By Kacie Berghoef and Melanie Bell
IDENTIFYING AND USING YOUR STRENGTHS
Living with accountability involves being true to our best selves. Sure, the Enneagram teaches us to pinpoint and work on what’s difficult for us, but it’s also important to stay positive. Chugging through our daily lives and simply trying to survive, we often get settled into routines that don’t always serve us. The career choices, relationships, and lifestyles we choose aren’t always in accordance with our strengths, and don’t always allow us to tap into our most powerful gifts. Too often, we make our choices around what gives us immediate satisfaction, doing what someone else thought would be good for us, or simply because we’ve always done things this way and change hasn’t occurred to us.
Learning the Enneagram is frequently a happy experience. Discovering our type gives us a clear road map to our deepest essential qualities and gifts—qualities we may have seen in our lives but haven’t been able to put our finger on completely. These qualities are broad. For example, there are many ways one can embody essential strength. We have endless possibilities for creating a life where we can embody these strong core abilities. Cultivating your Enneagram type’s highest gifts can be done in any kind of life circumstances.
Even so, it takes work to create a life that feels deeply aligned to your inner self, especially if you, like many of us, haven’t always made choices that are in service of your personal path and are looking at making significant life changes to correct these. In the earlier chapters of our new book, we discuss the healthy, high-level qualities of each type, as well as the strengths your type possesses in careers and intimate relationships—strengths that can be individualized to your own situation. To discover your own ideal life path, some deep self-examination is in order.
To start, look at your life as it is now. For example:
What is your living situation?
What are your most important relationships?
What is your career path?
What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?
Are you satisfied with your life as it is in the present?
It’s common to have aspects of your life that you really enjoy and others that you want to change. For example, you may love your profession, but have a difficult time getting along with your boss, or not like the city where your job is located. Or perhaps you’re a high-energy person in a low-energy job or family, but you make up for it by volunteering many hours at a high-impact organization. Make two columns in a journal or word processing document with the following titles: What about my life feels aligned with me? What feels off course?
To work on making a vision of a deeply aligned life, along with considering your Enneagram type’s gifts, think about the feedback you’ve gotten from your loved ones and in the workplace. It’s common for themes to emerge. Perhaps numerous bosses have complimented you on your impeccable paperwork, or your family members notice how well you comfort the young children in your extended family. Consider, as well, what you dreamed about as a young child, and what activities you truly enjoy. Perhaps you really love going to the theater or leading meetings. All of these provide hints for discovering and following your strengths.
As you work on identifying your strengths and creating a life that uses them, keep the following things in mind:
Using your gifts is about empowering yourself. The best goals are ones that are completely in our control. Wanting our loved ones or our coworkers to change will only lead to disappointment. They need to live their own lives and make their own choices.
Your life path may be different than the advice you get from your parents, friends, or even your mentors. Deep personal inquiry is the best way to get these kinds of answers, and our own clear, present, inner knowing is our best guide.
A deeply aligned life will be fulfilling on many levels, but it doesn’t always create instant happiness. All of us have ups and downs and unpredictable forks in the road that we don’t expect. As the old chestnut says, “Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.” The good news is this: we can still embody our highest selves and best qualities, and be walking our highest path, in an unpredictable world.
DEVELOPING A DAILY GROWTH PRACTICE
In addition to observing your habits and self-talk and bringing your life into alignment with your strengths, another key way to build a foundation of personal growth is to develop a daily practice. In order to grow and change, you can benefit from the consistency that a daily practice brings. Like building muscle at the gym, a daily practice strengthens the inner observer every day and is easily integrated into your everyday routine.
The idea of adding a daily practice into your busy life can be intimidating to those who are just starting out. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be scary. Especially when you’re first starting out, a daily practice can be brief. Even a practice of just a few minutes first thing in the morning every day will help you develop self-awareness and presence! A personal practice should be something you look forward to doing, so you’re more likely to stick to it.
Here are some suggestions for daily practices:
Keep a journal. Many Enneagram books include inquiry questions specific to your type that you can journal about. We’ve included some questions in the Appendix of our book at page 157 as a starting point for inquiry. You can also find general thought-provoking questions in spiritually oriented Enneagram books and other books about spirituality. If you prefer an approach that is less structured, writing about whatever is on your mind will help you gain clarity into yourself and purge negative thoughts and emotions.
Meditate. Experienced meditators may meditate for long periods of time, but you can benefit from practicing for 10 minutes a day. Make sure to find a position that’s comfortable for you, and don’t worry if you experience a “monkey mind”—an unsettled, restless, distracted mind that hops about among thoughts and topics—while you meditate. The thoughts and feelings that arise in this space will teach you a lot about yourself. Just remember to breathe through it!
Create art. If you’re a highly visual person, you may love drawing or painting every day and seeing what symbolism arises in your work—and how you feel as you create it. If you’re a musician, try consciously playing or singing a simple note or scale. Expressive dance is another wonderful creative practice, particularly for a kinesthetically oriented artist.
Move your body. Physical movement is another great practice, especially if you tend to feel ungrounded and out of touch with your body. Conscious walking, stretching, yoga, or other deliberate movement allows a great space for your true self to emerge.
Most importantly, find a practice that works for you! Aim to find a practice that you find engaging and fun. Don’t be afraid to play around with different practices until you find one that sticks.
Kacie Berghoef, MSW is an Enneagram Institute Authorized Teacher, freelance writer, international speaker, and coauthor of The Modern Enneagram. As Director of Management from Berghoef & Bell Innovations, she has planned and co-facilitated workshops for business, spiritual, and community audiences. Kacie holds an MSW from UC Berkeley and a BA in Philosophy from Scripps College. She works as a professional blogger and copywriter for businesses and Enneagram clients. Her writing has appeared in Personality Revealed, The Billfold, Mapquest, Skirt Collective, and Nine Points Magazine. She enjoys developing and researching new Enneagram applications.
Melanie Bell, MA is an Enneagram Institute Authorized Teacher, writer, international speaker, and coauthor of The Modern Enneagram. As Director of Teaching for Berghoef & Bell Innovations, she has created curricula and led workshops across disciplines and continents. A coach and university writing instructor, she holds degrees in Interdisciplinary Leadership from the University of New Brunswick and in Creative Writing from Concordia University. Her creative writing and columns have appeared in a number of publications including xoJane, Grain, The Fiddlehead, and Autostraddle.