…ergo, Ego.

It is only in the past year or so that I realize to what extent the human ego can interfere with one’s life.  The ego can confuse and contort… it can lead one astray.  It can keep one’s true desires just out of reach.

What is the ego?  Depends on who you ask.  I asked Wikipedia and the answers ranged from “I,” meaning oneself, to “self” to “one of the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the psyche.”  This last we’ll be leaving aside.

My personal understanding is that it is the part of our internal dialogue concerned with how we relate to the outer world.  The ego worries about what others think of our status, wealth, appearance, etc.

Interestingly, the ego can mimic truly admirable qualities.  For its own selfish reasons, it can make us do selfless, wonderful and brave things.  Wanting to impress others, the ego can drive us to perform better, donate more, take on a great risk or help someone else.  But the ego is like the hawk moth caterpillar mimicking a snake – it may look the same and act the same, but it is a very different beast.

How can you tell the difference?  The ego doesn’t bother doing anything anonymously.   When we are driven by our egos, the reward is not in a job well done, or an experience we can appreciate, but in the rapturous response we receive from others.  The praise or the respect we are given.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t enjoy praise or respect from others – of course, everyone does!  It’s perfectly natural to enjoy sharing our accomplishments and experiences.  That’s a huge part of life (and where would Facebook be without it?).  The distinguishing factor, I believe, is in the motivation for our actions.

One of my battles with ego

I have only recently discovered my own egoic issues as they relate to the novel I’ve written.  There was a time in my life when I wanted desperately to publish it in order to define myself… to show people I am clever and successful.  To be fair to myself, that’s not why I wrote the book.  I never said to myself, “I want to be seen as an author so I think I’ll write a book.”  But once it was done, I think my ego took over a bit.  I wanted to be published because I wanted to be able to say I was published.

My relationship with my book has been battered and bruised over the past ten years.  I have had hopes high and hopes dashed.  I’ve been brought to the brink of success, only to have the rug pulled out from under me.  I’ve been ignored so often I’ve felt like a ghost roaming the world, unseen and unheard.  I’ve been told “no” in every way possible, from polite and encouraging to brusque and dismissive.

But still, I love my book.

In the last month or two, I’ve come to realize that last sentence is true.  I now know that my understanding of myself is not affected by the publication of that manuscript.  It will not determine whether I am a success or failure.  Whatever success is attached to that book was achieved on the day I wrote, “The End.”

I believe in my book and believe, one day, it will be published.  But my happiness is no longer dependent on it.  I feel more at peace with myself than I have since I first started writing it.

Greatness and the ego

Enlightenment must include a conquering of the ego.  Jesus, Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Mother Theresa – these world-changing leaders led by example.  They lived their lives in accordance with the truth in their hearts, not with expectation of being watched.  Their words and actions were kind, inspiring, honest and humble.  They sought not fame or fortune, but a better world.

I’m always skeptical when someone tells me they have all the answers or imply that they are enlightened.  Those who truly are, don’t need to say it.  The great just are.  They show their worth… they don’t need outside validation.

The most enlightened among us seem to care little for wealth and fame.  And the truly great among us (the most talented athletes, artists, business leaders, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, scientists, etc) might have creature comforts as a by-product of their talent, but they are not driven by them.  They are driven by their purpose and their talent, not their ego.

I suspect that wanting to achieve something in order to become rich and famous (or some other ego-driven goal) will almost always end in failure.  One must be motivated by creativity, passion and determination to achieve the thing itself.

Ego in our lives

Ego can make us stay in a well-paying job long after our interest in that job has waned.  It can make us take on debt to have a nicer house or better car.  It can make us fear the unknown… fear failure.  It can make us think we have already arrived just because we have certain things ticked off a list, even if we still find ourselves feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled.  Ego, in short, can keep us from becoming who we are meant to be.

Happiness depends, I think, on identifying the areas of our life that are influenced by ego (our jobs, our homes, etc.) and asking ourselves honestly what it is we truly want from life.

When we can devote ourselves to something in life for which we feel passion (our family, a job, a hobby, anything at all), without regard for how it is viewed by anyone else and without fear of how we will be judged, we can find that which is great in each of us.

The more we live in accordance with our greatness, the happier we can be… the happier we are, the better world we’ll create.

Published in: on March 31, 2011 at 4:41 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You do make us think, Meghan! While reading this I tried to picture my own ego and how it drives me. I realize that often times it’s what gets me into new ventures, ie writing screenplays:) But during the process I forget how I got to the point I’m at and focus on how much enjoyment I’m getting out of what I’m doing. Ego’s are funny little creatures, aren’t they!

    Thanks for the great post! Christine

  2. As I’ve come to expect, you’ve capably articulated something meaningful. A few random thoughts in line with your points (or so I hope)… I think folks who write do so because they can’t NOT write. When I worked, my job was to research/analyze/write about things that were only of marginal interest to me. But I took great joy in the writing itself – being able to write things that the target audience understood and found useful. When I write for myself, feedback is useful to me in that, if I intended to be funny and made someone laugh, or if I intended my words to offer comfort and they did indeed comfort someone, it gives me indescribable joy. It means I hit the target (which may explain why I enjoy shooting a 22 at beer cans so much).

  3. This is a good realization, but take it one step further. There is no you. Look.

  4. Yes, well said indeed… I have seen the biggest egos move people to the top of the heap, and then, similar to a nuclear meltdown, send them to the depths; as was the case with MCI’s Bernie Ebbers now in federal prison for the next 25 years!!!

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