The courage to take the next step, the one “closest in.”
Transformation begins as simply as that.
Susan is a transformation consultant. She's a people-person and that doesn't just mean she's friendly. It means she understands human capacity — structurally, emotionally, and intellectually. It's about an unwavering belief in the human potential and the mastery behind pursuing it.
Susan Olesek is a consultant, a teacher, a “human potentialist.” She’s also a mother, writer, and founder of a nonprofit. Her work is about freeing ourselves from “the prisons of own making…” Read More >>
It’s about the commitment to doing “our work,” owning all parts of self, whether egoic or heroic. “I am here to facilitate you doing and owning yours. Let’s meet somewhere in the middle.” Read More >>
WHAT’S TRUE “FOR ME”
Taking 100% responsibility for our emotions is harder than it sounds. Yet, it’s one of the most worthwhile, self-empowering capacities one can ever develop. Read More >>
“My biggest challenge is seeing myself. Second biggest challenge is helping others see themselves. I’m always up for a challenge.” They don’t call this ‘the work’ for nothing!” Read More >>
The Enneagram is not “like” anything else. It is, quite frankly, the ace in the hole, a most reliable roadmap to why we do what we do. It’s about how to lay that down and dare to do something else. Read More >>
The kind of service “I love the most” is the kind that services those that need mercy the most. Self-knowing is sacred wisdom, and it’s sacred work to bring this to as many who can tolerate it, who want it, and who could truly benefit from it. Read More >>
Deploying More of Self...
Is what we call “change” actually “expansion?”
Driving Potential Because “I Know It’s Possible”
“Listen – are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” – Mary Oliver
For a long, long time Susan was, as Mary Oliver says: “…breathing just a little,” though, she didn’t know that. No one else seemed to know it either. So, she ran three marathons, started a business, stayed married and raised three boys. Susan settled, compromised, and rationalized both her deep dissatisfaction within, and the compounding ramifications without.
Luckily, during this first half of life, Susan encountered a handful of gurus. These wise ones knew how to ask a question in just such a way that she actually felt potentiated, just for having considered her own answer to their queries. “They evoked in me my own wisdom and sat patiently holding the space ‘til I got the gist of how to do this for myself.” Then, as good teachers are apt to do, “they left me alone so I could continue on my own path” while sharing what was learned with others.
Here’s the God-honest-truth: There is nothing so moving as sitting with someone, a team, a teenager, a prisoner, a human who suddenly gets, all the way to their toes, that this excellence-thing is a choice and then picks themselves. Coaching people to reach for their best selves is what helps each of us to do the same. Susan still calls her gurus for pep-talks when too much debris is on the path. Is there any greater vocation than to be a “Human Potentialist?”
None of us does what we do, becomes who we are, without the guiding, loving, mentoring hands of others.
Inspirations that Set Me On My Path
"Inspired by so many, I have to say, 'I've been gifted with amazing colleagues and teachers.' Collaboration is often the key to a complex project. I seek out expertise, not only within myself but in several talented others, those who have come to both inspire me and ignite me."
My Greatest Mirrors
Raising three boys and being married for nearly two decades has taught me a thing or two about perseverance, the absolute necessity of communication, and what it means to love and be loved. Read More >>
Sharing the Knowledge
A deep bow to the pioneers who thought it would be useful to “teach” people how to teach this stuff. They started schools, built a community, gave us a place to begin within and without. Read More >>
The Shift in the Collective
We’re all in this together. When you get down to the bottom of your own heartfelt, honest truth, you tap into something universal. That’s what the best among us are speaking to, and all we have to do is listen. Read More >>
The EPP Village
Believe in People
Some of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had were given to me behind bars; try resisting self-acceptance with people who have lost just about everything but the chance to reclaim their hearts. Read More >>
The Map to Self-awareness
It’s knowing what to “look at,” what to be aware of, when embarking on the self-awareness path.
What I Get to Do
My work is to support you doing yours...
