The Work of The Enneagram


It’s time to wrap-up my discussion of the Enneagram. This won’t be the last time I mention it, because it will influence my relationships, my thinking and my writing as I go forward in life, but in a formal introduction here on theMangoTimes. So, as I reach the end of this introduction series, I want to answer some of the natural pushback I’ve received from life long friends and readers. I would boil most of the questions down to the following sentiment: “Why are you spending so much time studying The Enneagram?” A few closer readers have been a bit more bold to indicate it is a waste of my time in contrast to the sufficiency of the Bible to address items of personality.

The short answer has been that the Enneagram is the single most important tool I have discovered this year.

The longer answer is that more than a personality indicator, the Enneagram has provided some insight to several life changing behaviors and improved my relationship with God, my wife, my friends, my co-workers and my partners in ministry. It has exposed the shadow side of my personality where I struggle with self-deceit, an unhealthy need for affirmation, my insatiable pursuit of goals and most importantly my difficulty connecting with my feelings on the emotional side of my personality. These were all things I discovered as a direct result of my work with the Enneagram.

Even as I have said this, several of my friends have raised their eyebrows. A phrase like “my work with the Enneagram,” can sound a lot like behavior-based nonsense to some people. If that’s you, hang in there. I hope this post will explain and clarify some things.

It’s Just A Parlor Trick
For many people, hearing about the Enneagram in a non-formal setting can initially be very interesting. At the same time, I’ve heard critics who claim that people influence by the Enneagram, MBTI, or any other personality indicator just listen for what they want to hear. I’ve found this to be the case even more so with the Enneagram because people who are really “into it” are quick to assign numbers to behaviors. I will admit: that is very easy behavior to pick up. Initially, I was so intrigued by what I found in the Enneagram that I began to recognize behaviors in myself that were based on my type. Cocktail party discussion takes over and I found it very easy to share my conclusions with anyone who would listen.

However, if you stop there and merely link your behavior to one of 9 personality types, you’ve only discovered one portion of the Enneagram. It reminds me of my father using the iPhone for phone calls only. It works great, but he’s missing out on a tiny computer in his hand that does so much more. It is the same thing with the Enneagram. Discovering your number is just step one and you are only scratching the surface of self-discovery.

All of my posts written to this point deal with that very issue: self-discovery. I often write that I have discovered or have been exposed to hidden sides of my personality that I prefer not to address (read: shame) and the Enneagram has reveled those sides to me.

However, even self-discovery is not the most important thing or best part of learning how to use this tool. Recognizing self-deceit or that I have a strong disconnect with emotions and feelings has been very important, but what I find more valuable is taking the next step to make the necessary changes to improve. I liken it to patients who come to my dental office, but only want a diagnosis. What good is a diagnosis if you walk out rejecting all advice, medications or therapy to correct the underlying disease?

Likewise, with the Enneagram, discovering my strengths and weaknesses has been great, but making the necessary changes to live a more healthy version of myself has been much more important. Thus the term, “my work with the Enneagram.”

My Work Is Not Your Work
Each of the nine types on the Enneagram carry their own strengths and weaknesses. I won’t list them out here, but I’d remind you to go back to the Know Your Number post and look at the resources I mentioned. As a Type 3, the suggested work was all about slowing down. Below are a few of the current habits I have been developing.

  • Meditation - I have been slowing down my study of God’s Word and the study books that point me to what God says. Sometimes I focus on a verse or even a few words at a time.

  • Contemplation - Kendra and I have begun attending a monthly contemplative worship service at the local Lutheran church in our neighborhood. Aside from Kendra and me it is attended by only a few older retired women into their 80’s. I look forward to it every month.

  • Labyrinth - There is a labyrinth at a local church in my neighborhood that I walk to regularly. Haven’t walked a labyrinth? I won’t detail it here, but if you ever want to join me, let me know.

  • The Daily Office - I desired to incorporate meditation, contemplation, and prayer into my daily routine, but I was haphazard at best. Using The Daily Office, I now look forward to the chance to stop and breathe a few times each day. Yes, it was mechanical and rigid at first, but it is now a treasured part of my day.

