Alumni Challenge Special - Susan Coleman Olesek ’89
Susan Coleman Olesek ’89 has spent nearly 30 years trying to understand what makes people tick. An introduction to a tool called the Enneagram has helped with the task, allowing her to divide people into personality types such as ‘Perfectionists’, ‘Peacemakers’ and ‘Romantics’. We find out more about her work, and why the Enneagram may just be the answer to world peace…
Susan spent her formative years in Hong Kong and Japan, which ignited a passion for human understanding and led to a BA in Sociology from Occidental College. She now runs a private practice where she uses the Enneagram as a tool for self-realization, teaching everyone from corporate executives to the incarcerated to take an honest look at themselves. Susan takes up the story…
As I was being driven through the sticky streets of Bombay — an HKIS 7th grader on a detour from expat life in Hong Kong — I watched foreigners recoiling from the begging children, leaving the idealist in me with a sense of personal obligation to sort out humankind when I grew up.
Nearly 30 years later, our world strikes me as at least if not more perplexing. However, an illuminating tool called The Enneagram — a system of human understanding I came upon over a decade ago — has begun to shed some light on all of this for me.
The Enneagram highlights how we actually participate in — even create — so much of our own suffering. It suggests there are nine different ways of looking at the world, called personality “Types.” Once I recognized the investment I’d made in my own “Perfectionist” personality, I experienced something of an epiphany about the people I loved: they weren’t intending to drive me crazy; they were just as over-identified with their own point of view as I was. What a relief to realize that personality is actually not personal.
Truth be told, we’re all in a prison of our own making in the ways we suffer our personality. The 14-year-old I am raising, a self-identified Type Nine, “the Peacemaker,” who leaves the room whenever conflict is brewing, is just as asleep to the powerful leader he could choose to be as the convicted felon whose crime was choosing to stand by as the shooting went down. Waking up is our life’s work.
In fact, some of the most courageous folks I’ve encountered are those I teach the Enneagram to in prison. They embrace the freeing concept that we are more than our personalities. I’ve heard so many guys insist that the person who committed their crime isn’t who they really are. Of course not! If you’ve ever watched yourself do something you wish you could stop doing, you know how easily we default to our habits. It’s in the waking up to who we really are, where the real work — and deepest fulfillment — begins for all of us.
In my practice, I watch people personally transform from angry wife, withdrawn dad, hardened criminal or overbearing boss by learning to tolerate enough presence to see their whole selves. The 12-yearold idealist who observed the streets of Bombay is more hopeful now. Frankly, I think the Enneagram is an answer to world peace. Okay, okay, and maybe I’m still striving for balance with the whole “perfection” thing. Welcome to my work!
Get in touch
You can contact Susan via firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about her work, visit www.susanolesek.com
Source: DragonTales Winter/ Spring 2012