Reviewed by: Leah Parkhill Reilly
The Premise: The basic premise underpinning the Enneagram is that many, most of us really, exist in state of auto-pilot or waking sleep. We live, work, and love according to own habitual patterns of behaviour that are laid down early in life. The beautiful concept behind the Enneagram is we can wake up to our own unconscious patterns by learning to observe and study ourselves more objectively. This practice of self-observation is essentially a practice of mindfulness, of identifying your thoughts, feelings, and actions in the present moment and perhaps “catching yourself in your own game.”
In The Complete Enneagram, Beatrice Chestnut provides readers with a comprehensive guide to an ancient tool. This tool has in modern times been repurposed for the purpose of personal self-insight and discovery to show 9 archetypes of personality and the potential paths to greater awareness and self-insight. The Enneagram itself is a 9-point map each representing an archetype but within each there are 3 sub-types or ways that the archetype typically shows up. Aside from the upfront chapters outlining the history of the tool and as well the overview of the framework, Chestnut devotes a chapter to each of the Enneagram points on the 9-point map. The chapters devoted to the 9-types outline the tendencies of the archetype and subtypes, the typical focus of attention, the common biases, assumptions, and blind spots as well as the steps for personal growth and exploration leveraging the other types.
The Bottomline: Self-awareness is not for the faint of heart nor is it a quick process. This is a very dense book and may seem slightly intimidating initially. Do not be put off by this! The benefit from self-exploration is massive, although uncomfortable at times.
I personally found it helpful to complete the simple self-assessment on Chestnut’s website (it’s free) to better identify my type. However, this isn’t critical, it’s just for the quick start folks in the crowd. You know you’ve nailed your type when you read the descriptive story accompanying it and have a mixed reaction of “oh that’s awful” and “oh that’s absolutely me.” Once past this initial bout of self-loathing, I was able to acknowledge the truth of it and more importantly draw a tremendous amount of benefit and self-insight from the growth path laid out.
Recommendation: Highly recommended if you are interested in self-directed personal growth and discovery. This is not a book that one takes lightly or decides to use for a fun “get-to-know-the-team” activity, it’s very much about one’s own personal leadership and life journey. While Chestnut has recently published a 3rd book (The Enneagram Guide to Waking Up), I personally prefer this one as it goes deeper and provides much more detail.
For those who prefer audio over reading, I’d highly recommend the podcast hosted by Beatrice Chestnut and Uranio Paes which unpacks and explores the Enneagram in its entirety.