👤 This week’s INF interview is with Bryn Bonino, an INFJ from Austin, Texas (USA).
📻 Subscribers can also listen to my podcast conversation with Bryn -> over here.
✉️ You can read this week’s full newsletter -> over here.
Hey there! What do you like to be called?
Most people call me Bryn. But I have some Italian friends and family that call me Elizabeth or Eli for short.
Hi Bryn :) So can we start this interview by finding out where in the world you currently reside? Is this also where you grew up?
I currently live in Austin, Texas. But I grew up in several states in the U.S. I was born in Chicago, then before I was talking, we moved to Los Angeles. At the end of first grade, we move to Connecticut. Then when I was in middle school, we moved again to Dallas, Texas.
Honestly, I think that all that moving around as a kid got me interested in travel and getting to know people from other places. I didn’t like leaving my friends each time we moved, but I’m glad that I have a healthy interest and appreciation for other cultures.
I bet this moving around must have been difficult in some ways, but I like how you draw on the benefits of your experiences different places and people.
Do you remember what you were like as a child?
Yes, I loved drawing. I was known as the creative and artistic kid. I tried all kinds of sports, but nothing really stuck until I was 10 and I started riding horses. I loved that too!
That’s so interesting, and nice that you connected with your creativity so young :) I was not at all sporty back then. I was very much the geeky, academic kid!
What was school like for you? And how were your teenage years as a whole?
The academic part of school was pretty easy for me. I had to study, but my parents and grandparents taught me how to do that well, so I got good grades in school. But being around so many types of kids, I learned pretty early on that I was different. I liked playing by myself, and I didn’t see many other kids doing that. My favorite subjects had to do with the arts and culture. When I was in 3rd grade, we had a creative writing teacher that helped us write our own books. I interviewed my grandfather on what his childhood was like and illustrated the book. I was so proud of it.
That sounds so amazing. I really want to see that illustration now… it sounds beautiful! I’m really glad that, even though you felt different, it sounds like you honoured yourself by doing those things you enjoyed, anyway.
Fast-forwarding a little now from your childhood, what words (or phrases) would you use to describe your current self?
I am an optimistic and relatively outgoing person. But I know my energy limits and know that I recharge by being by myself. I also take risks. I’m currently working for myself, which is something that I had to find the courage to do. But after some soul searching, I know that this is what I’m meant to do.
It sounds like you know yourself pretty well. And you mention working for yourself… can you talk a little about how that happened? Did “the leap” happen suddenly, or did you work up to it?
It took a lot for me to get to the point of working for myself. First, I have been experiencing uncomfortable political work environments in three straight employers, over the course of 5 years. I felt the pressure very intensely and I was really bothered by how wrong everything was.
I also have professional qualifications and training in marketing, education, and photography. So when I was salaried, I’d always had something else cooking. By the summer of 2019, I realized that I had been side hustling as an organic marketing consultant for 8 years. It had gotten to the point that I had to turn away clients because my schedule was so packed.
I also took a 3-week solo vacation through Italy, Spain, and Portugal that summer. Along the way, I met so many people who had worked for themselves and encouraged me to make the leap too. They all told me that I’m ready. I wrote about that experience in my blog post Listen To The Stories And Find Your Muse.
I also had done a lot of research on how to jump to working solo and be successful. I actually gave an interview with Starter Story about how I got my start. I say how I over-researched and over-prepared, in typical INFJ fashion. I also say all the tech tools I use and the books I read in order to be successful.
Ultimately, I figured that in order to find a career I’d be happy with, I needed to do something I’d never done before. This is why I quit my job one day, registered my business the next, and I’m committed to not look back. I think it's the best thing that I can do for myself.
And when did you first realise that you were an introvert? How did this happen?
I remember that when I was in kindergarten, we had a combined class of 3 teachers and about 50 kids. When we were supposed to play in centers, it could get pretty crazy. I would take some toys and find a quiet place and play by myself.
Also, I come from a pretty large family and we would all get together for the holidays. So many people talking at once would tear the energy from me. The adults would call me quiet and shy, but I never saw that as accurate, because I didn’t have any problems in smaller groups of people. That actually made me feel misunderstood. But I have relationships with them all now as an adult and I’m glad that they know now that I’m not that shy and quiet kid.
It’s amazing just how many of these young experiences we can recall. I feel like us sensitive souls connect more deeply with memories like these… like they leave more of an imprint than they might normally, if that makes sense. It’s so nice that you have relationships with them to this day and that they know “you” better.
Are you an INFP or an INFJ?
