What makes for a meaningful career? You might think the answer is different for everyone. But according to psychology researcher Tamara Myles, there are three universal elements to experiencing meaningful work:
- To feel we’re contributing to something that matters.
- To be given challenging opportunities to grow and improve our skills.
- To experience belonging as part of a community.
Speaking as a Certified Enneagram Coach and personality trainer for 10 years, I think there is an extra element: ensuring we’ve worked through our blind spots.
It's hard to know what our blindspots are because, to state the obvious, we are blind to them. But we can learn how to look. And the best way to do that is by understanding our unique personality type. Various personality models can help you but in this article, we’re going to focus on the Enneagram.
How can the Enneagram help us find meaning at work?
The Enneagram shows us that the path to finding meaningful work comes not from striving to get more of what we already have, but from integrating different ways of working into our style.
At first glance, these different skills will make you feel uncomfortable. You may want to dismiss them as pointless and a waste of time. That is a natural response to something that has been outside your viewfinder for a long time.
Imagine you are using a pair of binoculars to look at a bird. When you look through the viewfinder you see a single bird up close. You see their feathers, their coloring and their movements. While focused on the bird, you don’t see the wider view. You miss the trees, mountains and clouds. You might overlook other birds, or miss the other animals in the scene.
Your personality is the binoculars – zoomed in, looking at a single thing. Blind to all the other elements in the scene.
It is much harder to take off our personality than it is to lower the binoculars.
But the joy of finding meaning in work trumps the discomfort of zooming out to take in the wider view.
Tips to find more meaning at work, by Enneagram type
Each Enneagram type comes with a range of skills, each needing to be balanced in some way. You can work on integrating skills from your primary type, your wings or arrows. Below is a single element each type would benefit from integrating, but I encourage you to explore your type in more depth to find the skill that would help you craft a meaningful career.
To get you started, here’s the one thing you can do right now to make your work more meaningful.
Nines: Find meaning through conflict
Enneagram Nines fall into the trap of thinking that work is meaningful when everything is calm and harmonious. Nines are hardworking but overly focused on other people’s agendas as a way to avoid rocking the boat.
When they zoom out, Nines can see how their fear of conflict leads them to be indecisive, lack confidence and play it safe. From there, they can start to see the value in conflict or even just the potential of creating tension. That includes how:
- Productive conflict strengthens relationships, not undermines them
- People appreciate knowing where they stand
- Direct communication creates clarity and makes decision-making easier
For Nines, their work becomes more meaningful when they become comfortable with discomfort. They remain supportive, friendly and humble. Only now, they can confidently welcome disagreement while not forgetting about their own priorities, express their own views as well as listen to others, and become more confident, powerful and focused. They’ll enjoy stronger relationships with colleagues as a result.
Eights: Find meaning through inaction
Enneagram Eights fall into the trap of thinking their work is meaningful when they can see an immediate impact from their actions. Whether they are taking charge, protecting others or rebelling against the rules, Eights are hyper-focused on using their power to get things done.
When they zoom out, Eights can see the negative impact on others when they are too quick to confront, dominate and decide. From there, they can learn to see the value of waiting. That includes:
- Analyzing the options and assessing the risks
- Listening to others’ insights and perspectives
- Using a more compassionate and diplomatic approach to resolving problems
For Eights, their work becomes more meaningful when they show more sensitivity and empathy for others. They remain confident, big-picture thinkers. But now they combine that with a softness and patience that allows them to include others before taking action, share control and provide positive feedback. They will build alignment with others to create long-term sustainable change, not just short-term impact, as a result.
Sevens: Find meaning through follow-through
Enneagram Sevens fall into the trap of thinking that their work is meaningful when it's fast-paced, innovative and varied. Whether that’s taking advantage of opportunities, imagining how things could be or sharing their utopian vision for a better world, Sevens hyper-focus on what’s positive and pleasurable.
When they zoom out, Sevens can see the impact of their fast pace. They realize that when they skim read they miss important details, and that their skip-around communication style is hard for people to follow. From there, Sevens can start to see the value in slow-paced, routine, and rule-bound work. That includes:
- Seeing a project through to completion
- Committing to long-term impact not just short-term excitement
- Working with constraints and limitations
- Focusing on just one thing at a time
For Sevens, work becomes more meaningful when they learn to focus and follow through. They remain positive, inventive and engaging. But now, they can take in negative data, set realistic timelines, remain focused on a specific goal and wait until it’s finished to celebrate a job well done. They take their time to get it right.
Sixes: Find meaning through positivity
Enneagram Sixes fall into the trap of thinking their work is meaningful when they are prepared for all eventualities. Whether they are doubting, overly certain or even rebellious, Sixes hyper-focus on potential risks and being prepared for them to happen.
When they zoom out, Sixes see their underlying anxiety and how that leads them to be overly questioning, uncertain, and lacking trust in themselves and others. From there, they can start to see the value in positivity and what is working. That includes:
- Seeing some risks are imagined and not actual threats
- Accepting that most things go well most of the time
- Understanding they are more competent and powerful than they appreciate
- Taking action without knowing all the risks in advance is okay
For Sixes, their work becomes more meaningful when they start to trust in their own judgment, competence and strength. They remain analytical problem solvers. But now they can act with courage and confidence, balancing analysis with action, knowing that they can overcome any problem that arises whether they have prepared a contingency plan or not. By focusing on the positive data they are able to feel the fear and act anyway.
