“Enneagram: Achiever”

July 22, 2018


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
July 22, 2018

“Enneagram: Achiever”
2 Corinthians 4:17-18

In his memoir, Open, champion tennis player Andre Agassi describes growing up with a father whose love for him was tied to his performance on the court. Agassi shocked the world when he publicly confessed for the first time that he hated playing tennis from the time he first picked up a racket to the day he retired. The reason he became a tennis champion was not his passion or even desire to play the game – it was his desire to win the love of his father. He described his father as unable to “tell the difference between loving me and loving tennis.”

We are continuing our series today on the Enneagram – an ancient tool from the Sufi tradition. We’ve talked about the Type Ones, often called the Perfectionist or the Reformer. Last week we explored what it was like to be a Type Two, often referred to as the Helper. Today’s type is a Three, called the Achiever or the Performer. I’m using 3 resources for this series including:
• Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and teacher, who wrote “Discovering the Enneagram”
• Ian Cron’s “The Road Back to You”
• Christopher Heuertz’s “The Sacred Enneagram”

Type Threes (and I’m guessing we have an extra blessing of type Threes in our congregation) are people who draw their energy from their successes. They are high achievers, dedicated to their careers, competitive people who work very hard and pour their energy into a project. They are often highly competent and strike others as optimistic, intelligent, dynamic, and productive. They are resilient people with audacious dreams who inspire others.

When we spoke about type Twos, I mentioned that they could go into a room and feel what others were feeling. Type Threes can walk into a room and know how to behave, how to appear and how to talk to be accepted by everyone present. They are always keeping an eye out for advancement. They are often politically savvy and dressed to the nines. Even their vacations are activity based, like scuba diving or a bike trip across a state, or serious hiking… and they often carry along a stack of work to accomplish in their “down time”.

Type Threes have more difficulty recognizing and connecting to their feelings than any other number on the Enneagram. Threes do feelings more than have feelings. What gives away the fact that they aren’t actually connecting to the sorrow they’re visibly expressing at a funeral, for example, is that they are looking sad but may be thinking about an unfinished work project at the same time. Threes care about efficiency and completing a task. Feelings can be messy, and they slow the progress toward a goal, so Threes don’t spend much time on them.

One of the things I haven’t explained yet as we are exploring the Enneagram is that there are categories for each personality type. Within a type, there are emotionally and spiritually healthy people of that type; average emotionally and spiritually people of that type; and unhealthy emotionally and spiritually people of that type. One of the reasons that the Enneagram is used for spiritual development and counseling is that you can affirm a person’s type and traits while helping them grow into healthier patterns. For each type, there are spiritual and emotional growth points.

Early in life, Threes pick up the wounding message “you are what you do”. As a result, they become high performance achievement machines. They strive to excel and be acknowledged for their accomplishments. Some of them set their sights on an Ivy League college while they’re still in Middle School! Kids who are Threes wake up in the morning with a plan for their day. They are socially aware and they plan what they will wear and who they’ll sit with at lunch. They try to do things that are valued by the people around them, and they take it hard when they fail. These are kids who stand out.

Unhealthy threes manage their relationships in much the same way they do their work. They can unconsciously view their spouse like an action item on their task list. They are almost all workaholics and have a supernatural talent for multitasking. Don’t get me wrong… not all Threes are business people. But they are people who want desperately to succeed at what they do. When our children were little, I had a girlfriend who also had three children in four years. Bernadette was a stay at home mom, but she was the best stay at home mom there ever was! She started a childcare exchange in Bel Aire, based on a point system. If I watched your children for part of a day, I received points for each child and each hour. I could exchange those points with someone else in Bel Aire for free childcare. She started a food co-op, and all kinds of people bulk ordered food through the co-op and then split it up so that everyone benefited from the savings. Bernadette even gave her husband a statement at the end of the month, showing how much she saved the family by clipping and exchanging coupons, by trading babysitting, by cleaning their home, and by teaching their children instead of sending them to preschool. She was a type Three stay at home mom. Although I was working full time, going to seminary, and raising children, I was always wowed by Bernadette!

