I just finished listening to “Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday.
It’s a really good self-help book that I believe a lot of people could resonate with even though he has a very specific perspective.
Cambridge Dictionary defines ego as ” the idea or opinion that you have of yourself, esp. the level of your ability and intelligence, and your importance as a person”
The Encyclopedia Britannica states “ego, in psychoanalytic theory, [is] that portion of the human personality which is experienced as the “self” or “I” and is in contact with the external world through perception. It is said to be the part that remembers, evaluates, plans, and in other ways is responsive to and acts in the surrounding physical and social world.”
Ego is a very intimate and personal entity that we all come face-to-face with on a regular basis whether we recognize it or not.
While listening to the book, Holiday’s message about overcoming ego reminded me of a scene in one of my favorite books. Its the moment my favorite protagonist has his final conversation with his beloved mentor.
In “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, after Potter faces his lifelong antagonist, Voldemort, he finds himself in quite a precarious situation. Thinking himself dead, he is surprised to find that he is not. After coming to this realization, Potter sits with Dumbledore and Dumbledore shares a poignant anecdote as he recalls the foolish actions of his adolescence and acknowledges his own folly that led to the tragic and untimely death of his sister. In his youth, he was, like many of us, drunk on his own endless potential and greatness. Like Icarus, Dumbledore had flown too close to the sun. With pain in his eyes, Dumbledore shares,
“I was gifted. I was brilliant. I wanted to escape. I wanted to shine. I wanted glory.”
Harry can’t seem to understand why such a powerful and noble wizard would confine himself to being headmaster of a school when he could have been so much more. Throughout the conversation, Harry is still not comprehending the gravity of the revelation Dumbledore had at such a young age. But Dumbledore understands a truth that only wisdom and life experience can teach you, when the ego remains unchecked, destruction is immanent. Dumbledore goes on to explain,
“I [meanwhile] was offered the post of minister of magic, not once but several times…naturally, I refused. I had learned that I was not to be trusted with power”
“I had proven as a very young man that power was my weakness and my temptation. It is a curious thing Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who so have never sought it.“
Dumbledore, like many great people, recognized his own limitations and in learning from his mistakes, determined to exist for the purpose of being moral instead of living for the praise, acknowledgement and love of others. He chose to exist within the boundaries he set for himself and inevitably had a long and impactful life.
When we draw our strength from the opinions of others and the accolades/awards we acquire, we are limiting ourselves to the boxes others believe we should exist within. “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield admonishes artists to create for the purpose of creation itself. Creating is a noble practice simply because the art within you desires to exist in the physical realm.
In an Oprah’s Super Soul podcast episode, Paulo Coelho, one of my favorite writers & the author of the best selling novel “The Alchemist” shared the difficulty he experienced when publishing the novel. The first publisher didn’t believe in “The Alchemist” and wouldn’t agree to publish the work. The same work that went on to be one of the most notable books of our current time. A book I love and have probably read at least 4 times.
The beauty is not in the recognition and acknowledgment of the art but in the creation of the art itself.
If Coelho didn’t believe in his work and didn’t continue pursuing publishing, we may never have had “The Alchemist” in the physical realm and Coelho’s life wouldn’t have been impacted by the success the book brought.
How many artists have died without ever seeing the true impact of their art?
The nobility of art exists in the expression of the art. The art is noble simply because it is our highest calling.
Ego and Art
I am an artist who encounters ego on a daily basis. I am, by many accounts, an average person with average life experiences. My ego rears her ugly head most when I am sharing my art. I am attached to the art I create and I feel myself wanting to over-identify with my art. In my mind, I am my writing. I am my singing. I was my acting & dancing. I am my painting. There is no distinction between my daily existence and the expression of my art, one flows directly into the other.
A critique of a poem I wrote hurts my feelings. Negative comments on a performance I had directly impacts me. And these feelings lead directly into a fear of expressing myself through art. What if I make a mistake? What if I trip on my way to the stage? What if my blog post has grammatical errors even after the 7 reviews I preformed? What if I’m not perfect?
The truth is, failing, especially in a public forum can be a truly beautiful experience if we choose to see it as such. Failing forward is a concept I love to muse over, but haven’t quite mastered. Failing forward is essentially the idea of allowing your mistakes to propel you forward by using them as stepping stones to future successes. As humans, we hold ourselves to incredibly high standards and art, quite frankly, in its purest form is an expression of something greater than ourselves. We are simply the vessels and as vessels, perfection is not a requirement.
There must be separation between “I” and “Art” because even on my best day, “I” care what people think about me. “Art” is not for others, it may not even be for the society we currently exist within. How many times have tortured artists ended their lives because they/their art lacked the acknowledgement they so desperately desired OR ultimately abandoned the purity of the art and began creating for the purpose of pandering to those around them?
I’ve been an artist, a creative, whatever you want to call it, for as long as I can remember and for equally as long, the idea of others having a negative opinion of my art or realizing that I am flawed has crippled me.
Ego and Art cannot coexist in the life I envision for myself. I am on a journey to separate my sense-of-self from the art I know I was put on this earth to create. It will be an interesting journey… but I also know its a worthy pursuit.
“The War of Art” uses resistance as an indicator that one is on the correct path, however, one of my favorite quotes from “The Alchemist” is “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”.
So whether your journey begins with resistance as the indicator of the path to your highest calling or like Santiago, in “The Alchemist”, you spend your energy searching for omens to point you in the right direction, this journey is yours and I wish you the best.
I’m currently standing at a crossroads, in the midst of an incredibly pivotal time in my life, but I feel grounded by my art/highest calling. I know what I’m meant to create, I just need the courage to do so.