Enneagram Type 3: The Achiever

Written by Tim Branch

The Achiever

Original Design: Threes are world-changers with the energy and enthusiasm to inspire and motivate others. They help people see who they could become, and empower them to grow in their unique gifts so they can step into who they were made to be.

Desire: To be seen as valuable by others.

Fear: That if someone truly knew them, they would be rejected and seen as unworthy.

Sin: Deceit. They struggle to believe they are loved for who they truly are, so they “become” whatever others value to earn their approval. Threes put a great deal of effort into climbing the ladder of success in order to be someone worthy of adoration. Often, they even deceive themselves into believing they are this new person, rejecting any negative “image” of themselves as truth.

Subconscious childhood message: “In order to be valuable, you need to become someone else.”

Message of healing: You are loved exactly as you are.

At a Glance

Threes are driven by a desire to succeed. They almost always find a way to achieve their goals. Often, the core of their high performance is the desire to win approval and love from others. But this performance can be tiring for them. It can feel like they don’t have an identity outside the things they do, because they tend to become what the world around them sees as most valuable. At their best, they are some of the most influential people in the world. They’re masters of reading people, and they have a unique ability to inspire others to see and grow into their own gifts.

How to Know if You’re a Three

  1. You’re very good at finding ways to win. If something’s not working, you change things up until you find the route to success.
  2. You’re highly competitive and determined to be the best at whatever you do. If you can’t, you’re less likely to want to do it at all.
  3. You’re naturally charming and excellent at winning people over.
  4. When you walk into a room, you immediately sense what is valued in the room, and you know how to become it.
  5. You have trouble stopping your work—you’re always trying to keep working even during rest hours.
  6. You’re incredibly high-capacity. You get more done in a day than most people can do in a week.
  7. You have a hard time noticing, naming, and expressing your feelings. But they’re definitely in there. 
  8. You cover up your weaknesses because you want everyone, including yourself, to see only the best side of you.
  9. When life is going well, you feel a great sense of pride in being who you are.
  10. You’re goal-oriented. When you acquire a target, you chase it with everything you’ve got.

How They Work

If you overhear someone describing a Three, they’ll probably use words like inspiring, charming, and “the most hardworking person I know.”

They are high-powered success machines. They’re high-capacity thinkers AND doers, hardwired to figure out what it takes to win, and then make it happen. 

They have a remarkable drive to accomplish their goals and often excel at everything they do. Generally, they work themselves to the point where they have the knowledge, charisma, and grit to be a standout in whatever field they choose. 

Outside of work, they can be very charming—with the ability to win people over quickly. They’re confident in their skills and cultivate their potential constantly.

Of course, plenty of types are driven and charming, right? So, to understand the difference between a Three and these other types, you have to know the secret motive at WHY they do these things:

The core drive behind a Three’s thirst for success is a deep thirst for approval from others. They want to be seen as successful, attractive, impressive. 

Why? Because the secret question rumbling around inside them is, “Am I really worth loving?” And they look to other people to answer that question for them.

Threes believe if the people who matter admire them, they’ll finally earn the love and belonging they so deeply desire. This turns them into performers, becoming whatever the people around them see as successful, attractive, or impressive.

Whereas Twos try to earn this love and belonging by doing things for others, and Fours try to earn it by being unique, Threes often use comparison and competition to feel valuable.

Our world is more performance-based than ever. And to a Three—who is able to conquer just about any system, game, or corporate ladder they’ve ever laid eyes on—that looks like an attractive avenue for gaining value, love, and respect from the people they want to impress. 

In certain Threes, this might look like driving a nice car, wearing expensive clothes, having a massive house. Or it could look like having the perfect life, the perfect family, the perfect instagram. 

However it plays out, Threes push so hard after these things because of a little voice that says: “You’re only worthy as long as others see you as a success.”

