Paperback: 256 pages ISBN-10: 9781781257029 ISBN-13: 978-1781257029
A useful reminder on the dangers of allowing one’s actions to be guided by ego, inspired by relevant teachings from the Stoics.
Our cultural values almost try to make us dependent on validation, entitled, and ruled by our emotions. For a generation, parents and teachers have focused on building up everyone’s self-esteem.
So what is scarce and rare? Silence. The ability to deliberately keep yourself out of the conversation and subsist without its validation. Silence is the respite of the confident and the strong.
There is an old saying, “Say little, do much.” What we really ought to do is update and apply a version of that to our early approach. Be lesser, do more. Imagine if for every person you met, you thought of some way to help them, something you could do for them? And you looked at it in a way that entirely benefited them and not you. The cumulative effect this would have over time would be profound: You’d learn a great deal by solving diverse problems. You’d develop a reputation for being indispensable. You’d have countless new relationships. You’d have an enormous bank of favors to call upon down the road.
Whereas everyone else wants to get credit and be “respected,” you can forget credit. You can forget it so hard that you’re glad when others get it instead of you—that was your aim, after all. Let the others take their credit on credit, while you defer and earn interest on the principal. Once we fight this emotional and egotistical impulse, the canvas strategy is easy. The iterations are endless. Maybe it’s coming up with ideas to hand over to your boss. Find people, thinkers, up-and-comers to introduce them to each other. Cross wires to create new sparks. Find what nobody else wants to do and do it. Find inefficiencies and waste and redundancies. Identify leaks and patches to free up resources for new areas. Produce more than everyone else and give your ideas away
Those who have subdued their ego understand that it doesn’t degrade you when others treat you poorly; it degrades them.
Because no one ever said, reflecting on the whole of someone’s life, “Man, that monstrous ego sure was worth it.”
Do you know how you can tell when someone is truly humble? I believe there’s one simple test: because they consistently observe and listen, the humble improve. They don’t assume, ‘I know the way.’”
The solution is as straightforward as it is initially uncomfortable: Pick up a book on a topic you know next to nothing about. Put yourself in rooms where you’re the least knowledgeable person. That uncomfortable feeling, that defensiveness that you feel when your most deeply held assumptions are challenged—what about subjecting yourself to it deliberately? Change your mind. Change your surroundings. An amateur is defensive. The professional finds learning (and even, occasionally, being shown up) to be enjoyable; they like being challenged and humbled, and engage in education as an ongoing and endless process.
Ego tells us that meaning comes from activity, that being the center of attention is the only way to matter.
We have to fight to stay sober, despite the many different forces swirling around our ego.
As Goethe once observed, the great failing is “to see yourself as more than you are and to value yourself at less than your true worth.”
Humble and strong people don’t have the same trouble with these troubles that egotists do. There are fewer complaints and far less self-immolation. Instead, there’s stoic—even cheerful—resilience. Pity isn’t necessary. Their identity isn’t threatened. They can get by without constant validation. This is what we’re aspiring to—much more than mere success. What matters is that we can respond to what life throws at us. And how we make it through.
It’s far better when doing good work is sufficient. In other words, the less attached we are to outcomes the better. When fulfilling our own standards is what fills us with pride and self-respect. When the effort—not the results, good or bad—is enough.
Do your work. Do it well. Then “let go and let God.” That’s all there needs to be. Recognition and rewards—those are just extra. Rejection, that’s on them, not on us.
This is why we can’t let externals determine whether something was worth it or not. It’s on us. The world is, after all, indifferent to what we humans “want.” If we persist in wanting, in needing, we are simply setting ourselves up for resentment or worse. Doing the work is enough.
The Reverend William A. Sutton observed some 120 years ago that “we cannot be humble except by enduring humiliations.” How much better it would be to spare ourselves these experiences, but sometimes it’s the only way the blind can be made to see.
Only ego thinks embarrassment or failure are more than what they are. History is full of people who suffered abject humiliations yet recovered to have long and impressive careers.
A person who judges himself based on his own standards doesn’t crave the spotlight the same way as someone who lets applause dictate success.