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You’re Never Too Old … or Too Young for the Enneagram

I just returned from leading a “Coaching with the Enneagram” certificate program in Cincinnati. Not only is it a beautiful city, an Art Deco paradise, but the program itself drew fantastic participants. Mainly the participants were from Cincinnati, where there is a vibrant Enneagram community, but also from elsewhere, even outside the United States.

What was striking about the program was the degree to which almost all participants fully engaged and truly explored the inner dimensions of self. Of course, this is a program focused on how to coach others using the Enneagram, but then, to practice what they are learning, they must coach someone. And so, all the participants get coached for 5 full days. And, I always demonstrate the various techniques with a volunteer before they practice with one another.

This particular group was the most diverse I’ve ever had in terms of age; they ranged from about 24 to 68. And no matter what the person’s age, they all worked really deeply on their own development, just as hard, in fact, as they worked on honing their coaching skills. At the end, the 24 year-old wrote me a note saying, “This has been a life changing experience.” What was remarkable about this comment was that the 68 year-old had told me verbally, “This program has changed my life.”

Even 10 years ago, the prevailing “wisdom” (really, more urban legend!) was that you could not use the Enneagram with people under 40 because they did not have sufficient life experience to “know who they are.” In fact, people often thought the lower age range should be 50. Even more, it was thought to be unethical to use the Enneagram with children; this included 10 year-olds, adolescents, and even young adults. The thought was that helping younger people use the Enneagram to understand themselves would harm them in deep ways such as having them stereotype themselves, or something like that.

All this seems silly in the year 2013, just 10 years later. At the 2003 IEA conference, we did a children’s panel led by David Daniels, which was extremely controversial among Enneagrammers and, after the fact, a huge success. This event shocked many people, but changed the urban legend. But I was fully aware that my then 10 year-old son was using the Enneagram really well. It helped him understand himself as a type 3 and he was using it in several ways. With his friends who were interested, he would help them type themselves and learn how to develop and understand themselves and others. At other times, he used the Enneagram behind the scenes. For example, he would analyze his elementary school basketball team and how to make it more successful. “Mom,” he would say, “the team has four 8s, three 5s, and two 3s. The 8s are ball-hogs, the 5s are just waiting for someone to pass them the ball, and the two 3s can’t get them to work together. What can we do?”

Less pronounced, but still part of the prevailing thought, was that the older age group wasn’t the ideal population for the Enneagram. As I remember this, the upper end was about 65 years and older, and now that I am in this group, it doesn’t seem so old at all. And many people who come through my programs, most of whom are using the Enneagram professionally are 65 plus. The thinking then was that older people were retired or retiring, so perhaps the best use of the Enneagram for them might be to bring it to retirement homes and to focus on how to help them best use their remaining time on this planet. This logic never made sense to me because even 10 years ago, many people were working well into their 80s, and even if a person is not working, aren’t we all in various stages of growth and transformation if we embrace it?

So the lesson relearned here is that one is really never too young and never too old to utilize the profound insights of the Enneagram. And I relearned it in Cincinnati!

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