A Character That Wants Something, And Doesn’t Know What They Want

A character that wants something…

But what if they don’t know what they want?

I have struggled to answer this question honestly to people in my life. To myself. Which leaves all parties involved frustrated.

Despite going through life planning curriculum, including Storyline and StoryBrand clarifying activities, and long retreats filled with contemplative prayer asking God what makes my heart leap, what has He stirred in me more than in others, what are my desires?

So why don’t I know what I want?

First, a lesson from story itself.


“Hindsight is a priceless jewel, but I’ve never been one for clarity.” – Listener, My Five Year Plan

Donald Miller’s Storyline process was something I latched onto as soon as it came out. I had the book pre-ordered and it landed on my porch in 2012. The anticipation swelled because I was going to finally put to personal usage the most convincing process I’ve ever heard of structuring one’s life: filter our lives through the process of a good story.

In the intro of Storyline, Miller writes “Great stories have one thing in common: they are clear. As such, Storyline is all about gaining mental clarity. If a character doesn’t know what they want, the story gets muddled. The same is true in life. And if the conflict isn’t clearly identified, the story drags, as it does in life.” (p 7)

A story is good, at least from the start, because it lets us know what the protagonist wants. If it is not clear what the protagonist wants, why would anyone stick around for the rest of the story to unfold?

By not being clear about what we want, there is nothing anyone else can really do to help us when a challenge comes. The potential customer, the potential employer, the potential date, they have no idea how to really say yes or commit or dive in to help clarify what it is we want if we actually don’t know what we want.

How does someone not know what they want? How am I still not clearly saying what I want with all the tools and weeks on end invested towards untangling all of this and organize it all in a clear fashion through the power of a good story?

Enter the Enneagram. The missing piece to my puzzle.

Discovering I have an Enneagram Type Nine personality, I have a quality about me that seeks to bring people together, but at the cost of merging with people I desire to bridge divides and make peace with. Able to reconcile conflicts between people or ideas, a type Nine person is usually setting aside what we deeply want in order to be at peace with others.

Ian Morgan Cron in his book The Road Back To You elaborates on the “unevolved” Nine’s issue by stating how they “neglect their soul’s summons to identify, name and assert what they want in life and to go hard after it. In fact, they can merge so deeply with the life program and identity of another that they eventually mistake the other’s feelings, opinions, successes and aspirations for their own.” (p 69).

Cron also states, “But Nines are slothful when it comes to fully paying attention to their own lives, figuring out what they want in life, chasing their dreams, addressing their own needs, developing their own gifts and pursuing their calling.” (p 67) This happens because in order to keep the peace, a Nine pushes what they want down to save embarrassment or to avoid attention being drawn to them.

If this sounds bad enough, not knowing what I want because I have the personality tendency to suppress my wants in order to gain acceptance from others around me, Cron punches me and other Nines in the gut about something a Nine can produce to the detriment of their unsuspecting victim: the “Epic Saga.”

As Cron writes:

“Because they sometimes lack drive and focus, average Nines often become jacks-of-all-trades but masters of none. They are generalists who, because they know a little bit about everything, can find something to talk about with everybody. Conversations with Nines are delightful as long as they don’t switch over to cruise control. You’ll know a Nine has done this when, after asking them how their day went, they launch into a long, drawn-out story containing more details and detours than you ever thought possible.” (p 71, emphasis added).

Yikes.

Now imagine instead of asking a Nine like me how my day went, you ask me what do I want? This could be applied to a number of areas, like career, relationships, hobbies, etc. The unhealthy Nine is going to enter into an epic ramble because they have not clearly defined what they want. Or, in all honesty, are afraid of desiring what they want.

I’ve turned several epic saga’s loose on some people in my life recently. What’s happening on the inside is actually pretty clear to me. I have a ton of connective ideas, truths, bullet point facts, for what was asked of me: what do I want?

Well ok, here are a bunch of facts that are truly connected in some way, and now it is my task to give you a fantastic sounding story weaving all of these things together. Ten minutes later as the dust is settling, what I want is not only not clear to the victim listener, but not clear to me if it ever was to begin with.

Which is why what Donald Miller says about what a customer (or date/employer/mentor, this is very flexible in application) is having to do when they first come across our product/request is the most important and condemning truth for an unhealthy type Nine personality. Our customer is trying to figure out within mere seconds ‘what does this person want?’ Me, as an unhealthy Nine, launches into an epic saga. This isn’t good, this is actually disastrous. As Miller says in his book Building a StoryBrand, “so what do customers do when we blast a bunch of noise at them? They ignore us.” (p 7).

