As entertaining as it may be, I’m bored with talking about gloomy and negative stuff. I’m talking about something positive today. Consider this my first venture into self improvement. That’s right, I’m gonna sound just as bad as Dale Carnegie, Tony Robbins, and Stephen Covey (three authors you ought to read, by the way).
Ego. The word itself probably creates an emotional reaction to some. I’m not talking about Freud’s concept of ego as much as the general definition of ego, which is personal pride. Some say that having ego is good. Some say that having it is bad. They are both saying the same thing. I will elaborate on this later.
But for now, I want to talk about how ego develops in a person. Whether we admit it or not, we are taught to have massive egos and be borderline megalomaniacal. We are taught, VERY systematically, to overtly and even belligerently defend our own beliefs and comforts, often to the point of submission. I witness this WAY too much at my job. I will talk about that later too. All of this will come together.
When I first learned how to cold approach for dates (which I will talk about ad nauseum in the future), I read that in order to get more dates, the best thing to do is let go of my ego. When I read this in my early 20s, I was confounded. “But don’t you need a big ego to be confident?” I asked myself. The answer, I soon discovered is no. In fact, the most confident individuals know how to control their ego.
For years, I always thought that if you didn’t have an ego, it meant you didn’t respect yourself. It meant you let others walk all over you and it meant that you let everyone take advantage of you. This is, like most observations we encounter, half true. Letting others take advantage is a prerogative. But defending yourself constantly is also a prerogative. What this means is that those who have successfully let go of their ego know when to let things go/agree to stuff/apologize/be sympathetic and when to defend themselves.
Those who claim that they don’t have an ego in fact have bigger egos than those who viciously and belligerently want to “win” all the time. Why is this? Its because they inadvertently are begging for sympathy. They want others to feel sorry for them at all times, to be noticed. They often feel surrounded, or small (that’s almost like a safeword for me in the context of depression: When I say this to someone it means I am hurt, confused, and want someone to “save me from myself”). I’ve been struggling with this my whole life in the aspects of wealth, success, and until recently, the opposite sex to some degree. And I’m the worst liar to myself of all: I make rationalizations for my mediocrity. I say stuff like:
“I’m sure I can make more money, but if I do then it means I have to pay more taxes and I don’t like that. Besides, I like my job. It’s fun and I’m not supervised heavily” (rationalizing against wealth)
“I know I can be more popular and successful, but I don’t want the stress that comes with it” (rationalizing against popularity)
“(Traditionally) unattractive chicks are more desirable than (traditionally) attractive chicks because there’s less drama, they are better in bed, and they provide better company. Besides, I’m not the most attractive dude either, so everything’s matched up in terms of appearance” (rationalizing against attractiveness)
“I don’t want a higher average, what’ll happen to my handicap in league?” (rationalizing against success in bowling)
“I don’t want to get too jacked. It might mess up my bowling game” (rationalizing against success in weightlifting; also do you see the contradiction between this and the bowling rationalization?)
Although I am not a complete slave to my ego, in these aspects I am still holding on to my identity as a person who works at a pretty pitiful job (at least in society’s eyes) who is not well known who goes out with and loves chicks who aren’t attractive (in the traditional sense). I depend on it as if it were a parent. One thing I’ve been doing is playing a game called “prove yourself wrong:” its where you list a rationalization that you have, and then prove that it isn’t as great as it sounds. I recently did this with the attractiveness rationalization and slept with a chick that both myself and society would consider, of slightly higher than average attractiveness (appearancewise, at least. My preferences for attractiveness extend FAR beyond just appearance).
Those who are in complete control of their egos know when to unleash it, and know when to let it go. THAT is what breeds confidence. There’s one area where I don’t have any rationalizations about anything, and that is people skills. And why is that? Its because I successfully know when to attach and divorce my ego from my values.
So now let’s talk about values. Much like ego, society tells us to stay true to your values no matter what. For once, society is right about this. What they are wrong about is where these values come from.Yes, your values should guide you. Yes, they should be your “code.” And yes, most of the time, they do define you. Your teachers and other authorities in school were not wrong when they taught this. They WERE wrong, however, in force feeding these values to you. And that is where the disconnect comes from. In Unlimited Power, Tony Robbins talks a lot about values and where they should come from.
