The ego is not the enemy is often portrayed to be.
Defined as a person’s sense of self-esteem, the ego has become a sort of villain in the personal development community, mostly by Ryan Holiday trying to sensationalize a rather complicated and often nuanced philosophy called stoicism.
Your ego is not your enemy. Your ego is not an excuse for being obnoxious, arrogant, or self-centered.
Your ego is simply who you think you are. Your ego is either the reason you are walking through hell or the reason you often catch a glimpse of heaven.
If you look within, you are able to venture in the center of your fears and confront them. If you look around, you are often told that those fears are who you truly are.
You Must First Develop A Strong Sense of Self
The ego being portrayed as the source of our unhappiness is a simplistic truth. It’s, in a way, true. But it’s also false.
The truth is rather nuanced.
The truth is that you need a strong sense of self in order to achieve your goals and ambitions.
Most people don’t have much of an ego, thus they gravitate towards being who others want or need them to be.
A strong sense of self saves you from paying this price. A strong sense of self means that if you define yourself as someone who’s physically fit, you will either find a way or make a way to stay fit.
That’s what the ego does. It allows us to create an internal reality that we then project in the real world. What we see when we venture inward becomes the thing we see when we look in the mirror.
Without a strong sense of self, achievement and mastery are almost impossible.
Mastery Is The Side-Effect of A Strong Sense of Self
According to psychologists, a strong sense of self is required in order to become a high-achiever.
We are not just who we think we are, but also who we think others think we are.
The strongest aspects of the ego are when the two are aligned. When perception and desire become one.
If you define yourself as “the best X ever to have lived,” you will do whatever you can do be the best. If you believe everyone else requires that you be that good, you will find the energy that did not exist to make it happen.
Some argue that this type of energy is destructive.
The opposite is equally true. If there’s no sense of self, you are destined to spend your life believing, and rightly so, that hell is other people.
Think back on your years in high school, and you will see that the kids that were bullied were often those who had no sense of self, the ones who often struggled with issues of identity.
If you ask the world who you are, you will receive an answer that is far from pleasing. Having no ego at all is a shortcut to becoming helpless or worse.
If The Ego Is Not The Enemy, What Is?
The default setting. That’s the real villain of your life’s story. The mental laziness that comes with you always choosing the path of least resistance.
That path often leads to hell.
We are self-centered and arrogant because our default setting tells us we are the center of the universe. Without us, the universe could not exist, because we wouldn’t be around to experience it.
It is not a matter of being perceived in a certain way. It’s not a desire, but a reflex.
And that’s why we suffer.
That’s why we can’t stand to wait in line, why we don’t like to be told what to do, why we believe our boss is a jerk, or why we end up arguing with our significant other.
The default setting is just trying to keep us alive. It’s locked in survival mode, even if it doesn’t seem that way. Yes, our palms our not sweaty, yet we are trying to do whatever we can to be the first in line…
It does seem an awful lot like having an inflated sense of self until you realize that it’s mostly a way to ruin your day to day life. It’s not a desire to conquer the world, or even oneself, but a strong reflex to not be the last.
You’re all “me, me, me” by default because the alternative is being the beta in the group, the last one to get access to resources.
To fight this enemy, you have to look inward for a definition of who you are and outward to properly calibrate that definition according to who others need you to be.
Like I’m so fond of saying, this is a balancing act. It often feels like walking on a bridge of dreams, with who we’d like to be on one side, and who’d others want us to be on the other.
We are often stuck in the middle, trying to navigate through the day to day trenches of life.
The trouble arises when we go with either of the two options, and the results are tragic either way.
Go with the default option, the ego-centrism born out of fear of being ignored, ridiculed, or isolated from others and you will develop the kind of ego that is repugnant.
If you go in the other direction, though, you are a leaf in the wind. You are shapeless, and you will have to shape yourself in order to accommodate the most unrealistic of perceptions.
In order to develop a true sense of self, you have to define yourself in such a way that you can easily help those around you, or at least not hurt them.
It’s as simple as that.
But it’s not easy. It’s a battle that never ends. It’s a battle you have to fight with yourself and your desire to conquer the world, and a battle you have to fight with all those around you who are trying to conquer your sense of self to best suit their needs.
Look inward to define yourself, but also constantly calibrate in order to bring value to others as well.
In other words, your ego is not your enemy. Your desire for a life without having to go through the struggle of defining yourself is.