Life in the Fast Reign

Feminist Anne Wilson Schaef asked four people to describe the white male system. She asked a white woman, a white man, a black woman and a black man. The two women and the black man described it effortlessly and their description agreed. The white male looked puzzled and asked, "What system?"

Sometimes a personal upheaval shatters one's worldview and then the system becomes clear. Our corporate culture and the colleges that feed it, have an Enneagram style more pronounced, perhaps, than the rest of the culture. If you're an Enneagram student you'll immediately recognize this Enneagram style from a description of Harvard by a woman who is going to have a downs syndrome baby and therefore does not fit in. The book is Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck, a columnist for Mademoiselle, among other things.

How things work at Harvard

She writes, You might assume that John and I found Harvard pleasant. Oh, how wrong you would be. Actually, I don't know if I ever met anyone at Harvard who found it pleasant. It seems to me (although I may well be projecting) that all the people there scurry anxiously from one achievement to another, casting wary glances over their shoulders, never quite sure that they've managed to throw failure off their scent. To me, being a student there was heady, exciting, even thrilling, but these sensations came laced with heavy doses of fear and misery. It was like having lunch with a brilliant, learned, witty celebrity who liked to lean across the table at unpredictable intervals and slap me in the mouth --hard. Was it interesting? Very. Stimulating? In more ways than one. Pleasant? I don't think so. (p. 10)

She continues on page 11. At Harvard, the appearance of confidence is essential to social survival. Without it, you're like the wounded animal in the herd, attracting the full attention of predators and the disdain of most potential mates.

Here's how she coped with these crushing expectations.

At least I'd learned to fake self-confidence, probably as well as the next graduate student. I was very deliberate about this. Before I went on the campus for any reason, I would consciously call up a portion of my personality I call Fang. I would focus very hard on being Fang, until I could squash down every thought or feeling that wasn't part of her. Fang fit in beautifully at Harvard. She was fearless, aggressive, sardonic, voraciously competitive. She never ate entire pound bags of M&Ms or sat with her feet in the bathroom sink, crying the way I was wont to do after a hard day's lunch with the slapping celebrity.

Further, It often seemed to me that success at Harvard depended on being willing to put "personal reasons" so low on one's priority list that they dropped right off the bottom. (p.13)

Her keen emotional observations capture a lot of the dynamics of an unhealthy Three. A culture that is fiercely competitive, image-conscious, aggressive, and without permission to claim one's personal or inner life is a text-book Three fixation. I found her observation of the underlying fear perceptive and accurate. All numbers are polarized against the opposite of what they espouse, and Threes, especially when unhealthy, have a dark and painful fear lurking somewhere in their psyche.

This is Harvard, where "the best and brightest" train for high positions in the corporate world. When you are coaching or even dealing with a CEO, it is helpful to know that her schooling has been as described above. It is also important to realize that most CEOs pattern corporate cultural values, they just reward and punish accordingly and everyone gets the neurosis, I mean message.

If you are 'cubicled' or 'officed' in the corporate world, I might suggest you read about the pitfalls of the rat race in high places. A book by Robert Kaplan entitled Beyond Ambition, talks about the problems really aggressive leaders and managers have. His second chapter is a case study of a type Three and is vividly descriptive. Good read for Enneagram coaches. Much better on diagnosis than help, but still a source of good insight.