Personality psychology is a very fascinating topic to me because I find it explains everything about humans. In particular, most disagreements come down to different personality types. People have different ways of making decisions, different ways of understanding, different ways of organizing and different ways of relating to other people and these ways can all be grouped. If done so, it becomes clear that some people are quite similar to other people in the same group yet significantly different from people in other groups. This is similar to how cars are similar to each other but different from trucks and different from motorcycles, etc.

In a previous post, which provides a nice overview of the Myers-Briggs division of human personality, I described how the different types relates to personal finance topics.

This is particularly interesting because few people seem to understand that people are actually significantly different. Consequently, they will likely come into contact with other types with different types and try to adopt “unsuitable wisdom”. This wisdom actually follow popular memes and dominate society at various points.

About a decade ago, “seizing the day” became popular to what I’m sure must have been a great relief to the artisan personality. However, seizing the day makes no sense a guardian, who’s got duties to attend to, and it probably does not fit into the plans of a rational.

A current popular meme is to “collect experiences” instead of “collecting things”. This is the artisan talking again. They like experiences more than anyone else. Guardians like their houses, the furnishings, the cars, and if we talk about doing, they’d much prefer the experience of being promoted from Bureaucrat level 6 to Bureaucrat level 7. To rationals, collecting experiences matters only as a source of raw data. Rationals collect theories. Idealists are similar to rationals except they are not out to increase their understanding and mastery of the world; they are out to increase their understanding of themselves.

In this post I will cover more on how rationals and guardians relate to each others ideas. This is relevant since guardians make up almost half of the US population, whereas rationals constitute around 10%. This means that guardians dominate the prevalent thought patterns of society … society is in a sense infused by spirit of guardians and so everybody is judged according to guardian standards. Guardians effectively define “the average person” simply because there are so many of them and so many who are expected to be like them. One exception is the 20-something year old crowd, which is judged by artisan standards. At this point, it is okay to “be awesome” and “travel the world with a backpack”. Later, artisans are expected (by guardians) to abide the guardian regulations and fall in line as responsible contributors to society. Rationals, on the other hand, find less value in extended travel. I have found that travel is not worth it (to me), because I have not been able to draw many extended conclusions from my travel experience.

The chance of running into a guardian type in the US is nearly 50%. The best way to describe a guardian is “paternal”. Guardians see themselves as very responsible people. They believe in a paternal structure to society, that is to say, they believe in hierarchies. The simplest possible hierarchy is the parent-child structure, but for society, there are many more levels e.g. … college graduate, assistant manager, associate manager, middle manager, … etc. Just look at your company’s organizational chart to see what I mean. Titles are quite important to guardians. It is something to strive for; they define their career goals in terms of job titles to achieve rather than in terms of specific projects to complete.They love promotions. Even if they find themselves doing the same thing as before, the title upgrade makes them feel better. A guardian invented “assistant renovation manager” so he could feel better about his job as a garbageman. Similarly, job titles define their role in society. Guardians are possibly not capable of seeing society beyond what it appears to be — because mainly they are not interested in doing so. To them, a person with a finer title is obviously a better person. A person with more money is obviously a more successful person (and hence a better person).
Their main objective in life is duty. You gotta do what you gotta do. This means following regulations and equally importantly, making other people follow the regulations. The actual form of regulations is rarely questioned if ever. Like parents, guardians are compelled to be of service to others: contribute to society as they put it. If they do not understand personality typing, they are likely to believe that everybody should be contributing to society. Their particular contribution likely fits their personality type—it goes excellently with institutions and the particular line of thinking that goes on in institutions. Everything proceeds on a regular schedule and follows the procedures as laid out in the manual. If you follow procedure, you will have a good life. Why? It says so in the manual. This is taken to the consumer side as well. Guardians get a college degree because it is their duty. They send their kids to college, because everybody ought to go to college. They buy a home; in the right order of course: starter home, upgrade #1, upgrade #2, condo, retirement home. They value their lawns and their curbs because a well-maintained lawn shows that they are good at fitting in and adhering to accepted community standards. The people who run home owners associations are guardians! Guardians work because it is their duty to work. It is their duty because it is so defined. Why? Doesn’t matter. Guardians work 9-5 because that’s what their time manager tells them. After 5 they may have other duties like lawn mowing and they will switch to those. However, if you take away their 9-5, they will have nothing to do, because society currently does not provide anything to fill that hole with. There is no structure to fit into. There are no titles, positions, and obligations which are immediately available in any traditional sense. Reasons for activity have to be generated internally, and guardians are not set up for that!