I’m an INFJ.
When did you first do the Myers-Briggs test and realise that you were an INFJ?
I actually took the Myers-Briggs test for the first time when I was in 7th grade, so I was 11 or 12. I didn’t really know what that meant, but they used the test to help us start thinking about what jobs would be good for us. I took the test again when a fellow small business owner suggested it so I could know the best ways to sell the services that I offer with my current business.
Wow, that’s pretty young. I’m pleased that you returned to it in your adult life. Has discovering you were an INFJ impacted you in any way? If so, how?
Really, it makes sense. I have always been known as a sensitive person. So much to the point that I feel pain when others feel it. And I’ve known for a long time that I’m an introvert because of how I get easily drained in larger crowds. What really blew my mind was when I realized that I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP), empath, and an INFJ. This really helped me to understand who I am, how I experience life, and how I can use my qualities to live a better life.
You know, I can totally relate. It felt profound when I discovered I was an introvert, but when I realised I was an INFP and HSP also, it’s like even more things clicked into place. It feels to me like INFPs and INFJs are an even more refined, and unique, subset within the ‘introvert’ bracket.
I’m also glad that you mention these things helping you to understand who you are, and how to live better. I feel that’s so important and really powerful.
What were your favourite subjects at school? (If applicable) What did you study at university/college?
In high school, I loved history because it helped me to understand what life was like for other people. I also liked my more advanced Spanish classes, because it allowed me to interpersonally communicate with so many more people.
In college I got a B.B.A. in marketing, but with a focus on international marketing. I did all my major coursework while studying abroad in Mexico. I got an M.A. in Latin American studies and did my thesis on immigrant identities. A driving factor in this decision was to understand the southern Italian immigrant families my grandparents were from. I also got an Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction with a focus on intercultural education. My goal was to help people understand other cultures to promote more tolerance and peace in the world.
You know, I think I also liked History at school for that same reason. And I love that last sentence that you have used right there. Latin American Studies also sounds so fascinating. I find myself really drawn to different people and their cultures, too. Is your thesis available anywhere online, out of interest?
I graduated a year before my university started publishing master’s theses, so it’s not available online. But here is the Google book listing, it’s entitled Identity And Adaptation of Brazilian Immigrants In Miami. But my dissertation is available at this link. It’s entitled A Visual Critical Ethnography Of Youth Development In A Rio De Janeiro Favela.
This looks so interesting, thank you for sharing both of these links.
What are you spending your time on at the moment? (Whether studying, working, or other focusing your attention… it can be more than just one thing!)
These days I work full time on my own branding and marketing business, the Bryn Elizabeth Co. My goal is to grow a sustainable location independent business so I can have a more flexible work schedule.
I know that sounds like a sharp change form what I studied in school. But while I was in graduate school, I also started a business consultancy, and I was their digital marketing person for four years. I realized that I can achieve my goal of promoting tolerance through marketing too. I came to this realization after facing limited job opportunities with my idealistic choice of study.
I love that goal, mostly because mine is very similar (in fact, pretty much the same). It sounds like you’ve done lots of different things, which is something I see that’s very common amongst INFPs and INFJs. We are creative and with wide interests… and besides, it is so difficult to know what we want to do with our lives in our late teens, or even in our twenties.
Was there a moment in your life when you made a drastic change?
Quitting my salaried full-time job with benefits to start my own business. It was a big leap to go all-in on this business.
A huge high-five to you for taking this big leap. (If not answered above) Could you talk to us about what led to your making this decision, and how it felt before and afterwards? - I think I talked about this above.
You mentioned being creative even as a 10-year-old earlier on. Do you have a preferred creative/artistic outlet? Can you tell us a bit about this?
Without question, its photography. I love so many things about it! First I loved the scenes and moments I could capture. Then I was fascinated with capturing light, shadow, and movement. Now I’m getting more into abstract forms of everyday scenes.
Would you describe yourself as a 'highly sensitive person', or an empath? (if you're unsure, or don't know what I'm talking about, no worries!)
Both. When I took the self-assessment on HSPs by Dr. Elaine Aron, I scored nearly 100%. Then when I took multiple self-assessments about empaths by Dr. Judith Orloff, I scored nearly 100% on all of them. Knowing this helps me to draw appropriate boundaries and know where I should divert my energy to get the best outcomes.
Wow, that’s pretty conclusive! I, too, first discovered my HSP-ness through Elaine Aron’s test on her website, and I read her book, too. I’ve been meaning to get around to reading Judith Orloff’s book, too, as it looks great.
