Success Without Ego

How do you have success in life without expressing your ego?

We need to define ego first. Ego has different meanings and connotations depending upon context. Let us start with a working definition of ego.

The discussion and examples below will help to elucidate the meaning further. Ego can be understood as the way that I define myself to myself. It is the attachment a person has to his/her physical, emotional, and intellectual qualities. Since we only know our qualities from our past experiences, the ego is therefore based upon recollections of the past.

To be caught up in ego is to become dependent upon the qualities of our personality for a sense of self and self-worth. We unknowingly create a narrowed, biased view of who we are. We lose sight of a more expansive and accurate definition. Further, satisfying the ego's demands then becomes our primary objective in life. The problem is, ego-initiated action does not take into account effects beyond the satisfaction of the demand1. We may be acting against the best interests of ourselves, others, and our relationship with the world at large. (For more on ego & ego management, see here.)

Ego therefore inhibits success. In any field of activity, success is the effect of the correct causes. Broadly speaking, these causes are: concentration, consistency, cooperation2. These disciplines require the intellect's healthy guidance over the mind's activities. However, as the ego exerts influence over us, our attention is drawn away towards its demands. Our mind becomes increasingly preoccupied, creating mental agitation. With the personality in this state, the intellect cannot effectively control the mind and the three disciplines cannot be practised.

To circumvent ego-centered thoughts and feelings we employ an ideal (see more here and here). An ideal is a goal beyond ego-centered interests. When a strengthened intellect maintains the thought of the ideal, the ego-centered attitude is defused or transcended. As a result the expressions of the ego are inhibited, enabling the following causes of success to be put in.

Concentration

Concentration refers to the intellect's ability to maintain attention upon the present action, without allowing the mind to wander into thoughts of the past or future. It is the nature of the mind to slip from the present activity and roam ungoverned through personal, ego-centered interests. The intellect is employed to keep the mind focused in the present, but loses its effectiveness when ego commands our attention.

The ego tends to develop a dependency upon achieving a particular result. Consequently, the mind dwells anxiously on the result of the action, or worries about past events related to the action. There are many examples from the world sports that attest to this idea. Choking in sports refers to a competitor allowing a near victory to slip away due to an inability to manage the psychological pressure experienced at critical moments. As victory comes tantalizingly close, a whirlwind of worry, anxiety, and excitement enters the mind. The attention is drawn off the present activity, inhibiting clear thinking and strategizing, as well as efficient execution of action. The quality of the action suffers, the result is not achieved.

When we have no personal stake in the outcome, we remain mentally poised. Our thinking and acting are more effective.

Consistency

Consistency is objectively directing all required actions towards the achievement of the stated goal. When we lack consistency, we allow our energies and resources to get diverted into unproductive or even counterproductive channels. Once we have decided upon a direction for our life, the intellect is employed to maintain an awareness of it. Jut as, when we are driving we maintain a constant awareness of the destination. In life, if we forget the direction set, we are automatically steered by ego. However, the ego knows only the past, and as it exerts its influence we find ourselves under pressure to recreate past experiences. Unfortunately, the ego is blind to whether or not they would oppose or support our set goal. Clouded by the ego's view of life, we lose sight of the obligations we have towards achieving the future goal, and slip back into old patterns of thought and behavior.

For example, overcoming addiction requires a consistent schedule of physical-emotional-intellectual unlearning and relearning. The intellect correctly envisages a life without addiction – a life of greater freedom and satisfaction. However, the ego retains its definition of satisfaction based upon past experiences. If we succumb to the ego's perspective, we lose sight of the goal of being free. We slip back into the old vision of life, re-using the object of addiction and neglecting the activities that will propel us towards our goal.

We also fail to recognize appropriate boundaries. The narrow demands of ego eclipse broader goals related to our overall subjective wellbeing. For example, to achieve sporting success, physical and mental training is necessary. But if the ego is caught up in the result, we lose sight of the larger context of our lives. In desperation to achieve, we may over-train, causing injury and loss of result. We may antagonize or harm others in our efforts to ascend, damaging harmonious and beneficial relationships. We may violate legal or moral boundaries, engaging in doping or sabotage, acting against our own better judgement and conscience. The effect of this attitude in life is mental dissonance, agitation. Not only have we achieved merely the outward show of victory, we also have internal conflicts to resolve. Thus, we may ostensibly achieve sporting success, but at the expense of other, more important aspects of our lives. A Pyrrhic victory is no victory, the very essence of success is lost.

Cooperation

Cooperation is the recognition that nothing can be achieved by oneself. Our own efforts towards a goal always exist alongside the efforts of countless others. These effects may be direct or indirect. For example, we may develop and launch a novel mobile app. The direct help is most obvious: financial backing, design, marketing and promotion, production, sales and distribution, et cetera. However, the indirect help is even more pervading: digital technology development, internet development and maintenance, economic and political environments, natural resource extraction, et cetera. When we view all of the causes and climates required for the success of our app, our own efforts are put into a more accurate perspective.

When we fail to recognize our dependence on others, we sport an egocentric, arrogant attitude of I-know-it-all, or I-do-it-all. This attitude isolates us, as we reject others' intrinsic worth and tend towards self-absorption. Consider your own experiences: How do you generally relate to another whom you perceive as egocentric, arrogant, and self-absorbed? We are naturally reluctant to join our efforts with theirs and contribute towards their goal. Thus an egocentric attitude inhibits the natural cooperation of others, vital for our success.

When we do recognize the necessary role of others in our success, we develop a natural, healthy humility. We see our own striving reflected in others', creating a sense of shared experience. This elicits from us natural feelings of support and encouragement towards others' success and wellbeing, and a tendency to contribute towards them. When our life and relationships are governed and inspired by these beautiful human values – knowledge, humility, empathy, sharing – the world tends to reciprocate. Success follows.


1 Since ego is a recollection of past experiences, it cannot project future consequences. Intellect alone has this capacity, but when we are caught up in ego, intellect ceases to function effectively.

2 These have been taken from the works of A. Parthasarathy: The Fall of the Human Intellect; Governing Business & Relationships.