Contest Finalist: The Struggle of the Ego
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What do you think of when you hear the word ego?
Perhaps all the Freudian concepts from academia days scroll across your conscious mind. Archaic definitions, sterile and cold, and irrelevant to your daily life.
“A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.”
“Your ego is your conscious mind, the part of your identity that you consider your self.”
“The division of the psyche that is conscious, most immediately controls thought and behavior, and mediates between the person and external reality.”
Blah, blah, blah … boooooring.
Let’s instead consider a little story, taken from internet (my sacred resource for all that is holy), and credited to Keshava Murthy:
Once there was a common man who had an uncommon sense. People of his small town went to him with their problems and some others like to be with him and listen to him.
One day a man came and asked “What is Ego? They say it’s bad for one to have it. How can one over come it?”
The common man replied, “Ego is self-awareness. You need it to set and attain your goals. But be careful because it’s like nails on your finger and should never be left to grow more than necessary to be able to hold the grip.”
Let me dissect the critical elements this parable highlights about “ego”:
- “You need it to set and attain your goals.”
- “BE CAREFUL … never be left to grow more than necessary.”
Well, now, does this feel a little more meaningful to you?
Obviously, there is a necessity for ego in this business; without it, no doctor would be capable of growing and fostering an enterprise. I’d also like to argue that without it, none of us would have survived dental school.
But this parable is suggesting that at some point it should be cut back, or least, studiously kept in check.
Perhaps I should tell another parable, one that might hit a little closer to home.
Once there was a man who grew up his enterprise. Five years in he had the makings of something extraordinary.
“I have done something astounding,” he thought. “But I’m bored now, I’d like to do more.”
So he grew and expanded and burst at the seams, doubling, than tripling, in capacity.
“I have done something astounding,” he thought. “But I am tired now, I need to rest.”
So he brought in a helper, one he believed would unfailingly mirror him, because everything he did worked in his hands, therefore others must operate the same.
But then something tragic happened: The helper didn’t. The helper saw problems from different eyes, solved them with a different mind, and crafted with two different hands. He was unable to become the faultless reproduction because invariably, he was a different man.
“It has to be my way!” The man insisted, “As it is how this was built, and how I want it to grow. And I said so, therefore it is done.” The two fought tirelessly and disastrously parted ways, and the mess left behind was enough work to preoccupy the man’s tired mind, while his dreams of growing floundered in the diminishing tide.
Okay, so I’m being a little overly dramatic, but I think you get the point.
Ego is a multifaceted and dynamic thing, and unless one is exceptionally self-actualized, it is comprised of many destructive beliefs. It is used largely to inject our element of control while bridging the expanse from our personal self-perception to the greater world outside.
It is surmised that the ego’s formative basis is solidified in childhood development. So, the essential fabric of who we are comes from a well, stocked during those delicate years. After that time, it steps into its role, and we draw upon it when situations require.
The tricky thing is, people are relying upon an essential personality trait that no longer represents what healthy adults should say or do. Sure, some people may develop a flawless ego—I’m not going to rule it out—but seriously, who among us can say with firm certainty, “My formative years formed me fully alright”?
For most of us, they didn’t. Most of us still have some pretty hard work left to do.
And many people won’t turn inward again until unmanageable life situations forces their resistant hand. Comfortable people have no need to reconsider their self-perception. Adapting and transforming when new information comes in is painful. Who willingly swallows jagged chips of pride?
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass
This quote is quintessentially to this idea.
There is another thing I do believe with my whole heart: there will become a critical point in the evolution of everyone’s bourgeoning operation where growth will only occur with the willingness to put the ego aside. These critical points can come along at many phases in dentistry:
- bringing on a partner or associate.
- hiring a new office manager.
- training in a new team member.
When we reach these crossroads in our professional life, if the ego is still ruling supreme, emotions can quickly flare out of hand. Many highly intelligent and successful people reach highly important, arduous crossroads, and approach them with childish resistance. Instead of successfully navigating a situation that could harbor professional advantages, one simply implodes in a byzantine rampage of pride.
It usually within a struggle of that magnitude that a person finally realizes their ego is out of line.
And then the hard work of redefining one’s self begins.
Now, I’ll fully admit that until I hit my crossroad, anyone who said things like this would have been called out for “bullshit.” I considered myself a properly jaded hardcore bitch. Absolutely nothing was going to turn me into a cliché mongering asshole, proclaiming everyone else’s doom. Three years ago I would have hated this version of me, and I suspect that many of you are prickling with those same sensations inside.
But now, on this side of the thing, I’m doing it anyway. Because so many of us run our bodies into the ground, fall prey to addictions, or any other myriad means to cope with an unchecked ego. I want people to know that there is an alternative: changing the once necessary perception that at one time we needed to get by.
At some point, the thing that made you you, will become the agent of your demise. At some point, you need to let it go. Relax. Breathe. Free your mind.
“How?” you might ask.
I’m only here to plant a seed, what you do with it is for you to decide.