Ego is Not the Enemy.
Have you stopped trying to make your life a masterpiece? How long will you wait to try again?
You may feel a sense of momentary disillusionment in a certain goal or path you’ve invested in. Trying to kill your ego and muster the strength to satisfy or help others.
You may have very well lost your “Why?” along the way.
No one will ever know you as well as, well you. Forgetting that will only bring misery. No matter how saintly, those who come into your life will never be able to know yourself or treat yourself better.
It would be a mistake to outsource where you receive the most compassion from. Self-love and self-belief are skills that cannot be left to others. It quite literally goes against the definition of the word.
And just like self-love, in that you must love yourself most out of anyone, you must also believe in what you’re doing more than anyone to get anywhere noteworthy.
The Egotistical Utilitarian
In Matthew McConaughey’s new book of memoirs, Greenlights, you’ll come across the ten rules he wrote for himself as a young man shortly after his father’s passing.
Here’s what he had to say during an interview with Tim Ferris about his rule number five —be an egotistical utilitarian:
Where the decisions we make for the I, for ourselves, the selfish decisions, are actually what’s best for the most amount of people, utilitarian. Are the I where the I meets the we. Where the selfish is the selfless, where what I need is what I want. And what I want is the ego. What I need is the utilitarian. What I want is freedom. What I need is the responsibility and the interplay of those things. Where the I is the ego and utilitarian is the objective, utilitarian we.
But I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the ultimate human, the egotistical utilitarian,’ where the decision one makes for themselves, most selfishly, happened to be the most selfless decisions as well at the same time.”
Selfishness vs. Self-Interest
Let’s discuss the ethical use of ego. It can in fact be useful. If used in the manner just described, even good.
If you despise your ego in its entirety, its utility and strength will elude you.
This effect is quite similar to those who chase wealth but secretly despise those who have it. They’ll never see any of it living at odds with themselves.
There is a fundamental difference between being selfish and self-interest.
Consider the self you’re talking about. Over what period of time are you thinking of? In the next, second? The next hour? There isn’t just you. There’s the next second you, the next week you, next month, next year, and so on.
The future you and someone you are forced to live with are essentially the same people. So if you’re going to act in your self-interest and have other people around you, then you must operate in a way that makes them like you. Otherwise, they won’t cooperate with you and won’t compete with you in a reasonable manner.
— Jordan Peterson
So ideally, you’d want to act out in what’s good for you now, in the next month, and next year. In a way that’s good for you, your family, and your community, taking all these things into account at the same time.
If someone’s constantly making malevolent decisions, they live in hell, because they have to live with themself. In other words… no man is an island.
So first, stop seeing the world as different from you.
Organisms are Algorithms
In the arena of life, with its uncertainty and threats, the most virtuous are seen as the boldest. There’s a reason humans are naturally drawn to seemingly egotistical sports stars, actors, and TV personalities.
That is not the definition of ego we’re using here. Ego is the all-consuming desire to win. A belief that you cannot lose. Pushing yourself past the limit to achieve the task.
We often think of ego as simply something to get rid of or around. However, the ego is often mistaken solely generating for boasting or cockiness.
Emotions are just biochemical algorithms calculating either probabilities of survival or probabilities of reproduction.
Fear or lust are not the best indicators to guide your purpose. This is what drives selfish desire.
“Beliefs are almost like action, they can recruit dopamine release. People just thinking more about what they believe reinforces belief from inside, making it harder to recruit elsewhere. Changing a mind past 25 requires consent. Under, the plasticity is so high.” —Daniel Z. Lieberman
Human organisms are algorithms, and you get sick if you start following someone else’s. Your purpose is not identical to other people’s.
The ethical use of ego garners a belief-generating machine.
Localize to Customize
So if you’re trying to figure out what your purpose is here on this planet… well stop.
Don’t ask for purpose, it’s too big a task. It’s something you’ll only fully know of when connecting the dots looking back after making the attempt.
Instead, it can be much more fruitful to query your interests. And if you don’t know, start paying attention to those you trust and the compliments they pay you.
- What do I do effortlessly? [i.e. Play with design principles]
- What holds my attention?: [ie. Exploring the unknown]
- What fascinates me?: [i.e. Tech + Biology +Philosophy]
- What do I want to know more about? [i.e. Tools for more efficient thinking]
- Who do I enjoy helping?: [i.e. My past self]
That which is most personal is most authentic. That which is most authentic is most creative.
Doing something because you “should” is a recipe for being miserable. The fewer “shoulds” you have, the more personal your reasons for your pursuits.
Don’t think about making the right choice. Think about doing the right thing.
When you believe you are doing the right thing for you, for family, community, and so on, anxiety melts away.
A man who has confidence in himself also gains the confidence of others.
As the Dalai Lama has said, “With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.”
So don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The ego is an integral part of self-mastery. Self-belief requires its existence.