Note: I’m about to write about The Enneagram. If you don’t know what it is, I suggest visiting the Enneagram Institute for some background. This insightful, grace-filled tool is an amazing way to understanding yourself—taking the beauty and the flaws and accepting the full picture of the real you. It has given me the words to explain my own mind when I didn’t have them myself, and it has helped me own who I am, with grace.
As a younger girl, I had big plans to take on the world in some high-powered fashion. That doesn’t make me special in any way, certainly not as a girl readying to leave her small hometown behind. It was easy to feel upwardly mobile in the days of club organization, credits required, and college applications to consider. There were formulas to follow and authorities to please, and so while my motivations were robotic, I maximized on my tendencies toward organization and leadership. I was the quintessential Type A, if you will. My sister thought I didn’t look like myself unless I was wearing suit pants and high heels.
The university years are not much different, just a period of preparation for whatever comes next. What I was afforded in college, however, besides a more casual wardrobe, was a chance to slow down ever-so-slightly and tap into more of my own creativity. Like most coming-of-age stories, I found the space to expand fully into my own thoughts and interpretations, to find the means to share all that was tumbling through my brain; and for me, that looked like finally discovering the marriage of my skills and passions: writing.
My self-epiphanies, a whole lot of travel, and some pre-marital counseling, wound me into a time of introspection, of accepting my introverted personality, despite its boisterous and social presentations. I learned how to tap into energy and when to cap it off. I carved out the time to recharge, reflect, and consider all that I was taking in through the outside world.
And about the time I became a mother, this personal journey seemed to really veer off of its trajectory, and I got a little lost somewhere. My affinity for art and creative expression took me to heavy places rather than lighter ones, siphoning out the gumption to take charge of anything—not even my own thoughts.
When I stumbled into the Enneagram, mostly through the writings of Richard Rohr, I wasn’t surprised to test a Four. I found myself in every descriptive word of the Four’s shadow. It was a lot like forcing yourself to look in the mirror when you’re swimsuit shopping—you know the florescent lights and weird layers of underwear and actual swimsuit are creating an only negative representation where you should be able to find some beauty. “Fouring Out” became my excuse for every downward emotional spiral, and it became the excuse to hide behind my art instead of expanding into all the parts of my creativity.
To make matters worse, I made a mistake reading my chart. Acutely aware of my own selfishness, I interpreted my direction of growth toward a Two, the Helper, assuming that if I shifted my focus toward others, I would phase out my selfish thoughts and behaviors and find a greater purpose.
Let’s clarify, this is always true, to some extent, for every personality. Everyone, everywhere should be on the lookout for someone in need—of a meal, of a hand, of a friend.
I see a trend among women, especially—and at that, more especially mothers—to organize their lives around the needs of others. So focused was I on a path of growth through service; but my whole life is essentially in the service of others. I wake when my family wakes; I schedule by my family’s schedule; I shop according to the needs and preferences of my family; and in order to be alone or free, I must ensure my family is accounted and cared for. Add this to the list of new ways I wanted to make sure I was being a Helper, not just for my family, but for the broader community.
After a few months, what I wanted to know was, if I was meant to be growing, why did I feel like I was wasting away? The weariness was palpable.
When I was in New York, I told Chloe, I don’t want to be the kind of mother or the kind of wife who chooses herself over her family. I have a husband who, without asking, offers, “Let me handle that,” or, unprompted, says, “Why don’t you take some time for yourself today?” But I don’t want my daily schedule to make me too tired to be a part of my family, any more than I want it to make me too tired to be creative. It was doing both.
I don’t know what prompted me to read through my Enneagram profile for the umpteenth time one day a month or two ago; but this time, as though the arrow was flaming, I saw my mistake: my path of growth to a One, not a Two. In fact, my path of stress is toward Two, and, washed in self-forgiveness, I finally understood where I’d gone wrong—and why my journey had changed with motherhood.
As a Four (and as an INFJ), I will always be prone to introvertedness. I will need to retreat into my thoughts and my emotions, and sometimes even, my dark places. This is okay, for it feeds my creativity, my learning, and my worldview. To accept this in my nature is to find the strength in it (even though sometimes I worry I’m a little narcissistic). To accept this is also to admit, I don’t draw energy from other people—not that I don’t love you all! Rather, I am prone to give every ounce of energy in my possession, but when I run out, I’ll have to retreat for a bit to refresh.
With my eyes set on a One now, The Reformer, I realized why I was coming to life in those formative years. Sure, a part of it is growing up; but it’s a time in life where we are encouraged to discover ourselves. We throw our energies into self-actualization and personal health. For me, it perfectly coincided with my Reformer’s movement toward health. I planned, I organized, I led, I advocated, I took charge.
What is amazing about a lease on life is how little action it requires to be changed. Fresh perspectives are born in minute shifts—leaning to your right foot instead of the left. Since correcting my self-understanding, I’ve changed very little about my days. I’m still a wife and a mother whose basic existence revolves around her family. I’m still working within the community and doing my best to plug-in and give back.
But I have taken charge. In fact, in being slightly more “selfish”, I have actually become less selfish. Before, I was serving on behalf of others partially because I believed it would make me feel better about myself. Since moving my focus to my own mental health, I’ve found that I am enjoying serving others simply because I love them and I want to excel in my roles as wife, mother, volunteer. I’m organizing my goals. I’m being vocal about what I want and what needs to be done. I’m open for ways that I can lead or take charge.
I feel a little bit more myself. Maybe I’m not doing it in suit pants every day, Steph; but I have started wearing heels a lot more often again.