Can you share with us a little of your story? I know you’re based in Asheville so what brought you here, what drove you to study Enneagram and how your book The Honest Enneagram came about?
"I grew up in Asheville. I graduated from Erwin High School. I didn’t know that I’d move back as an adult until I traveled to the 48 continental states and Asheville was still one of my favorite places in the country. I moved back in 2011. I learned about the Enneagram over a bonfire with friends and someone casually mentioned to my partner and I. I took a quiz online the next day and it started me down a rabbit hole of research trying to understand the system and how I fit into it. At the time I was working as a burnout prevention and recovery coach and the Enneagram was an incredibly useful tool in understanding why people were burning out. Through my own journey of typing and my work with people experiencing burnout I ended up falling in love with the system itself. So much so that my friends asked me to find an outlet to pour all of that interest into so that we could talk about something else for once. I created an instagram account dedicated to the Enneagram and quickly found so many like-minded people wanting to talk about this amazing tool. I wrote the Honest Enneagram as a compassionate guide to the system paired with a practical method of using it for growth. It was the same system I’d been using with one on one clients to create a sense of safety within themselves as they sought to do their personal growth work."
For anyone unfamiliar with Enneagram, can you give us a run down?
"The enneagram is a personality typing system with nine distinct types. Each type represents a specific worldview. I like to think of our enneagram type as who we think we have to be. Do we feel as though we have to be morally perfect, likable, successful, significant, informed, prepared, satisfied, strong or easy to get along with? We each carry one of these nine pressures as dominant and it impacts how we show up in relationships, at work and in relationship to ourself."
How has the Enneagram impacted your life, your own processes of self-discovery, your relationships?
"My enneagram type is a type 7. We carry the pressure to be happy and satisfied. Which means that for most of my life when a job, relationship or situation didn’t feel good to me I started to look for what’s next. The trouble with this is that everything good in life is eventually going to be difficult. Every job has something that we don’t enjoy. Every relationship takes work. If I didn’t learn this about myself I would have missed out on all of the richness and depth that comes from sticking with things even when they’re hard."
The Enneagram for some folks is a popular tool for growth, but is there anything you think is missing in conversations about personality types?
"Yes! In my new book that’s coming out in October, I discuss the reality that we aren’t just one enneagram type. As comfortable as categorization can feel it’s also not a reality that we are a single number on a chart and that explains everything about who we are. We are a combination of experiences, coping mechanisms and challenges that have formed into a complex human being. That being said, I fully believe we are all enneagram types. We have one that is dominant that we will likely be in relationship to for the rest of our life. However, we can choose to operate out of any of the types at any time. It’s really about embracing that each type has strengths and tools that we can benefit from and getting to pick and choose which tool to use at the right time. In my opinion, there is no bad enneagram type there is simply using a skill at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Do you think people can over-identify with their type and if so what does that look like?
"So often, people complain to me about others using the enneagram to validate their behaviors. Meaning we find our enneagram type and say, “well I do that because I’m a seven” instead of exploring if that behavior is serving you or not. The idea that we are who we are and that is who we will always be. The trouble with that is that’s not the intended use of the enneagram. The intended use is to show you that it’s not who you have to be. You get to choose who you are in any given moment by how you show up. I define our enneagram type as pressure. The expectation we carry for who we have to be in order to be accepted, safe or loved. So if we think about it in those terms - growth through the enneagram is really working toward putting that pressure down."
One of the challenges of self-help messages is that we may tend to believe there’s something wrong with us, something that needs fixing. When do you believe self-help becomes problematic? How can we use the Enneagram as a healthy tool for growth?
"So often self-help gurus online are teaching these things like they are magic pills you take that just make life better, easier and more fulfilling. Like a get rich quick scheme for your soul. Yet, they neglect to share the struggles along the way, the ache in your gut when things aren’t so easy and the emotional mountains you climb on this journey. I see this happen with the enneagram all the time - even in my own life. We become so focused on the system and finding where we fit into the system and who we are supposed to be based on the system that we ignore how it’s making us feel. Or simply, we overthink it. Questions like - if I’m unhappy can I really be a seven? If I’m no longer fearful of conflict and I truly a nine? Seeking to over-identify with your number to the point that growth isn’t possible.OR if you’re like me you start to associate your personality with being wrong. Like anything about your type is somehow a problem even though there are some really beautiful traits that you carry related to your enneagram type. Like enjoying to be busy feels like a failure when maybe it’s just a neutral behavior. In my opinion - self-help is best used from a healthy distance. When we start to examine ourselves under a microscope things get blurry and weird and a little too intense. It’s like we forget the simple principle that self-help is meant to help ourselves. To make life more enjoyable, to aid in healthier relationships and better communication. It’s not here to make us dizzy with self-awareness and obsessed with perfecting the way we show up in the world.You are not a project to be tinkered with. You are a living breathing being who is worthy of a life well lived and sometimes that means engaging with self-help and yes even the enneagram through the filters of:
“Is this pouring love in?”