An unevolved Nine doesn’t know what they want on a good day. Hence the epic saga ramble pours out.

What a breakthrough. This is it. The linchpin for me.


Healthy Nines or anyone else who knows what they want need to clarify how they ask for what they want. No one does a good job of how to ask, otherwise there wouldn’t be a need for StoryBrand, seminars, or entire avenues of communicative sciences to study and aid people in figuring out how to clearly state what we want to someone.

Ok. I get it now. Finally.

If people don’t know what I want, they can’t help. If I am not saying it clear enough, like we all struggle with to some degree, they can’t help directly. But at its worst I actually don’t know what I want because of my merging, appeasing Nine personality. So I launch into the ramble with a ton of truths baked into it, yet with no clear up front ask. No clear ‘this is it, this is what I want! Now for all the details.’

Can it be God just wants me to help others with what they struggle with too? That would be so Nine of me! But I think so, and I think it’s finally time to live out the story I worked out, to face the challenges worth overcoming, because of the permission I’m finally granting myself.

The Storyline process gets you to come up with a life theme based off what you see God having done in and through your life up till then. Having come up with this theme back in 2012, I am kinda floored at how accurate it is, and how it does tell me what I want. If only I follow through more with it and subvert the slothful type Nine personality in me, I can enter into a healthy version of myself knowing what I want, because it involves more than just me:

God is encouraging talents and passions in me to be used for relationship with Him and people.

Reclaiming Your Environment

I tripped a wire the other day when I combined an old bad habit with a new good habit inside the same environment.

I was inside my car listening to a podcast about incrementally creating better habits daily when I simultaneously hit the drive-thru line. Twice. In the same car ride home.

When I’m in my car driving aimlessly (or purposely like a commute) I find a strong association with hitting fast food lines, with the image of Taco Bell bags strewn across the back passenger floor. This is because I had actually gone through so many drive-thru lines in the exact car I am still driving today, despite going through the massive physical change in my life.

It really hit me after I tossed the empty bag of the second order of Taco Bell down: the physical environment inside my car is associated with reckless eating.

Psychologists point out how environment certainly can become associated with past behaviors, good or bad. A strong mental connection is forged in “learned environments.” Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., writes, “when behaviors are repeated, they can be conditioned to a particular place or situation and these learned habits can be hard to break.” 

If I felt like the driver’s seat of the same car I had done all my caloric drive-thru damage in was triggering, it’s because it actually is.

Place really matters.


Enter the podcasts and lawn cutting season.

I was cutting lawns with a friend and listening to podcasts all day long. A new environment and habit began to forge.

Learning from others via the podcasts while I was smelling freshly cut grass helped re-wire my brain more than it already had, having already lost all my weight.

What made me connect the idea of environmental conditioning with podcasts and my driver’s seat was one more final element…..the smell of….pear? Not sure what the tree was in one customer’s backyard. But I loved running over the fruits because the blade of the mower would slice multiple chunks of the fruit strewn across the backyard. An aroma would fill the air around my riding lawn mower and all of a sudden I was in a Bath & Body Works store. But on a riding lawn mower, sweating.

Scent is closely tied to memory. Add to that the incredible impact environmental conditions have on a student’s ability to learn.

I was hard-wiring my brain with the smell of freshly cut grass, moving scenery, beautiful landscapes, while simultaneously becoming a podcast consuming student listening to personal stories from others who overcome challenges in their lives, and share to help others.

I was consuming advice from some of the world’s leading over-achievers. They were talking about their failures, their insecurities, their bold life-hacks, their methods and routines at approaching life daily. Even their under-achievements and shortcomings.

Hardwired into me now is an association between podcast learning (of the more informative variety [Ferriss, Altucher, StoryBrand, etc.]) and lawn cutting.

And the smell of the freshly sliced fruit in the one backyard.

Now to reclaim the car driver seat forever.

Why not commit to only listening to podcasts out loud in the car on a commute? Taking the good habit, shifting it to an environment once the literal vehicle for a bad habit, is the way to repair the damaged environment.

When I am listening to an informative podcast in my car, I have to listen. I am not listening to my inner-dialogue, no matter how crappy I may feel at the time. Or how good. Sometimes it was moments of euphoric reward that led me to a drive-thru line.

By listening to interviews of people who overcame challenges, I can reclaim an environment which conditioned repeated destructive behavior.  Even a podcast about woodworking will work. Anything to draw my attention towards learning while driving a gas powered vehicle of some sort.

I’m gonna have to get a pear car scent now as the final touch. It will reinforce the process of reclamation.

My car is not a tool to get me into a drive-thru. My car is a tool to teach me one more lesson from one more person who overcame a lot in order to help others.