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.
Three years ago I began studying an obscure tool called the Enneagram. With a BA in Psychology, I tend to be a little skeptical of personality tests, especially those with little scientific data to back them up. The Enneagram wasn’t designed by some PhD. Its’ reliability hasn’t been indisputably proven statistically significant. In fact, there’s much disagreement on whether an actual “test” is a good way to use the tool. Instead, it’s believed to have ancient roots, passed down through centuries of stories and traditions. Currently, it’s experiencing such an explosive Renaissance of interest; I’m afraid to say it’s practically reached fad status.
Several years ago something inside of me broke loose. In the midst of two major relocations, raising four kids under five years old, and starting a new organization, my body began to revolt against the pace and pressure I was subjecting it to on a weekly basis. Nearly every night I woke from sleep in the grip of panic attacks. Quiet walks on the White River Canal were disrupted by unexpected waves of breath-taking anxiety. Emotionally I was detached and distant from those closest to me, unable to articulate the hidden pain I carried around each day.
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 currently sitting on the bank of the Big South Fork River, enjoying a quick weekend getaway with just my husband. As I take in the beauty around me (notice my picture), I immediately flashed back to 10 years ago, when my children were in elementary school. I was trying to “balance” running my business, being actively present in my kids’ lives, making my marriage a priority, and all the other “busyness” I believed was required of me. I ended up injuring my back in a way that made movement extremely uncomfortable. I truly believe this is the only way I could have gained any insight into the craziness my life had become. I had to be immobile in order to carve out time to re-evaluate the direction I was going.
I’ve been investing a lot of time and energy on personal growth. It’s hard work. It’s revealed some tough, ugly truths. One of those truths is that I don’t like to spend a lot of time thinking and planning. I like to get stuff done. Thinking and planning feels like a waste of time. The problem is that I struggle with developing long-term strategies. Because I don’t make the time to reflect, I run the risk of focusing on the wrong things. I’m starting to see this character trait, both in myself and in some of the leaders I come in contact with.
It was one of many Saturday errands. My teenage girls and I pulled into the Goodwill donation line behind a couple in their late 50s who were making half a dozen trips between their van and the doors with what looked like the leftovers from an estate sale. Impatient, I climbed out of my car to carry my bags to the door just as I saw the man in front of me lift an Underwood #5 typewriter out of his van to give away. A gasp of excitement and panic filled my car as my typewriter-obsessed daughters squealed, “Mom, ASK HIM FOR THAT TYPEWRITER!”
Though I am impatient, I am not usually quick to speak. This is both a blessing and a curse. There was a split second of opportunity before this rare treasure was lost to us.
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.
Behavioral changes don’t just happen by accident. They require internal transformations first.
You see, there are subtle ways we sabotage the changes we want to make. If we don’t remove those internal blockers, we’ll never achieve lasting outcomes.
I intimately learned this lesson last year. My family accomplished a milestone goal. We became one of the 20% of Americans who are debt free. My entire approach to this goal was different than my usual run-of-the-mill – goals. This goal required that I show up differently and clearly address my blockers.
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.