You mention boundaries, which I feel are very important for INFPs and INFJs to draw. Can you talk about how you have learned to manage these better?
Well, being sensitive and empathic, I really like making people feel comfortable and I like supporting those in need. But by the time I was in college, I realized some people would really suck me dry.
I started observing the patterns of when people would cross the acceptable line for me and I plugged into the nuances of how I felt when that happened. So, when someone started making me feel that way, I would take longer to return their phone calls or text messages, and I would stop hanging out with them so much. Sometimes this would spike their acts of neediness and they would do something more desperate to get my attention. That would give me a clear sign to back away and it would be easier to make the boundary.
I also have learned to recognize when I get very excited and optimistic about a situation, and I intentionally slow way down. I’m an overachiever, so I learned that in order to not be “too much” for someone, I need to tone down. I do this by imagining what a super laid back person would do, and I try to do that. And now that I know I’m an INFJ / HSP / Empath, I know that’s pretty typical for us. It’s nice to know that there are more people out there like me. And, Jas, that’s one reason why it’s so nice to have met you!
Thank you, Bryn, I feel the same way. And I can relate to so much of what you have talked about here. Thank you for articulately it so nicely - and so honestly.
Do you have a personal definition of 'success'? What does being 'successful' look like to you?
That’s a good question. I think for most people both “success” and “happiness” are moving goals. I think that when I have a strong purpose, I feel more successful. I think a lot of people in the U.S. use the adjective “successful” to describe someone who’s made a lot of money. But I don’t see it that way. I’d rather have freedom in my workplace, recognition for what I do, and a good relationship with friends and family.
I love all of this, Bryn. That’s such a well-considered and well-articulated response which I can so relate to. Thank you.
You mentioned ‘happiness’ in your previous answer - do you have a personal ‘recipe’ for that? What’s your take?
Again, I think purpose is a key ingredient to happiness. I also think that recognition and appreciation by those around me is important. I like feeling supported by people who are important to me.
Do you like to plan things, or are you more of a go-with-the-flow type of person? (Or, perhaps, a little bit of both?)
I’m a total planner. But sometimes I plan and plan and plan, then when I make an actual decision it’s split-second. But I think a lot of people are like that.
What does your 'perfect Sunday' (or Saturday) look like?
When I want to treat myself, I make sure I don’t actually do anything productive. On a perfect day, I would start out by going to a sound bath at a beautiful yoga studio. Then I would go for a walk in a wooded area where my pup, Leila, could wander off-leash. Then maybe I would catch up with a friend in the evening and we would grab a drink or catch a movie.
I have wanted to try a sound bath/gong bath for a while now. All of this sounds blissful.
Is there anything you've read, watch or listened to recently, that you've loved? (Whether a book, blog, podcast, film/TV show, etcetera).
I just finished doing The Artist’s Way with a group of women here in Austin. We were complete strangers at the beginning of the process and now we are friends. I also started remembering my dreams again early on in the process. Before that, I hadn’t remembered my dreams for nearly 15 years. I also identified that I want to be a dog photographer and I came up with a specialized business plan to help English speaking Italophiles (people like me) find work teaching English in Rome.
That’s amazing that you went through this with a group. And that The Artist’s Way helped you re-connect with those dreams.
Do you have any favourite blogs or podcasts?
I think I’ve listened to just about every episode of The Candid Frame, a podcast of long-form interviews with talented photographers. I also really like the Italy Made Easy podcast. The host tells stories about Italian language and culture in slow Italian, so it’s easy for a foreigner to understand.
How about favourite movies or TV shows? Anything you've seen recently that you'd recommend?
My favorite type of TV show is storytelling comedy. I highly recommend The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Just about every episode makes me laugh out loud. As for movies, I recently saw A Wonderful Day In The Neighborhood. It made me cry twice while I was watching the film, and then I found myself thinking for weeks of Fred Rogers and how impressive of a person he was. It was a very moving film and he was a very positively influential man.
I’ll have to check both of these out, they sound great.
Okay, we’re coming towards the end now. If you could go back in time and meet "you" back in 2010, is there any advice that you'd give this younger self?
In 2010 I had just started a business consultancy to help arts programs in Brazil. I also enrolled part-time in a doctoral program. I worked so incredibly hard that I stopped going out as much with friends and I developed insomnia. I did all this thinking that it would help advance my career.
If I could get a do-over, I would have not gotten the doctorate and I would have put more sweat equity into my business consultancy. This way I would have still enjoyed going out with friends and I would have saved myself the trouble of insomnia.
