How this personality system I used to hate actually helped me grow my business in a huge way.

written by Bari Tessler October 8, 2014

Here’s one BIG thing I’ve learned about creative entrepreneurship:

It’s not just what we offer through our business that matters. It’s how we offer it.

I’ve seen this time and time again, in my own business. Of course, the content I offer (healing our relationship with money) is valuable and unique. But what makes it mine — as I create it, run the business, and share it with the world —  is how I do everything. It’s weaving meaning, sacredness, and play into what I do. In short: it’s making my business a reflection of myself.

Primo example:

This Sunday night, it was time for me to send invitations to some of my dearest colleagues, asking them to join me for an upcoming event.

It was a simple task. Send some emails. But I couldn’t simply copy/paste an email and hit “send.” Nope. That’s not how I run my business.

It was essential for me to prepare the space, first. I lit candles. Spritzed essential oils. Nibbled on a little chocolate, did a Body Check-In, and centered my body, mind, heart, and spirit. I set intentions and said a little prayer.

This is how I do business — and life! Everything needs to feel right and good, in alignment and in integrity. I infuse everything I do with meaning, sacredness, and playfulness.

These things aren’t important to every creative entrepreneur — we all have our unique ways of being in the world. Our hows and whys. When we can identify and honor our unique ways of being, we can share them with the world in beautifully productive ways. (And stop getting “stuck” in them)! We can make our businesses valuable reflections of ourselves and our greatest gifts.

This takes some work. Self-reflection, inquiry, and practice. And one of the very best tools I’ve found for this is the Enneagram.

The Enneagram is a system of 9 personality types. It has gained widespread popularity as a personality system since the 20th century, but has mysterious, ancient roots (including Sufi psychology, Kabbalah, and more — depending on who you ask!).

When I first encountered the Enneagram, I was intrigued … and horrified.

It sounded like a rich, beautiful tool for transformation. And, as a graduate student in Somatic Psychology at Naropa, I loved deep work like this.

But I was worried it was just another system that shoved people into tiny little boxes. You see, all those typologies drive me a little batty. (Myers-Briggs, astrology, etc.) Sure, they’re fun to play with, but they drum up big opposition, from deep within me:

Wait a sec! I’m a unique individual, here! You can’t possibly understand the real me by shoving me into this pigeonhole! This is getting insulting!

(I know I’m not alone in this feeling!)

But, the Enneagram was compelling enough, so I gave it a shot. I dipped my toes in. I read the descriptions of the 9 types (I really prefer this to taking a test — it helps me see what type I resonate most with).

When I turned to the description of the Enneagram “4” (my type), I felt like my ego was being turned inside-out. Right there on the page, I saw myself: my strengths and challenges, the healthy and the unhealthy, the drama, the family dynamics — all of it. I felt like I had just taken a truth serum. It was exciting … and scary!

Part of me wanted to go running and screaming from that description of myself. I was in my 20’s, and still immersed in more of the “unhealthy” patterns of my type. There was a lot that I didn’t want to see or admit!

But, another part of me recognized the immense value in this mirror. I longed for freedom from my patterns, my unconscious “stuck” places, and my drama. I was in graduate school for psychology to help others — but also to do my own deep, inner work. So, I kept going.

Now, 17 years later, I have taken many steps along this journey (some large, some small). I still consider myself a novice to this system, as it’s so rich and complex. But I am so grateful for it, because it has brought me significant understanding of myself: in life, love, money, work, and entrepreneurship.

“By knowing your type correctly, you are able to see yourself—to “catch yourself in the act”—as you move throughout the day. With this increased self-awareness, you are also able to avoid reacting in negative and potentially dangerous ways.” ~ Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram

Put another way:
The Enneagram doesn’t tell us who we are. It shows us all of our habitual ways of being who we aren’t.

It gives us a map of the boxes we put ourselves in. And that map is also the key to our liberation … into more and more authentic expressions of our true essence, beyond personality and boxes.

I am a 4 on the Enneagram (with a 3 “wing”).

Here’s a (pretty crazily-accurate) description of my type, when it becomes healthy:

“When 4/3 becomes deeply self-aware, there is a feeling of tremendous emotional integrity. Others feel that they are genuinely being heard, but not judged in any way. Somehow the advanced 4/3 manages to be both an equal and a teacher, both a sympathetic listener and a disciplined advisor. Real transformations happen in the lives of those who tell their stories to such people. People become powerfully motivated to find the real meaning in their lives.” ~ Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram

You see, the Enneagram doesn’t just show us our flaws. My favorite descriptions of the Enneagram reveal how each type looks on both bad days and good — our strengths and challenges, our messy bits and greatest gifts.

