This week we continue our walk through the Enneagram types to discover more about the Enneagram Type 3. Today, my fellow writer/blogger, Jill McCormick and my brother, Ryan Polizzi are sharing with us what it is like for them to be a Type Three. If you’re new around here and new to the Enneagram, check out the overview of the Enneagram here.
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Let’s dig in.
Defining Characteristics of a Type Three
Threes are the performers and achievers of the Enneagram. They know how to get a job done well and are the leaders and productivity experts of the world. Threes feel that their identity is wrapped up in how successful they are and so have a driving need to prove themselves through the things they can accomplish.
According to Beatrice Chestnut in The Complete Enneagram,
Threes’ attention is often focused on organizing their life in terms of the tasks that need to be accomplished, results that need to be produced, and the ways they fill their time (such that they could avoid gaps in their activity where feelings could emerge).
While Threes generally avoid their feelings, they are still feelers at their core. They use their feelings to sense what others need them to be and play the part to gain acceptance and admiration, though they aren’t always aware that they do this. Threes tend to think that their feelings get in the way of their ability to get things done and so they minimize them and ignore them. They also tend to neglect relationships for the sake of productivity and often become workaholics. Still, underneath a Three’s ambitious drive is a need to feel valuable and worthy.
Threes fall into the trap of superficiality in the attempt to make themselves appear as more than they really are. They struggle with self-deception. Not that they are outright liars, but their need to appear successful colors their reality and how they present themselves to other people.
Failure is like kryptonite for a Three and they avoid it at all costs. They will even reframe their failures as a “learning experience” or “partial victory” before they admit failure. However, failure is the very thing a Three needs in order to grow. When a Three fails they have the opportunity to discover that their worth is based more than on what they do or what they can achieve and they can begin to find the freedom to be themselves and find love for who they are.
Core Desire: To be valued and admired, to be worthy, to have unconditional love.
Basic Fear: Of failure, or of being found worthless.
Driving Motivation: Shame is the secret driver of the Three, leading them to believe that they are only valued for what they can do and contribute. This causes in them a need to impress people and to be seen as successful and/or attractive and distinguish themselves from others. According to Richard Rohr in The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective,
Praise is the gas that makes the Three’s motor go.
Blind spots: Their own emotions and the emotions of others; as well as their ability to recognize the difference between their authentic self and the image or role they are playing.
Main struggles: To be themselves and to face and own their feeling side. They also struggle with putting work and tasks over the importance of relationships.
Coping Strategy: Identification. According to Chestnut,
By identifying with – locating and matching a specific image or model – and becoming what others value, Threes attempt to satisfy their need for approval, which substitutes for their underlying need to be seen and loved.
Key traits: Threes have the ability to “work a room.” They are highly competitive and have the drive to win. They exude self-assurance and self-confidence.
Avoids: Being a “nobody”. They also avoid failure, vulnerability, negative feelings, and being ignored.
Superpower: Threes are the movers and shakers of the world. They can do a lot of good for their communities, organizations, and the world. According to Chestnut,
Their specific superpower is their ability to make things happen by finding the most direct path to their goal, removing obstacles that might get in the way – and looking good the whole time.”
Gifts to the world: Productivity, efficiency, accomplishing their goals, and motivating others to achieve their goals.
Invitation to growth: To let hope reign. According to Chestnut,
Hope is the letting go of the egoic need to push things forward and see results, and the knowledge and trust that good things are going to happen.
Threes need to learn to slow down and even stand still sometimes. They need to learn to let go of the identity that is wrapped up in what they do so that they can receive the love and value for who they are. They also must learn to be alone and get away from the audience and the attention it garners. Chestnut encourages Threes:
When they can learn to balance their focus on work and achievement with a focus on the needs of their true self, they can blend their skill at actualizing goals with the creativity and depth of who they are, producing positive results that can enhance life for themselves and others.
From the Source: Being a Type 3
To find out more about the inner experience of a Type 3, I interviewed my brother, Ryan Polizzi and a fellow blogger and writer, Jill McCormick. Both Jill and Ryan identify as Type 3s. Ryan is a sales representative for a data communications security company in North Carolina and Jill is a writer and speaker who helps her audience find ways to “go rogue” from the over-achieving life. I asked Ryan and Jill to share with me their experience about being a Type 3. Here is what they had to say.
Describe how being a type 3 is for you.
Several years ago, a friend and I trained for a half-marathon. I ran at 5 a.m. in below freezing temperatures. I ran when my health was not great. I ran when my feet ached and screamed, “Please don’t make us put on those shoes!” I ran because I set a goal and I’m all about achieving predetermined tasks.
This is the quintessential 3.
Performers are all about being productive and hustling because we don’t feel valued unless we’re contributing through work or service.