Basically, I’m doing these days what I wanted to do back then but didn’t have the courage. But hindsight is 20/20 and I’m glad I still have a lot of life to live.
These sound like really significant realisations, and important lessons to take forward with you.
If you could one or two pieces of advice to your follow INFs, what would they be? (Is there anything in particular that you've ‘worked on’, which you've found helpful to you/your life in some way?)
Journaling and meditation have been so helpful to me. I recommend it for anyone who is an INF_. It helps me make sense of the world and know where I stand amongst everything I deal with. I also think knowing where personal boundaries fall is important. As an INFJ / HSP / Empath, when I was younger, I wanted to support everybody. But that left me exhausted and unhappy. So now I draw lines and I feel so much better about everything. But that’s something I had to work on and practice.
I recently was talking to Jacob Nordby, author of Blessed Are the Weird, and he recommended those exact two things for INFs looking to re-connect with themselves and their creativity… journalling and meditation. I have journalled in the past but haven’t in a while, I might have to get back into the swing as we enter 2020 and the start of a whole new decade. And I’m so glad that you’re managing relationships/boundaries and your energy much better now. That one’s a work-in-progress for me, too.
It feels like you’ve touched on some of this stuff already, but what does 'self-care' mean for you? How do you practise it?
In addition to being a sensitive empathic INFJ, I’m also hypoglycemic. So eating a low glycemic diet is a large part of my self-care. These days I take the time to make myself a vegetable omelet every morning for breakfast. While it’s cooking, I color in my adult coloring book. It’s a gentle way to wake up and the omelet gives me a good, nutritious start to the day.
Oh, that’s interesting. How was it you first realised that you were hypoglycemic? And I love how you start your day, that sounds so nice.
Oh boy, are you ready for a story...?
I knew that something was “wrong” with me when I was very young. When I was in elementary school, it was rather common to sleepover at a friend’s house. Their parents would spoil us by giving us pizza and soda for dinner and donuts for breakfast the next morning. Well, after that, I would always feel off, super low energy, I couldn’t find my words, and I’d get tinnitus. But I think the adults just thought I was a quiet kid.
I remember one time when I was 10, I had spent the night at a friends house. Their parents had fed us a lot of junk food, and by the afternoon of the next day, I was still at their house. There were a bunch of us kids in their pool playing water volleyball. It was my turn to serve the ball and I saw not one net, but two. I told my parents my symptoms and they took me to the doctor. But I never got a diagnosis.
By the time I was in college, I had all the full-blown side effects of chronic low blood sugar and I would sometimes wake up in the morning and faint. This happened one time when I was visiting my parents when I was 23. My mom was in the kitchen, which was right under my bedroom. She got concerned when she heard the “thud” of me falling to the floor.
Luckily, by this time, the Internet existed. So she researched my symptoms, and diagnosed me as having hypoglycemia. She told me to go to my doctor and tell him to give me a glucose tolerance test. A person’s blood sugar count should be around 85. When he gave me the test, my count was 14. The doctor confirmed what we suspected. Then he (oh so unimpressively) told me to research online how to change my diet.
So… that’s what my mom and I did. We educated ourselves through what we could find online and at the library. I cut all refined sugar and flour out of my diet completely for two years. That was difficult because we are Italian-American and pasta and biscotti were regular staples of our diet. And my gram didn’t quite know what to cook for me. But when I did that, I felt better within weeks.
That was nearly 20 years ago, and I still have to watch what I eat. But I see it as a blessing. I rarely ever over eat, and I don’t think I’ll ever deal with weight issues, like a lot of American adults.
Well, I’m glad this was discovered when you were young and you were able to make the appropriate changes. That sounds like a really low score you had, so I guess it’s no surprise that you experienced those symptoms. And it’s really interesting to hear how quickly those changes took effect, too.
So, we’re almost at the end now. Do you have a favourite quote?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” - H. Jackson Brown Jr.
I discovered this idea in high school and I am still trying to live as interesting a life as I can.
I like that a lot. Okay Bryn, so if others have read this interview and now would like to connect with you online, how can they do that?
Lastly, is there anything else you'd like to say? (Whatever's on your mind, whether it follows on from this interview, or is just something completely random and opportunity. Say whatever and as much - or as little - as you like :)
I really do think it’s important to honor who you naturally are. Don’t try to be anyone else. If you are an INF_ type, learn what works best for your nature and go with that. When you do, things will fall into place for you.
That’s some great parting advice. Thanks so much for taking part in this, Bryn, and being so open and honest with your answers. I really appreciate it, this was a real pleasure.