  • Spiritual Direction - God literally placed a spiritual director into my life. If I can make it happen, I try to spend one day each month at Quiet Oaks just outside of town. Jill spends time with me, prays over me, challenges me and provides a quiet space for me to dive into my relationship with God

Those are a few things I’ve been doing to work through my own spirituality as it relates to being a THREE on the Enneagram. Your work will be completely different and it should be. If the Enneagram has impacted you and invited you to make changes, I’d love to hear what you have been doing. Also, if you are interested in pursuing the change that comes with self-discovery, let me know.

Quietly making noise,

Reblog - Swallowing Chewing Gum!

From time to time, I am choosing to reblog certain classic posts from the past.

Today I am taking us back to a post from a series I wrote in 2006 on parental myths. Actually, I spent the entire series dispelling the myths my parents tried to pass off as fact.

This is a favorite of many readers and one of my most downloaded posts of all time: Swallowing Chewing Gum

Hope you enjoy this blast from the past!

Quietly making noise,

Enneagram - Feelings

To this point in the series, I've described my experience with the Enneagram and what I've discovered about my personality in my day to day life.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, identifying as a Three on the Enneagram has been very revealing. Knowing that I am driven equally by success and the fear of failure has helped me on a daily basis as I constantly check my motivations, my participation in projects and my struggles in interpersonal relationships. Also, recognizing that I have an insatiable appetite for goal setting and goal achieving and that this is not something "everyone else in the world" deals with has been a mind stretch. 

This all leads me to my final posting on what I've learned specifically about being a Type THREE on the Enneagram and probably the most important one for me because it has to do with an area I've always struggled with: Feelings/Emotions.


The nine numbers of the Enneagram are divided into three sections, called Triads. The triads typically show your reaction or your approach to life. Numbers 8, 9, and 1 tend to approach and react to life through the guti/reaction center.  Numbers 2, 3 and 4 will process aspects of their life issues from the heart/feeling center. Finally, Numbers 5, 6, and 7 on the Enneagram tend to approach life through the head/thinking center. If you look back at the circle in the graphic, you will notice something interesting. At the center of every triad are numbers 9, 3, and 6 and these serve as anchor points/centers for each triad.

Because I identify myself as a THREE on the Enneagram, I am in the dead center of the Heart/Feeling Triad. You would think that means that the center numbers (9, 3 and 6) each have super-hero abilities in each of their triads. Interestingly enough, this is not the case and one more reason why I find the Enneagram fascinating. I do not have a cape and a giant “E” on my chest for emotions. In fact, I am just the opposite. For as long as I can remember, I lack the natural tendency to process through emotions well. Once again I thought this was just a struggle for Fletch, but as it turns out, this is another trait of Type THREE's on the Enneagram.



One tell-tale sign for THREE's on the Enneagram is that they have a difficult time connecting with their own feelings. For as long as I can remember, feelings have not been one of my strengths. If I'm being dead honest, it isn't even one of the tools I have available to me. 

For the casual reader who doesn't spend time with me in real life, here is what it looks like: From love to tragedy, I approach those situations through my head (rationally). It would do no good to ask me how I feel about a situation, because more often than not, I cannot identify what I'm actually feeling. I'm like Spock. I can tell you exactly what I think and I can reason away emotions that I see in others as completely illogical. In my mind, I may actually be saying something like: “Why are you acting that way?” or “Take a breath, back-up and let’s reason this out, there is no reason to get upset (cry/yell/emotion du jour).

I'm horrible at a funeral. I'm horrible during an emotional discussion, but I'd be great at downsizing a corporation. No hard feelings? No feelings at all. Logic dictates what needs to happen, don't let your feelings get in the way. Just do what needs to get done. Rip off the Band-Aid and move on. Stop fussing.

Here is an important clarification: If I am being honest, I know where and why people are getting emotional. However, I have learned that emotions do not serve me well so I know how to keep them in check and go to my head for comfort. Here’s how this looks: I’m talking to someone and they are sharing a story that leads them to an emotional point. These are the types of conversations where people say, “Oh look at me, I’m a mess. I’m sorry for getting emotional.” I lose all footing in those situations and never know what to do. It is so uncomfortable. I just don’t have the tools in my bag to work this out.

So, there I sit paralyzed and not knowing how to help some and I go into my “normal mode” which is a goal setting and problem solving. We all know how that goes, right? Nothing solves an emotional situation like someone who wants to start reasoning things out.

