Joy Malek is a psychotherapist, life coach, and educator who works specifically with INFJs. Joy guides INFJs in feeling rooted in their areas of genius, using their strengths to address their struggles, and getting their emotional and relational needs met. Not only that, she puts out some truly special content into the world that makes other INFJs, like me, feel like they are finally home and fully understood.
Join us by the Campfire Circle for a deeply meaningful conversation about finding your niche by rooting into your personal story and serving the person you once were. This episode will also help you better understand yourself, create deep and lasting connections with your audience, and determine the niche that’s calling you for your own personal brand and thought leadership journey (even if you’re not an INFJ like us!)
“That may seem a little navel-gazing to some people, but I’m the person I know best. And so, you know, I’ve found that when I write authentically and honestly and with vulnerability to what I need to hear, that’s what other people respond to.” – Joy Malek
Highlights from the podcast episode:
[02:09] Joy’s story of becoming a guide for INFJs
I grew up like a lot of INFJs, really seen and valued for what I could give to others, the empathy, the desire to deeply understand other people, the listening, the intuiting of how other people feel and what they need, and really wanting to deliver that. But as with all INFJs, I also had this deeply interior life, and I didn’t feel understood regarding what I needed internally. I needed the things that all INFJs need, which is to have lots of space and time to process my experiences. We do our best processing magic after an experience happens, or after we learn something, which is when we connect it to our network of everything else we know and have experienced, trace patterns, and really seek to deeply understand what we’ve been through so that we can better anticipate what’s coming and be ready for it.
I wanted to be valued for the way that my intuition guides me, but that wasn’t really well understood by people around me. I wanted to be understood for and valued for my imagination and the way that I vacillate between needing connection and needing solitude, but those parts of me were not only misunderstood, people reacted to them with judgment. So, these very core pieces of who I am and what I need in order to thrive were unmet. I remember feeling a profound aloneness, even surrounded by people. I had this sense of not being really seen and understood growing up. In fact, I remember writing in my journal when I was about 14, that I would rather be understood than loved. I knew that I was loved, but that vital piece of feeling seen and valued for who I actually am was missing. Of course, now years later, I realize being understood is a core way that I feel loved.
In addition to being an INFJ, I’m mixed race, both Egyptian and white. I grew up in a very homogenously white and very small town, so I always felt a bit on the outside in that regard. Being INFJ, which is such a rare type in the population, and adding to that any other marginalized identity doubles, triples, or even quadruples the ways in which you don’t feel understood and the ways in which you are not reflected back to you in the society that you’re living in.
When I was about 14 years old, my mom came into my room one day, and she was holding a book. She said: “Joy, I think you should read this, I think this is you.” It was a book about the Myers-Briggs. The section on my type was about a page and a half and a very cursory overview as it didn’t go into any of the deep yummy mechanics of the ways that INFJs function. But I remember reading those couple of pages and feeling understood for the first time in my life. For the next 10 years, I would come back to that book and those pages over and over again, because it was the one place where I really felt like I was being mirrored back to me.
Many years later, I became a Licensed Therapist and discovered that the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) is actually based on the personality theory of Carl Jung and that he went so much more deeply into the ins and outs of the actual building blocks of each personality type. His theory was so much richer and deeper than what you typically get through the Myers-Briggs, and I felt like I had struck gold. I received all that language and all those conceptual handles that I didn’t have to deeply understand how I tick, what I need, and how the different components of my personality work together and function together. That was huge.
[08:29] Fulfilling the unique needs of INFJs
I remember when I first started telling people, I was going to work only with INFJs. They balked and said: “Oh my goodness, are you sure? Are you going to focus your entire business on the smallest population in terms of type? You are going to have three customers and that’s going to be the entire population of INFJs!”
What’s interesting is that it was the exact opposite. I knew from my experience as an INFJ that there was just an absence of deeper learning, understanding, and validation for INFJs. We are indeed such a small slice of the population, but when you think about how many people there are in the world, 1 to 3% is still a lot of people. My mission was not just to serve people where I live, my mission was to reach people all over the world, which I still hope to do.
There are plenty of places you can go to get quality learning about type, but it’s not niched down to focus just on INFJs. Some of the best learning I found out there about type is content created by people who are not INFJs and have this very academic understanding of INFJs or only work with INFJs. They have the experiential learning, but they’re not INFJs themselves, they don’t get to sit down every day and pattern recognize what’s going on inside themselves and how they’re working, and how they’re wired. So I felt that, even with all the information out there about INFJs, it would be important for us to be able to come to a space where the guide is an INFJ and the focus is not just on describing our type, but really digging down and diving deep into our type’s brilliance, how to use our strengths to address our struggles, how to get out of common binds that INFJs find themselves into, how to craft the kind of life we dream of that’s full of connection, but also has space for ourselves. I felt like that wasn’t being done, or at least I hadn’t found anyone doing that, and it made me feel good about venturing out in that direction.
