THE WAY OF THE SUPERIOR EGO (PART 1: HEALTHY EGO)
When I was 16 I got rejected from a college.
Not just any college, mind you, but the college of my dreams.
A top tier school, one my whole family had gone to – sister, uncle, father, grandfather – and I was supposed to be next in line.
When I was rejected I was devastated.
Of course, nobody likes rejection. But you guys remember what college applications were like. We were told universities were the factor in your level of success down the road: get into the wrong school, game over. You could hardly blame me for getting upset when that was on the line.
You could, except that wasn’t what made me upset.
In truth, I wasn’t concerned about my future success at another school and didn’t even care that much about missing out on that campus’ unique culture. They were side notes.
What made me upset was that I felt stupid.
Strange to think, no? Nothing else about me had changed. My test scores and grades were still good, I still could ramble endlessly about whatever, and I still knew an ungodly amount of trivia – whatever all that was worth.
(Hint: Not Much.)
But that was exactly how I felt.
Most smart people don’t care about knowledge so much as they care about being the smartest. Knowledge is simply a means to an end.
I was a fat kid growing up. Unpopular, timid, and physically weak, my confidence was abysmal. There was only one area that my ego felt safe and secure in, and that was in my intellect.
Grades mattered, arguments mattered – being right, being the smartest mattered. That was it. I had accepted defeat in every other area of my life, but not here – this was my turf.
Getting rejected from that school shattered my ego.
It shattered it so much, in fact, that I spent my entire freshman year of college depressed, trying to transfer to a school even better than the one I was rejected from.
Was that ambition to be applauded, or insecurity to be admonished?
The devil, as always, is in the details.
Your ego is a dangerous thing. It can propel you to greatness or bury you in misery. Or both.
Here’s a question:
Should you try to escape your ego? Should you dedicate your life to ego-death? And if so, why?
Many people do, because many people – rightly – point out that the ego is the source of all suffering in this world. If it were not for the ego, we would feel unity with everything, happiness, and most importantly: Peace. It’s not surprising why there’s a big movement to transcend it.
Indeed, I’d jump on board right away if it wasn’t for one little thing:
What happens to our civilization?
Ego is the source of ambition and passion. Without these, how could our society create anything? What would we become?
Stop reading this article for a second and admire the incredible electronic device showing you it.
This electronic device was the creation of multiple egos.
Some of them pretty huge, in fact.
I’m on a Mac, so I’m thinking of Steve Jobs.
Considering a new movie about him comes out every year, by now you should know intimately what a visionary he was.
He demanded perfection. Abhorred mediocrity.
He was both one of the best and most difficult bosses to work under… all because of his relentless ego.
Yet this ego built Apple, now the most valuable company in the world.
And it wasn’t just his.
The egos of numerous engineers, designers, marketers, etc. were all essential in making all the Apple products we use today possible. As were the egos of their competition, Bill Gates and Microsoft – impressive in their own right – who forced Jobs and Apple to work harder than ever to excel and win.
Egos want more, always. They are not satisfied only with what is necessary. But what is necessary about Modern Society?
Early man didn’t have too much of an ego. I’m no anthropologist, but from my cursory study the most primitive hominids didn’t ask for too much other than food, sex, safety, and shelter.
(Kinda like animals.)
What took them beyond this?
Well, for one, their brain size doubled. But what do you think came with that?
Consciousness, self-awareness… and of course…
And ego was the game-changer.
Because cultures expanded only once they developed collective ego.
Ego created man’s competitive drive, causing him to become aggressive, violent, and often controlling, but it also encouraged necessary territorial expansion and facilitated the development of science and advanced social systems – the foundations of society.
Now, you might say, not all societies did that. Of course not. But how many of the ones that didn’t got out of the forest, or even survived? How many have shaped the history of mankind?
Egoic cultures have invariably been stronger and more successful, advanced in the long term than ones that have been not. It’s incontrovertible.
That does not mean, however, that they were not without their flaws.
Take a look at some of these hard-working, successful cultures for a second.
How happy were the people in these cultures?
How much did their collective ego serve them versus oppress them?
And why today, with more at our fingertips than ever before, are we so depressed?
Why, with regenerative medicine, refrigerators, and all knowledge at the click of a button, does part of us still want to go back to the bush and get away from it all?
I Want to Be the Best (Am I Really the Worst?)
But one piece of it is for certain found in how our ego’s drives are framed, both individually and collectively.
Let’s circle back to me and my youthful quest for the fountain of approval.
When I applied to transfer out of my first college, I was in a state of self-loathing.
This wasn’t just because I didn’t get into the college of my choice before – you can be sure that a lot of other things were happening that year – but regardless my self-esteem was pretty low and getting into a different, ‘better’ school was a big opportunity for me to ‘feel better’ about myself.
Yet I already assumed I was a failure at this point. The whole process was simply an attempt for me to prove myself wrong – a chance to avoid the pain I was perpetually feeling.
The result was long – and I mean long – nights spent at the library working to try and complete my assignments perfectly. Because of it I missed countless opportunities to make friends and socialize.
And created a paradox in the process.
Because the more social isolated I was, the more depressed, anxious, and unfocused I became, which meant my work was more difficult and took longer than ever.
It was a vicious spiral.
Ultimately, there was some good news. I did accomplish my goal, and changed colleges that next fall.
But why did I have to take it all so seriously? Why did I put so much of my identity on the line? Was there an easier way?
The Unhealthy Ego vs The Healthy Ego
My ego back then was strong, but it was incredibly unhealthy. It was fragile and needed constant reassurance. Even if I did everything in my power to prop it up, external circumstances could (and did) easily tear it down.
(Incidentally, this is exactly what most Pick Up Artists experience when meeting women)
It would have been so much better if I had had a healthy ego.
A healthy ego is worlds away from an unhealthy ego. A healthy ego loves life. It is confident and self-assured. It works hard because it enjoys the feeling of accomplishment, validation, and challenge, not because it is running from a bad self-image. It approaches life as a creator and with an abundance mentality.
A healthy ego is not a victim and is not playing to avoid pain, a healthy ego is an owner playing to create pleasure. A healthy ego is there to enjoy the ride, not survive it. And the only things a healthy ego tries to prove to itself, it tries to prove for fun.
Dealing with an ego is like riding a wild horse. Let it take control and you will wind up broken on the ground. Struggle against it and you will move but suffer. Only if you tame it – only if you make it into a healthy ego – will you arrive where you want fast and happy.
To Be Concluded
Ego – or at least healthy ego – is good.
But how do you go about getting a healthy ego? And really, what makes a healthy ego better than not having an ego at all?
These are good questions, which will incidentally be answered tomorrow in Part 2.
(I can read your minds!)
Until then, don’t get too cocky. Just a little for health 😉