Feelings and The Gospel
Here’s where it gets really good. In the past 10 years, I’ve been softened by the gospel. Nothing undoes me faster than when I get close to the cross. A good story of salvation, seeing the Holy Spirit move in someone’s life, or once again knowing that Jesus loves me in the midst of my poverty of spirit and deep sin. I am undone time and again.

At first I thought it was a midlife crisis and an issue of hormone imbalance, but the more I look at it, I still don’t get emotional with cat videos, soldier coming home videos, but I lose it when I see the Holy Spirit intervene in a situation.

Identifying this is one thing, but doing the work on my personality is quite another. In my final post in this series I will talk about the Work of the Enneagram.

Quietly making noise,

Enneagram - Goals

In the previous post I shared how discovering the Enneagram became a useful tool at revealing the shadow side of my life. (I'd call it the dark side, but that sounds too Vaderish). If you are like me, you probably won't like the laser focus of this personality tool. At the beginning, I didn't. Overtime though, I have enjoyed the journey I have taken to become a healthier version of myself. In a move that is unlike my Type Three, in that post I began with what I had learned about my motivations. I shared how I jockey daily between the fear of avoiding failure and the positive affirmation I get from accomplishments. This has become extremely helpful for me to recognize what I am doing in the moment. To continue, I want to discuss in this post another shadow I have to face: my pursuit of goals.

Because I'm driven by successful accomplishments, it makes sense that goal setting would come easy to me and more importantly a goal accomplisher. If there is any question about this, consider the label they give to a Type 3 on the Enneagram: Achiever. 

There is nothing wrong with setting and accomplishing goals, right? So, what does the shadow side of my personality reveal about Type Threes and our goal setting?

First, I have learned that most Type Threes on the Enneagram forget to celebrate their goals. Bingo! That is me. Actually, that is me with pinpoint accuracy. As long as I have made goals, I have never taken the time to celebrate my goals. If you are scratching your head and wondering why, it is very easy for me to explain. There are more goals to accomplish. There is always something new or better or bigger. There is always more to accomplish or a better way to get it done. What shocks me is that other people don't see it like this. :)

Taking the time to celebrate a goal does not make sense to me. It's like a drug. I don't stop to enjoy the high, because the high does not come from the accomplishment, but from the "next and bigger thing."  If you forget to pause and celebrate your goals and your accomplishments, you just might be a Three.


The second thing I've learned about goal setting is that not only am I not great at celebrating or even acknowledging an accomplished goal, but the next goal will be even bigger and better than the last goal.

If you have seen the movie, The Greatest Showman, than you have seen a Type Three on display before your very eyes in the character of P.T. Barnum. As we left the theater, Kendra asked: "Was it painful to see yourself in that movie?" Funny that she would recognize what was self evident to me. Yes. Yes it was painful and hard to watch a version of myself depicted so clearly in a movie. Barnum lived in the shadow of failure and believed he had to work hard and accomplish everything for the love and affection of his wife, the approval of his inlays and the affirmation of everyone who did not believe in him.  At the same time, I loved the movie and I was thrilled by Barnum.

***SPOILER ALERT***One of my favorite scenes in the film happened after the fire destroyed his circus. Do you remember what Barnum did? His plan was not just to rebuild the circus. It wasn't going to become just another Barnum Circus. No, this was going to be something bigger and better. In a classic Type Three move, it was now going to be called: THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH! Yeah, that's a Three thing to do. That's me.

How does that relate to the real world? Do you remember Y2K? It seems like a long time ago. As the world prepared for stock markets to crash and computers to reboot, I was at the start of my career and in the process of splitting my business partnership, I practiced dentistry in a rented space. I had 2 dental assistants and 1 front desk employee and I was up to my neck in business debt. My goals were simple: make it to the next month with money in the bank to pay my employees and stay in business. I was driven and if you remember the last post, failure was not an option. So what happened?

Every single year has been more productive than the year before. As I type this today, I practice dentistry in a building that I purchased, gutted and rebuilt to my standards. I have purchased top of the line dental equipment and technology. I have 2 employees at my front desk, 4 hygienists, and 3 dental assistants. We've grown every year and rarely celebrated. I'm currently working on goals that I set in January and as the Fall rolls around I will begin setting goals all over again. Recently I found myself saying, "What's next? What can I do to make this bigger and better?” Never content. Always more.  Yeah, it's a Three thing. 

Again, goals are good and I’m learning to create and celebrate healthy goals. 

Quietly making noise,