For once and for all, I would plumb the depths of the Enneagram and emerge better, wiser. Thinner
There are many wise, erudite, and learned professionals who have found psychological insight and enlightenment in the Enneagram.
Unfortunately, this article wasn’t written by any of them.
It’s 2023, and I know we’re supposed to be PC, but I’ve had it and so I’m just going to say it straight: I really don’t care about your Enneagram number.
Here’s the thing: many of my friends and coworkers, whom I deeply respect as insightful, smart, on-the-ball people, really do care about this wildly popular personality typing system. Like, really, really do. It’s not that I don’t care about self-awareness, or interpersonal relationships, or that I doubt the veracity of a typing system that claims to be able to box in all the billions of people on this planet into one of nine frames. I’ve tried, I really have, to appreciate its mysterious wisdom, to unlock the doors leading to greater self-awareness and improved relationships. I’ve tried. It’s just so… boring?
And so needlessly complex. You want me to memorize nine personality types, okay, fine, I can do that. But then they start throwing in wings and anchors and points of disintegration and what was that you were saying? I’m so sorry, I fell asleep.
But after the umpteenth time a friend suggested a resolution to an interpersonal conflict at work that involved the Enneagram, I resolved to Do Better. To Be Better.
For once and for all, I would plumb the depths of the Enneagram and emerge better, wiser. Thinner.
But I wouldn’t do it alone. This would be a team project. Here’s how it would go down. Together with my coworkers, we’d learn our Enneagram numbers, gain greater self-awareness and wisdom, and use that to revamp our work experience.
Starting with my convincing them to take the world’s most boring personality test.
There are a myriad of Enneagram tests out there — or at least a whopping 465 million results that pop up when I search “enneagram test free online.” Using the scientific method, I carefully and methodically select which test I will take by clicking on the top link, which leads me to Truity, a website that promises to help users “understand who you truly are.” Plus, its tests are accurate and insightful, a claim verified by the very scientific-looking icon of a bubbling beaker.
Now. Here is where I admit proudly share that I’ve taken the Enneagram test before. But my results have always been… shall we say, inconclusive? I’m the personality type far too indecisive to figure out where on the five-point scale of “always true-somewhat true-never true” I fall.
But also? It’s possible that this isn’t entirely my fault. Take a look at the test questions:
“I’m not afraid to tell someone when I think they’re wrong.” Uh… is that person my four-year-old? Or my CEO?
“I’m prepared for every worst-case scenario.” I mean, I have lots of backup contingency plans at work, but I’m hardly a Mormon prepper with four years of canned goods and beans in my pantry. PLEASE BE MORE SPECIFIC.
I obviously need to answer “it depends on the context, duh,” for half of the questions, but since that is not an option, I break into a cold sweat over questions like, “It’s important to me to be successful,” and, “I let other people make the decisions.” SOMEONE PLEASE DECIDE THIS FOR ME.
Still, though, I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that I’m breezing through these questions at a fairly fast clip. The test isn’t as slow as I’d remembered — or maybe I’ve just matured, become more introspective and growth-oriented.
I continue clicking through the pages and questions, noticing that each page seems to repeat key questions, with slightly tweaked wording. Is this… a test? To see if I’m answering consistently, or clearly winging it? Or maybe those sight tweaks in wording hold endless meaning, and it’s my choices there that lay bare the deepest, most intimate nuances of my inner psyche?
Man, this test is stressful.
More questions. More deliberation. More agony. I scroll to the bottom.
Page five of seven. This test is truly interminable.
Page six. My hand grows slack. With my last vestiges of energy, I force myself to continue clicking.
Page seven. Who knew it was even possible to ask so many questions about one person? Are these the same questions, over and over and over again? Do I know the answers? Do I even exist? Am I me, or someone else? (Descartes obviously never attempted to Enneagram himself.)
Finally, finally, I finish, and I’m awarded with… a spinning ball.
