People who don’t know me well would probably be surprised to know that I’m an amatuer Enneagram coach. At first glance, I don’t think I come off as someone who subscribes to personality-typing systems or is particularly spiritual. I’ve never bought into DISC, know my Myers-Briggs just enough to tell you I’m both an introvert and an extrovert, and am the sort to only read horoscopes as a joke. 

But people who know me really well will already be rolling their eyes, because I’m talking about the Enneagram again. Sorry, not sorry. 

I found the Enneagram about five years ago now, and I know this is going to sound dramatic, but hear me out: it changed my life. 

Okay, okay—I warned you of the drama. But seriously. I was a sophomore in college, and my only experience before had been a quiz I took where I didn’t like the results. I tested as a Nine, which seemed utterly bogus—knowing more now, I totally understand the mistype, but at the time “jaded” would have been an understatement. Somehow I got my hands on some books and accidentally stumbled into some pretty heavy heart-work. 

But before I share my experience with the Enneagram, let me give you the basics: there are nine “types,” each assigned a number. Everyone is everything, to some extent, because people are complex. But each person has only core one type, numbered one through nine, that is based on their core desires and motivations (this is part of the reason it’s so easy to mistype like I did: quizzes and tests ask about behaviors, not motivations, so you usually have to dig a bit deeper than your immediate results). Each person also has a “wing,” which can be one of the numbers next to it—for example, I’m a Two-wing-One; there’s no such thing as a Two-wing-Seven. Each number has directions of growth and directions of stress, where their behaviors are likely to look more like another type, but their core motivation remains the same. There’s a lot of other things out there too, like tritypes, overlays, and triads, but that’s a story for another time.

The nine types are: One, “the Reformer” (my wing!); Two, “the Helper” (I’m about as Two as they come); Three, “the Achiever” (my other wing option); Four, “the Individualist” (the place I go in times of health and growth); Five, “the Investigator” (I don’t understand Fives! They confuse me!); Six, “the Loyalist” (part of my tritype); Seven, “the Enthusiast” (Sevens stress me out!); Eight, “the Challenger” (the place I go in times of stress, and ironically a strong overlay for me, which means that I exhibit Eight traits even when healthy); and Nine, “the Peacemaker” (this was my mistype—turns out a Two/Nine mistype is very common!). I had a whole little section typed up about each type, but that added an extra thousand words, so you’ll just have to look them up yourself. 

I am a Two-wing-One, with a strong Eight overlay, tritype Two-Eight-Six, and sit squarely in the heart and gut triads, with very few forays into head-triad territory. 

Now that you’re thoroughly confused and can’t keep any of the types straight, let me explain how the Enneagram changed my life. 

The short version is this: the Enneagram gave me permission to be all the parts of myself at once, instead of trying to keep all the parts of myself separate and keep other people happy. As a Two, my first instinct in any situation is to see what people need and then be that—a shoulder to cry on? A casserole? Some tough love? Someone to reach that thing on a high shelf? I didn’t even realize that I was constantly focusing on what others needed me to be and neglecting myself, but it was leaving me seriously burned out. The Enneagram gave me language to explain my behaviors, and articulate what my heart desires. 

I cried for a long time when I dug deep enough to see my core motivations and understand my type—out of relief and out of frustration that I didn’t realize it sooner. 

For the first time in my life, I felt like I was allowed to set boundaries and do things for me, because that’s what growth-work often looks like for Twos. For basically the first time ever, I felt like I could maybe say “no” to things, and that would not only be okay, it would be helpful—my kryptonite. 

And that’s the thing about the Enneagram, I think—used well, it’s all about growth. Sometimes it’s slow, painful, frustrating growth, but the opportunity is always there, waiting. 

In the last five years, I’ve done a lot of growing. I’ve learned to set better boundaries, I’ve learned what makes me feel taken for granted (an almost-sure sign that I will soon snap at someone!), and I’m working hard to treat myself with the same kindness and care I do for others. 

Don’t get me wrong: like any tool, the Enneagram is useful to some and useless to others. Even  knowing what I know, I don’t always get things right. But without this tool, I certainly wouldn’t be who I am today; maybe it will be helpful for you, too.


  1. Alex Johnson

    I got introduced to the Enneagram a few years back, and while I’m not as into it as you are apparently, it was very helpful to see my tendencies through the Type 3 lens. Glad it’s been such a tool of growth for you!

  2. Phil Rienstra

    Great piece, I can’t believe I missed this for a few days! I’m so glad to see someone writing about the Enneagram! I have some plans for future pieces that feature it but I haven’t gotten around to them yet….

    Anyways, the Enneagram continues to be one of my special interests and I would love to talk about it with you some time!


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