Personalities & Impact: What Does Changing the World Look Like for You?
Updated: Jun 20
A good friend of mine (also named David) and I help keep each other accountable to our goals and dreams. Interestingly enough, although we both care deeply about making a difference in the world, we have very different approaches. Let's call him D1, and let's call me D2. D1 is a doer, and an INFJ by Myers-Briggs personality type. D2 is a dreamer, and an ENFP by Myers-Briggs personality type. Lately I've been fascinated with how D1's and D2's approaches are two sides of the same coin, and can help keep each other become and remain maximally effective and authentic.
"When I die, I want the people in my life who know me well to have been happier and better off because of how I was able to help," D1 would say.
"When I die, I want the world as a whole to be a tangibly better place because of how I was able to help," I (D2) would say.
D1's approach can be characterized as an introverted, local, approach focused on person-to-person interactions. Paul Shane Spear elegantly describes this theory of change: "As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person." Interestingly enough, D1's INFJ personality is often called "The Advocate". As the site 16 Personalities says, "Their inner vision, personal values, and a quiet, principled version of humanism guide them in all things." All things being equal, this approach is more bottom-up doing approach, focused on the task at hand.
D2's (my) approach tends to be more of an extroverted, global approach focused on thematic impact on larger groups. D2's ENFP personality is "The Campaigner." As Robin Williams said, "“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” This approach is more top-down dreaming approach, focused on the vision of the end destination.
Doing: An advantage of D1's approach is that he takes concrete actions in the here and now to help people right in front of him. A disadvantage is that it is sometimes limited to addressing the most readily available / perceptible needs. D1 excels showing sensitivity to people's needs and will attend to them with his full attention if given the chance, in a nurturing kind of way. That's an incredible gift. The negative aspect, though, can be that he can limit himself to a comfortable and familiar way of interacting with others. Taking immediate and practical steps can be very helpful, but the danger is when these small changes are negatively motivated (e.g. keeping it too simple by a fear of aiming too high). As Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said, "if your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”
Dreaming: Conversely, an advantage of the D2 approach is that it can connect various dots into a big-picture impact across the board. On the other hand, a disadvantage can be incorrectly or excessively connecting those dots, making actions ineffective and/or overwhelmingly difficult. Personally, I find myself at home in brainstorming various solutions and possibilities for people's lives and for how to "change the world," which is the good thing. The disadvantage is that I am often at risk of floating away into the clouds and forgetting the everyday-need aspect of it. For example, I at times struggle with keeping other people's wants and needs in mind and have to be directly told such things. This vision and determination can be very helpful, but can also benefit from goal-oriented, honest, and accountable action. As Alan Watts said, “No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now."
Everyone should dream, and everyone should do. Finding your counterpart who shares common values with you but takes a different approach to them can help both of you to be more effective. These two general types can help each other to fulfill their potential and stay accountable – to dream big but also to act now.