Article - Beginner

Career Choices and the Enneagram

By Kyra Ward | 21 June 2019 |
career planning for the enneagram black board

Hazards of career guidance approaches

Everyone seems to be talking about the disruptive changes and shifts in the world of work, and yet we seem less clear on the implications of these changes for individuals who are just starting out or looking to change direction in their careers.

We spend somewhere between 30 and 40 years engaged in our careers for 8 hours a day; in reality, many people struggle to find jobs and careers that they love, that energise them and keep them engaged.

This is no more apparent than in the career guidance services used by many individuals facing career-related questions. Often, traditional career guidance efforts Center on the idea that if an individual is good at something, then that is what his or her career should be. It looks a little like, “I see you’re good at math, you should be an accountant” or “I see you are good at drawing, have you considered graphic design?”

Of course, this is overly simplistic and not necessarily true at all. An individual might be very good at doing something, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into that career or work that makes him or her want to get out of bed each morning, and it certainly might not be what this individual wants to spend effectively a third of his or her life doing.

Where traditional career guidance falls short on helping pinpoint careers that leverage both skill and drive (intrinsic motivation), the Enneagram is particularly good at creating such awareness. By building individuals’ self-awareness of what drives and motivates them, we see far greater numbers of individuals making wise choices in their careers.

Individuals, whether they are just beginning their careers or looking to change direction, may benefit from Enneagram coaching to help them think through the possibilities and make sense of their core motivations. This approach can offer insight into not only where a person might succeed but also where they might find their purpose and flourish.

Applying the Enneagram in career decisions

Using the Enneagram as a data point in the career decision journey is slowly becoming a more widely used practice. The personal insight afforded to individuals through the Enneagram opens up fields of opportunity that might otherwise remain shut.

Vicki Shaw, a leading Enneagram coach and a member of Integrative Enneagram Solutions’ faculty, has done considerable work in this space and notes that one of the reasons why the Enneagram yields such impressive results when it comes to decision-making around career choices is because

“it creates a pause and reflect opportunity for individuals to think about themselves in relation to their careers, (which is rare enough) but with their motivation and patterns of thinking and behaviour at the forefront ”

This point about motivation is significant and sits at the core of the Enneagram’s applicability in the career exploration journey. Using an individual’s Enneagram Type as a point of departure to unpack the core motivations that drive his or her behaviour is a real point of clarity for many people. When individuals get the opportunity to make sense of what really drives them, it becomes apparent that while going against these drivers might lead them astray, connecting with and embracing what motivates them can help them develop a sense of purpose and flow.

Having connected with their Ennea Type; core motivations; and those things that give them energy and purpose, individuals are able to ask a question they may never have considered before:

“I am able to do many things, and I might be good at doing some things, but what will motivate and fulfil me over time?”

For some, this question is transformative and sets them on an entirely different path than they might have planned. For others, it is instructive, validating a chosen path. Of course, the Enneagram does not resolve career choice entirely for everyone; but even if it doesn’t, it does provide a clearer picture of their motivations that may help narrow down their options.

Another advantage of using the Enneagram in choosing a career is its considerable depth and the multitude of angles it offers for a given challenge. People are more than one thing, so an overly simplistic, one-dimensional approach to career selection is guaranteed to fall short. With the Enneagram, if core Type doesn’t offer sufficient insight, there are so many other elements to consider. We could look to Subtype, dominant instinct, Centers of Expression, Harmonics and Hornevians – all of which add new layers to our self-understanding and give us deeper insights into our career opportunities. In all these instances, the Enneagram gives individuals a language and a framework to articulate what they are looking for in a career.

Career choices and the Enneagram in practice

Enneagram coaches who work with individuals on their career choices reflect that, for some clients, working with the Enneagram and helping them understand what is true for them is enough, as it opens their minds and hearts to the myriad of options they have. For others, revealing and highlighting their motivations rather than their behaviours (which are often determined by context), affords these individuals a genuine “aha” moment.

