If you’re a reader here, you know I used to do scientific research. Science has a funny relationship with the ego. On one hand, science exalts the brilliance of the individual mind. Science barters in the abstract, egocentric currency of publications, conference presentations, grant acquisitions and relationships with other scientists like notches on a belt. On the other hand, scientific research is profoundly humbling and isolating, with years spend trying to coax truths from Nature like brittle strings carefully pulled, always with the possibility that a twist in the tale could make one’s lifework irrelevant or redundant. The ego is repeatedly built and shattered, built and shattered in science.

Life does the same thing. There were times when my survival felt like it depended on my ability to hold my ego close, thinking that no one could treat me a certain way. My ego created a raft in the storm. We’ve all seen examples of the precarious balance of the ego…

*The one who had been damaged, but gathered enough ego to leave.

*The one who felt receiving help would cause insurmountable problems yet didn’t have enough ego to feel the help would be worth it.

*The one whose ideas are no longer valued, who finds creative ways to keep the ego alive.

It all makes me wonder – what is the right balance of the ego with the world?

I feel like I’m moving through a phase in which I frequently falter – often quite innocently – and attempts to do the right thing or readjust course only make the situation worse. It’s as if I catch myself tripping so I grasp at a branch as I fall, only to bring down a mountain with me. Or I tidy a loose thread only to unravel the blanket. Where does that leave the ego?

My cousin recently told me to stop saying I’m sorry for everything. I didn’t know I was saying it. There’s a delicate balance between having the humility to look at the shortcomings of the past and having the confidence to move forward. Effects on the ego diffuse like tea to flavor one’s entire life.

How can the ego own something it didn’t create? I think about how profound scientific discoveries can arise from the winds of luck. The ego didn’t create it, yet owns it nonetheless.

Likewise, how can the ego own a problem it didn’t create, like stumbling over a shoe left on the stairs? There is stumbling on good things and stumbling on bad things. The ego has no role in either, yet the ego is continually searching for new things in which to plant a flag. The ego is a notorious borrower. The ego has quite the ego and thinks everything is about itself.

So what is the right amount of ego? I like to try to answer things here (at least for myself), but this is an open question. How do we reconcile grief over mistakes with the need to move forward? How do we resist groundless feelings of pride? I’ve pondered related questions here before, questions of imperfection and guilt. The positive and negative repercussions of a free will wielded by an imperfect being informs the way an ego relates to the world.

What is the right amount of ego? At the moment, I’m not egocentric enough to know the answer.

5 thoughts on “Ego

  1. As always in my life… I’m searching for that balance in all things. Perhaps it’s needed in my ego too. What exactly that looks like…I’m not sure. Maybe it will just…feel right.

    Thanks for the thinking words. You always bring new things into my frontal cortex when you nestle in for a stay.

    1. Does anyone know what true balance is? I think you answered it: it just feels right (not perfect, but right). In honor of your excellent observation, I’m bringing a lava lamp (you can never have too much ambiance). x

  2. I think that balance of ego is conditioning. Not the severe kind of conditioning but the right kind that parents can give their children. My parents were never the one to extol in but they never refrained from appreciating us ( my brother and me) on our achievements. All the same while appreciating, they kept us grounded by telling us there is so much more that we need to do for ourselves. A little bit of self doubt is always good- my father always told me. I guess that following that principle always kept my ego from growing too much and at the same time never letting it get too deflated for too long. The right amount of ego is the one where you know that ego can help you cross that last mile to achieve your dream but after you have achieved your milestone is lazy enough not to mull over it too much.

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