type 3


Being a three is an experience of ambition and drive. If I am a three then it is likely that I place great importance on success and accomplishment. It is important to be the best that I can be, in all ways a truly admirable example of the best that humanity has to offer. This is both a powerful talent and possibly the most dangerous trap I may face in my personal journey.

At my best, I am a shining star, a magnificent role model respected and admired for my achievements, both in the world and in my own personal development. I can be genuinely and truly myself, freely and confidently exploring my own personal potentials to their fullest. When I am operating from my real Essence, others might be deeply inspired by my example, learning by watching me, and becoming powerfully motivated to reach similar heights of accomplishment.

At my worst, I become overly attached to the appearance of success, causing me to ignore my inner development. I might put on a mask of accomplishment, trying to fit a role that does not really express my true Self. When my real Essence is clouded by attachment to the outer appearance of success, I might forget who I really am, making the tragic mistake of thinking that I am the image I put on for the world — and thus becoming a cold imitation of a real person, inwardly devoid of real being.

accepting (and admitting) failure
If I am healthy, then I will be able to recognize that failure is an inevitable part of life. Striving does not guarantee success. Being able to admit that I have not achieved what I set out to achieve is a sign of healthy humility. I know that because I am a limited being, not all of my projects will succeed. I appreciate the value of learning from my mistakes, and I am willing to accept temporary setbacks without trying to redefine them so that I look more successful than I really am.

The ability to realistically assess the exact level of success of a project is a great talent, one that is in demand in many organizations. Because they are so project-oriented, threes who are fully awake possess an acute perception of the relative progress of whatever tasks they are working on. Healthy threes who can make such judgments are greatly valued by their employers.

If I am a three, I probably have a strong tendency to want to succeed at all costs. This tendency can lead to a desire to cover up the goofs and slip-ups that happen to everyone. Until I can accept the inevitable failures in my life, I will be blind to the real condition of my projects. If I keep trying not to see the mistakes, then I will mislead myself and others.

When was the last time a project of mine met with failure?

Do I try to redefine my mistakes as “partial successes?”

Do I make a point of examining my own claims, to check them for consistency with the facts as I know them?

Have I ever “modified” the truth in order to create a good impression?

Am I always scrupulously honest?

Do others know me as someone who is trustworthy, whose claims are absolutely genuine?

If someone else succeeds where I have failed, how do I usually feel?

putting on an exaggerated image
One of the great talents of threes is a deep understanding of how someone’s image affects their ability to succeed. Healthy threes are able to effortlessly adapt their image to meet whatever the situation calls for, easily becoming whoever they need to be to get the job done. Such people are indispensable in a world like ours, where so many of us are sensitive to outer appearances. Healthy threes use their image talents for the good of everyone, selflessly and effortlessly becoming skillful role models that can inspire and motivate others to reach for greatness.

If I am a three, then I am sensitive to the effect my image has on others. My undeniable talents at assuming various roles will help me to present myself in a desirable way, no matter who I am with. But if I begin to let my Essence be obscured by an attachment to my own talents, then I might begin to over-value my own efforts.


Thinking I am better than I really am might lead to an increased need to always look successful, which can cause me to create an exaggerated image of myself. Puffing myself up with imagined greatness, I could be fooling myself and others by misusing my image-related talents to make myself look better, rather than helping others be the best they can be.

I could become overly attached to some particular role, trying to play it to perfection and losing touch with who I really am in the process. Then I become little more than an empty shell, beautifully decorated but hollow and actually quite fragile.

Am I trying to create an image of success regardless of the actual situation in my life?

Have I “sold out” in order to become successful at some role defined by society?

How do I decide what to wear?

How do I decide what sorts of personal belongings I should buy?

How important is it to me to help others become successful?


genuinely valuing others
It almost goes without saying that to succeed in this world we have to help each other. If I am a healthy three, then one of my talents is an almost uncanny ability to motivate other people, so that they will be empowered to seek (and find) their own kind of success, on their own terms. Many healthy threes say that their most fulfilling experience has been to watch someone else use their example as an inspiration for greater success and self-empowerment.

Understanding that other people do not necessarily share my own values, my talents can help me to intuitively sense what sort of motivation they need. If I am healthy, then it is very likely that people look up to me as an example of how to achieve and succeed, and I can gently help them to empower themselves, each in their own way.

As a three, one of my greatest talents has to do with helping other people who want to succeed. It is good to encourage those who are also aspiring to greatness, even if it means that I might have to temporarily step out of their way. As time goes on, I can see more clearly the value of pulling others up alongside of me on the path, and helping them move further. I can help others be the best that they can be, knowing that the world automatically returns my own efforts many times over, in ways that are not always obvious to me.

If I get too attached to this motivational point of view, I might begin to try to harvest personal gain from my interactions with others. I might try to “sell” them on ideas that aren’t necessarily in their best interest.

Do I put myself before the other, in an effort to “get” something from the relationship?

