Ah, my survival mechanism’s favourite question.

I think it’s a valid question, since who we are is largely determined by ourselves (our thoughts, our feelings, our judgments, stories and interpretations of, oh, every single little thing we experience). It’s interesting, then, that we grant so much credence to who others say we are. We are sometimes flattered by their description of us; at other times, we are insulted.

We make it mean a lot, the answer to this “who-am-I?” question. Based on my own empirical evidence, I’d assert we spend a lot more time wondering who we are than we do spend deciding who it is we’ll actually be. Like it’s not a choice, but a thing that happens to us, this being ourselves. I suppose that’s fairly accurate, for a lot of people (myself included, though the work I am doing raises my awareness of who I’m being in ways I can’t un-see, which is a good thing).

There are approximately seventy-two possible rabbit holes I could go down after the above paragraph, but I’m sticking to my guns. Today, I’m talking about ego. As in, the who-does-she-think-she-is ego.

When we talk about ego, we often talk or check it at the door, because it’s so big, it won’t fit. We think of someone with a big ego as someone who thinks highly of themselves. Defined as “the ‘I’ or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought”it occurs to me that when we consider the ego, we often do it with a negative bias.

We talk about people having big egos or bruised egos. Inflated egos and overdeveloped egos. When we talk about egos, we talk about people who think they’re all that and a bag of chips (mmm, chips). Egos are for the confident and overly confident people.

I’ll admit: I totally think I’m the centre of the universe, or at least my universe. I think I’m awfully special, because I’m me, so everything I experience is in relation to me, myself and I. I think most of us think this way, because, well, to be honest, most of us only have ourselves as our point of reference. We can empathize, sympathize or try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but ultimately, everything we do, see and feel is through our sense of “I”. So, of course our own sense of self, or ego, is involved.

Last week, Adam and I were discussing egos and how we often assume that any discussion of ego is about an inflated sense of self or self-importance. What if it’s the opposite, though? Sure, sometimes, an ego can be a big thing. But what if your ego is a big ol’ bully? What if, when you ask yourself, “Just who do you think you are?” your ego tells you that you’re a piece of poo, instead of a superstar? That you’re not worth it, or not good enough, ever?

To run the poopy metaphor a little further (because I so rarely get to write the word “poop”), that crappy (see what I did there?) story is the one my ego tells me. I’m embarrassed to admit it, because I’ve got a story that this makes me a bad coach; pathetic and uninspiring. I should be past self-criticism and negative self talk. Yup, my story that I’m not good enough makes me even more not good enough. It’s quite the conundrum and self-perpetuating/defeating cycle.

What can I do in the face of an ego that is armed with a baseball bat? One that is hell-bent on beating up poor little me? Well, prior to doing the epic (and ongoing) amount of work on myself that is required to keep my mirror clean (as a coach, I need to be constantly clearing my “mirror” of smudges and marks, so they don’t get in the way of my clients’ reflections), I’d have gone outside of myself to appease my jerky ego: Do more, harder and better. Strive for perfection so as to earn approval, love and admiration. That way it wasn’t self-centered: Approval, love and admiration came from outside of me, so it’s okay, right? I’d need others to say it was okay and even then, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.

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So what’s the solution? It’s not what you’d think, or at least, not what I’d have thought. It wasn’t about looking outside of me at all, but about looking inward, with love, forgiveness, reassurance and compassion. Telling myself that I didn’t deserve these things without earning them was not actually conducive to me earning/receiving them, no matter how much my ego bully told me that self-flagellation was the the only road to being deserving of love. There are many roads to happiness.

It turns out, it was an inside job the whole time (whether it was creating kindness or unkindness). Not the world’s, not my family’s or my friends’ job. Not my life or my circumstances: Just me and how I held myself from the inside out. Huh.

How does your ego show up? How does that help or hinder you? Is ego a bad word in your lexicon?