Whereas guardians distinguish between work and life and often tout the famous work–life balance, there is no such differentiation between work and life for a rational. To a rational, work is life and life is work. Work has nothing to do with fitting into the guardian structure. Work is a 24/7 occupation in the sense that it is something that occupies the mind of the rational constantly. A rational has a hard time taking 9-5 work seriously. How can it be your mission in life if you only think about it 8 hours a day? Unlike guardians, rationals don’t act like parents. Rationals are more like adults. They/we are frequently very “mature” for our age. Our parents tell us “we were born old”. Rationals are not interesting in structure and hierarchies. The goal of work is NOT to fit in and derive a position and meaning in life with a job title and by being the treasurer in the home owners association. The goal of work is to understand the world so as to gain power and control over it. Many times the rational will find himself incidentally paid for this activity, but the pay is irrelevant. Often the rational will also receive fine titles like engineer or PhD. However, such titles are irrelevant to the rational. Engineer is something you do. Not some title that some organization bestowed upon you. A rational will work even if he isn’t getting paid to do so. This work practically always has to do with building something. It can be either building mental understanding or it can be building physical structures. When I say build, I really mean design. Few rationals are content repeating themselves. In fact, the idea of going to work every day and repeating the same procedures over and over again, an activity much priced by guardians, is the earthly version of hell to rationals. It is a waste of their talents. Rationals are not interested in appearances. Their whole mission in life is to see past appearances to uncover the underlying structures. A rational is far more likely to spend money on books that allow him to think and learn and tools that allows him to build than curb appeal and furnishings. Any rational worth his or her salt will quickly solve the personal finance game. Yes, it is a problem to be solved and it is one of the easier ones. (This is different from the guardian who sees personal finance not as a problem but rather as a solution — a structure to fit into.) The most likely type to retire extremely early is the INTJ. It is solved by understanding and then breaking the guardian rules about saving 15% in a retirement fund or a company pension plan.

If the dark side of guardians is that they don’t respect people who don’t fit into their hierarchies and don’t have titles and aren’t working to parent other people, the dark side of the rationals is that they don’t respect people who aren’t living up to their very high standards of drive and competence (your life is your work, your work is your mission, failure is not an option—rationals work to complete missions, never to fit in). Rationals think they are smarter and more competent than other types and seeing that rationals only comprise 10% of the population, that means pretty much everyone else. Of course, the “smartness” is limited to “power and control over the natural world”. While this is a pretty substantial thing or concept to control, it does not include “the self” (in the idealist way), “having fun” (in the artisan way), or appreciating tradition (in the guardian way).

Of all the three types, guardians probably have the hardest time appreciating an extreme early retirement. ISTJs will do well, especially if they have a weak S (remember, it’s a preference, not an absolute measure of aptitude, so a weak S means a relatively stronger N). Artisans can follow the plan because it fits well within their wild life. Not working gives them time to “be awesome” whatever that means 😉 Idealists can also benefit from financial independence as work takes away mental energy which they would like to focus on their quest to “become authentic”. Only if idealists feel authentic in their work would they prefer to spend all their time on work. Otherwise, it tends to turn into a necessary evil.

Guardians have a much harder time appreciating the quest for financial independence. They want to keep their excuse to have others depend on them for their work. Most importantly though, few people do retire extremely early, so it is not part of the socially approved structure. If it was normal to live with a low environmental impact and work hard for 5 years and then retire to a life of community service, say the home owners association, the local animal shelter, the rotary club, and the town festival organizer, guardians would be all over it, I expect. There is nothing inherently “guardian” about living above your means although it is “guardianish” to keep up with the Jones and demonstrate it with consumerism. (Rationalist will keep up with the Jones in terms of demonstrating skill and mastery — something which have less environmental impact. Artisans will keep up with the Jones in terms of the extremeness of their sports, the number or exoticness of the places they travel to, the wildness (Severity?) or their parties, and who has been more drunk, eh?. Of course, idealists are above keeping up with the Jones. After all, Jones aren’t authentic 😉 ).

If all this personality psychology, particularly the letters, sound confusing, a very nice intro can be found in Keirsey&Bates’s Please Understand Me.



Much thanks to WB for the donation.

Originally posted 2010-07-11 15:23:34.