As Shaw notes, “I think we had two people change their university degrees after our first workshop as they realised they were not doing what they wanted to do, but rather doing what they thought was required of them and would make their families happy”.

Do remember the dangers of oversimplifying and reducing Enneagram Types and careers to stereotypes. For example, you should never limit someone by saying “you can’t be an accountant because you are an Enneagram Seven” or “you shouldn’t be a police officer because you are a Four”. It is very important when using the Enneagram in practice to guide others in their career decisions to not use language such ‘you can’t’, ‘you shouldn’t’ or ‘you wouldn’t be suited for’.

No matter what your Type is, anything is possible and the world needs diverse people in many fields. For example, imagine that nine young people gather in a room, all with the desire to enter the education field, each with a distinct Enneagram core Type. Should some discount their dreams because of their core Type? No! Perhaps though, using the Enneagram they might consider how best they could make this happen:

Ennea icon ennea 1

Education Policy Maker or School Coordinator

Ennea icon ennea 2

Guidance Counsellor

Ennea icon ennea 3

School Administrator or Education Technology Developer

Ennea icon ennea 4

Special Education Teacher

Ennea icon ennea 5

Researcher or Professor

Ennea icon ennea 6

School Inspector

Ennea icon ennea 7

Education Consultant or Teacher

Ennea icon ennea 8

School Administrator

Ennea icon ennea 9

Guidance Counsellor

An astute Enneagram coach, hearing of an Enneagram Seven interested in accounting, for example, might approach the conversation by asking what it is about being an accountant that the individual finds appealing. The coach could follow up with a question around what the individual might find boring about such a career. And then, most importantly, the coach should follow up those questions by enquiring about what type of accountant the individual wants to be – the day-to-day work of a forensic account is very different to that of an auditor, for example.

Before leaping to use the Enneagram to support those making career decisions, here’s another example to take heed of: a young woman was considering taking up a career as a medical trauma surgeon. In working through her core Enneagram Type (Eight, the Active Controller), it seemed that the Trauma environment, which is characterised by always being on the go and requiring immediate, decisive action, was a natural fit for her. Upon deeper reflection, however, given her Enneagram Two feeling style and the fact that she has trouble taking care of her own needs, an environment that is also characterised by death and pain might demand too much of her. The woman began to ask herself important questions around whether she would be able to look after herself. Would she be able to let patients go (since trauma surgeons hand off patients as soon as the emergency has been dealt with?) Ultimately, while she loved the idea of becoming a trauma surgeon when she really started to reflect on it (using the wisdom of the Enneagram), she came to realise that it wouldn’t actually be a good career decision for her and she ended up choosing a different path.

In this example, we see the nuances of career decisions and the sensitivity with which we must apply the Enneagram to any guidance we offer. Using the Enneagram in broad strokes could lead to oversimplification and reductionism – both of which are likely to lead individuals down an unrewarding, and potentially miserable and futile path.

All of this comes with a big caution: the Enneagram is only useful in career decisions if we avoid oversimplifications and reductionism. We strongly contend that there is no direct mapping of Enneagram Types to careers, so efforts to stereotype Enneagram Types and associate each with specific careers will ultimately prove as ineffectual as the traditional career guidance approaches.

However, we strongly contend that to give individuals an informed perspective on where their passions lie and what careers are likely to bring them ongoing satisfaction, practitioners must apply a wise and considered application of the Enneagram. This approach would be one which gives an individual the opportunity to explore career fit in a nuanced manner focused on individuality and uniqueness, coupled with other processes such as job shadowing and research.

In summary

Using the Enneagram as a point of reflection in choosing a career clarifies the distinction between motivation and behaviour. This is particularly important for young people just starting out in their careers, as they are often more consumed with trying to fit in and behave like everyone else (rather than themselves) and really lack the self-awareness they need to make good choices about their careers. We owe it to them – and to everyone choosing or changing their career – to better advise and support their journeys.

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