And while this leads them to extremely successful lives most of the time, it can also cause them to put on a mask. It feels scary to show people their real, vulnerable self, because the mask is what impresses everyone. They might even forget themselves what their true self looks like under the mask.

A Three’s desire to impress makes it hard to rest. They’re the type that can be sitting on a lovely beach with their spouse, while secretly still working on their iPhone. Why? Because the idea of falling behind in their work—and possibly failing—stresses them out.

How They Reflect God

We all see it: the world is broken.

God designed Threes with the ability and drive to look at all that brokenness and say, “I’m going to make this different.”

God is always working. He’s changing lives, performing miracles, moving mountains. And Threes are a beautiful reflection of that mountain-moving quality of God. They move mountains on behalf of others—and they inspire others with the hope they need to move mountains themselves.

There’s a LOT that God has called the church to accomplish in this world. And to be honest, it might be impossible if He hadn’t given us Threes to accomplish, inspire, and lead with their God-given charisma and amazing work ethic.

And when they’re getting all their approval and value from God rather than their accomplishments, they gravitate toward goals that are bigger than themselves. And when they do that, they can legitimately change the world. 

Threes have a unique power to read other people, to figure out how to say something that will land with the most emotional force, and then to use that power to push others into their purpose. This allows Threes to help others see the best in themselves, and then get motivated to harness those gifts. Healthy Threes are constantly spawning other inspired, motivated people.

They empower the discouraged, they lead those without the power to move themselves, and they give hope to the person who has all but given up on themselves.

Not only that, but Threes show us an amazing picture of the beautiful, magnetic, captivating personality that God is. 

Why is this so important?

Because if God has a captivating personality that pulls us in, then we don’t have to worry about whether God is boring, or someone we’d even want to be around. 

God has an attractive energy that makes it easy to fall in love with Him. And we see that in the charm, the moxie, and the captivating presence He gave to Threes.

Where it Goes Wrong

Threes have so many traits that can enrich everyone around them. But like everyone else, their greatest gifts can get twisted by insecurities and lies—and become dark versions of what they were originally meant to be.

Here’s where it starts for Threes:

Somewhere along the road, before they knew what was going on, they began to notice that impressive people are the ones who always get the attention. Often that started when their parents praised them for their talents—grades, athletic ability, art, etc. 

It could have been as small as an approving “look” when they did something good or impressive—or a disapproving look when the parent wasn’t impressed.

That planted a seed: “You’re only valuable when you’re admired.”

They’d spot a role model who was impressive, figure out what draws people to them, and then try to become that role model—thinking,  “If I can be like that, then I’ll be happy.” 

But that also means the Three began to hide their most authentic self, and instead put on a mask of what they thought the world would rather see. They started asking themselves, “Who do I have to become for people to love me?”

And their natural gifts of radiance and charm transformed into a way to play whichever role will earn them the most adoration. 

In an effort to prove that they are worthy, the Three’s gift of reading people transforms into a way to figure out what will impress people. Their ability to inspire others becomes a way to impress and gain validation from others. And their own feelings get overwritten by whatever feelings they imagine an “impressive” person is supposed to have.

But all this means they have to live in constant fear. Fear that one day they’ll fail, that everyone will find out it was all an act, and that it’ll all come crashing down.

This constant performance is a bottomless pit that never truly satisfies them.

No matter how much they impress, or achieve, or create, they still are left wondering why it didn’t fill the hole in their heart. Because they’re left with a question that haunts them at night:

“Would anyone like me if I stopped trying so hard?”

Why They Embrace Their Burden

A Three’s fear essentially says, “The true you won’t be accepted. You’ll only be valuable when you become like that instead. So how about you and I work together and we’ll make sure you become someone who actually matters in the eyes of others. That way, no one will ever see this side of you.”

To a Three, that inner voice seems like a good tool to help them gain affection (or keep from losing it), so they choose to embrace it. 

They make this agreement with fear because somewhere inside, they believe it’ll push them to make sure they always earn the respect and adoration they long for. And since it keeps getting them praise and honor from people, they hold it tighter and tighter—until it becomes the only way in their minds to earn love.