The descriptions of unhealthy patterns for my type allow me to catch myself in the act, and wake up from the “trance” of my type. And the descriptions of the positive, healthy, “integrated” version of my type offers me signposts along my journey, and personalized support to keep growing and evolving.

The Enneagram has been an invaluable tool for me, as a creative entrepreneur.

As a 4, I’m hardwired to be afraid of being too visible, “big,” or seen. Yet, I also have a 3 “wing” (wings are a kind of subtype), which loves the spotlight, ambition, and performance. My 3 wing kicked in a bit more in my 30s, when I started shedding some of the unhealthy aspects of the 4, stepping out into the world more. It has taken me years to shift from teaching small groups of ten to larger and larger, global groups (now, the Art of Money has over 300 people).

Here are some of the other ways I have intentionally adjusted my business practices over the years, as a reflection of my becoming a healthier, more conscious Enneagram 4:

  • I have become more and more true to my natural gifts (ex: guiding in a non-judgmental, “un-shaming” way, building a thriving community, diving deeply into emotional and spiritual waters)
  • I have let go more and more of what I “suck” at (by delegating to my team or shifting my business model)
  • I honor my pacing: everything has to be slow and steady, for me. I need time to integrate everything on a deep level.
  • I honor my emotions and body wisdom: these have been sacred ground in my journey as an Enneagram 4. They infuse my teachings (I guide people through emotional healing and use somatic tools), and they are also woven through every step of my behind-the-scenes work in my business.
  • I love my tribe. And it took me years to find them. I wanted my own little mastermind posse for years, but I wasn’t ready, wasn’t open, or couldn’t find the right fit. (Feeling like an outsider is a common “4” trait!) But finally, this year, I found my small circle of incredible ladies. We support each other to live fully on all levels. They have my heart, and I have theirs. I held out for the right group, and am so grateful to have found it!
  • I blaze my own trail, and make sure everything feels “right” and in integrity, for me. This is huge for Enneagram 4s! Example: last year, I decided I couldn’t stand the word “launch,” anymore. It felt stressful and energetically and aesthetically clashed with my need to have everything in my business feel as beautiful and sacred as possible. So, I playfully forbade my team from using that word and we started calling it “An Opening” instead of “A Launch”. So, we opened The Art of Money. Rather than get cranky because didn’t feel right (and try to bulldoze ahead), I realized: my sensitivity is a huge gift, and allows me to recognize and honor what will most serve me and my community.
  • I take time to dissolve my overwhelm, my way. Every type has a different “flavor” of overwhelm. For me, as a 4, overwhelm means I don’t get to go as slowly and intentionally as I want to. Simply bringing awareness to my feelings and patterns can press the “pause” button and unravel the overwhelm spiral I can head into, and guide me home to myself.
  • And, yes: candles, chocolate, essential oils, intentions and prayers. Before every interview, mentoring call, or big decision. Always.

If you love the idea of making your business a reflection of your true self, I simply can’t recommend the Enneagram enough.

As a guide back home to yourself, in challenging times. As a reflection of who you are — and all the ways you pretend to not be yourself. As a reminder of what you’re so wonderful at, and everything you can grow into.

Want more? Some phenomenal Enneagram resources:

Ben Salzman’s “Rise Up Break Through” Program. If you’re interested in applying the Enneagram to entrepreneurship, this is for you!

Ben Salzman is a hilarious, warm, and wise Enneagram teacher — and a dear friend. He has invited me to speak on a panel about Enneagram and entrepreneurship, as part of his Rise Up Break Through Program.

Join us for this free, virtual panel, and hear all about how our Enneagram types used to hold us back in business — and how we have turned them to our advantage.

It’s a free, online event, and it’s going to be so cool. The 9 panels (one for each type!) begin on October 28th, and Ben has some fabulous resources to get you up to speed on your own Enneagram type, before then:

1. Don’t know your type? Get access to the free Enneagram + Entrepreneurship panel here and get help finding out your type.

2. Check out my vintage interview with Ben Salzman, talking Enneagram and Money. A great introduction to the work, especially as it applies to our money practices and patterns.

3. The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso and Hudson. There are tons of books out there about the Enneagram, and this one is my favorite. (Especially for beginners.)

You might also like: