Last year as part of ongoing efforts to help the Experience Life staff function better as a team, we had a staff retreat. No, no, we didn’t sit around and hold hands and sing “Cumbayá,” but that would have been hilarious. The image in my head of our senior fitness editor, Jen Sinkler, humming that song on a kazoo with our design team of Jane Meronuck and Lydia Anderson dancing along does bring a smile to my face.
But, this whole teamwork thing is serious business. So, part of the agenda involved learning to understand and use the enneagram.
I admit I wasn’t super-thrilled when I heard we were going to be “typing” ourselves. I’m usually very skeptical of “typing” systems because I find them to be limiting. I’ve been cast as an introverted extrovert or some other non-helpful category of things from these sorts of tests in the past, but the information never felt very useful to me once I had it. But, hey, they pay me for this, so I told myself since I had to be there, I’d keep an open mind.
Plus, I did a little research on the history of the enneagram before I arrived and it turns out it’s been around awhile. It’s an old personality system that outlines nine (“Ennea“ is Greek for nine and “gram” means a figure or something written) distinct and fundamentally different patterns of thinking, feeling and acting. Basically, the enneagram is a tool for understanding and developing emotional intelligence.
Well, now that little tidbit piqued my interest. Yes, I am one of those people that has often been told not to be so emotional. For example, I once had a boss who said: “Heidi, I have to say, I’ve never known anyone who had such strong feelings about everything.” I don’t just have feelings, I tend to express them openly and often. Admittedly this is not something I’ve always done with care. It’s also something I’ve been trying to get better at dealing with so if this enneagram-thingy could help with that, I was open to it.
What is the Enneagram?
The basic premise of the enneagram is that we all developed patterns to protect a specific aspect of ourselves that felt threatened. It’s essentially a tool to help you recognize and understand more about the unconscious motivations you’ve developed to protect yourself so that you can utilize them as strengths.
I’ve found the book’s principles and practices about my type (#4: The Romantic) fascinating and helpful in understanding my relationship with myself, and others. Of course, it could be argued that the enneagram is all subjective, but that’s what I think is interesting about it. You get to type yourself! There’s real power in that.
For example, it’s true that I am idealistic, caring and extremely focused on and seek authenticity. I am introspective, but at times to the point of becoming paralyzed by self-consciousness.
It’s true that I am emotionally intense. It’s also true (as mentioned above) that letting my strong feelings run the show causes me, at times, to fall into inaction or alienates me from others.
It’s true that I sometimes focus on what seems to be missing in my life that might be beautiful and unique, which often causes me to downplay the ordinary day-to-day things that are happening in my life that are actually pretty great.
It’s not like I never knew this stuff about myself before because I definitely did. But, for some reason the way these things were presented in The Essential Ennegram along with the staff discussion led by an enneagram expert really helped me articulate things about myself in a way that other things hadn’t.
Phew! Now what? Well, now that I know these things, I can do something about them. I can choose to focus on what’s positive in my life right now instead of what’s missing. I can recognize my strong feelings and figure out how to maintain a consistent course of action. I can focus on changing things about myself without fear of losing my individuality or authenticity.
Another thing I like about the enneagram is that it helps people in your life learn to communicate with and support you more effectively. For example, when someone critiques me, they can explain that even though they’d like me to improve on something so that we can have a better relationship they aren’t trying to change me.
Now, I’m not saying the enneagram offers all the answers and insights you need to help you get the great life you want. Nothing is that simple. But, take it from someone who doesn’t like being categorized, I find it a useful tool for understanding and explaining what makes me tick.