The Enneagram – Type Three, the Achiever, Charmer or Professional.
This is our 4th sermon so far on the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a personality tool that presents 9 basic personality types. All of us will embody one of the 9 more strongly than the other 8, but all of the other 8 will also be present in you to greater or lesser extents. As we have been exploring, I believe we see that Jesus embodies all the best qualities of all 9 personality types in presenting us with a picture of what human wholeness can look like.
As I introduce Type Three on the Enneagram, the Achiever, sometimes also called the Charmer or the Professional, I begin by telling the fictitious story of Jim.
Jim is a successful businessman. In fact he has achieved success in a number of areas in his life. It is one of the primary goals of his life, to succeed and achieve in anything he puts his hand to.
Jim’s drive to achieve and succeed began very early on in his life. For whatever reason Jim felt a strong need as a child to achieve and succeed as a way of winning the approval of those most important and significant in his life. For whatever reason, very early on, Jim felt driven to prove himself through his achievements, to avoid and hide failure as much as possible, and thereby to win over the affirmation and approval of those others.
As an adult, this early drive to succeed has enabled him to rise to the top in many situations, both in sport, socially, and in his business ventures. In his early career, he was quickly identified for his drive to succeed and was rapidly promoted up the ranks to become a manager in a large company by his early 30s. It was up and away from there. Well, mostly so, but he doesn't like to mention the hiccups along the way.
Jim exudes an air of success, not just in the way the dresses, but also in the car he chooses to drive, the grand home he was able to purchase at what many considered a very young age, but most especially in his positive, go-get-it attitude. He likes to name drop when he can so that he can show how well connected he his. Associating with successful people, even if just by name helps to support the aura of success that he wishes to project to others. For Jim, in life there are no setbacks, only challenges to be overcome, and even when he did make some bad business decisions at one point in his career, it didn’t take long before his strong drive to achieve and succeed catapulted him back up to the top again.
While at his best, Jim can be described as adaptable, energetic, self-confident, outgoing, efficient, pragmatic, industrious, optimistic and goal-oriented, like all of us, Jim has his flaws and shadow side. At times, Jim’s drive to succeed has meant that he has also needed to be a little devious, fudging the truth if need be, sometimes calculating and manipulative: success at any cost, even when it has come at the price of his relationships with others, perhaps stepping over others to get ahead, and not always showing as much compassion as perhaps he could have to those working underneath him. He can also be very image-conscious. Sometimes portraying the image of success has covered up his weaknesses and failures that he would prefer not to acknowledge, especially to himself. When things are not going his way, he lives by the slogan “fake it until you make it!”
But as Jim has grown, he has recognised that the drive to succeed, sometimes expressed in what can be described as his ‘killer instinct’ and competitiveness to get on top, has often alienated him from others and made him come across sometimes as a little ruthless and even at times uncaring. Unconsciously, to compensate for this, Jim has begun to adopt some of the qualities of a Two on the enneagram. He has learned that helping and caring for others (especially helping them to succeed) helps to soften him and his inner drive and helps to build closer relationships with others. He has also unconsciously adopted some of the qualities of the Four on the Enneagram. Playing guitar in a band has helped give him an avenue to be creative and to express himself. (By the way, he is quite an accomplished guitarist, just in case you might have missed that!) As he has grown to become more balanced and whole, in his competitive drive to come out on top, he has seen that being decent and fair are important. He has realised that success at any cost is not really true success at all. Maintaining one’s humanity has become just as important.
Like all of us, Jim has his good days and his bad days. But he is in good company. A lot of famous and successful people have been Threes. These include: Simon Cowell, Richard Branson, Victoria Beckham, Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Paul McCartney, Tiger Woods, Tony Blair, and Kathryn Jenkins. The country of America, the land of hope and glory and the American dream embodies something of the spirit of the three on the Enneagram.
As we consider the characteristics of Jim and all achievers on the Enneagram, I believe that we see some of the best qualities of a Three in the Person of Jesus. Just as Threes have great ambition, so, as we read the Gospels we see that Jesus himself had a strong sense of ambition, purpose and mission in life. His concern and ambition to succeed early on brought about what we call his temptations. The temptation narrative’s in the Gospel of Matthew explores what kind of methods he would use to accomplish his divine sense of mission in this world. Would he win people’s admiration and approval by providing for their every need? Would he try and win people over with fantastic and miraculous displays of power? Would he try and win people over by adopting the ways of the world, in creating a great worldly empire for God? Or would he seek to live in humble faithfulness to God’s call upon his life.
As Jesus emerges from these temptations, he carries a deep sense of purpose, proclaiming in words and actions what he called the Kingdom of God. Very quickly, with his charismatic personality, he drew people towards him until his success seemed to go beyond even that of John the Baptist in the desert and began to threaten the powerful parties of Jesus day, religious and political. He was a powerful and effective communicator. He was also a powerful organiser, choosing Twelve close associates to help him in his work, sending them out to help proclaim the message of God’s Kingdom.
As many Threes on the Enneagram, Jesus was willing to make sacrifices in his life for the sake of his mission. Part of that sacrifice seems to have been the decision to forgo having a family of his own. On the negative side, achievers can sometimes sacrifice their own families in favour of success.
At one point in the Gospels, Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem. His sense of purpose becomes focused, and not even his closest disciples can deflect him from his divine sense of purpose, especially when he began to talk about his possible death. It is Peter who tries to tell Jesus that going to his death in Jerusalem is not a good idea. This is not Peter’s idea of what success should look like. And Jesus responds quite curtly with him, saying get behind me Satan.
In our passage today, we see an encounter between two unhealthy Threes on the Enneagram, namely James and John with their Master, Jesus, who embodies the best qualities of the Three. James and John want power and success (along with most of the other disciples). They come to Jesus asking for special positions on his left and his right in glory – goals of an unhealthy Three. They want to be in the limelight. They want all the benefits of winning in life. Being on top of the pile with everyone else looking upon them with admiration. By contrast, Jesus sees success in very different terms. Success for Jesus is to live a life of love and service towards others. If you want to be first, let yourself to be last. If you want to be leader, allow yourself to be the least. He reminds them that he has come not to be served, not to sit gloriously and victoriously on top of the pile, but to serve and give his life as a ransom to help others become free.
And that is perhaps the saving grace of Jesus. He turns the idea of success on its head and he sets out passionately to achieve his goal of embodying that message in his own life. And strangely, the moment of Jesus greatest achievement happens as he hangs dying on the cross, which in John’s Gospel is referred to as Jesus’ glory. From the cross, Jesus proclaims that he has accomplished his goal. “It is finished!” he says. There might be many ways of interpreting that phrase. One interpretation is that on the cross, the work of Divine Love is revealed in its fullness. He loves his own, and the whole world, to the bitter end. Nothing has stopped Jesus from accomplishing this greatest act and demonstration of love. And having achieved his purpose he can surrender his life into God’s hands. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!”
The greatest fear of a Three is the fear of failure. But on the cross, what appears to be utter failure and defeat in the eyes of the world, turns out to be Jesus greatest accomplishment that reverberates down through the centuries.
In closing, helpful cues for those of us who may be Threes on the Enneagram include the following:
- God loves me just as I am, and not for success and achievements. Even if I achieve nothing in life, I will still be loved and treasured by God.
- It is ok to fail, because great lessons can be learned from failure.
- The greatest success can be found in love, taking time to be really present with others, valuing them for who they are and not for how they can help you achieve your next big thing in life.
- Slow down. Get in touch with your feelings of vulnerability. Vulnerability can be a very attractive quality.
- Be Still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).