Maturity begins with the capacity to sense and, in good time and without defensiveness, admit to our own craziness. If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun. Alain De Botton
Melanie and I had a good laugh when our 80-year-old neighbor chuckled as he described himself as an “aging superstar in the twilight of a mediocre career.”
His words captured the ego all of us have combined with the realizations age may bring: nothing is forever and none of us are all that significant in the greater cosmos. If anyone has any doubt of their insignificance, go to a dark and remote place on a clear night, lay on the ground and look up at the sky: what you experience will humble you.
Most of us spend a significant portion of our lives proving ourselves to others and collecting what Eckhart Tolle in The New Earth called identity enhancers: status, money, promotions, possessions, being right and being seen as at least as successful as others and preferably a bigger winner than other people. We believe we are our identity enhancers, derive our self-worth from them and feel secretly superior. We may show off, seek to stand out and want to be the center of attention.
Our satisfaction from each enhancer lasts only briefly so we must continue what can be addictive behavior to feel more than we are. We can be driven by an unconscious craziness terrified to think of ourselves as insignificant or as ordinary, everyday people. While an identity based on what we possess or stories we tell ourselves instead of who we are beyond ego is a profound mistake, it is the American way.
I spent my career in organizations: the federal government, the newspaper industry and as a consultant to organizations. The organizational culture appeals, in insidious ways, to our egos and desire to elevate ourselves. If our need for self-importance gets out of control, we can lose our connection with our values, sell our souls and think our power, control and influence and the roles we play are who we are and will continue forever. But they never last forever and identifying with them only adds to our suffering in life.
We should keep our human condition in perspective:
Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth:
The ego isn’t wrong; it’s just unconscious. When you observe the ego in yourself, you are beginning to go beyond it. Don’t take the ego too seriously. When you detect egoic behavior in yourself, smile. At times you may even laugh. How could humanity have been taken in by this for so long?
I hope everyone has achievements they feel proud of. Being proud of our accomplishments and caring about our possessions is not bad. It becomes dysfunctional when we are unconscious of the ego’s drive to define ourselves through material things or fleeting emotional states.
We may resist the call to evolve beyond ego and remain driven by our ego needs in different ways until the end. Or, maybe we stop the madness within us and spend the rest of our lives on a more unique and authentic journey to greater awareness and our own peculiar, passionate and conscious development as human beings of noble purpose.
It’s okay to be an “aging superstar in the twilight of a mediocre career” like me and our neighbor. We are okay being who we are. We can surrender to our ordinariness and find aliveness and greater happiness through our conscious evolution–as embarrassing as self-awareness can be at times.