3s see themselves—and definitely want you to see them—as self-assured, industrious, ambitious, purposeful, high-achieving, decisive, focused, dynamic, hard-working, energetic, and of course, successful. 3s are goal-oriented, to put it mildly, as well as possibly the people who invented multi-tasking. After all, if you can get two or three things done at the same time, why settle for doing just one thing.
Since 3s also tend to be well-organized and great at motivating people to rise to the occasion, they are good leaders and managers who can complete complex projects. They are highly competitive and always go for the win. Most people find winning desirable and prefer it to losing, but for 3s winning is essential. Their sense of self-worth is based on their ability to succeed, achieve, and be the best at what they do. Depending on the circumstances and your relationship to the 3 in question, you may admire this aspect of 3s or despise it.
PLAYING A ROLE
“Winner” is a role 3s play. They may get to be so good at playing the role they lose themselves in it. When that happens, it won’t matter how successful they are or how much they have achieved because they will have lost touch with who they are—and possibly with the people they most want and need to be connected with.
Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.
IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED…
Jerome Wagner says, in The Enneagram Spectrum of Personality Styles, that the defense mechanism for 3s is identification:
To keep failure out of your awareness, you identify with whatever successful mask or role you are playing at the time. You identify with your role instead of with yourself.
The drive to succeed at whatever they do often leads 3s to reframe situations in which they failed at something so that they somehow still come out as winning. People tend to misunderstand the ambition of 3s and view it through a glass darkly. 3s have been described as arrogant and superficial, but they can also be extremely charming. They seek attention and the positive regard of other people at least as much as 2s do. They believe that as long as they are successful others will think highly of them. Therefore, if they feel that positive regard slipping, they may shift into overdrive to increase their level of achievement. This is a vicious cycle that does not end well for 3s.
A CREATING SPACE
In The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Riso and Hudson suggest 3s involve themselves in a creative pursuit:
Threes really benefit from creativity, especially when the creativity is for themselves and not an audience of some kind. Painting, making pottery, playing music, writing or drawing, and journaling can help you get in touch with your feelings and bring you into greater alignment with yourself. You may even want to create a sacred space in your home that is devoted solely to your creativity and self-discovery. No work-related tasks are allowed here! It is your refuge from the demands in your life, especially the demands you make on yourself.
I like this idea because it doesn’t ask 3s to stop doing, but to focus their doing in a different direction. Spending time alone doing something without a win-lose outcome is a good practice. It could give 3s an opportunity to get in touch with who they are when they’re not performing in some way. It can also provide them with a chance to “fail” by pursuing an activity they may not be skilled at purely for enjoyment. There’s freedom in having nothing on the line and no audience to evaluate the results of their creative endeavors.
By doing something by and for themselves, they may find it easier to be themselves.