“Do I feel expanded by this?”
“Is this a healing balm?”
“Does this nurture me?”
“Is this improving my life?”
Do you have any personal experiences with moving away from self-scrutiny?
"Absolutely. I have an excerpt from my new book that I believe discusses my process with this
more fully: This afternoon I watched the skateboarders at Venice Beach. My eyes locked on one who seemed to be in his element. He flowed and flipped and stopped like he’d learned to roll before he walked. I was transfixed with the way every move seemed so precise yet he made it look easy. I wasn’t alone either - there were dozens of us all watching him at once. Until he fell. He must have done hundreds of perfect flips that day but this one took him down And he walked off the park like I did after my first slow dance - Arms held to the side hoping that somehow he’d become invisible. And I thought - that’s how it feels to be told you messed up when you’re trying with every fiber of your being to do something perfectly. Like there’s an audience there following your every move and then boom - you fall. You say one word too many, leave a typo in that note or miss an appointment you thought you’d written down - and there you are veins hot and heavy like they’re full of molten lead. On good days that moment is temporary, Sure the heaviness comes but it also goes And life re-enters your cheeks as your mind continues to flow. But on the worse days it can feel like a scream of a replay Going over and over the same old moment. And it doesn’t matter how many things you did right that day The sensation of one going wrong sends your mind into a pit of questions,
“What if I was a fool to think myself worthy?”
“What if I am nothing special after all?”
“What if I am really asking for too much out of life?”
All of this exists because we hold the ultimate question at the core of our being -
can you be at once good and flawed or do my mistakes take away all of the good
that I have done? And I think that’s where it’s helpful to remember our skateboarding friend. His 100th flip that day bruised his knees and then his ego. But not a single one of us would say that his other 99 perfect flips were all a wash. He was great at his craft- and he fell. The audience was rooting for him to get up and keep going perhaps even more then they were when he seemed without flaw. And it’s helpful to remember that there were probably thousands of falls before that which brought him to this point where I stood shoulder to shoulder with others in awe of what he’s done. In fact, for him and I think for us too there is no goodness without flaw. Our obsession with perfection limits our access to the potential available to us when we are fully who we are. So the next time our veins feel hot with lava and heart sinks down to our toes maybe we can remember to root for ourselves to get back up again as we have done 1000 times before."
You write that the magic of the Enneagram isn’t in finding ourselves in these numbers, but in recognizing what isn’t ours to carry. Can you talk more about that?
"I think of the enneagram as who we thought we had to be. Somewhere along the way we received the message that in order to be safe, loved and accepted we must show up and play the role that we play. Here are those roles defined by the enneagram types:
1 - the one who is morally perfect
2 - the one who is lovable
3 - the one who is successful
4 - the one who is special
5 - the one who is informed
6 - the one who is loyal and prepared
7 - the one who is happy and satisfied
8 - the one who is strong
9 - the one who is easy to get along with
We play this role often abandoning ourselves in the process of maintaining the character that we play in order to be loved or accepted. It’s not that being any of these things is in itself harmful it’s when we use the skills at the wrong time or take it to an extreme that it doesn’t serve us or our relationships. The desire to be lovable moves from simply allowing ourselves to be loved into earning love through over sacrificing and ignoring our own wants and needs. Ignoring our wants and needs quickly leads to resentment which leads to frustration in our relationships which makes us disconnected from our ability to be loved. Like our method for earning our place ends up being the very thing that prevents us from experiencing it in it’s purest form. In order to grow and to experience the depth that is available to us - we learn to release the pressure. To allow ourselves to let people down, to not over function in our role. You’ve got quite a few endeavors with Enneagram, including a podcast and some upcoming publications."
Can you share with us more about those projects and how folks can access them?
Yes! I have a podcast called the Enneagram & Coffee podcast that releases every single weekday at apple.co/egram. I also release Enneagram content on Instagram every single week!
Even more exciting is my new book The Enneagram Letters: A poetic exploration of who you thought you had to be released this October and is available for pre-order now.
It’s a compilation of poems and personal essays exploring each of the nine pressures of the enneagram. For those who pre-order we have a special workbook for you as well as a free typing workshop to help you find your enneagram type. https://site.andrewsmcmeel.com/the-enneagram-letters-preorder