The problem is that none of us just want to be loved. We want to be fully known AND fully loved for who we really are. 

And a Three’s compulsive performance actually keeps them from ever being truly known, because they constantly have to become someone else in an effort to win praise. 

I heard a Three say recently, “It’s hard for me to receive love because I feel like they don’t really know me.”

Where Does It End Up?

The less valuable they feel, the harder they work to earn their value. 

But it all leads back to the same thing: In some deep corner of their mind, it feels like they’re not really worthy of love. “No one would love you without your accomplishments. But maybe, just maybe you could earn it if you work hard enough.”

Because of this, unhealthy Threes claw their way to center stage, running over anyone or anything in their way to get there. 

They’ll become a doctor if they have to. Or a lawyer. Or star in the musical at the local theater. If  it’s the definition of success to others, they’ll do it. 

Sometimes in conversations with Threes, you’ll notice that the thing they’ve mastered they don’t even like. It was just what their friends, family, or community valued above all else. So they found a way to get it.

But even when they get to their goal, it isn’t enough. Because they know they had to put on a costume to succeed. They realize they only proved that the costume was worthy of love.

The person under the costume? Still unworthy. And so very tired.

That terror haunts even the most successful Three. The feeling that “I feel like a phony, but if I ever drop the act, I’ll be rejected.”

How to Self-Actualize

It’s crushing to feel like no one really knows you because you’ve performed so many characters that your truest self got lost somewhere along the way.

An author named Brent Curtis once said, “We long to live our lives before the eyes of someone else.” How true that is. We long to be celebrated for our achievements. To gain applause for our hard work. To be worthy of celebrating because of it.

But sometimes it takes chasing our tail so long that we actually catch it, to realize it’s not nearly as satisfying as we had hoped.

As a Three, you’ve felt the thrill of being celebrated for your achievements before. And sure, it made you feel great for a few days, maybe a few weeks. 

But that feeling always went away, didn’t it? And it forced you to go back out and try to get more, or else the world would convince you again that you weren’t worthy in the first place.

My question to you is this:

Where does it end?

I’ve always been deeply moved by an old 2008 interview with Tom Brady, a man who now has 6 Superbowl rings—more than any other player in historywhen he showed how unfulfilled he felt after winning his third championship:

“Why do I have 3 Superbowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? Maybe a lot of people would say, hey man, this is what it is. I reached my goal, my dream. Me, I think, there’s gotta be more than this.  This can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be . . . What else is there for me?”

The interviewer asked, “What’s the answer?”

Tom’s response: “I wish I knew. I wish I knew.”

I’ve never seen such a haunting picture of the emptiness that comes after reaching the top. 

Here’s a man who’s accomplished more than most of us could ever dream of. And to his shock and dismay, he’s still feeling the deep unfulfillment that was supposed to go away after he reached his goal. 

At best, success is a drug that works just for a short time, until we get alone again without the applause. Then we find ourselves once again lying awake at night, wondering why we still feel empty.

If that’s what we have to look forward to, what hope is there?

The most powerful realization for a Three is that true love and approval is not earned through the applause of other people.

One of my dear friends says the greatest thing a Three can do is fail. Because only in failure is a Three able to look around and see that people still like them for who they really are. Not for the performance they’ve been putting on. 

It is an intensely powerful experience, the moment a Three stops trying to impress others…and realizes there’s a group of people that didn’t leave. A group that honestly, truly likes them for who they are.

Did you know you already have the thunderous applause of your heavenly father? And His applause is for who you are, not what you’ve done. 

Because He knows exactly who you are behind that mask. And he’s still crazy about you. He knows He knows the immense value His creation has, apart from anything it does.

The You that wasn’t capable enough to earn applause. The You that you buried in order to become who you had to be. The You that hadn’t earned any trophies or accolades. Simply the You that just is—the one you’ve closely guarded your whole life.