[13:06] The scary process of niching down your business and its many rewards
On the day I made the switch, I didn’t know how many INFJs were out there, but I knew that I wanted to start speaking to the INFJs on my list. So, I wrote an email announcing my first offering for INFJs and I wrote it in a different voice than I had used in any other message for my audience. Prior to that day, I had specialized in working with Highly Sensitive People, but because any personality type can be highly sensitive, I had been speaking in a more general voice.
I remember sitting down and writing the email, while holding front and center and with clarity the INFJ types who I wanted to reach, and I was writing from my INFJ heart straight to the hearts of other INFJs. I felt really good about the email. It was me speaking in my most authentic voice, and I thought it was really going to resonate in a much deeper way than anything I had ever written before for INFJs.
Right before I hit send, though, it suddenly hit me that that mailing list included everybody in my circle, people I didn’t know very well, and people I’d never bared my soul to. So, I reread the email, putting myself into the perspective of someone who’s not an INFJ, and all of a sudden, I felt the stab of fear, I felt so exposed, and I felt like to a non-INFJ this was going to read as something really strange, overly emotional, and worse. I sat there, pausing and wondering if I could do this.
My mission is to reach INFJs because we have such potential for being able to heal and change the way the world currently functions, and the idea is of empowering people with so much healing and change potential. I can’t change the systems we live in single-handedly, but if I can give INFJs the self-knowledge, validation, and self-understanding to fully embrace themselves and stand rooted in their gifts and their power, then that can help change the world.
So, I sat there with my mission, and I thought: “I’m not writing to everyone. I’m not writing to everybody in my circle. I’m not writing to every colleague. I know who I’m writing for.” and I hit send. And out of the woodwork people who I knew but had no idea were INFJs started messaging me and saying that they had never felt so pinpointed, that they had never heard from someone who seemed so dialed into the way that their minds work, the things that they feel, and what they ultimately need in life. So, the first big change that I saw in my business was hearing more and more from individual people about how much my work was reaching them, and how uncanny it felt that the things that I wrote about INFJs in general landed on such a personal level for them. That was huge for me. What better feedback or validation to confirm that I’m on the right track than when the very people I’m trying to reach are telling me how helped and seen they feel by my work?
Not much changed in my psychotherapy practice, because I had always worked with many different types of people, but I’ve always had more INFJs than any other type in my practice. That probably came from me being me and advertising the way that I authentically think and feel. With my online business of Life Coaching, courses, and so forth I still have a small audience, but my audience feels very targeted, and I find myself offering things that often just get filled right up. I know I’ve not fulfilled my mission, because I’m not reaching every INFJ in the world, but I keep growing little by little, and I find that the same people come back again and again. I delight in building deep relationships over time, so that’s perfect for me. The biggest way that niching down changed my business is that the people who find me seem to really stick. They seem to feel like they’ve come home, and then they stick around.
[23:31] Joy’s coaching framework for INFJs (that will help you too)
Because we are such a small part of the population, we live in a world that wasn’t designed for us. It was designed for the personality types that are more in the majority because there are more of them, and they were the ones who designed it. So, we often feel like we’re wired wrong. We don’t function in the same way as those around us. We struggle in areas that other people we see around us don’t struggle in. A lot of things seem to come easier to other people, things that are generally thought of as the easy parts of life but don’t necessarily come all that easy to us, because our brilliance shines in other areas.
So, the first piece of my approach is to really listen to that person’s story, really seek to deeply understand the ins and outs of their unique experience, and begin to help them recognize the patterns of the qualities that they have that have really magical potential. We look back over moments in their lives where their gifts really shone, even though they may have not understood those to be gifts, and they may have felt as though those moments carried shame or misunderstanding. But I think of every quality as having a light side and a dark side. The dark side is the parts of that quality that we feel alienate us from other people or are going to get us rejected. But, if we look at that same quality, we can always find aspects of it that have something to contribute to this world. This first step with INFJs is about really helping them to get a solid sense of self and a solid sense of their areas of brilliance.
The second piece of my approach is to really help them so deeply understand the different components of their personality, that they can then have some level of ability to manage the way that these components work together, such as the need for solitude, how we process best, the fact that our focus and attention is typically pointed to how other people feel and what they need rather than what we feel and what we need, and our analytic abilities, which can sometimes run away with us as we get caught in thought loops where we’re endlessly planning or trying to troubleshoot instead of engaging with life and doing things and learning that way.