Conflict with others goes hand-in-hand with conflict with self. We can’t resolve what's outside of us until we resolve what's going on within. Bring on the messy, bring on the ego, better yet, let's expect it. In each issue, there's a ton to understand. Conflict is full of data and deserves attention. Let's go where we need to go, and we do have to "go there.” But not alone; we go with a map. Read More >>
Buildings with logos don’t drive business. People do. The best investment you’ll ever make is in your people, in their capacity to work together, in their experience “of each other." It’s the single most important way to catalyze the best possible opportunity for the best in performance to be generated on your “corporate" behalf. Read More >>
Emerson said that: “Our chief want in life is someone who will make us do what we can.” Our chief obstacle in life is ourselves. Deal with YOU and you can, quite literally, deal with anything. Whether you’re stuck at the top, on a team, or in a prison cell, we all ultimately come up against "you know who." The way out of our own confines is the same for us all: from the inside out. It’s simple, yes, but far from easy. Read More >>
KEYNOTES and TALKS
When it comes to sharing insights, I've found I’m my own best material. I have a knack for bringing this content wherever I go. The moments spent working with real people, our collective humanity, and our collective potential are at least as provocative as a good PowerPoint. Speaking to the truth – to what wants to be brought forth – is where we begin. Read More >>
Getting from Point A to Point B, without stopping at Point Everywhere, is the fundamental objective of good facilitation. It's the management of a clear, definitive path without overlooking the critical shares that will land you there thoroughly and successfully. Knowing what to focus on and include, knowing what to table for later and move beyond are key to keeping a group on target and on point. Read More >>
Do I believe people can change? I gotta say, of course, I believe that they can. But, not everyone pursues actual change. Because not everyone is ready to.
For those who are willing, however, for those willing to take an honest look within, for those willing to tolerate some serious presence — transformation is possible. Read More >>
The Incisive Study of Why We Do What We Do...
THE HOW of what I do is brought by studying a system — A MAP — called, “The Enneagram” — an incisive, cognitive-emotional self-assessment tool that gets to the heart of understanding ourselves and others.
Without this understanding, collaboration can get hindered and conversations can get laborious. It’s one thing to promote the practice of self-awarenesss, but, what exactly is it that we’re each supposed to “get aware of?”
Find out more about this powerful, robust tool and why I’ve come to use it with such certainty… Read More >>
A Penny for My Thoughts Impact and Insight
Every experience we have affects us. Changes us. Even transforms us.
Take stock. It’s all there for you, if you look.
I learn as much from my clients and colleagues as they say they do from me. They might not realize that.
"Susan is an amazing facilitator, coach, and trainer. She can interact comfortably with everyone in an organization — from the janitor to the CEO. And she is equally adept at working with individuals and teams. Her honesty and openness are contagious; even introverted and closed-off individuals feel comfortable and begin to participate. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. Susan’s skills are particularly effective in organizations that value employee/member development and those working to strengthen or transform their culture. I cannot say enough good things about Susan and her ability to add value to an organization. I recommend her highly."
— [ Lance White | DCS Sanitation Management | Former Chairman and CEO ]
"Susan Olesek is an inspiration to me. She combines genuine mastery of the material she teaches with the fearless compassion it takes to bring tools of transformation to those who need it most. Her unmistakable care and sincerity are backed-up by her devotion to her own ongoing personal development. She really walks the talk and does the inner work, and from this she is able to bring a wealth of insights to the development of her students and clients. For me, this is the greatest asset a teacher can have; I look forward to working together with her on future projects."
— [ Russ Hudson | Author and Co-Founder of the Enneagram Institute ]
Dr. David Daniels
"Susan Olesek possesses a powerful combination of incisive wisdom, depth of knowledge, and deep compassion for the human spirit. Her tenacity for understanding her subject matter allows her to bring a mastery of the Enneagram system to any and every arena of her work, whether the client is a business team or hundreds of incarcerated men. Those in Susan's presence feel a compassionate, open-hearted regard for the human condition. In co-facilitating with Susan, I have witnessed how people come away from her teaching with profound insights and a hopeful appreciation not only for their own worth, but for that of others. Susan Olesek is a superb teacher with whom anyone would be privileged to learn the Enneagram and do the work of personal development."
— [ David Daniels, MD | Professor Emeritus Stanford University, Author and Co-Founder of the Enneagram Professional Training Program ]
“Susan is someone who readily and uniquely engages people wherever they find themselves. I feel it is essential to work with professionals who can show up unencumbered by their own “stuff” and be fully present to the group. I have never experienced Susan to be otherwise. What she does particularly well, I feel, is to create a structure and hold the space for people to make inroads to much deeper sharing. Her wisdom of the Enneagram is like an ace up her sleeve. When people come up against themselves, Susan has an immediate tool for creating objective space to see that our struggles are in fact who we take ourselves to be, but not who we really are. This is an extraordinary ability; Susan’s skill runs deep."
