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Ego can be defined as the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent. It's when the notion of ourselves and the world grows so inflated that it begins to distort the reality that surrounds us.
At any given time in life, people find themselves at one of three stages.
Ego is the enemy every step along this way.
When we are striving for something it's a temptation that exists for everyone - for talk and hype to replace action. At the beginning of any path, we are excited and nervous. So we seek to comfort ourselves externally instead of inwardly. This side we call ego.
We seem to think that silence is a sign of weakness. That being ignored is tantamount to death and for ego, this is true. Research shows that while goal visualization is important, after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress.
If your purpose is something larger than you - to accomplish something, to prove something to yourself - then suddenly everything becomes both easier and harder. Easier in the sense that you know now what it is you need to do and what is important to you. Harder because each opportunity - no matter how gratifying or rewarding - must be evaluated along strict guidelines: Does this help me do what I have set out to do?
We don't like thinking that someone is better than us or that we have a lot left to learn. For this reason, updating your appraisal of your talents in a downward direction is one of the most difficult things to do in life - it is always the component of mastery.
The pretense of knowledge is our most dangerous vice, because it prevents us from getting any better. Studious self-assessment is the antidote.
Ira Glass states that all of us who do creative work . . . we get into it because we have good taste. But it's like there's a gap, that for the first couple years that you are making stuff, what you are making isn't so good . . . It's really not that great. It's trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it's not quite that good. But your taste - the thing that got you into the game - your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enought that you can tell that what you are making is kind of a disappointment to you.
In this taste/talent gap situation, ego can seem comforting. Who wants to look at themselves and their work and find it does not measure up? And so here we might bluster our way through. Or, we can face our shortcomings honestly and put the time in. We can let this humble us, see clearly where we are talented and where we need to improve, and then put in the work to bridge that gap.
Success is intoxicating, yet to sustain it requires sobriety. We can't keep learning if we think we already know everything. We can't buy into myths we make ourselves, or the noise and chatter of the outside world.
Too often convinced of own intelligence, we stay in a comfort zone that we never feel stupid and are never challenged to learn or reconsider what we know. It obscures from view various weknesses in our understanding, until eventually it's too late to change course.
We start out knowing what is important to us, but once we have achieved it, we lose sight of our priorities. All of us regularly say yes unthinkingly, or out of vague attraction, or out of greed or vanity. We think "yes" will let us accomplish more, when in reality it prevents exactly what we seek. Ego rejects trade offs. Why? Ego wants it all.
Accordoing to Seneca, the Greek word euthymia meaning tranquility is one we should think of often: it is the sense of own path and how to stay on it without getting distracted by all the others that intersect it.
One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important.
In most cases, we think that people become successful through sheer energy and enthusiasm. We almost excuse ego because we think it's part and parcel of the personality required to "make it big". Maybe a bit of over-poweringness is what got you where you are. But let's ask: Is it really sustainable for the next several decades? Can you really outwork and outrun everyone forever?
No one is permanently successful, and not everyone finds success on the first attempt. We all deal with setbacks along the way. Ego not only leaves us unprepared for these circumstances, it often contributed to their occurence in the first place. If success is ego intoxication then failure can be a devastating blow.
The way through, the way to rise again, requires a reorientation and increased self-awareness. We don't need pity - our own or anyone else's - we need purpose, poise and patience. It's far better when doing good work is sufficient. In other words, the less attached we are to outcome is better.
What matters to an active man is to do the right thing; whether the right thing comes to pass should not bother him.
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