THAT’s the You God loves. 

Your true beauty comes not from what you’ve done, but by who you are and whose you are. You are enough without anything extra, because you’ve been made in God’s image, and that means you have divine genes. 

He formed you in His own image, to have qualities of Himself, to be His kid that legitimately looks and acts like Him because you came from Him.

It’s as if God has told us: 

“Your performance doesn’t make you valuable, and you can already feel the truth in that when it doesn’t fully fill you. I have assigned equal beauty and honor to each person and your value will always come from who you already are—as my child created in my own image. You don’t get to decide how valuable you are. You have no right to do that. I do. Because I made you. And I am the only one who can clearly see your true value. So believe me. You don’t have to try so hard for my love. You already have it. Valuable is already part of your identity.”

And when you can come to life already knowing you’re immensely valuable, it allows you to live life in a completely different way.

See, if we can truly believe that God gives us every bit of identity and applause we could ever need, the paralyzing fear finally begins to melt away.

We’re able to finally stop living in a world where we have to create our own value in order to be loved. Finally, we are just enough.

We have to learn how to live out of the fact that we are beloved already. Only then can we finally start exploring who we really are, without the masks.

The Pathway to Accepting and Becoming Your True Self

So what’s it take to get there?

Here are a few action steps for Threes:

1. Pay attention to what’s going on inside you.

As a Three, it’s so easy to go on autopilot—where you allow yourself to walk into a room and become whoever those people want you to be. You’ve gotten so amazing at it, you sometimes don’t even realize you’re doing it.

Notice when you are working to be seen. Notice when you start changing for others. Notice what your heart is longing for as you start to mold yourself to the audience. What happens? Does your body feel any changes? Does it give you joy? How long does that good feeling last? 

Then notice how quickly it goes away. How long does it take for your accomplishments to leave you empty, which leaves you needing more?

Invite God into that. Confess that you’re running after the affections of others to fill a desire that only he can fill. And ask Him to fill you Himself.

2. Learn more about the true nature of love. 

Love is freely given. If it’s earned, it’s not love.

You are wired to look for love by earning it, but that’s impossible. Look at the way God offers His love. It’s a lot like you’d expect from a healthy mother or father. 

Would you get angry with your child for falling as they’re learning to walk? Of course not. Because their performance isn’t why you love them so much. It’s because they’re yours. 

You are God’s. He loves you deeply, just for being you.

Here’s the proof:

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

John 15:13

Now, with that context, check out how much God loves you:

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

While we were still sinners. Before we had ever done anything worthy of love. The greatest action of love that could possibly happen, was done for you.

One more verse:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

The beauty is, it’s unconditional. It’s not based on how impressive we are. 

And that’s such a relief. Because it allows us to finally rest.

3. Slow down and listen.

Unless you take time to be still, you won’t hear what God has to say to you, which is a chronic problem for Threes. When you’ve been moving 1000 miles an hour, making space to stop striving and listen to God is an incredibly powerful experience.

The spiritual practices of contemplation and stillness are incredibly helpful for a Three, because you’re often moving so fast in order to gain your value. But God wants to turn that on its head.

So schedule time for listening. Take a day of solitude. Go on a silent retreat. Force rest and quiet into your schedule. 

You might notice you’re tempted to measure this time, in an effort to be productive. Don’t.

Give yourself zero “metrics” to tell you whether the time was a success. Just be. Just listen for God’s voice.

You might find that He’s had things to tell you for years, and He’s been waiting for you to slow down for long enough to hear them. 

But even if you don’t hear a single thing, you’ll likely find that the rest was incredibly rejuvenating for your soul. And that might have been the single reason He wanted you to do it.

4. Discover your original self.

If God accepts you unconditionally, then you must learn to accept your real self unconditionally. 

That’s going to take some digging, to discover who you really are. Because the masks have become such a way of life.