— [ Ty Jagerson | Village Power Finance, Member of YPO ]
"Doing the Enneagram workshop with Susan was a perfect way to start the school year. Learning the strengths and challenges—as well as preferences and "pet peeves" — of both new and long time colleagues was insightful and fun. What we learned in that one day has been extremely useful in working together this year. I would definitely recommend this course as a fast-track method of broadening and deepening relationships with a work team."
— [ Lucy Wurtz | Development Director | Waldorf School of Peninsula
EPP stands for Enneagram Prison Project, a nonprofit organization built on a conviction. It is dedicated to making a much needed difference. EPP is a tiny group of committed people who set out to impact a system that really, really needed a new possibility.
EPP is each of us doing our own work and each of you doing yours — the best we can. But, as George Ivanovich Gurdjieff himself said, “It’s not just difficult to do this work alone, it’s impossible.”
Forming an organization on this single, profound thought, and around a tool as profoundly self-revealing as the Enneagram means that we do the work together. EPP takes Enneagram teachers, who’ve embodied a deep understanding of the human psyche and spirit, inside of prisons and jails. Our clients value the process of self-understanding enough to offer it to the people in their custody.
At EPP, we think the incarcerated are most deserving of this razor-sharp self-assessment tool that helps them to see why they do what they do. Historically, the Enneagram has found itself primarily taught in privileged, educated, white, esoteric circles, but truly, its wisdom has always been intended for anyone and everyone with a genuine desire to know who they really are.
EPP has made it its mission to bring this invaluable tool to the people who need it the most.
Going to prison brought Susan face to face with her ego. When she was given the chance to sit with people behind bars, she began to understand what it really means to come up against the self.
Susan says, “I finally got how fiercely (and unconsciously) we defend, deceive, and depend upon psychological mechanisms and constructs to keep others from knowing us and ultimately from knowing ourselves.”
Witnessing all that transformation was like going to church, without the guilt. Susan kept going back to learn more, to see herself more clearly, to experience more of “that kind” of raw change that going to prison and working with inmates provided.
Eventually, Susan says she started to feel like she was getting away with something profound. She was witnessing transformation, change, and the human potential coming online as no one had ever told her would be possible. As a result, Enneagram Prison Project (EPP) was born. Susan become convicted that self-awareness, self-regulation training, via the Enneagram system of self-assessment and self-knowing, had to be brought to those in need of understanding themselves. EPP is about bringing invaluable insights to those who deserve the best possible chance, at a second chance.
Society calls them “career criminals,” but many have come to know them as “EPP Ambassadors.” Soon enough, when they hear about 5% recidivism rates, our government may just be calling them “the proof.” Anyone paying attention can see the profound evidence that change is not just possible, it is happening real-time; gradually and sometimes in startling strides. The most radical demonstration of all, however, is when determined “former felons” return to prisons not as recidivism stats, but as the next generation of EPP teachers and inspirations.
That’s right, what we know as “the work” of self-realization starts from the “inside out,” and therefore so does the EPP Ambassador recruitment process. I have often joked, in mock self-deprecation, that I am just “some white lady with a poster,” until a program participant really does “the work.” Because you know, the Enneagram is flat out an amazing system, however, unless and until it is practically applied to a real life, a genuine human dilemma, it’s merely theory, just another tool in the box.
But, it takes more than a minute to do this work…
Currently incarcerated inmates “doing time” spend hours and weeks on end unpacking defense mechanisms, avoidance patterns and idealizations, a process many of them have affectionately coined “doing me.” While we “do time” together, EPP students (and I, too) vacillate between admitting to our own antics and aggressively defending them. Fairly predictably, though, people who may start out with a big egoic defense: “Well, that’s just me!” follow up with a more somber: “Oh, $#*!, that’s also me!” and so goes the process of waking up.
By the way, this is not unlike the awakening that happens inside of corporations, or the monthly workshops in my own little sheeshy town in California. Because the human condition is just that, human. Somehow, though, when we get wind of how this magnitude of change happens in prisons and jails we all sit up in our chairs just a little more. We all try hard not to ask ourselves a really difficult question, and I’ll just be blunt: “If they can do it, what’s my problem?” I can venture this guess about you because I’ve asked it about myself.
Ambassadors who are willing to continue their self-study upon their release have already turned some necks in the Enneagram trainings they’ve attended at retreat venues around the country. People frankly just don’t see these guys coming. Time and time again, EPP Ambassadors end up surprising the pants off of everyone – themselves, corporate CEOs, and quite honestly myself included. For the most part Enneagram rookies report, in hindsight, that they didn’t anticipate the kind of revelations they’d have from this kind of self-study. How could we? It is a journey, and who would have thought that a trip around a funky little diagram could pack such a punch?
