develop effective ways respond to outside concerns and scrutiny, you may not have to take life so seriously.
  • If you can forgive yourself and take up opportunities to retry things, you may not have to take life so seriously.
  • If you care less about your “self” and its value as compared to others, you may not have to take life very seriously at all. (this is trickier than many people think, but awareness is huge)
  • Some things can be taken seriously, but for fun. That is, you take them seriously, but know you can moderate the seriousness as needed, depending on how much you like the results and outcomes. This may be important to understand for those who have previously taken things too seriously. It also points to the need for an ongoing, emotionally-reflective process.
  • If you’re going to be serious about a thing, that thing should be really, really important to you. Otherwise it may be too easy to mistake your own seriousness level for that of others, which could lead to wasted energy and other disasters.
  • It’s really important to be able to develop a “feel” for what is important to you. This is not a set-and-forget thing, but will change over time.
  • The most seriously-taken things should also be those which can freely demand huge swaths of your time, energy, suffering, and reflection.
  • Very few things should really be taken at 100% seriousness.
  • The fact that others may have mastered non-seriousness gives you something worthy of study—other tools to consider.
  • The fact that still others have found a way to mix serious with non-serious is also worth considering.
  • It may be a very good idea to ask if the systems you create, as a serious person, are overly serious. Could such a system be transferred to a less-serious caretaker, for example? Or can the system respond to / account for a change in seriousness?
  • Since relationships are also systems, INTJs in relationships would probably do well to evaluate and reconsider their own seriousness, that of their partner, their friends, etc. Not necessarily as an act of criticism, but certainly as a possible target for emulation or as a learning activity.

Filed in: Energy /120/ | Productivity /119/ | Essays /52/

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