As a female ENTP, I am a reasonably uncommon breed. It’s not that I think that Myers-Briggs cracked some super important code – I don’t believe the “science” behind it, it’s a little horoscopy, but it is consistent – and they managed to describe certain things with impressive precision. It has been described elsewhere, but I will keep calling it ENTP for clarity.
Having millennial restlessness superimposed on ENTP-ness is tough. In a world where doing one thing really well gets rewarded exponentially well, it’s also scary. I remember being a medical student and shadowing teams in St. James’ Hospital. After a difficult thyroid surgery, I was waiting for the next case and observing the wonderful Professor T., a well-known Dublin Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon, reading the newspaper in between two surgeries. I was wondering what he was thinking.
I just imagined life as an ENT surgeon: day in and day out taking out tonsils, resecting thyroids and realigning nasal septa – by choice!
I don’t think I could do it. Thank God there are people who can. I respect it hugely and I fully understand we need it. Indeed, if he was even more specialised – and only ever did tonsils, let’s say, that would be even better for the patients. But what would it be like for him? How can one continue to find new facets to something like a standard surgery? He didn’t strike me as the type who couldn’t wait to go home. There must have been something there for him that was clearly missing for me.As you know, I have a strong dislike for self-help books. However, one of my favourite social media personalities (she’s Russian, so she may not be super interesting to the reader), reads Barbara Sher and specifically recommended a book called I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was. The name did resonate with me. I never thought that a book like this would interest Maria. Maria left her job in – I think – publishing soon after she started to found her own beauty business. She’s married to a serial entrepreneur. Together they make an impressive couple: I think they started with quite little and now they’re running a few interesting ventures – and there’re babies everywhere. It would seem that she knows exactly what she wants. Apparently not.
Once again, it reminds me of how pointless it is making inferences about other people’s lives. Anyway, I am currently reading the book.
It’s not as cringy as I had expected. I skipped a few chapters that seem to bear no connection to me. However, Chapter 6 relates directly to ENTPs, without calling them that.
Sher describes people who want to try everything, to understand how everything works, who feel that by dedicating oneself to X, you are tragically missing out on Y.
Sher argues that our biggest problem here is the belief that there is very little time to do everything, hence, we hysterically push ourselves into a niche hoping that it will fit. I completely agree that that’s true. At the same time, while Mrs. Sher may have an interesting point, I wonder how it related to the exact opposite point made by the Stoics. They argued that one of the worst things you can do is assume that there’s lots of time.
I think the resolution of this dilemma is obvious. Advice is meaningless without context. It’s like those men who teach about business always say: Never underestimate your opponent. For this advice to be useful for me, I have to multiply it by -1. Never overestimate your opponent. [Obviously there are limitations here, but it is a more useful heuristic given my world view.] The bottom line is that it’s impossible to know the beliefs and assumptions of your readers. That’s why therapy works, but self-help books don’t. It’s all in the context.
If you’re reading this and you are an ENTP kind of person, don’t think that time is completely against you. I think we are prone to be hyperaware of some realities like the merciless passage of time – but we get stupefied by lists and all of these endless techniques on how to get organised. We’re already organised. We’re not distracted. We’re aware of the dangers of endless distraction. However, banning ourselves from pursuing them is just against our nature.
With this in mind, Sher recommends to write out the 10 lives that you will you could live. My list includes that of a retail investor, a philosopher, a psychiatrist, a blogger, a painter among others. Her argument is powerful: look at the list and see what can be done in 20 minutes a day – or just occasionally. I underlined this:
“Don’t dedicate yourself to poetry. Write poems.”
This thought was also brought up in a different context in Steven Pressfield’s War of Art and the less interesting Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. As it stands, I already feel a lot of pressure from society to be able to say “I am X.” A doctor, a management consultant, a journalist – whatever. It makes no sense to add to this pressure by imposing my own restrictions. Furthermore, most of the time, it’s just a way to romanticise what one’s doing. If I like it, I will do it. Labels just aren’t for ENTPs. Of course, it’s not just ENTPs. Richard Branson and Elon Musk don’t have to explain their meandering interests to anyone – because they’ve already won.
In a world that likes to label people, it takes courage – and yields tremendous benefit to remain unlabelled.
If you are an ENTP, or this feels like the story of your life – leave a comment – let’s be friends ❤