The people poised to carry the work of human transformation furthest forward are those who have traveled the furthest depths of themselves. We have an eye for this potential inside of EPP. When we see someone who gets the Enneagram all the way under their skin, we are so inspired that we can barely contain how much we care to see them succeed.
Men and women who have survived serious abuse, familial dysfunction, and then our criminal justice systemand who have managed to keep their hearts open earn a different kind of badge. Holding out for oneself long enough to try to change “one more time” after that kind of trip is as humbling as it is heroic. Frankly, these are the folks who get me out of bed in the morning. These guys fuel my willingness to tolerate the tantrums of incredibly powerful people, running massive organizations as they frantically do exactly what folks behind actual bars have done – hide from themselves.
Anything EPP might hope to say about “the theory” behind bringing the Enneagram to criminal reform pales in comparison to hearing what someone who has done hard time and who has applied the Enneagram could offer. I know a little bit about this population EPP hopes to serve, but truly, these women and men are the experts and have much to teach those of us who want to help.
Before I went to prison, I imagined myself to be much more open-minded about the people I’d find there than I actually was. I told my colleagues how surprised, how blown away I was, actually, by the humanity I found within prison walls. Witnessing the projections and assumptions I made (and continue to find myself sometimes making) and that others so innocently make about inmates remains humbling and eye-opening.
Those incarcerated men and women who have taken the Enneagram teaching to heart are the future for all of us “doing our work” and are the future of the Enneagram Prison Project. They have demonstrated the tenacity for self-inquiry, they “did their time” and figured out what got them in so much trouble with their personality in the first place. If this only lowered the recidivism rate, their efforts would be absolutely worthwhile, but these guys bring a level of credibility to EPP and to the Enneagram itself, that is indescribable.
These willing men and women have come to mean the world to me.
“”As an inmate, I found myself lost and struggling to find out what had gone so wrong in my life that I no longer deserved freedom. As a student in one of Susan Olesek’s first prison classes, however, I learned that I not only deserve freedom but that I also hold the key to my own personal freedom by simply taking an honest look at myself, my choices, and my behavior. I directly credit Susan for being part of the most positive change my life has ever experienced.”
— Clay Tumey | Former Inmate and Current EPP Ambassador | Cleveland Correctional Facility | Austin, TX
“The work that my teacher and mentor does is like no other I have ever been involved in or introduced to. Susan Olesek has such passion for what she does and for the people that she teaches. It’s great, and to tell you the truth, it’s because of the way that she teaches that I stayed with the program and her class. It works and it was working for me and still is. The compassion and genuineness that she displays and gives is unheard of compared to other teachings and programs that I have taken. I have had the pleasure of co-teaching a class with her not too long ago and I will tell you this, it was a little intimidating, because she is that good at what she does, and I as the student just don’t want to mess up! But it turned out to go very well; I want nothing more than to make her proud, and I think I have. Working with Susan has really changed my life to a life I really never thought was possible, but learning from her was the tool that was missing. She gave me the answers and guided me to the right path in life. The person who is writing this letter is a real person today. Someone who takes care of himself, because, he knows he matters today! My needs are important and these are some of the things that I did not know only three years ago. It’s crazy how a teacher can come in and make you feel like a real person and see you for who you really are, and that’s what Susan does! She has a gift, and everyone should get to be part of it.”
— Victor Soto | Former Inmate and Current EPP Ambassador | Elmwood Correctional Facility | Milpitas, CA
“From sitting in a prison cell, considering myself to be apt enough to anticipate any and every move and playing mental chess as my way to survive, I took pride in knowing what’s going to happen three moves ahead of time. I have to admit now, while I am sitting here in this moment writing this, I never saw “her” coming. That “her” is Susan Olesek. And thank the Universe that I didn’t, because this woman has taught me so much, mentored me when no one else would, and saw something in me that I couldnt see. Susan Olesek helped me to become a better man and become the father I so desperately wanted to be. For that, I am eternally grateful. But that’s not what gets me. Susan impacts everyone’s life in such a beautiful way, in a way that makes them feel like I do. Susan Coleman Olesek, I am so honored to have had you come in to my life and allow me to be a part of this big beautiful EPP family of ours!”
