By Michael Pierce
David Keirsey called them the “Promoters.” I have also heard “Doer,” “Adventurer,” and “Dynamo,” and the stereotypes I have seen are usually built off of one of these. Both of the STP types are often associated with the quintessential action movie hero, and from my experience this is especially true for the ESTP, who is portrayed as an athletic, energetic, live-in-the-moment playboy, with highly developed powers of persuasion and social navigation; a con man with a charming smile and an icy heart, or in other portrayals, as lacking intellectual interests in exchange for street smarts and common knowledge. Like many stereotypes, this greatly exaggerates aspects of the ESTP while ignoring others, as well as failing to define any core aspect of their character.
Let’s break down what constitutes the ESTP functionally.
They are a Perceiving type, meaning that they prefer extroverted perceiving and introverted judging. This means that they base their judgment criteria on subjective, inner information, while simply observing and drinking in objective information and experiences. You could say that they are more receptive towards the outside world and more aggressive towards their inner experience.
Their preferred way of doing this is through extroverted sensation and introverted thinking. Extroverted sensation is photographic: it has the most direct relationship with objects of all the functions, giving them the clearest and most realistic perspective. Introverted thinking is deductive: it seeks to develop an internally consistent logical system by deducing all the necessary implications of a set of premises.
They are very similar to the ISTP; both prefer Se and Ti. The ESTP, however, prefers Se more than Ti. Nevertheless, they are in some sense the same type, or at least sister types. I personally like to call STP types the “Warriors,” because they combine a sharp and vivid perception of the world with rigorous ordering and logical deduction within their minds, building a logical system of the real world and thus helping them to smoothly navigate it like a soldier in battle. Of course, “Warrior” is merely a nickname to help me remember the STP nature, and it does not mean that STPs are all Navy SEALS or that they have any interest in war at all.
The ESTP, then, is a “warrior” for whom their objective observations are more interesting than their inner logical principles. They are primarily concerned with experiencing a direct, photographic relationship with the objects around them.
The word I like to use to describe the ESTP nature is “conquering.” This may sound similar to the word I used for the ENTJ: Subjugation. In determining the types of historical figures, the ESTP and ENTJ can be difficult to tell apart, but the distinction between them helps reveal the ESTP’s core.
The word subjugation, at least in the way I use it, implies that the focus is on eliminating the obstacle, and the exhilaration comes after the ENTJ has won the fight. For the ESTP, however, the word “conquering” is meant to imply that while winning is exhilarating, the focus is more on the fight itself; on the act of conquering, rather than the moment after. The ENTJ loves the control and power that is earned by means of a fight; the ESTP loves to fight in itself, and to fight well.
Most of this can be explained by contrasting the ESTP’s Se with the ENTJ’s Te. First, the ENTJ is a rational thinker, who is focused on the judgment or conclusion of a thing, and where it fits into a certain scheme, while the ESTP is focused on experiencing ideas or events, and getting as much out of them as possible, because the idea is essentially dead once it is filed away in their mind. The ENTJ’s Te fights as a means to an end, and this end is what they really want, but the ESTP’s Se fights because it loves the experience of the fight itself.
Of course, when I say “fight,” I mean that metaphorically. ESTP preferences do not predispose an individual to violence as far as I am concerned. By “fight” I mean any kind of endeavor the ESTP may undertake, everything from entrepreneurship to big game hunting to acting to giving a speech. In all of these, the ESTP mindset is similar to that of the ISTP, in that both want to perform the activity well in real time and remain flexible and expert enough to adapt to sudden changes, but while the ISTP is focused on strategizing, understanding, and mastering the activity, the ESTP is focused on experiencing, performing, and ultimately conquering through the activity.
This is not to imply that Se is unthinking, and synonymous with enhanced sense perception. Sense perception is a biological trait, and Jungian typology has nothing to say about biology. Jungian typology does, however, talk about the philosophical perspectives people take towards information, and Se has the most direct relationship to the outside world of all the functions. Se types are not just sensitive to their immediate surroundings, but to the general state of affairs in their world, from news to personalities to how things work.
This leads into another core aspect of the ESTP: They live in the here and now. This has many more implications for the ESTP than are usually recognized. The ESTP is not, at least not necessarily, a slobbering hedonist or the grasshopper who didn’t prepare sufficiently for winter and ended up freezing in the cold. Dominant Se is often characterized by a refined taste, and living in the here and now does not mean Se is morbidly near-sighted. Rather, the ESTP’s grounding in the present implies that they are exceptionally resourceful, because they don’t rely on speculation or future visions to unfold, but work with whatever they have at hand, here and now, in the thick of things, in the fray where stuff is happening all the time. In the midst of battle there is no time for speculation of what could be, only an absolute focus on what really is; otherwise, game-changing opportunities may pass you by.
This here-and-now mentality gives the ESTP a distinct impatience, or more accurately, a desire to keep moving. Several quotes from famous ESTPs demonstrate this:
- “I have never procrastinated about anything.”
- “Let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.”
- “A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later.”
- “We cannot stand like an old lady at the middle of the street crossing without getting hit.”