So, it’s about gaining a sense of skill at being able to work with the different components of our personality and get ourselves out of the binds that INFJs often stumble into. That’s going to give a person a sense of confidence and clarity about what they have to offer, what direction they want to go in, and how they can accomplish the things that they want to accomplish. Then from there, the INFJ has such a sense of possibility that’s been opened up and such a sense of confidence in their own abilities that they’re able to follow their heart, they’re able to follow the nudges of their soul, and really get going in the direction that’s calling them.
[28:39] Turning content creation from a chore into a healing and self-actualization process
I really struggled with this for years. Being a therapist, having a therapy practice, and then adding on this online business for INFJs, I often didn’t want to think about creating content in my free time, I wanted to be able to go deep inside and be able to process my own experiences, I didn’t want to be front-facing.
So, I would go through periods where I was really regular and consistent on Instagram, and then I would go through months where I wouldn’t post anything. I think of INFJs as healers. We sort of live on the edge between the village and the wilderness. We spend time in the village and connect with other people and it feels just so fulfilling and delicious, but then we need to go out into the wilderness and solitude and just restore ourselves.
I was going through that process very literally, with my social media, until a period of about four months when the stars aligned and I developed this little ritual where I would wake up, I would eat breakfast, I would take my time, I would watch my favorite gardening YouTube channel, and then I would sit in quiet reflection, and come up with a tweet-length Instagram post. Some of the inspiration I got for those was from moments in therapy with INFJs, where I would hear myself saying something to someone, and realize “Hey, I think all INFJs could benefit from hearing this.” A lot of the time, it was me sitting myself down and saying “What do I need to hear this morning?”
For about three or four months, almost every morning, I did that. But then I went ahead and put everything I had posted on a post scheduler so that it wouldn’t have to be me giving attention to this every single day. Now, every once in a while, I’ll brainstorm for a new post, and I’ll add that to the queue. But what I get to do now that I have so much content already, is allow them to recycle and what I really get to be there for every day is reading people’s comments, responding to them, getting DMs, responding to them, and all the stuff that is more about connection. This is more magical to me than trying to be some kind of “content pump”. It used to be just that quiet moment with myself every morning making the post, but now it’s really more about adding to that when I feel inspired but not feeling pressured.
I spent a lot of time before niching down into INFJs trying to get a handle on what they call your ideal client or your avatar. The idea is that when you write or when you post to your community, you’re holding in mind your ideal client, so you need to get a firm handle on who that person is and what their needs and strengths are. I always struggled with putting together some kind of abstract amalgamation of an ideal client, but now my ideal client is me at different stages of my life, and I can think of “What did I need to hear at this stage? What did I need people to be able to reflect back to me at the stage? What kind of validation did I need when I was struggling with this? What kind of learning about myself would have just opened my world up when I was going through that?” And I’m going to be honest, very often I’m talking to myself now and I’m reminding myself of the things that I need to hear right now. That may seem a little navel-gazing to some people, but I’m the person I know best, and I’ve found that when I write authentically and honestly and with vulnerability to what I need to hear, that’s what other people respond to.
[35:15] Joy’s big dreamy vision for INFJs
I have this dream of someday having an INFJ camp.
But first, let me give you the backstory. When I was a kid, I would do these day camps that my local rec center offered during the summer, and I hated them. They were just sports and big group games, and it was so mentally and emotionally exhausting for me to be engaging in this “on the surface” level the whole time in these activities. I wasn’t coordinated and wasn’t athletic and I didn’t know that that was something you could work on and grow in and so I just felt like the odd person out. I eventually started bringing books to day camp and just tried to kind of find a little bit of shade and sit and read my book quietly. To me, that seems so reasonable, but the camp counselors would be like: “You know, you’re really supposed to join the group.” or “This is not really what camp is about, you’re just sitting by yourself and reading”. So, I would love to, maybe someday, have separate camps for kids, teens, and adults, but I would start with an adult camp.
Adult INFJ Camp would be in a beautiful natural setting, there would be many little seating areas and places where you could go off by yourself to meditate, read a book, sketch, play music, or whatever you want. But then there would also be these areas that really facilitate connection, mostly between small groups or one-on-one. People would be able to move between the village and the wilderness at will. Everybody would get their own room and you could just stay in your room all day, if you wanted, feeling the serenity of the place. Maybe I would give a few talks where people can feel even more validated about doing what they want to do every moment of every day. That would be my big dreamy goal.
Resources from this episode:
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Connect with Joy Malek:
LinkedIn: Joy Malek
If you have no clue what all the acronyms mentioned in this episode, like INFJ and MBTI, mean you can read all about it at 16personalities.com. And to discover more about yourself, your strengths and weakness, the way you process things, and so much more, you can take this free personality test and find out your Myers-Briggs personality type.
Connect with Tania Bhattacharyya:
LinkedIn: Tania Bhattacharyya