This post falls under the heading of “Life Takes the Occasional Odd Turn.” Said odd turn: I was recently contacted by a reporter from a women’s lifestyle and fashion magazine in Chile, Revista Paula, and asked some questions about how the Enneagram has affected my life. Below is my response.
Looking back, I see that purposely missing my train was the first sign that I had found something special.
I first heard about the Enneagram in the early 1990s. A friend recommended a book to me, and a few days later I decided to buy the book on a whim at a bookshop near the train station in Philadelphia. The book, a very short one, had a test in it that told me I was an Ennea-type Eight. I was so intrigued by the description I read that I went back and bought a longer book by the same author, even though I knew I would miss my train. I missed the train happily, dug deeper into the pages and recognized myself in the details of the descriptionthe good things and the bad. I was mesmserized.
My first reaction was, wow, this is surprisingly accurate. I was already familiar with other popular models of personality, but none of them had ever caught my attention so dramatically. My second reaction was, wow, this can be useful. That reaction was consistent with my Ennea-type, of course, the Type Eight who strives to be powerful. Power is not always the ability to control and dominate other people; it is the capacity to produce an effect. Eights want to exercise power in this way; they want to play a part in shaping the world, in making things happen. I realized if this description about me was so accurate, it was probably accurate about other people as well and that this information would be useful in ways I couldnt even imagine. But I intuitively knew that the more I understood other people, the more effective I could be in my interactions with them.
The Enneagram changed my way of seeing people, and while at first I thought it would help me be more effective (or, in other words, better able to manipulate them), I found that it actually made me more patient and compassionate. I understood, at least a little bit better, that each of us is struggling with our patterns of habitual fixation; that my way of seeing the world was not as original as I had thought–and maybe not always the best way of seeing the world–and it made me more curious about other peoples perspectives.
Discovering the Enneagram changed my life in dramatic ways. Of course, the most immediate change is that it helped me to see ways that I go off track; how I get drawn into responses to the world that are rooted more in my habitual responses than in what is really occurring around me. Understanding this tendency helps me catch myself in the act of my fixations a little more quickly and helps me change my behaviors. When I began my work as an executive coach in the late 1990s, these insights proved to be invaluable. The Enneagram provided me with new ways to understand the obstacles that lie in the way of their growth, making me better able to help them around those obstacles.
My work with the Enneagram has also allowed me to meet people from all over the world, showing me that while we may have different personality styles and come from different cultures, we are all basically the same. Ive talked about and taught the Enneagram in the US, South America, Europe, and Asia and I have found that the Enneagram applies to everyone, everywhere. It doesnt mean that people are not different; I agree with Walt Whitman, we are, each one of us, large and we contain multitudes. But people are people wherever you go.
How do I see my Ennea-type Eight personality in my every day life? I see it all the time; some ways good and some ways not so good. I recognize that I still struggle with all the same issues Ive always struggled with: I can be short-tempered, impatient, and demanding. I can be insensitive, thinking people are stronger or tougher than they actually are. I tend to be blunt, saying whats on my mind before thinking through the consequences my words will have. I have strong opinions and state them forcefully, sometimes forgetting that they are merely opinions and not necessarily objective facts. But, thanks to the Enneagram, I do these things less than I used to, and when I see myself going the wrong direction I pull back more quickly than I used to.
I can be challenging to work with at times; I cant help but see myself as the boss. This can make it difficult to collaborate with others. People may not feel like I listen to them well enough, and I can be extremely stubborn; when I get an idea in my head people have to work very hard to get me to change my mind. This is not something that everyone has the patience for.
While, in a sense, I work for my clients, the idea of working for someone else is something that I couldnt imagine at this point in my life. When I realized this about myself I thought it was a sign that something was wrong with methat I was too stubborn, difficult, or arrogant. However, Ive grown comfortable with my need to be in control of my own destiny (as much as anyone truly can). People should be true to their naturewe can (and should) try to act in more adaptive waysbut we are who we are and shouldnt try to fight it. Adaptable within our natural tendencies is a good way to be. Accepting ourselves while being more adaptiveresponding to the world as it is rather than out of our habitual patternsmakes us happier and makes the people around us happier. This happiness may not be all that matters in life, but it matters a lot. Thus, I believe we can be true to who we are even while we are working to be better versions of ourselves.
There are good things about being an Eight, of course. Eights are confident and strong. They get things done and people go to them for guidance and leadership. They have an impact on the world. They dont recognize limits in themselves, and they help other people past theirs. At my best, I see some of these traits in myself.
I call my company Awareness to Action International and my approach to working with my clients the awareness to action process because I believe that effective interaction with the world is rooted in awareness of ourselves and others. I use the Enneagram because it helps us build this awareness better than any other tool I have encountered. It has had profound impacts on my life, and Im honored that I get to make my living by sharing it with other people.