Do I recognize the spiritual and material value of selflessly working for the benefit of others?

Is it fulfilling to help others succeed?

Am I willing to sacrifice my own success if it means helping someone else?

respecting my teachers
My mentors, those who have achieved before me, can show me on a daily basis how to behave in order to find my own success. If I watch those who have accomplished great things, then I may be able to understand what made them great. If I am ready to grow, then I will be willing to acknowledge that I do not have all the answers.

Is there someone who is my mentor or teacher?

Do I listen with genuine humility to this person’s advice?

respecting my peers
Those who are climbing with me are my traveling companions. If I am awake, then I will try to treat them with humility and genuine compassion. They, too, can teach me. As I watch, they will make mistakes of their own. If I can help them recover without judging them in any way, then I might learn from their mistakes.

Working together with others who are my equals can show me the value of community and brotherhood, concepts that may seem alien to me if I am too wrapped up in my own greatness. My peers are my teachers, showing me the triumphs and errors to which I am also prey. If I can help them as they help me, then we will all benefit.

Are there people in my life who work alongside me, at my own level?

What are my honest feelings toward my peers?


competition and hostility
If I am a three, I have a competitive personality. My whole approach to life is about doing and being the best that I can. If my attitude is healthy, then I measure myself only against myself, remembering that my particular skills (and faults) make my challenge unique and different from that of anyone else. I give myself room to move at my own speed, knowing that there will always be others who advance faster or slower than I do.

If I have lost sight of the individual nature of my quest, then I am likely to begin comparing myself with others. This is bound to result in trouble, because when I see those whom I judge to be more successful I will feel bad about myself. If I am not honest about my own feelings, I might turn this guilt around and project it outward as hostility.

My jealousy of the success of others might lead me to knowingly or unknowingly try to sabotage their efforts. I might say unkind things about them, or act in such a way that they must redo some of their work. In extreme cases, I might go so far as to physically attack others who seem to threaten my eventual position at the top of the totem pole.

Do I compare myself to others?

If someone else is doing better, do I feel like interfering?

Do I ever say anything critical of others, for any reason?

being more real by expressing my uniqueness
One of three‘s talents is an ability to create and show the world an appearance that will be attractive to a large number of people. If I choose to, I can become a veritable icon of mass-appeal, someone who seems to embody an image that represents the best of whatever culture I belong to. Of course, there is value in being able to address the widest possible audience.

This talent for mass-marketing myself can paradoxically narrow my own view. The more people I try to address with my image, the more carefully I must polish my presentation, in order to avoid turning away those people who might be sensitive to the slightest little deviation from the cultural norm. My image can become highly constricted by the need to remain acceptable to as many people as possible. It is quite possible that a great many people could be turned away from me by their (probably correct) perception that I am simply another reflection of the same old sterile, mass-culture image.

It is strange but true that much more can be accomplished if I let my image reflect more of the quirks and oddities that are present in my inner being. Some people might be turned away by my slight eccentricities, but those who are attracted to me will feel much more strongly that I am someone like them. If I am more genuinely a reflection of my own uniqueness, my friends will be able to relate to me on a deeper level, and I will also be in closer touch with myself.

One interesting way that I can help myself be more real is to spend time with people who are not afraid to be unique and different. If I put myself in close contact with as many different kinds of people as I can, I might discover ways that I am unique and different myself.

Of course, there is a subtle trap here. If I am being different just for the sake of being different, then I might adopt attitudes or image elements that are not really expressions of my inner self. My uniqueness must reflect the real me, not some fabricated image.

How can I find the ways that I am unique?

What opinions do I hold with which most people would disagree?

Do I spend time with friends who are themselves unique beings?

How can I tell whether my departures from a stereotyped image are expressions of my uniqueness?


dropping the mask
Because I tend to pay a great deal of attention to how I appear to the world, it is important to sometimes let go of all that outside stuff. I tend to carry around a carefully polished image of who I want the world to think I am. When I let that image drop, I might be able to see who I really am behind the images. It is good for me to let go of old, artificial ideas about who I am.

One of the ways I can help myself drop the mask is by cultivating friendships with people who need and want nothing from me, and from whom I have no needs or wants. These are the friends who see the real me, with whom I can let myself show openly and honestly. Who are the people in my life who have nothing to hide, and from whom I have nothing to hide? Do I value them for who they are, not what they do (or what they can do for me)?

When I am with my closest friends, what do we talk about?

Are my friends’ victories (and defeats) as important to me as my own?

As a three, the chances are that I am ambitious and accomplished, with a good many successes under my belt. I am able to take on challenging projects and work hard for the reward of well-deserved recognition. It is likely that the eventual recognition is part of my motivation for working hard, which is quite reasonable.

But if my desire for recognition becomes compulsive, then I might start angling for recognition too soon. My achievement-oriented perspective might lead me to oversell myself. The best way to show someone I can do something is by doing it. Quiet confidence is a much more effective sales tool than inflated self-descriptions. I should let my record speak for itself.