Generally, they need to come from your interpretation of what is being thrust upon you growing up and what you EXPERIENCE. Never ONLY stuff you learn, never ONLY experiences. ALWAYS BOTH. Here are some of the things I value that I have “interpreted” out of values that were thrust upon me, from most important to least important. This is not a complete list. The values that were thrust upon me are on the left.
Independence —-> Freedom
Courage —-> Curiosity/Adventure
Respect for authority —-> Courteousness/Mutual agreement
Responsibility —-> Personal responsibility
Greed —-> Ethical Competition
You might be thinking to yourself: “There really isn’t much difference between these! How is ‘responsibility’ different than ‘personal responsibility?’ Well, responsibility can take into account the actions of others as well as yourself. I’m not responsible for others…that would take away from my freedom. “But wait! Isn’t independence the same as freedom?” No. It isn’t. Independence means I don’t depend on anyone. Freedom means I can do whatever I want. I can depend on someone (or something) and still be free.
For example, I’m free to write pretty much anything I want here. But I DEPEND on my laptop to be on, my wifi to be connected in my laptop, the keys in my laptop to respond properly, my hands to do the typing, and so on and so on. We are all dependent on something. I dislike independence. I enjoy freedom.
Putting it all together: Me vs a homeless person
No, this isn’t some other drawn out conceptual anecdote about us being homeless because of our egos or something, no. Its about what happened at my job last night. One thing about my values is that I always create them on the basis of things I learn from authorities or people who know better than me, as well as my own experiences. I learned at a young age to respect authority. Over time, I accepted that idea and turned it into a better value based on my own experience: Mutual agreements.
I have been homeless before, or at least as homeless as one can get without actually being homeless. So when I encounter homeless people at my job who are asking patrons for money, I know that there is no real malice behind their actions. They just want money for food, booze, drugs, whatever. It doesn’t bother me. But when they do it inside the place I work, that does bother me. It violates my value of privacy (which I value of OTHERS as well by the way).
A homeless person attempted to do this last night. I said to him, calmly, like he was my buddy: “I don’t mind if you ask others for money and stuff, but go ahead and do it outside if you don’t mind.” He agreed, but then came back in after a few minutes. I told him to leave again (because he was violating our agreement). He got belligerent. He then told me that he could clean some stuff at my job if I paid him. A little more firmly, I said no and told him to leave.
He kept coming in, violating my value of mutual agreement and being more and more belligerent. This is where I knew I needed to bring out my ego and show dominance. I looked him right in the eye and told him that if he didn’t leave I’ll make him leave. When I get confrontational, I get scary. I stare right in the adversary’s eyes, follow them, and squint very rhythmically, as if I’m about to kill. This usually makes others very uneasy. I have prevented many a fight from taking place by doing this. The homeless man wasn’t backing down. He threatened to end my life.
Before the altercation, a fraternity brother wanted to purchase alcohol but couldn’t because we were already under dry hours. With a very sympathetic look on my face I told him that he couldn’t buy it. Although it was not physical and very subtle, we had our own little agreement: He gets the “satisfaction” of seeing me look “defeated” and I get to put his case of beer back. But that unspoken agreement created a moment of mutual respect.
Most others at my job would have been belligerent towards him as the tone of voice was rather high strung, but not me. I look past that. To preserve our shallow ego, we act most of the time. I legitimately felt bad that he couldn’t buy alcohol. Although I follow the rules because if I don’t I’ll lose my beloved freedom, I don’t believe in dry hours or dry areas (I’m aware of the paradox this presents). I believe in personal responsibility. Sensing this (because my face fell when I told him he couldn’t buy the booze), he now takes my side against the homeless man who threatened to kill me, and escorts him out of the store.
Allow me to repeat this: A booze loving fraternity brother, who probably upholds wild drunken nights above all else, who I REFUSED TO SELL ALCOHOL TO, helped me take on a homeless person. That is the magic of knowing when to unleash and when to let go of ego. I’m able to relate, often intimately, with others (total strangers sometimes) at a blinding pace because of this. I’m able to rise above so much “drama” because of this. Because I know when to let go of ego, my apologies are always and I mean ALWAYS sincere. If I say something and it hurts someone, even if I think its wrong, I apologize and I actually mean it. And why is this? Its because I’ve learned that I don’t need to be affected by everything around me. Taking oneself too seriously is a new psychosocial epidemic, and I’m here to cure it.