A friend recently asked me what I’d wished I’d known before I published my first book. She may have been asking what I’d wished I’d known about the industry or the culture of publishing, but my answer went in a different direction. “I wish I’d known how deep my desire for approval and recognition was,” I told her. “I wish I’d known myself well enough to recognize that a career in publishing wouldn’t be the very best fit for me, for who I am.”
I knew I was Type A. I knew I was an overachiever with a deep desire to be successful. But I didn’t know how deep my desire was to be validated, recognized and known.
Turns out I had to learn that the hard way.
I would have much rather learned about my shadow side from a distance – who wouldn’t, right? But it doesn’t often work that way. We learn who we are not by holding ourselves – our good parts and our flawed parts – at arm’s length, but through real, lived experience, which more often than not includes struggle, pain, tumult, disappointment and failure.
My shadow side was only fully revealed when I was deep into my vocation as a publishing writer. And I was only able to recognize, acknowledge and ultimately confront this part of myself after it had fully emerged – and then only after I realized I couldn’t subdue it or overcome it through my own best efforts.
They say of all the nine Enneagram types, Enneagram Threes know themselves the least well. Apparently this is because we are so busy performing and producing, so busy trying to live up to who we think others think we are, or who we think we should be, we don’t acknowledge or even recognize who, in fact, we really are.
I can’t speak for other Enneagram Threes, but I can say, for myself, this assessment is spot on. When I page through the journal entries I wrote as I was moving toward my decision to step away from publishing, I see the same words repeated again and again. “Fragmented.” “Disintegrated.” “Fractured.”
It’s obvious to me now. Of course I felt fragmented. Of course I felt disintegrated and fractured. I’d spent so many years trying to be someone other than myself, I’d segmented myself into a million disparate pieces.
I realize this all sounds overly dramatic and more than a little psycho-babbly, but here’s the long and short of it; here’s what I have learned that I hope might be relevant for you too:
When we know ourselves, we are able to recognize and move toward the environments in which we thrive. And, at the same time, when we know ourselves, we are able to recognize and move away from the environments in which we fail to thrive.
Some of us – maybe most of us – will become better at knowing ourselves through trial and error. Some of us will learn more quickly than others where and how we thrive and where and how we fail to thrive.
Some of us will be stubborn. We will try to make ourselves fit into a space or a place that is not right. We will try to change ourselves to fit our circumstances. Ultimately we will fail at this. And ultimately, in failing, we will come closer to knowing our true selves.
Turns out, publishing was too big an arena for me. The public nature of the publishing industry fed my voracious shadow side like gasoline feeds a fire. The more I looked to the publishing world for approval and recognition and the more I pushed myself to be successful and admired and known, the more my ego demanded and the more distant I became from my true self, from the person God created me to be.
My shadow side has not vanished simply because I’ve stepped out of the publishing arena. My desires for validation, recognition and success are still there. The difference is, these desires are not being fueled in the same way and to the same degree. I’m still a Type A overachiever, and this is not inherently a flaw. I still strive to be successful in my work as a writer for The Salvation Army, and I still enjoy the validation I receive from my boss or my colleagues for work well-done. But because my work is not public in the same way, and the arena in which I am working is much, much smaller, my ego stays in check.
Over these last six months I’ve come to realize that there’s nothing I could have done that would have better equipped me to succeed as a published author while at the same time keeping my self whole and intact. I didn’t “do it wrong.” Nor is the publishing industry “bad.” Like a couple with irreconcilable differences, we – the publishing world and I – were simply not good together.
Still, I have no regrets. I haven’t for a moment regretted my decision to leave publishing, nor do I regret the fact that I entered in. The fact is, as Parker Palmer so astutely says, “There are no shortcuts to wholeness.” I learned a lot about myself through the ups and downs of that journey. I am closer to knowing who I am. And still I am learning, learning to recognize and embrace the whole of me – shadows and light, flaws and gifts. I am learning where I fit best – where I thrive and where I don’t. I am learning to live as my best self, the person God created me to be.