I was first exposed to the Enneagram nine years ago. I saw a one-page summary in a book I was reading, and I immediately dismissed the model; it sounded like voodoo magic or a horoscope. Then three years ago my wise friend Daniel Fuller gave me a copy of Stabile and Cron’s The Road Back to You and suggested I take a deeper look.
I was running through the woods at Eagle Creek Park last Saturday with a good friend. I had sensed something was off in our relationship, so I asked him if there was anything I was doing that was making life harder for him. Over the next several minutes he calmly described two of my habits that weren’t working for others around me, or for him.
I’m in the middle of an unresolved relational conflict, and it has consumed a lot of my thoughts of late. Last Thursday and Friday I discussed this relationship in four different conversations, seeking advice.
Or maybe I was really seeking validation for my point of view.
“How did we get here?” I thought to myself as my wife and I sat in silence, furious at each other on our anniversary get-away. In 23 years of marriage, we had never once had a fight about money. Then, out of nowhere, we found ourselves at odds over how much we were willing to pay for our daughter’s college tuition. I was so pissed that I stormed out of our Cincinnati Airbnb, and started walking north in the cool night air to clear my head.
I returned later that evening in the same state of mind as when I left. Kim and I went to bed angry, facing opposite directions.
Matthias Schlitte is a German professional arm-wrestler. He was born with a genetic bone disorder that made his right arm naturally larger than his left. His training objective is to build as much strength and muscle mass as possible in his larger arm, but keep the rest of his body (including his left arm) relatively trim, so he can compete in a lighter weight class. In the gym, he develops his right arm twelve hours a week.
All humans are on a journey of maturation. We continue to grow throughout our lives, hopefully until the day we die. I’ve found that these journeys are not linear. Much like Matthias, we develop asymmetrically.
As I reflect on my life, I find that the greatest growth has come from challenges that had me paralyzed at the time: believing I needed 34 hours in each day as a plebe at the Naval Academy, failing to stand up to a bully in the Marine Corps, trying to stay motivated and effective when I lost interest in my corporate job, learning to sell services to prospective clients, and understanding the depth of my arrogance and lack of curiosity as a coach and consultant.
I was a decent basketball player as a kid. I went to the Taylor University Basketball Camp two summers in a row, and I learned a lot. I’m right-handed, and I’ve always found it easy to drive to the basket to the right. But defenders would always frustrate me by poaching over to their left, shutting down my driving lane. When I learned to dribble left-handed, it opened up a lot of possibilities for me on the court.
Because of my personality, there are other behaviors that also come naturally to me.
I feel like the Lorax. They cut down the magnificent old-growth trees on the floodwall. I live on the south bank of the White River, and the Army Corps of Engineers has been floodproofing my neighborhood for 15 years. The latest iteration of the plan involved the industrial scale de-treeing of the levee. Nobody asked my opinion, and I’m in a stage of resentful mourning.
Last week I got a Tdap booster vaccination. My arm is still a bit sore. I knew it was going to hurt, because the nurse who gave me the vaccination warned me, “The needle will hurt a bit, and the injection site will be sore for a few days.” I took the shot anyway, because I knew it was good for me.
But in other areas of my life, I confuse pain and harm. And I find other leaders too often make this same mistake.
America, I have deep compassion for your pain, and I simultaneously need to tell you, for your own good, at some point you need move through your grief and get back to work.