Elizabeth Wagele was the co-author of The Career Within You: How to Find the Perfect Job for Your Personality. The author -- an American artist, musician, and best-selling writer on the subject of the Enneagram (the Enneagram is a typology of nine interconnected personality types; see https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/) -- passed away on March 27, 2017, at age 77. Her blog post, slightly edited for brevity, appeared originally on Psychology Today's online blog (July 01, 2014).
I found clues to President Obama’s Enneagram type in his book, Dreams from My Father (1995). He was a young adult when he wrote it, often a time when one's Enneagram type is most evident. These personalities are all related: the Achiever, the Questioner, and the Peace Seeker.
If there’s one thing that is consistent with Obama throughout his life, it’s his desire to see all sides of issues. This and his desire to be fair, especially, indicate that he is primarily Type 9-Peace Seeker.
As a teenager, Obama smoked pot. He said he didn’t get high to prove how great he was (9s are often modest), but rather to push questions of who he was out of his mind. When he was 18 years old, Obama seemed to be sleepwalking through life, and had trouble figuring out what he wanted. An older man, a friend of his, asked him what he expected to get out of college he said he didn’t know. The friend said, “That’s the problem, isn’t it? You don’t know. You’re like the rest of these young cats out here. All you know is that college is the next thing you’re supposed to do.” [emphasis added]
I believe Obama has a strong One wing, meaning he is influenced by the Type 1-Perfectionist point. Ones are well organized and usually speak well, as Obama does. His One wing is useful for keeping track of all the things a president needs to keep track of. It is also partly responsible for his strong ideals.
Obama left his mother and grandparents in Hawaii and went off to college in California, where he expressed something of an anti-authoritarian nature, typical of a Type Six, the Questioner in the Enneagram. “When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society’s stifling constraints,” he wrote. At about this same time he got in touch with his fear, the emotion that runs many Sixes. “The same fear that had caused me to push Coretta away back in grammar school. The same fear that had caused me to ridicule Tim in front of Marcus and Reggie. The constant, crippling fear that I didn’t belong somehow, that unless I dodged and hid and pretended to be something I wasn’t I would forever remain an outsider, with the rest of the world, black and white, always standing in judgment.”
Achievers, Typen 3 in the Enneagram, strive to be insiders, important members of the group. They get ahead in life by performing and they’re usually competitive. They take note of who is successful and then pretend to be who they want to be. Obama worried he might take this path in order to belong.
After two years of college at Occidental in California, Obama applied to Columbia in New York. He still felt insecure, wondering where he belonged, and compared himself to his father. “I imagined my father sitting at his desk in Nairobi, a big man in government, with clerks and secretaries bringing him papers to sign, a minister calling him for advice, a loving wife and children waiting for him at home, his own father’s village only a day’s drive away. The image made me vaguely angry, and I tried to set it aside, concentrating instead on the sound of salsa music coming from an open window down the block. The same thoughts kept returning to me, though, as persistent as the beat of my heart."
“Where did I belong?” he asked himself. And a little later, realized: “What I needed was a community, a community that cut deeper than the common despair that black friends and I shared when reading the latest crime statistics, or the high fives I might exchange on the basketball court. A place where I could put down stakes and test my commitments.”
Belonging and a sense of community are important to Type 9-Peace Seekers. Obama struggled between his desire for authenticity and the lure of prestige, as exemplified by the Typen 3-Achiever: his idea of his father, fast cars, beautiful clothes, and so on. Then he decided to go to Chicago and become an organizer to help the poor. Type 9 and its idealistic Type 1-Perfectionist wing won over Type 3. He conquered his waffling and his fear and made an important decision.
Belonging continued to be an issue for Obama, however. He started working in poor neighborhoods. ”Wandering through…tough neighborhoods, my fears were always internal: the old fears of not belonging. The idea of physical assault never occurred to me.”
When writing about inner city education, Obama unknowingly stood up for the inclusive principles of the Enneagram in a way characteristic of Type 9: “Just think about what a real education for these children would involve. It would start by giving a child an understanding of himself, his world, his culture, his community. That’s the starting point of any educational process. That’s what makes a child hungry to learn—the promise of being part of something, of mastering his environment.” He admired what his idealistic educator friend said: “I give students a different values orientation—something to counteract the materialism and individualism and instant gratification that’s fed to them the other 15 hours of their day. I teach them that Africans are a communal people.”
After Obama’s father died, he took his first trip to Africa to get to know his relatives there. He asked himself “how community might be reconciled with freedom, how far obligations reach, how to transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love.” In law books he found cases of how often conscience (Type 1) is sacrificed to expedience or greed. On the day he married Michelle, his brother complained he spent too much time in front of the mirror (Type 3) and Obama said Michelle was worried he was something of a dreamer. The future president said he wanted to help create a more just and caring world. He is a Peace Seeker with a strong Type One, Perfectionist wing.