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E-SymThreelabeledThe Success-Oriented, Pragmatic Type:
Adaptable, Excelling, Driven, and Image-Conscious

For more about the meaning of the arrows, see below.

Type Three in Brief

Threes are self-assured, attractive, and charming. Ambitious, competent, and energetic, they can also be status-conscious and highly driven for advancement. They are diplomatic and poised but can also be overly concerned with their image and what others think of them. They typically have problems with workaholism and competitiveness. At their Best: self-accepting, authentic, everything they seem to be—role models who inspire others.

  • Basic Fear: Of being worthless
  • Basic Desire: To feel valuable and worthwhile
  • Enneagram Three with a Two-Wing: “The Charmer”
  • Enneagram Three with a Four-Wing: “The Professional”

Key Motivations: To be affirmed, to distinguish themselves from others, to have attention, to be admired, and to impress others.

The Meaning of the Arrows (in brief)

When moving in their Direction of Disintegration (stress), driven Threes suddenly become disengaged and apathetic at Nine. However, when moving in their Direction of Integration (growth), vain, deceitful Threes become more cooperative and committed to others, like healthy Sixes.

Examples: Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Pauley, Michael Landon, Tony Robbins, Tom Cruise, Barbra Streisand, Sharon Stone, Madonna, Shirley MacLaine, Sting, Paul McCartney, Dick Clark, Whitney Houston, Ted Danson, Michael Jordan, Shania Twain, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Dee Williams, Kathy Lee Gifford, Truman Capote, O.J. Simpson, and Barack Obama.

Type Three Overview

We have named personality type Three The Achiever because Threes can achieve great things in the world when they are healthy. They are the “stars” of human nature, and people often look up to them because of their graciousness and personal accomplishments. Healthy Threes know how good it feels to develop and contribute their abilities to the world. They also enjoy motivating others to achieve more extraordinary personal achievements than others thought they could. They are usually well regarded and popular among their peers, the type of person who is frequently voted “class president” or “homecoming queen” because people feel they want to be associated with this kind of person who acts as a stand-in for them. Healthy Threes embody the best in a culture; others can see their hopes and dreams mirrored.

Threes are often successful and well-liked because, of all the types, they believe in themselves and in developing their talents and capacities. Threes act as living “role models” and paragons because they embody socially valued qualities. Healthy Threes know they are worth the effort to be “the best they can be.” Their success at doing so inspires others to invest in their self-development.

Threes want to make sure their lives are a success. However, that is defined by their family, culture, and social sphere. Success means having much money, a grand house, a new, expensive car, and other status symbols in some families. Others value ideas, and success to them means distinguishing oneself in the academic or scientific worlds. Success in other circles might mean becoming famous as an actor, model, writer, or a public figure of some kind, perhaps as a politician. A religious family might encourage a child to become a minister, priest, or rabbi since these professions have status in their community and the eyes of the family. No matter how success is defined, Threes will try to become somebody noteworthy in their family and their community. They will not be a “nobody.”

To this end, Threes learn to perform in ways that garner praise and positive attention. As children, they learn to recognize the activities valued by their parents or peers and put their energies into excelling. Threes also learned how to cultivate and develop whatever about them is attractive or potentially impressive.

Eve is a successful business-woman:

“My mother trained me to perform. I was about three when I performed my first solo in front of the church congregation. I got a lot of positive strokes for that and went on to perform in front of audiences throughout high school, either through music or debate. To this day, something mystical happens to me when I get in front of an audience. I ‘turn it on.’ I am called on frequently as a public speaker and some of my professional colleagues say that they hate following me on the program because I am such a hard act to follow!”

Everyone needs attention, encouragement, and the affirmation of their value to thrive, and Threes are the type that most exemplify this universal human need. Threes want success not so much for the things that success will buy (like Sevens) or for the power and feeling of independence it will bring (like Eights). They want success because they fear disappearing into a chasm of emptiness and worthlessness. Without the increased attention and feeling of accomplishment that success usually brings, Threes fear that they are nobody and have no value.

The problem is that, in the headlong rush to achieve whatever they believe will make them more valuable, Threes can become so alienated from themselves that they no longer know what they genuinely want or their real feelings or interests. In this state, they are easy prey to self–deception, deceit, and falseness. Thus, the deeper problem is that their search for a way to be valued increasingly takes them further away from their own Essential Self with its core of real value. From their earliest years, Threes become dependent on receiving attention from others and pursuing the values others reward, so they gradually lose touch with themselves. Step by step, their inner core, their “heart’s desire,” is left behind until they no longer recognize it.

Thus, while they are the primary type in the Feeling Center, Threes, interestingly, are not known as “feeling” people; instead, they are people of action and achievement. It is as if they “put their feelings in a box” to get ahead with what they want to achieve. Threes have come to believe that emotions get in the way of their performance, so they substitute thinking and practical action for feelings.

Jarvis is a well-educated and accomplished business professional; he sees that this pattern developed at an early age.

“I had no conscious awareness of this at the time, but when I was a child, I wasn’t allowed to have my feelings at all. They counted for nothing in the framework of my stepfather’s concept of what it took to be successful. I developed the habit of denying my feelings and instead focused on performing and getting good marks in school.”

Threes report that when they realize to what extent they have adapted their lives to the expectations of others, the question arises, “Well, then, what do I want?” They often did not know; it was not a question that had ever come up. Thus, the fundamental dilemma of Threes is that they have not been allowed to be who they are and to manifest their authentic qualities. At a young age, they got the message that they were not allowed to have feelings and be themselves: they must, in effect, be someone else to be accepted. To some degree, all personality types have been sent the same message, but because of their particular background and makeup, Threes not only heard it, they began to live by it. The attention they received by performing in a certain way was their oxygen, and they needed it to breathe. Unfortunately, it came at a high price.

Marie, a skilled therapist, describes the contradiction—and the pressure—of this orientation.

“For most of my life, people always noticed when I was involved in any kind of activity, and they have usually looked to me for some sort of direction. This has been a two-edged sword because while I wanted to be noticed and approved, the burden was that I had to be perfect—and that was tough.”

(from The Wisdom of the Enneagram, p. 153-155)

Next Actions

  • Do you often feel like you are wearing a mask or acting a role? The world sees a confident go-getter, while you might see someone who is a bit of a failure.
  • Do you have a few close friends but several friendly acquaintances mainly related to your field?
  • Is it difficult for you to relax and do nothing?
  • Do you worry about letting people get too close to you if they see you as a “failure”?
  • Do you worry that other people you work with will eventually discover that you cannot do anything right?

Try these simple tips to help restore the positive aspects of your personality type if you are a succeeder:

  • Allow other people to love the real you, not your job or your financial status
  • Learn to accept yourself – get rid of the mask. While nobody likes a serial moaner, people who are always on top of the world can also be challenging to live with.
  • Try to appreciate your life as it currently stands. Stop waiting for the subsequent pay rise or promotion to enjoy life.

You can learn to channel your negative characteristic of frantic activity into goal setting. Instead of focusing on outer success, use your natural abilities to work for the benefit of everyone’s success.