If a nation has a type on the Enneagram, the United States is a Three. We are a nation based on the ideas of type Three. We are success oriented and an image obsessed culture. We love to hear stories of people who made a success of themselves. And we are hard on those who do not. We value smart, charismatic, ambitious, type A persons. Of course, this is also the mindset of capitalism: “Those who exert themselves enough can work their way up.”

Many segments of the Christian faith have also bought into this idea. Bigger churches are better. Ministers are judged by their successes. (I often refer to this quest among ministers as “steeple envy”). Even Jesus is sold as a recipe for success… and a prosperity gospel is preached.

When they’re healthy, these charismatic, productive, go-get-‘em folks are authentic, visionary leaders and extraordinary builders who deserve our admiration. Productivity, efficiency, goals and measurable results – these are what Threes care about and do better than anyone else, particularly efficiency.

Some notable Threes from history are: Augustus Caesar, Emperor Constantine, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Prince William, Condoleeza Rice, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Muhammed Ali, Bill Wilson (AA Founder), Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Bernie Madoff, Bryant Gumbel, Michael Jordan, O.J. Simpson, Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, and Barbra Streisand. Add to that two of our children and my brother. Several years ago, I asked our children when they thought they might start families so that I wouldn’t have to be a grandma wanna-be. The answer, “Mom, we are married to our aspirations!”

The color of type Three is traffic-light yellow. Yellow catches the eye; it strikes us as urgent, dynamic, and eccentric. It is radiant. Yellow is the directional element among the colors. It guides and leads us along our way and illumines with knowledge, insight and meaning. Yet, it is at the same time the most vulnerable of all colors.

The spiritual work of a type Three is the call to hope. As Richard Rohr writes, “Only a hope that goes beyond ostensible successes can help a Three acquire depth and put up with momentary failure. Hope means not basing life on one’s goals, but anchoring yourself in God.” Rohr notes the apostle Paul’s writing as a message for type Threes:

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
II Cor. 4:17-18

When type Threes begin to discover their inner world, in the beginning they generally make that into a project too: they want to meditate successfully! It takes a while before they notice that the point is to do nothing, to learn nothing, simply to exist. As soon as a type Three learns this, they will make the effort “simply to exist” and “to learn nothing” with as much success as possible.

The spirit animal of an unhealthy Three is a peacock, which is known for vanity. But the spirit animal for a healthy Three is an eagle. The eagle is a symbol for swiftness, power, endurance and renewal. The spiritual message for achieving types of personality is that God is with you, in success and in failure. Whether you are at the top or at the bottom or somewhere in the middle, you have value and love. You don’t have to win God’s (or other’s) approval. “What is seen is temporary,” writes Paul, “but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

This is the message for Threes and for all of us: There is a fragile line between being loved and being recognized. Because our society, (and many of our families), recognize us for accomplishments, we get confused about what is valuable. Accomplishing our to-do lists is so satisfying… but only for a time. There is always more to do. True value does not reside in what can be seen and in what can be done. What is not seen is what has eternal value.

Challenge your definition of success. Don’t wait until you have an affair, become an alcoholic, or are the youngest person in your family to have a heart attack before you ask the question: “Who am I if I’m not what I accomplish?”

Your spiritual work is to discover over and over again that you are a beloved child of God without doing or accomplishing anything! You don’t have to say the right words or live the perfect life, or look beautiful. You have value just because you are.

Resources Used:
Cron, Ian Morgan and Stabile, Suzanne. “The Road Back to You; An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery.” InterVarsity Press. 2016.
Heuertz, Christopher L. “The Sacred Enneagram; Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth.” Zondervan. 2017
Rohr, Richard. “Discovering the Enneagram; An Ancient Tool for a New Spiritual Journey.” Crossroad. 1992.
www.kirkofbonniebrae.org. “Abundant Love. #2 on the Enneagram”. July 2, 2017.