It will feel vulnerable. It will feel scary. It will feel like you’re naked, because you are

But nothing tastes better than discovering the person you were always meant to be, and being fully known and fully loved for that person.

As you open up and peel back all those costumes you’ve been wearing, and finally learn your true identity…You’ll begin to experience the power and wonder of what you were truly made for. 

But that can only happen when you’re able to trust God that something beautiful is under all those layers, and that it really is worth it.

It won’t be easy to let go of what you used to believe was valuable, and surrender it to God.

But it will unlock in you the ability to truly love everyone around you, to prioritize others above yourself, and to become a powerful instrument that God can use to accomplish GREAT things—while also helping you realize you aren’t defined by them.

5. Have Compassion for the Child Who Began Putting on Masks.

Because when you were a child, this was a survival mechanism. You did what you had to do, because you didn’t yet have the tools to do anything else. And that’s okay. 

This world seemed to tell you who you needed to be to get that love, and all you did was follow its advice. It’s not your fault that someone made you feel that your real self wasn’t good enough.

And it’s okay to grieve for the child who had to do those things to survive. Yes, even if your childhood wasn’t horrible or “others had it way worse.”

Deep down, you’ve always longed to love and be loved yourself. You performed because you were afraid of not being seen, celebrated, loved for who you are.

Your applause seeking comes from your gift of being charming and radiant, which has been hijacked by fear. Your natural ability to draw others to you has turned into a survival skill. Something it was never meant to be.

If you’re honest, your heart wants more than this exhausting performance. You long to be able to get off the stage and rest, and to be celebrated for who you are without having to work so hard to earn your value in life.

And now that you’re grown, you have the tools to go back and learn to see when you’re seeking after applause in a way that won’t really fill you.

If you could go back and say something to yourself as a child, what would you say?

Say it to the child who still lives inside you. 

6. Set yourself up to fail.

When you read this, it probably made your stomach drop.

“Intentionally fail? Are you crazy?”

Yep. But not a big stuff. Let yourself fail at one thing that doesn’t have high consequences, and pay close attention to what happens inside you. 

I know a Three who recently had a panic attack while he was packing a U-Haul. Things weren’t fitting in right, and he felt like a failure. It took him a while, but eventually he noticed what was happening inside him and began to tell himself, “I don’t need to be good at this.”

My friend Mackenzie, a Three, told me, “I think the best thing for us is to fail. To be forced into removing the veneer—and then see that people didn’t leave. Because then we see that we might be worthy of love without all the performing.”

Are you afraid to fail at small things because you’re worried about how someone else would see you? Dive into that. Let it happen on a small scale. And see for yourself that people stick around. Let them prove they love you for more than your accomplishments.

It’ll feel like a “trust fall.” But it’s one of the most satisfying things a Three can do. Because you’ll realize that people honestly, truly love you for you.

The Ultimate Three

As you finally drop the masks and become your real self, you grasp your value as part God’s family. From there, you get to start moving into an exciting new set of questions, like:

“How was I originally designed to take part in this adventure God has set before me?”

“How was I created to love, serve, and lead people in my own unique way?”

“How can I move ever deeper into this vibrant, two-way relationship with my creator?”

You’ll find you’re free to start exploring your REAL passions instead of just doing what you thought would earn you approval, because that destructive lie isn’t boxing you in anymore. 

You’re free to explore your real self, the sensitive you, who knows you don’t have to earn to be loved. You just are loved.

The Lord can then use all your amazing gifts to benefit others besides yourself, which is a huge part of your Original Design. It’s the redeemed you. 

You already know you’re insanely gifted. Now, imagine what amazing things you are capable of when you become the most authentic you—the you that God created carefully and purposefully, who he called “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

When you know you are fully known and fully loved, apart from any results, you unlock your true ability to make a difference, to uplift the hopeless, to inspire change. You reclaim your true feelings. And you get to step into the wild, crazy adventure story that God is weaving for you.