At what point in a project do others begin to hear about my success?

Do I ever talk about winning before the game is over?

Do I voluntarily tell people how happy I am that I have achieved some goal, or do I wait until someone asks?

When I can be as filled with joy and delight at seeing my competitors succeed as I am at my own success, how can I possibly fail? If I care as much about my friends’ accomplishments as I do about my own, then any group I belong to will benefit tremendously. My genuine desire to help others succeed can bring a sense of kinship and belonging that is beyond words. I work alongside my brothers and sisters, able to feel passionate commitment and drop all pretense and false vanity. Others will look to me as an example and role model. I will be a real star precisely because I do not seek stardom.

at their best
Healthy threes are genuine and inspiring. Because they do not compete compulsively, they are not fixated on always coming out ahead. They are easy to be with because they respect and value the abilities of others, and they get deep pleasure from helping others succeed. They earnestly strive to be fully themselves. Their optimism, honesty, hope, and faith in their own abilities can motivate others powerfully.

In balance, threes flow into genuine, relaxed ease. Life is no longer such a treadmill, and there’s room for everyone. Fun is OK, and so are mistakes. Looking good is a pleasure, not a compulsion. Others are welcomed into real friendship, with no particular goal other than gentle fellowship. When healthy threes are around, everyone feels good. Playful, sexy and natural, healthy threes are the essence of optimism and accomplishment.

average threes
When healthy threes misuse or misunderstand their innate ability to compete, they can begin to fear that they might fail. They may begin to use their talent compulsively, at times when it is inappropriate. They may begin to feel that others are getting ahead of them, threatening to overtake them on the ladder of success. They might cut corners, cheating and lying, at first in small ways but then with increasing desperation. Meanwhile, they must disconnect from their own emotions so that they can put on a convincingly “honest” show for the world. They tell people what they want to hear so that they can get what they want from them.

They usually want to display the best of youthful attractiveness. It’s important to keep it clean and well-groomed, so others will admire it. Put it in the finest clothes, brush it, wax it, paint it, and make it into an icon of respectable success. Wear it like a hat, and walk the walk too. Assume a studied casualness. Be confident, relaxed, and motivated. Look good, feel good, and pretend like those bad feelings never happened. Which smile is right for me today?

unhealthy threes
The more compulsively they live through appearances, the harder it becomes for threes to feel any kind of genuine emotions. The carefully polished image becomes more and more false, leading them ever deeper into complex webs of deceit and pragmatic, calculated strategies. Eventually, they may become so inwardly dead (like an unhealthy nine) that they can commit acts of incredible violence and evil without showing any outward sign of emotional disturbance, all in the service of their (by now) horribly twisted ideas of success. Mass-murders and other deviant behaviors are possible.

Very out of balance threes might lose their temper but it is usually reflected back inward, where the emotion is absorbed and converted into action. At first, the voice rises a notch and anger is evident. But then the emotional flavor begins to simplify as the feeling center shuts down, and all that is left is impersonal hostility, masked by outer calm. Might be looking good on the surface, but dead inside. Deeper and deeper into the hostile numbness. More and more likely to lie, cheat, steal, and even murder without the least glimmer of guilt. Conniving, immoral and nasty, unbalanced threes are the essence of evil and spite.

questions for threes

Do I value self-motivated achievement, personal empowerment through effective effort, practical wisdom and realistic optimism?

Do I see the world as success and failure, fame and obscurity?


Does my own image distract me?

Does applause distract me?

How do I measure my own value?

Are there times when excellence is a mistake?

Are there times when success is failure?

Am I an image robot?

Do I use other people?

Do other people use me?

Do I make other people into tools and resources?

Is it possible to love someone who is more successful than I am?

Do my role models respect and acknowledge their teachers, peers,and students?

Do I find brotherhood through empowerment of others?

Do I find success through faithful honesty?

Does failure make me numb?

Does emotional deadness permit me to act unethically?

Do I deserve my own admiration?

Am I ready to find glory in other people’s accomplishments?

Do I hand out 3-D pictures of myself?

Do I go for the big sell even if it means stepping on toes?

Do I pretend to have feelings even when I am dead inside?

Am I here to gather praise and admiration?

Am I here to outshine the rest?

Am I here to teach genuine accomplishment?

How does it feel to be me?

Do emotions manifest as physical sensations?

Is there someone real inside of me?

Whom do I genuinely love?

Who learns by watching me?

Who are my teachers?

Do I change my image to suit circumstances?

Which image is the real me?

Have I helped anybody else win lately?

Am I able to deliberately lose out so that someone else can get the praise?

Who are my peers?

Do I want to help them or outcompete them?

Is God the ultimate motivation?

Am I God?



Next in Enneagram 101: type 3 with 2 wing

Previous in Enneagram 101: type 2 with 3 wing

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