On the blog last week, Colleen Cook said that taking on her current leadership role in her workplace “has dramatically increased my confidence and helped me to recognize my own superpowers.” Colleen’s ability to name her strengths allows her to leverage them for good in her workplace.
One of the greatest tools for growth in my own life has been figuring out my own superpowers (and areas of weakness). And my favorite way to do that is through personality systems. Two in particular have been very beneficial for me: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Enneagram. There are others, but today I’m focusing on the two that I’ve found most helpful.
The right personality system helps you to understand yourself, have compassion on others, and grow in maturity.
Background & Differences
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – the test itself – was first used in the 1960s, after decades of research. The Enneagram, in contrast, had its modern awakening in South America in the 1950s, but some say that the roots of the system date back to 4th century Christian mystics. The popularity of the Enneagram has risen dramatically in popular culture in recent years.
More important than the history of each system is how they compare. The Myers-Briggs measures your preferences for interacting with the world, while the Enneagram focuses on your motivation.
In the MBTI, there are four “preferences.” Based on which way you lean in each preference (extraversion versus introversion, for example), you end up with a four-letter description of your personality. There are 16 Myers-Briggs types. (I’m an ISFJ, in case you’re wondering.)
The Enneagram lays out nine basic personality types, each identified by a number (1-9) and, often, a one-word descriptor. (I’m an Enneagram 1, often given the moniker the “Perfectionist.”)
Why Knowing Yourself Matters
The right personality system helps you to understand yourself. But why is self-understanding important? When you know yourself, you are better able to be compassionate for yourself. You can also build your life in a way that serves you well.
For example, as an Enneagram 1, I know that I tend toward perfectionism and having extremely high standards for myself. Recently, I was feeling overwhelmed – like there was just too much to do and I was failing at everything – so I paused and took stock. What was going on? Well, I was trying to do too much, and to do it all perfectly.
I can’t build a business, take an online class with homework, completely overhaul my eating and working out, and be an amazing wife and mom. It just isn’t going to happen. Once I realized that I was falling into perfectionism and unrealistic standards for myself, I was able to take a step back and reprioritize. I skipped a session of the class, and I may not finish it. I chose one baby step to help me move towards a healthier lifestyle. Instead of trying to do it all, I’m focusing on the one thing I’m committed to and excited about for this season. I’m extending grace to myself, because I am a human being with limitations.
Here’s another example. I’m an “I” on the MBTI scale, meaning that I am an introvert. Introverts recharge by spending time alone (whereas extraverts recharge through spending time with others). As an introvert, I know that I need some downtime every day, so once my kids give up their afternoon nap, I institute at least an hour of alone time in their room every afternoon.
Understanding Personality Engenders Compassion for Others
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves,” the noted psychiatrist Carl Jung observed.
In addition to understand ourselves, personality systems can lend themselves to understanding our fellow humans, especially those closest to us. Although we should refrain from “typing” others (Enneagram teachers especially emphasize this, as it steals from another person the journey of discovering their own type), just understanding that there are different ways of seeing the world can be enormously beneficial.
When I understand that my husband and I see the world through two different lenses, I am more likely to find his foibles endearing rather than irksome. Understanding some of his deeply-rooted fears and motivations has helped me to offer grace instead of judgment.
How Understanding Yourself Leads to Growth
Jane Austen said, “Self-knowledge is the first step to maturity.”
I know that some people’s hesitation with personality tests is that they put you into a box. Actually, used the right way, a personality test can highlight your strengths and/or weaknesses and help you to grow.
The Enneagram in particular is used as a tool for personal growth and spiritual maturation. Let me give another example.
As an Enneagram 1 (remember, the “Perfectionist”), I have a strong sense of right and wrong. Of course, “right” often means my definition of what is “right.” I want to do things the “right” way – but of course, for many things, there are any number of paths that can lead to a positive outcome. (Not loading the dishwasher, though! There’s only one right way to do that. 😉)
I realized recently that a large portion of the fights that my husband and I had were because I was unwilling to back down when I thought I was right about something, even if it was a small thing. I created a rule of thumb for myself, which I’ve been implementing with decent success thus far: If this won’t matter to me in a week, I’ll let it go.
He’s certain he already told me that he has to work late tonight. It won’t matter in a week; I’ll keep my mouth shut.
He remembers that conversation differently than I do. Next week, this will only be a blip on the radar. I don’t need to keep arguing.
This is just one recent example of how understanding a key piece of my personality has helped me to take steps towards maturity.
Rather than put you in a box, personality systems like the Myers-Briggs and Enneagram help you to understand yourself. In doing so, you can have more grace and compassion not only for yourself, but for others. Additionally, once you can recognize your personality at work, you’re more likely to be able to make progress in the area of personal growth.
I’ve only scratched the surface of these two personality systems; there’s so much depth to both of them! If you’re interested in digging deeper into the MBTI or Enneagram, these resources will help.
- Reading People by Anne Bogel – My favorite personality primer. It covers a wide variety of personality systems.
- Best free online MBTI test
- Best free online Enneagram test
- Another free online Enneagram test from The Personality Path
- The Enneagram Journey and The Road Back to You – My two favorite Enneagram podcasts.
- Favorite MBTI Instagram account: @mbti
- Favorite Enneagram Instagram account: @enneagram.life