— Elam Chance | Former Inmate and Current EPP Ambassador | Cleveland Correctional Facility | Austin, TX
Published on November 9 by olesek Category: donate Tags:
A contribution can start as small as $25.00, or it can be airline miles, or it can be a stock donaton too. A contribution of $500 or more puts one incarcerated man or woman through the Introductory 8-week EPP Enneagram program and gifts you your very own “Key to Freedom.” On behalf of all of EPP and its supportive colleagues, associates, we THANK YOU for your support!
Your contribution allows us to further the goals and activities of the Enneagram Prison Project (EPP). EPP is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) and relies on its colleagues and friends as well as government institutions to carry out its mission of transforming the possibilities of those incarcerated through self-awareness training and practices made possible via the Enneagram. Contributions directly support EPP’s ability to build its infrastructure, create curriculum, market itself to the many prisons (and the incarcerated), reach more people, train Enneagram specialists, and stay in contact with its network of supporters, participants, teachers, and facilities.
Published on September 6 by olesek Category: what-is-epp Tags:
I went to prison on a leap of faith and an idealistic prayer, fully intent on teaching something that I had — ironically — yet to fully learn myself: that we are all in a prison of our own making in how we suffer our personalities. Almost immediately, I realized that an application of the Enneagram within this demographic was perhaps the most moving thing I had ever witnessed, but it took me more than a minute to overcome my own projections. “You’re too inexperienced, too white, too female, too sheltered…” — too many things — my ego told me, to be as effective as I felt those guys deserved a teacher to be. A nagging truth relayed to me by a mentor kept arising during this time:”You can’t take anyone where you haven’t been yourself.” Boy, did she have that right.
Working with myself on the inside, as I persisted in working alongside others “on the inside,” was simply the only way I could sense how to break out of my own personal prison. By unpacking defense mechanisms, avoidance patterns, and personal idealizations with hundreds of incarcerated participants, I slowly turned the key in the most confounding, locked up parts of myself. By alternately admitting to our own antics and seeing how aggressively we could go about defending them, I can say that I have learned a thing or two over the time I’ve done in prison. For one, I can now recognize an inner critic when I see one. What is more, I’ve replaced that inner-criticality with a far kinder, more developed inner guide. It is with my own self-knowing that I have been able to go where imprisoned men and women, literally and metaphorically, need to go in order to know themselves. We venture “there” together.
I don’t purport to know anyone else’s pain, nor expect you to know mine. We really must walk in our own shoes. But I daresay, I can pull up a chair. I’ve now sat with hundreds of men and women peering through the bars of their personal prisons together and know, that I know, that I know…that this “Enneagram thing” works when — and only when — we start from the inside out. Come and see for yourselves.
Published on May 11 by olesek Category: what-is-epp Tags:
One opportune trip to prison and the whole trajectory of my life — professionally and personally — was absolutely inspired. Seeing how one hundred incarcerated men took learning about themselves so much to heart compelled me to follow this exhilarating example of realizing the human potential with everything I had. Three years later in April of 2012, flanked by two dedicated founding board members: my partner, Rick Olesek and my colleague, Suzanne Dion,Enneagram Prison Project (EPP) was born.
Standing at the helm of a fledgling non-profit as an executive director with more vision than I had experience, I was delighted to encounter a newfound passion for social entrepreneurship. With my wits in one hand and my poster in the other, I talked my way into a local jail and before anyone could finish shouting, “You cannot possibly teach the Enneagram to prisoners!” EPP was on the map with a 5% recidivism rate. Boom.
We set out with this vision, based solely on what I had witnessed firsthand: To free the incarcerated from the prisons of their own making in every prison and jail in the United States and around the world. To that end, in the few short years since its inception, EPP has contracted with two government agencies in two different Californian counties, and offers a year-long program to lifers in San Quentin State prison. There are waitlists. We are developing an International Affiliate Program with pilots starting in Copenhagen and Helsinki. In short, this Enneagram thing works for “those folks” just like it does for my corporate clients, just like it did for the three of us. What do you know, we’re all human. We are ecstatic to grow this paradigm-shifting idea as we each grow along with it.
In fact, equal to our joy in seeing something so personal to me flourish, is the satisfying opportunity that running an organization offers me and our team to “walk our talk.” Whether it is writing company policies, defining our company culture, forging strategic partnerships, or resolving conflict, one core value we share at Enneagram Prison Project is that “We do the work together,” and, work there is to do!
I’ve got my Type 1 sleeves rolled up and am hanging on to my bursting heart as we keep pace with some incredible momentum. We are never short on material to work with, including, “The prisons of our own making” and how to move beyond them inter-personally, professionally and now organizationally.