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Some thoughts about Ego

Embracing the Unknown: Overcoming Ego's Fear to Achieve Greatness - Emma West

Reading time: 3 minutes

Ego is not just something that overconfident folks have- that is arrogance and high self-esteem and is something else altogether. Ego is how we identify ourselves as human beings. We all have an ego. It is that voice inside your head, it is who you think you are and how you feel about yourself.

The night before my final yoga teaching exam, I went into full-blown meltdown. We're talking tears, tantrums, and strops. I had been preparing for this exam for a year, but it was the mother of all exams and I knew for sure that I could not do it. I mean, it was four and a half hours’ worth of exam, covering everything from theory, history, philosophy, anatomy, and Sanskrit, followed by a three-hour practical exam. So, the night before I was due to sit said exam, I typed myself out a little draft email, informing my tutor that I was grateful for the opportunity, but I had taken myself as far as I could go and would not be sitting the exam. I was quitting.

Classic Emma move right there, self-sabotage. I didn’t really want to throw away my hard work and quit, but I was scared of failing. This was my ego showing up big-time. If I quit, then it was totally fine because it was my choice. If I sit the exam, what would happen if I fail? That would obviously cause pain and embarrassment, so my ego’s logical conclusion was to take that risk away by dropping out at the last minute.

Fortunately, my legend of a husband saw what was going on and marched me into that exam room kicking and screaming, giving me no choice. I sat the exam. I passed (actually, I aced the exam) and life went on. If I had failed, it wouldn’t have been a huge deal, I would have re-sat the exam and passed second time round. No biggie.

That’s the thing with ego. It is like a stressed-out schoolteacher on a fieldtrip to the zoo. That teacher is terrified of the worst-case scenario happening, so she is constantly on edge, trying to maintain control of these unruly kids. It is so much easier for her to keep control of 30 children if they all walk in pairs, holding hands and wearing high-vis jackets, rather than letting chaos rule and risk having a group of kids decide to go feed each other to the lions. How does she keep control? By telling the children that they must behave, or they won’t be allowed to go on another trip again, or that she will call their parents, or any other fear-based incentive she can think of. Chances are that given a tiny bit of freedom, the kids would rather play in the (much safer) playground than the lion cage, but would the teacher be doing her job if she gave them the opportunity?

The job of the ego is to protect you from harm and to keep you safe, just like that schoolteacher who knows it is safer to walk in line than go play with the lions. It’s safer to quit than fail, it’s safer to end a relationship before you are dumped, it’s safer to not apply for that job than risk rejection. Sure, living a fear-based life is safer, but it will only get you so far. If every time you want to push yourself or try something new, your ego reminds you of the worst-case scenario and puts a block on it, how will you ever achieve greatness? What if you don’t quit, and then pass? What if you don’t end the relationship and it lasts? What if you apply for the job and succeed? By destroying your chances, the chance is definitely zero, by going for it, there is always a chance of success.

The trick is to learn to identify your ego at work. Learn to spot when your ego is playing overprotective, stressed-out schoolteacher. Thank it for showing up and for trying to look after you, and explain that you are going to try something new. Know that you are not your ego, and you do not have to let it rule your life.

What's the best that could happen?

Emma West

Emma is a Cornwall-based yoga and meditation teacher and positive mental health ambassador for WarriorKind.