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What is the Enneagram and why do I love it so much?


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What is the Enneagram and why do I love it so much?

Jenna Starkey

The Enneagram is a personality typing system that my mom introduced me to when I was young to help everyone in my family understand each other better (like most families, we struggled with that big time).  The structure of the system is based around nine personality types with elements rooted in traditional teachings such as the Seven Deadly Sins and the Kaballah. In essence, each of the types is defined by a distinct motivation based around what has evolved to be nine basic vices/virtues.

Growing up: I remember my mom gathered my family one Sunday morning and gave us all sheets of paper to fill out. The three of us, my brother, my dad and myself included, were skeptical. The test seemed suspiciously similar to a horoscope diagnosis or the Myers-Briggs. It wasn't until the four of us sat around and read aloud our assigned types that we noticed something shift in our attitudes. My dad and I profoundly resonated with what my mom assigned us (my dad the 8, me the 7). I remember us both tilting our heads sideways to realize something; we had misunderstood a basic essence in the other that we hadn't seen before.

It was a big moment for me. I realized that in all those intense moments of conflict in sports and in school, my dad was being tough on me because that's just the way he is; he sees my potential; he's a protector. Reading more about his "personality" type softened my stance around him in a transformational way. Similarly, my dad saw me in a new light too. He used to wonder why I always spilled my milk (no pun intended) at dinner and couldn't focus like my big brother could. When he realized how different our core motivations were, an epiphany washed over him. "That's just the way you are, Jenna" I remember him saying.

College: My respect for the Enneagram later grew when I got to college and started struggling with personalities in class and in my student-run PR firm. The conflicts nagged at me every day, and I found myself digging out the old books my mom gave me. I started calling her to talk Enneagrams regularly, and by osmosis convinced my roommates to figure out their types too. Soon they were hooked, and the beginning of my living room typing sessions began. 

Living in San Francisco: When I moved to the city, I started to meet a flurry of people who were familiar with the system ... and I was stoked! Either they knew their type, or they had heard of it before. I was validated to hear new friends talk about their resonance with the distinct motivations and tools for communication. I met a certified Enneagram Instructor (Claire Barnum) at the school I work for, and decided to run with the opportunity to make more of my hobby. I set up two workshops with Claire in my friends' living rooms to help set some structure around the enthusiasm my friends and I all shared. We were able to see each other in new ways by owning our perspectives, drawing connections, and realizing our own unique inner calling. 

Why I love it: Through the Enneagram, I've learned that each member in my family, my three roommates, my coworkers and neighbors, is driven by different, yet connected motivations. The system has given me the framework to appreciate perspectives, for which typically are very different than my own. I have learned that I have blind spots in my thinking, but also invaluable strengths. 

Regardless of what critics say, I am moved by the Enneagram every day. I believe that the insight and tools offered in the Enneagram are some of the most compelling studies on the variety of mental, emotional, and instinctual impulses that live in all of us as human beings. In coming back to the Enneagram time and time again, I've realized that it's the deepening of my understanding of myself and others that makes my life most meaningful and fulfilling.