Apparently it takes the good folks at Truity (results clinically reviewed!) a long time to calculate my Enneagram essence. Must be all that nuance clogging up my inner psyche….
But after waiting, and waiting, I’m presented with an infographic. Which declares me to be a Two, but a Two with adequately sized pizza slices worth of One and Three and Nine. Those must be my wings, I assume. Or points of disintegration, or integration, or some detail that has always left me confused but the understanding of which will soon unlock the secrets of my soul. I eagerly click to read more.
Unfortunately, I can only get four sentences in before Truity offers me the opportunity to “unlock my full report.”
Now. I’m all for self-awareness and growth and introspection and also saving the whales — it’s an inherent part of my Two-ness — but it turns out that all that altruism and sincerity has its limit. And that limit is way under $19.
My search for self-awareness has been cruelly obstructed by capitalism, but I will not let that stop me — I’m a journalist, and we aren’t swayed by suppression, nor deterred by difficulty. Using the same web-savvy and tech knowhow that helped me discover Truity (clinically reviewed! Over 1 million tests a month!), I ruthlessly uncover The Enneagram Institute, which offers “the most accurate and trusted Enneagram test” (take that, Truity!) in addition to having the best name of all Enneagram websites.
Surely, one of the staff at the Enneagram Institute can help me better learn more about the test. Its website offers no direct contact info, only bleakly impersonal, blank contact forms, but some skillful searching soon leads me to a site that promises to give me contact and personal info for Donna Teresi, the Enneagram Institute’s director of programs. I click over, where I am distracted by a shiny popup offering to tell me Donna’s salary and the company’s annual revenue, factoids that I know must be true because I found them on the Google. I click over and….
Headquarters: Stone Ridge, New York
Perhaps it is time that I reassessed my impression of the Enneagram. Can 16 employees and millions of tests a month really be so wrong? Maybe letting down my guard and getting to the bottom of this for once and for all really will transform my life. Maybe there is something to this system after all.
Hopefully, a harm-inducing, class action suit sort of thing.
Did someone say lawsuit? I’m in.
I got Tehilla’s loooong email about the Enneagram, which included lots of fun catch phrases like, “really finding our true Number,” “improving our work environment together as a team,” and “self-actualization,” and obviously I rolled my eyes because we all know this is about Coffee. Tehilla leaves it out, I like it away in the cabinet, the whole office has taken sides but secretly everyone knows I’m right. Okay, so she wants us to gain self-awareness to work through this?
The stubborn part of me is tempted by this challenge. It’s a win-win. Either I gain self-awareness and boost all my relationships, or I get to laugh in my believing friends’ faces with an “I told you so.”
Like Tehilla, I’ve had too many people telling me that I must take the Enneagram test. I’ve been resisting (which is interesting, considering I’m a student of psychology). But it’s true. I have no patience for personality tests that are limiting and forget that people are people. Is that a product of my being a One? A Three? A Seventeen?
No matter what number I am, no one can accuse me of being anything but thorough. I reach out to the Enneagram Institute, hoping that one of their representatives will be able to meet with me to answer some of my questions. And in the meantime, I prepare feverishly for my interview (Six).
Now, what better time to finally take the Enneagram test, especially when I can count it as work (Nine)? True to the “let’s take this seriously” spirit Tehilla brings to this endeavor, I go with Truity — consistency is vital. Any professional would know that (One).
And, sure enough: I’m a One. I quickly click over to glean more insight into mine and Tehilla’s relationship. Here’s what the Institute has to say about how Ones and Twos interact:
“Both Ones and Twos find it difficult to talk about what they’re actually feeling, what is actually going on in the relationship, and what they actually want. In this kind of relationship, there are often ulterior motives and unstated agendas, with no one able to admit that they’re not getting what they want — much less that they might not be happy or fulfilled. For both, getting what they want feels selfish and forbidden.”
My first course of action is to call Tehilla out and ask her what she really wants. Within minutes, her reply is in my inbox:
All I want is self-actualization. Or the toppling of a million-dollar industry. Or a way that we can get a piece of the pie ourselves. Is that too much to ask?