The ESTP’s energy naturally flows into the here-and-now, and not into long-term planning, distant speculation, or strategic waiting, as it is with many INTJs or INFJs. Thus, ESTPs often work best when in the thick of things, by throwing themselves right into the fray, where things are fast enough to keep up with their resourceful and powerful mind. ESTPs often have a fascinating ability to overcome incredible obstacles through little more than a rallying speech and a blitzkrieg of pure horsepower applied in a resourceful way. For instance, when Eisenhower sent General Patton a message to bypass the city of Trier as it would take four divisions to capture it. Patton replied saying he has already taken the city of Trier with only two divisions, and asked “What do you want me to do, give it back?” In other words, the ESTP’s direct relationship with the here-and-now allows them to achieve things better by acting immediately with strength, vigor and willpower, rather than reserving their strength and portioning it out over time. Anything could happen in ten minutes, they might say, better to act now so we don’t miss any opportunities. If we don’t flinch, and maintain resolute courage, it will amaze you what we can do.
There are three more distinct effects of the ESTP’s Se, here-and-now focus.
First, the here and now tends to take precedence over anything in the future, including previous plans or even agreed rules, for instance, Patton taking the city of Trier before receiving any direction to do so, or Douglas MacArthur’s disobedient advance towards China in the Korean War. The ESTP can sometimes be annoyed that rules, plans or authority are causing them to miss a beautiful opportunity.
Second, the ESTP greatly appreciates variety in their life, because they are neither holding to any part of the past or projecting extensively into the future, therefore there is no reason for them to settle into a routine. This is also because Se, like Ne, analyzes different angles of a thing, but rather than examining its possibilities from different angles and thereby getting a much more broad view around the object, they analyze the thing itself from different angles, getting a more focused view. Nevertheless, Se naturally resonates with the idea that there is more than one way to skin a cat, as opposed to the sentiment of Ni, which may recognize the merit of this statement, but still unconsciously feels that there is an ideal way to skin a cat.
Third, the ESTP perspective, and therefore their descriptions of things, is often like vivid snapshots. The ESTP knows how to describe things in a very visceral way, to recreate the suspense or beauty or awe that comes in a single moment. While Ni is known for creating very compelling depictions of possibilities, such as Plato’s theory of forms or Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, Se is known for creating very compelling depictions of reality, such as Hemingway’s terse but vivid writing style or Patton’s brutal and visceral explanations.
Tertiary Fe lends another advantage to the ESTP: They can adapt to the standards of sentiment surrounding them. In other words, the practiced ESTP can be very good at making people feel comfortable, pleasing others, keeping up appearances, and putting on a good show. This is the ESTP’s famous and notorious power of persuasion which has earned them the stereotype as a con man or salesperson. This stereotype should be taken in the same way that the ENTJ is stereotypically a brutal tyrant. And while the unpleasant version of the ESTP may be a con man, the pleasant version would be Winston Churchill carrying the spirit of the British people through the raging heart of World War II. The ESTP’s visceral and vivid descriptions and direct relationship with facts and moments in time, as well as their sometimes stubborn holding to logical, hard principles, yet charming and compelling understanding of other people and what they find encouraging: all of this combines to give the ESTP potential as a brilliant spokesman.
However, the ESTP’s dominant Se, as I have alluded to before, represses Ni. It might be of interest that the ESTP is the unrepressed, or “alternate universe” version of the INFJ, if you will, because while the INFJ represses Se and has less developed Ti, these are the more dominant traits for the ESTP, who alternatively represses Ni and puts less focus on Fe. Relationships between the INFJ and ESTP can therefore be interesting, to say the least. Historical figures of these types have demonstrated a certain mistrust, frustration, or even disgust of each other, and this could likely be attributed to the fact that each represents the other’s repressed side, the side that always trips them up and confuses them the most. Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson found each other less than agreeable, and Churchill’s disgust of Gandhi is well-known (and of course Churchill vs. Hitler – ed.).
Concerning repressed Ni in the ESTP, if we consider Se to be focused on the here and now, and then consider Ni to be focused on practically everything but the here and now – possibilities independent of reality; distant predictions of the future and overarching patterns of the past – the ESTP finds such future speculation to be objectionable. ESTPs love to throw themselves into the thick of things, rather than wait around for a plan to properly mature, and their direct relationship to objects makes anything above or around objects, much less above or around their own subject, anything but relevant. For this reason, the ESTP is known for greatly disliking academic banter or jargon, or long-winded philosophizing, which they often feel is pompously assuming intelligence when it has no immediate relevance at all.
While the ESTP may revile the contemplative spirit of Ni, the truth is, as with all types and their repressed functions, that the ESTP finds Ni just as enticing and dangerous as the INFJ finds its repressed Se. The ESTP is most often tricked by their Ni to overestimate the reach of their ideas. The ESTP is a big idea person, and while they don’t like to wait around, they do have big plans that they seek to implement in their resourceful style, but sometimes these big ideas get too big, so that they don’t pan out as the ESTP thought they would. A great example is Douglas MacArthur’s advance on the Chinese in the American-Korean War; he had already won a significant portion of Korea, but in his excitement he believed that the United States could successfully conquer all of Korea and even begin a winning war against China. Thus caught ahold of by this Ni vision, this vague speculation that he felt must be fulfilled, he disobeyed orders and marched further into northern Korea, inciting the Chinese to earnestly reinforce the northern Koreans. MacArthur underestimated the Chinese reaction, and was driven back into South Korea, losing much of his previously conquered land.
So, in summary, the ESTP is conquering, loving the fight for its own sake. Their focus on the here and now makes them extremely adaptive and resourceful, preferring to put their energy into present action rather than waiting for a long-term plan to develop. Their tertiary Fe grants them exceptional powers of persuasion and encouragement, while their repressed Ni makes them aversive to academic long-windedness, and overestimating of their intuitions.
Thanks for reading, and for all the ESTPs out there, thanks for your vitality, courage, and resourcefulness in dealing with the present world.
Watch this piece as a video here.