A Feature Review of
The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery
Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
Reviewed by Seth Vopat
It’s a common narrative: It’s always going to be someone else, it’s not going to be me.
Clergy burnout may be high, but I was never going to fall into that category I told myself. I naively thought with proper preparation I would be able to avoid the statistics and perhaps help change the narrative. And then it came. I rapidly descended like an Apple iPhone into the lower-power mode to conserve energy several years ago. It was in the midst of this descent I was introduced to the enneagram for the first time. A colleague and friend suggested I check it out.
It wasn’t an easy sale. I had already worked through several personality tests in college and seminary like the Myers Briggs—twice. How could another personality system help? If it wasn’t for the fact I was quickly approaching burnout I would probably have ignored my friend’s recommendation. We settled on an overnight retreat and worked with what many consider the classic Christian work on the enneagram, Richard Rohr’s Discovering the Enneagram: An Ancient Tool for a New Spiritual Journey.
The fact Ian Morgan Cron shares a similar story in the introduction of his and Suzanne Stabie’s book, The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery was a bit unsettling—the reason why is I am probably a four, but more on that later. They had me hooked from the beginning. I became a pilgrim on a fellow journey. And while our experiences and feelings may be different. I knew I walked on a journey with a confidant(s) who knew the struggles with burnout were real. Regardless of how well we might have been prepared for the road ahead. The author(s) willingness to be transparent and let their authentic selves speak makes their book a fabulous addition to enneagram literature.
Imagine a circle which has nine points, each point represents a different personality type. This is the enneagram. Within the circle are connecting lines between certain numbers to represent the correlation between the two connecting personality types. The nine personality types are grouped into three subcategories called triads, which Cron and Stabile label: anger/gut (8, 9, & 1), feeling/heart (2, 3, & 4), and fear/head (5, 6, & 7). The subcategories represent the underlying current which sparks a person’s decision making process and how she or he responds to stress.
The origins of the enneagram is a bit of mystery. As the authors highlight, it’s possible the enneagram originated within the Christian faith tradition. Whether or not it originated from within Christianity in history it certainly has not remained a tool solely used by Christians as pieces of the enneagram can be traced to Judaism, Sufism, and was popularized in the fields of psychology by Oscar Ichazo in the 1970s.
What makes Cron and Stabile’s book a beautiful and much needed addition to enneagram literature is the fact it captures the same spirit of the legendary cartoonist Charles Schultz. Schultz attributed the success of his long running Peanuts comic to the fact he only included what was necessary and left the rest out. Cron and Stabile masterly include what is necessary—with humorous stories and compassion—to get one started exploring the enneagram and leave out the rest. Even those who are familiar with the enneagram will find an added layer of depth as they engage with two authors who are witty and are willing to be transparent about their own journeys of faith and how the enneagram helped them discover a new self-awareness. And continues to help them. As I don’t think they would say one ever reaches an end point.
There is a well organized rhythm to the book which makes it easy to reference and find that idea you remember reading, but can’t remember the exact page number. Each chapter starts with a numeric list of what it’s like to be that personality type. This is then followed by the personality types deadly sin, a description of the personality, what their like as children, what their like in relationships, at work, how their wing numbers (the numbers on either side of them) impact them, and how they handle stress. Finally, they conclude each chapter with some ideas for how they can work towards transformation.
Books like this should come with a warning label. For it would be a mistake to classify the enneagram as a self-help book which puts me on the path to finding the “best” and or most “successful” me. The enneagram, ergo, this book isn’t about how to become more perfect and achieve even greater success. It’s about becoming more aware of who I am and learning to embrace both my strengths and weaknesses. There is no perfect number! A mantra which needs repeating in a society that has a tendency to classify people into winner and losers. Eights (challengers) are great as leaders seeking justice for those who cannot speak. Yet, sometimes they need someone to come alongside them and remind them they have gone to the extreme. Fives (investigators) are great about analyzing situations with their minds, but they need help sometimes connecting with their emotions.
If there is a complaint to be made with this book which works so well as an introduction to the enneagram. It is that the authors did not include a test in the back for those who are being introduced to the enneagram for the first time. I imagine though, this is by design. The authors have done their homework and probably see no reason to tread where others have already gone. Helen Palmer’s The Enneagram in Love and Work: Understanding Your Intimate and Business Relationships is a perfect example and perhaps a next step for those who want to learn more about the enneagram.
When I was quickly approaching ministry burnout a few years ago I found myself buying or checking out book after book. I read late into the the night seeking to find an answer to my problems so I wouldn’t become another dreaded statistic. No matter how many books I read and podcasts I listened too, I couldn’t find what I was searching for. Sadly, Cron and Stabile’s book wasn’t in publication yet. For when I got to chapter eight (romantics, 4s) I came across one of those sentences which made me feel like I was no longer reading a book, but staring into a mirror. Under the headline “The Four’s Deadly Sin” I read an elegant and to the point sentence which perfectly described my anguish. Cron and Stabile write, “Fours feel something important is missing from their essential makeup.” (152) Fours have a tendency to think their struggles are unique. In my eyes, I was not enough. I needed to be better.
This is what the enneagram offers as tool for those of us who seek, not to become better, but more self-aware. To become aware and see our weaknesses as opportunities for others to share their talents and gifts. Cron and Stabile do a wonderful job of pointing this out as well. The enneagram invites us to view ourselves and those around us with more compassion as we come to realize the different ways we approach the world for both the worse and better. Cron and Stabile offer us a gift in this book to recognize the unique values we each bring to the table as we work through life together.