Fives: Find meaning through collaboration
Enneagram Fives fall into the trap of thinking their work is meaningful when they can share their knowledge while remaining independent. They might keep a lot of that knowledge to themselves or enthusiastically share it with others, but either way, they hyper-focus on how to use information to keep people at a distance.
When they zoom out, Fives see how their underlying fear of being overwhelmed by feelings leads them to try and control all of their interactions. From there, they can start to see the value in connecting and collaborating more intentionally. That includes:
- Valuing of subjective and emotional data
- Working closely with others can create better outcomes
- Sharing personal experiences helps build connection
- Communicating more effectively by understanding your audience
For Fives, work becomes more meaningful when they reduce their reliance on facts and figures and connect with people at a more personal level. They remain objective, knowledgeable and thoughtful. But now they can connect more deeply and intentionally with others, really appreciating the value relationships can bring to one's work and life.
Fours: Find meaning through objectivity
Enneagram Fours fall into the trap of thinking that their work isn’t meaningful unless it is special or unique in a way that’s authentic to them. Whether they are trying to achieve that by being tenacious, emotionally sensitive or competitive, they hyper-focus on what is lacking or missing in themselves, others or the project.
When they zoom out, Fours see the impact of constantly comparing themselves to others and being overly self-critical and negative, and how that can push people away. From there, they can start to see the value in being more analytical or objective about themselves and their work. That includes:
- Being able to see what is working well and what is present
- Seeing their own positive qualities and strengths
- Recognizing the insights that emotional data provides
- Understanding that not everyone is as in touch with their emotions as they are
For Fours, their work becomes meaningful when they don’t get swept up in their feelings, but rather can observe them as they rise and fall. They remain creative, empathetic and truthful. But now they can take practical action to realize their vision with more consideration for the impact on others.
Threes: Find meaning by slowing down
Enneagram Threes fall into the trap of thinking work is meaningful when there is a clear reward for being successful. Whether that reward is financial, public recognition, or ensuring a job is done well, they hyper-focus on the task and the most direct way to achieve it while looking good to others.
When they zoom out, Threes see how disconnected they are from their own likes, dislikes and values because they set aside their feelings in order to do more and be more productive. From there, they can start to see the value in slowing down and doing things at a measured pace. That includes:
- Connecting with others on a personal level
- Listening to others’ recommendations more deeply
- Valuing failure and looking bad
For Threes, their work becomes meaningful when they spend time getting to know themselves and connecting with their feelings. They remain confident and goal-focused. But now they bring heart into their work, investing more time connecting with people and balancing productivity with creativity.
Twos: Find meaning through working independently
Enneagram Twos fall into the trap of thinking that their work is meaningful as long as they are in service to others in some way. Whether that is by being supportive, influential or exciting, they hyper-focus on ways to be indispensable.
When they zoom out, Twos can see their hidden motives for being indispensable, and how sometimes they “give to get” as a way to make people like them and include them. From there, they can start to see the value of spending some time working by themselves every day or taking on a project independently. That includes:
- Getting clarity on their own thoughts, opinions and perspectives
- Seeing the value in asking for help when they need it
- Recognizing the importance of communicating clearly and directly
- Understanding how people can work together respectfully without liking each other
For Twos, their work becomes meaningful when they become more aware of their own needs, feelings and priorities. They remain sincere, empathetic and service-oriented. But now they are confident in their own skills and can communicate more directly, both asking for help and saying “no” when they want to.
Ones: Find meaning through mistakes
Enneagram Ones fall into the trap of thinking that their work is meaningful once all the details are perfect or when work is being done the right way. Whether they are trying to be perfect, teach the right way or perfect others, they hyper-focus on getting it right to avoid being blamed or criticized.
When they zoom out, Ones see their own irritation: how they are constantly resentful of others and the never-ending pressure for perfection. They see the impact of their criticism and rigidity on others. From there, they can start to see the value of errors, mistakes and imperfection. That includes:
- Learning from making mistakes, not just from getting it right
- Recognizing there is no single “right way,” just many different ways, each of which adds its own value
- Understanding that, ultimately, everything is imperfect and that is what makes it valuable
For Ones, their work becomes more meaningful when they cultivate compassion for themselves and others when mistakes are made. They remain hard working, ethical and thoughtful. But now they can be more flexible and accepting, collaborate more effectively, smile more and simply enjoy their work rather than feeling trapped in the pursuit of perfection.
Whatever your Enneagram type, take a few minutes to write down your current definition of a meaningful career. What are you pursuing? And if you aren’t sure, I recommend doing Brene Brown’s values exercise in her book Dare To Lead.
When you have identified what’s at the core for you, make a list of different ways you might achieve it. Look to role models or leaders you admire for ideas. Make a note of which approaches feel meaningful to you and why. Use that framework to review your current career and what might need to change.