Sounds reasonable enough to me — we still have three hours left to kill in this workday. (And anyway, we both know she wants me to concede that the coffee canister and related paraphernalia belong on a counter and not in a cabinet.) I checked in with Dassi, who was cc’d on Tehilla’s email. She admits that she’s been labeled an Eight, and I’m not shocked, though of course I’d pegged her as a Four (self-absorbed and unrealistic) (Seven).
And then, because I’ve been down this road before (Myers-Briggs! DiSC! You name it, I’ve multiple-choiced it), I decide I need to confirm my number. So I take Enneagram Universe’s 180-question test, where I suddenly become a Five (vice: avarice). Am I taking this to heart? Not at all (Two? Eight? Maybe actually Five?).
I’ve been sensing some skepticism from my coworkers since Tehilla’s email came in, but honestly, I find the Enneagram to be super empowering.
I’m really confident when the in-house rebbetzins of the Enneagram declared me an Eight. I power through the morning. “The world is your oyster,” I tell myself with gusto. I confront the secretary and reinforce my authority. The more she folds, the more confident I become that I am truly the world’s most eighty Eight. Zero wings.
Then, in the afternoon, a niggling starts at the back of my head when I let a car cut me off in the intersection. The voice gets even louder when I let my son go play without folding his laundry. An Eight would never! Maybe I have wings after all.
I call an expert friend. (Who doesn’t have one of those?)
“What type am I?’
Without missing a beat, “A Four,” she says matter-of-factly. She then reassures me that the Four and Eight are a common mistype, but that I can tell the difference based on how I dealt with difficulties in my childhood.
I spend the whole next week reimagining my childhood. It’s a varied experience, and clarity eludes me. What did happen that time when my brother stole the afikomen I had been eying? Was I passive? Did I run after him to claim my prize? Did I show him the meaning of justice?
By the end of the week, I’m desperate. I put out feelers on my favorite chat, seeking the answer to just one simple question: Who am I?!
The chat has never been livelier, but alas, the path to self-discovery is murky. Each response is more unsettling than the next. At this point I have more wings than a dragonfly, and so many points of disintegration I may actually explode. Others will continue to debate this on my behalf, but I’m disembarking this train. It’s been a journey to nowhere, and I am over and out.
Maybe Aviva’s right and this whole thing is really just about coffee?
My brain hurts.
After Dassi’s chat friends rip her to shreds, I encourage her to take the Enneagram Universe test. Maybe I can convince her that that is all she needs is to discover the actual purpose of cabinets. But then she informs me that she is in fact a Three, and now I have no idea how to interact with her. As Ones and Eights we were a Dream Team: “The combination can be very powerful: they accomplish things with a clear cut sense of purpose and personal mission. Both are decisive and direct, although Eights bring a passion and gusto that counterbalances the One’s self-restraint and propriety.”
But if we are Three and Five… yikes. “Threes and Fives can get into more or less open contentiousness over who was the original source of ideas and work. There can be elements of comparing one’s work and contributions, claims about who is responsible for which ideas or breakthroughs, and other forms of competitiveness.”
Rude. And completely untrue. Who, me, competitive? Never.
Meanwhile, the Enneagram Institute has been ignoring my emails. I hope Leah hasn’t gotten any further.
I’ll admit I was little weirded out by Tehilla’s email. At first I thought this was all about the coffee thing — like obviously the coffee should be left out. Duh. Who needs the extra stress of putting the coffee back in the cabinet? Who even has the presence of mind to do that before ingesting said coffee? But everyone else at the office is taking this seriously so I guess I have to get on board.
Here are two things I know to be true.
1) Tehilla is a Two. That’s why she leaves the coffee out — as a service for all of mankind. If she could, Tehilla would adopt stray kittens and nurse them back to health and stand on street corners listening to all of humanity’s problems, from the humblebraggers to the homeless, free of charge. It’s just that she has a family and a job. So she can’t. Also she doesn’t know this about herself, she thinks she’s just a regular lady who hates kittens and humblebraggers.
