My friend Debbie, whom I’ve known for close to 40 years, spent a few weeks with me this summer, and I took the opportunity to tape record a discussion with her about her experience with the Enneagram. When she first tried to determine her type, she settled on 7w6, and since that seemed a reasonably good fit, neither of us questioned it. That is, until last summer. Towards the end of her visit last year, several things about what she was doing and saying jumped out at me as being at odds with type 7.
Being mistyped is not at all uncommon. There are lots of reasons for it. But it happens to some types more frequently than to others.
I’ve broken my conversation with Debbie into five parts. Here is part one.
J: What was interesting to you about the Enneagram?
D: It seemed like if there was a way to understand better what was going on with me, what was driving things—the way I was looking at things—that would be a good thing to do. I hadn’t yet done the Myers-Briggs or anything like that, but I was interested in psychological kinds of things and what made people tick. I was interested in finding out what made me tick.
J: So it was primarily to get some personal insight. What did you find out?
D: Well, I thought I found out that I’m a 7 and that explained quite a bit about me. I was always interested in a lot of things and willing to kind of go down whatever path struck my fancy at the moment. I’m interested in this, and I’m interested in this, and I’m interested in this. It really fit. I’m a 7. It’s pretty cool. That gave me a sense of it being OK to have a lot of interests and to not know which one I wanted to nail down.
J: It validated some of your own experience.
D: Yes, and it gave me an explanation for it, so that if I looked at someone who seemed to have an idea of exactly what they wanted to be doing and didn’t have all of this other stuff going on, I thought, well, they must not be a 7. So, yes, it made me understand myself better.
J: Did it give you a sense of certainty?
D: I guess it did. It gave me an identity. I could understand who I was because I had a label for it. It was a very flexible label, but it still gave me a sense of it being OK to be this flexible.
J: So you believed you were a 7.
D: I thought I was a 7 until last summer. You and I were eating dinner in a restaurant and you began asking me some questions that I found very disturbing. Things like what would I like to be doing in five years. And I didn’t know what I wanted to be doing in 10 minutes. I remember thinking that I always have trouble with these five-years plans or two-year plans or even, “What do you want to be doing in six months?” I never had any sense of what that might be. You were looking at me like I had eaten a bug or something.
And then when I mentioned wanting to find time to do some quilting, you suddenly said, “You’re not a 7.” I was really taken aback. But there was something else, which is that during that visit I had brought all these projects with me and was just working all the time. If you left for five minutes, I would go and work. That just wasn’t 7-ish behavior, so we started exploring to figure out what was going on. In the end, we found out that what I really am is a Doing-type 6 with a 7 wing.
J: What was it like to get a different type identity?
D: Initially, I felt like I was in a state of shock. I thought I knew who I was, and all of a sudden it was as if the person I thought I was wasn’t who I was. At the same time, although there were parts of 7 that still felt comfortable—because I have the wing*—it finally started to make sense as to why I always had so much trouble letting go of doing things and why I was always so over-committed. In the past, whenever I moved to a new place or got a new job, I always made a deal with myself that I would not take on everything that came along. It would be different this time. But it never was, because I didn’t have any sense of what was driving me. I remember a job interview I went on in the early 80s where one of the questions was, “What are your strengths and your weaknesses?” I got hired based on my weakness! When they asked me what my weakness was, I said, “I don’t really know when to say ‘no.’” Looking back, I realize that my 6 stuff was really showing.
*Note: Debbie has a very strong 7 wing, just as I do, and a strong wing is one of the factors that can make it difficult to identify the Core type accurately.
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Next time: the curse of not knowing.