As a 3, I feel a constant need to do more and try harder. In the past, I’ve exhausted myself trying to do All The Things. Now, I’m in a much healthier place so I understand that God loves me no matter what: whether I work or rest, whether I achieve a goal or enjoy my people.
Being a 3 is like always being “on” around others. You have this need to prove yourself and show you’re useful and the best at something.
How did you come to know about the Enneagram?
I didn’t have a clue about it. When my wife asked me to take the test I did, because we enjoy comparing our results.
I had a friend recommend, The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Once I learned I was a 3 so much about my life, my narrative, my habits and patterns became crystal clear and I just fell in love with the Enneagram.
How did you know you were a type 3?
When each description of a 3 was read out, it was pretty dead on on almost every single descriptor.
As I read the book The Road Back to You by Ian Cron, I would review the statements made at the front of each type outlining what it’s like to be that type. I thought of them as questions, asking myself, “Would you say that’s true of you, Jill?”
It was clear that I was a Performer. I kept nodding my head, “Yes! Yes! Yes! How do they know me so well?!?!”
What bothers you most about being a type 3?
Being on and feeling that I need others’ approval. The ambition sometimes weighs heavy if I feel like I haven’t achieved what I think I should have.
Two areas bother me about being a 3:
1. The fact that I can get hyper-focused about productivity to the detriment of my people. Because I feel value for producing, I’ll work instead of being present and just relaxing and enjoying all God has given.
I constantly think about all the things I should do, all the things I haven’t done, and the next time I can work some more. When my best-practice systems are interrupted, I get irritated. And while it’s good to spend time strategically, it’s not okay to be enslaved by routine.
2. The fact that so much of my worth feels tied to metrics. As a writer, I track numbers like subscribers and followers. This may not be you, but perhaps you have a different metric that’s important to you: the number on the scale or the amount of dollars in the bank. I can easily get discouraged when my numbers aren’t what I think they “should” be.
What do you enjoy most about being a type 3?
I love so many things about being a 3! I can connect with just about anyone. I’m enthusiastic and confident. I can motivate others to achieve what God has laid on their hearts.
Even though I’ve cast productivity in a negative light, I also love that I want to do and help others! Christ wired us to go and move out into a hurting world. I love that my propensity is to love and serve others through action. While productivity as a means to feel loved is not good, productivity is amazing when it’s what God has called you to do and when it is accomplished on a foundation of love!
The attention. I think that speaks for itself.
How do you see your Three-ness affecting your closest relationships? Marriage? Kids? Friendships, etc.
Three’s in relationships can be a bit tricky for two reasons:
1. We can view people as either an obstacle to us accomplishing a goal or as a means to accomplishing a task, instead of viewing them as children beloved by God. Our preoccupation with “doing” prevents us from connecting with others and being present.
2. We also have a hard time identifying the emotions of others and our own emotions. This makes it difficult to connect on a deeper level. We can have a hard time empathizing when all we can see is work to be done.
But there’s good news! Three’s can learn to be present and to put aside our belief that we’re loved for what we do, not who we are. We can also learn to navigate the emotional landscape. When we can do these two things, we’re incredibly loyal spouses, parents, and friends.
I have to put extra effort into caring for others wants and dreams. Too make them feel important. Sometimes I’m blind to the way others feel and I can be domineering. Sometime I just need to shut it.
I see it as a product of being picked on at a young age and a way for me to adapt and become more confident and successful.
Ohmygoodness! Let me count the ways! The Enneagram has helped me understand the “why” behind my “what.” Once I understood why I do what I do, I can more easily change course to a healthier way. The Enneagram reminds me to remember that Christ loves me for who I am so I can rest and relax in that!
I hope that by hearing from Jill and Ryan you have a better understanding of what it’s like to be a Type 3. Below is the newly released track by Sleeping at Last in their Enneagram series for Type 3s. I believe it captures well the gifts and struggles of a Type 3.
Are you a Type 3? Leave me a comment at the bottom of the post and let me know what resonates with you and/or what you would add.
A quick thanks to my contributors.
Jill McCormick is the writer behind jillemccormick.com, a blog where she shares common-sense grace with the try-hard girl. Jill’s married to her high school sweetheart Ryan. They live in South Texas with their two daughters, born 18 months apart. Most days you’ll find her with a book in her hand or a podcast in her ears. She starts and ends everyday with sprinkles: on oatmeal for breakfast and on ice cream for dessert. You can also find Jill on Facebook and Instagram.
Ryan Polizzi is 32 years old. He grew up in California and joined the Marines after high school where he served for seven years. Ryan currently work as a sales rep for data communications and security. He is married to his beautiful wife, Tracy of 7 years and he is expecting his first daughter in April.
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