See what happens when you don’t fully embrace your number? When you don’t “believe” in the Enneagram? You never realize you’re not living your best life. This is sad on so many levels. She could be the world’s shoulder to cry on, instead she’s juggling a full-time managerial job with superintense personal growth investigations, hosting Shabbos guests, and feeding, bathing, laundering her immediate family. Sad.
2) What Tehilla and the rest of my coworkers don’t realize is that I’m a full Believer, having done all the research years ago. And I’m a Nine.
Nines love the Enneagram; it’s the lazy man’s shortcut to actually getting to know people. You know, understanding your friends and loved ones. Spending the time trying to really get their interests, fears and desires.
No more. The Enneagram is the ultimate cheat sheet when it comes to judging people. You slap a number on your new neighbor, type into Google, “What are the major character flaws of Eights?” and boom, grab your popcorn.
In all seriousness, everyone needs a Nine in their life because we’re the ones who make you look functional. We’re so low-key and chilled that we applaud your plans for a pajama party bar mitzvah and a zero clean up policy. We’ll also convince you to skip work for the beach at least once a week. You’re welcome.
Nines are pretty nonconfrontational. One time a car rolled over my foot and the driver looked at me with wide, horror-filled eyes and I just smiled and shot him a thumbs up. So I can’t tell Tehilla that she’s right about the coffee — we all know this is about the coffee — because then I’d have to tell Aviva she’s wrong. That’s a big no can do for me. So I’m going to pretend I never saw Tehilla’s email and continue browsing Junee’s fall collection online to make it look like I’m working.
I’m pretty close to screaming, actually. It’s been three weeks, and I’m no closer to self-actualization than I was last month. I do mentally type everyone I’m speaking to, though, a process that is as unhelpful as it is amusing. A Believing Friend finds out about my quest and despairs. She tells I’m taking the wrong tests and sends me copies of her Official-Enneagram Approved tests that she claims hold The Secret. I have to scan a questionnaire for each number, she explains, and then I can see which one resonates with me the most deeply.
I flip through the pages and — wow, turns out I really am a Two. Score one for science. Go, Truity!
Unfortunately, five minutes later, it becomes clear that I am also a Six. And a Nine. And Confused.
I open my browser and sit up straight, determined to get to the bottom of this, for once and for all. After hours of scholarly perusal of dense, peer-reviewed material, I stumble upon this axiomatic gem on the Compendium of All Wisdom , Wikipedia:
“Though the Enneagram integrates some concepts that parallel other theories of personality, it has been dismissed by personality assessment experts as pseudoscience.”
Whoa. Harsh, Wiki. I wonder what the Enneagram Institute has to say about that accusation? I call Aviva, to ask her if they ever replied to their email.
She answers on the first ring… the third time I call.
“No, they never replied,” she tells me. “But you know what? I’m so sick of hearing you talk and talk and talk and talk about the Enneagram! We tried, okay? We tried to prove it, we tried to discredit it, we didn’t get anywhere, can we move on? Noo… it’s ‘Oh, maybe we should all try this book,’ or ‘Can you follow up on that email?’ or ‘What about a team-building exercise based on each other’s numbers?’ Who cares?! Why do you keep going on and on and on about….”
Her voice trails off and falls silent, exactly the way an Enneagram test never does, as reality hits us with the clarity of a Truity-scribed PDF (the $19 version, not the free one).
“Can you just put the coffee away when you’re done? Please?” she whispers.
I don’t even know what she’s talking about.
Of course the Enneagram test doesn’t bring you to self-awareness. It was never meant to be about personality assessment. The Enneagram is the neurological equivalent of a tapeworm, snaking its way in to your mind and… staying. It’s not about building relationships or forging understanding, it’s about reshaping your entire worldview. It’s about mind-control.
And I, for one, see nothing wrong with that.
Must be the Four Six Nine Two in me.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 862)
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