Lego my Ego – Letting go of certainty and opening up to feeling.
“It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows.” Epictetus
During my first career I once attended a company dinner where every employee was given a laminated piece of paper with one word on it describing his or her essence. My word said ‘confidence.’ In retrospect, it probably should have said cocky. But many mistake a sense being audacious or sassy for the same as self worth, so I was dubbed confident.
My ‘confidence’ or cockiness arrived in my youth when I discovered that many people seemed to like me. That is, some gravitated towards or egged me on to portray the self that my ego had created - a sharp and quick wit, a snappy sarcasm, and a sense of strong opinion and certainty. With conviction and a gregarious disposition, many thought I was confident, and in turn I was glad to play the part. But as I have learned as an actor, portraying something convincingly isn’t the same thing as truly being it.
A funny thing happened on my journey from that younger and cockier self to older and wiser self. My public persona has changed and along with it my sense of self. I am guessing if I attended that dinner now, I wouldn’t be given a laminated sheet with the word confidence. Maybe now it would say introvert, independent, or marches to his own drummer. It certainly wouldn’t say confident. Truthfully, I’m less sure of my self at 45 than I was at 25. To quote one of my childhood idols, Bono “The more you see the less you know. The less you find out as you go. I knew much more then than I do now.” And there’s the rub - wrestling with life’s big questions will ultimately make you seem less certain and maybe even appearing to be less confident. I suppose it’s all in how you define the word. Indeed, there is a blurry line between ego and confidence and between arrogance and self worth. But while confidence and ego are much construed as the same thing, they are far from similar.
The difference boils down to a sense of genuine feeling. Ego doesn’t feel; ego distorts and disconnects us from reality. Conversely confidence is accepting in feeling the ups and downs of life, living with discomfort, and with grappling with life’s dilemmas. Getting back to Bono, he goes on to say later in the same lyric “The more you know, the less you feel.” Ultimately I suppose feeling is what we are all after - To laugh more, to love more, and to live more. But in order to do so, we must ask deep and messy questions. In order to feel more, you most let go of your ego’s incessant nagging to know with certainty. I know that I can’t very well feel cocky and also humble. I can’t be judgmental, cutting, and sarcastic and yet humble as well. I can’t even necessarily be right, and also humble. In order to truly feel, I must find real authentic humility.
Every time I have chosen the wrong path, my ego was at the center of it. I either had an over inflated sense of self worth, or not enough confidence. Ego is in the drivers seat in both situations. In success, but more so in failure, I have learned enough to know that I really don’t know all of the answers. But contemporary culture constantly portrays answers to our problems…Five ways to get thin, get rich quick, be a better partner, be younger looking. But knowing answers, being ‘right,’ and getting validated is not feeling, it’s serving your ego. I may know fewer answers than my former ‘confident’ self. But I also know that my purpose, meaning, and real sense of self has to do with the willingness to listen, ask questions, and be open. I’ll know I’ve done my work if someday I can get a laminated piece of paper describing my essence that says ‘humble.’ I also know that I have a long way to go!