#WritingAdviceWednesday – Ego vs Misson: Want vs Need

Photo credit: www.planetofsuccess.com/blog/

I love the website – http://www.brainpickings.org – There is always lots to think about in their posts.  The Brain Pickings post below reminds me of lectures I’ve done on Want vs Need.  My comments below are in italics.

Your ego and your “calling” in life can look surprisingly similar. Both pull you toward the realization of your desires. Both can completely consume your waking (and sometimes sleeping) hours with frenetic thoughts and sparks of brilliance. They can also manifest very similar outcomes–money, fame, and power. And they can both leave you feeling exhausted.

Ego is necessary and important because it does the work to assemble your personality. It manages your fragile identity while you figure out who you are. It protects you from the onslaught of societal expectations and motivates you to work hard and achieve great things.

Ego leads us forward toward what we want.  It provides the goals we pursue.

But ego alone can also skew you toward thinking that hard work and achievement are the greatest goals in life.

If your ego is what assembles your personality and manages your identity, then your calling is invested in making sure it’s authentic–who you really are–not just a persona you show the world.

What you need is the manifestation of your deepest human longings.  Every story ever told and every life ever lived is the struggle between things of the world and the things of the heart, the soul, and the spirit.  The world values the trappings of success, the achievements in life, and the prizes and material profit earned.  The heart, the soul, and spirit is fed by authenticity, love, openness, and generosity. 

Here are some ways to decipher which one is really driving your work.

Ego fears not having or doing something.

Calling fears not expressing or being something.

The lifeblood of the ego is fear. Its primary function is to preserve your identity, but it fears your unworthiness. As a result, ego pushes you harder in order to achieve more. Ego communicates to you through “oughts,” “musts,” and “shoulds,” persuading you to believe that by achieving more and more, you must be worthy, right?

A calling expresses itself quietly, through the expression of subtle clues throughout your life. It is unconcerned with you attaining or accomplishing anything. Its primary function is to be a conduit for expressing your true self to the world. What you DO with that expression is less important.

Ego needs anxiety to survive. Calling needs silence (calmness and  faith) to survive.

I define faith as the rock solid and bone deep belief that no matter what happens you, the essence of you, will still be okay.  The worst that you can image happening can happen and you will still be okay– even in death.  Death is pretty much the worst thing that most of us can imagine happening. If you live a life filled with authenticity, truth, love, openness, and generosity you will have lived the fullest expression of yourself.  Even if dying is sad you will die knowing you stood in the truth of who you are and you did not shrink back.  That is why people are able to die with great serenity knowing they did what they were supposed to do on this earthly plane. They lived their life’s mission.

Ego not only breeds on anxiety, it requires anxiety in order to decide which aspects of your personality will be dominant, and which ones will be dormant.

Wherever you feel the most insecurity is where your ego will work overtime to “fix.” The ego needs anxiety to pinpoint the problem, then course corrects by disavowing this pesky aspect of your personality. Unfortunately, what the ego finds annoying or disruptive can also be your greatest gift to the world.

A calling, on the other hand, is discovered through observation and reflection, which is rarely found in a noisy environment. Listening to your life and discovering what it’s asking of you is your calling and it requires more silence than most of us are comfortable with.

Ego manifests as burnout.

Calling manifests as fulfillment.

My favorite definition of burnout is this: burnout is not about giving too much of yourself, it’s about trying to give what you do not possess.

Ego ends in burnout because it’s consuming resources you don’t have in order to push you toward a bigger, better version of yourself.

Because a calling is an expression of your true nature, it can only end in fulfillment. You know that feeling of deep satisfaction when you’re doing something you absolutely love, that’s an aspect of your calling showing itself to you.

Ego focuses on the result.

Calling focuses on the process.

Those who have heard me lecture know that I believe that any decision based on fear is the wrong decision.  Let me repeat that.  Any decision that is based on fear is the wrong decision.  This is true of characters, it is true of people, and it is true of countries.  Fear leads us to the worst of ourselves.  Faith (as defined above) leads to the the best, truest, and highest expression of ourselves.

Because ego wants to manage anxiety by achieving more, it is especially concerned with the results of all this striving. By focusing on the outcome, your ego gets validation that all this work is worth it. Without a satisfactory result, all the striving is pointless.

A calling reveals itself through self-discovery. Your calling comes from within and can only be revealed by paying attention to how your life is unfolding. Instead of managing the outcome, your calling can handle the stress of ambiguity. It knows that the tension is revealing something that you couldn’t otherwise learn.

Ego wants to preserve the self.

Calling wants to impact others.

This also reminds me of the difference between power and influence.  Power always shifts, or fades, or falls.  Power is dependent on other people’s assessments (and often it depends on manipulating their fear).  Influence has no power but the inspiration of others.  Power takes. Influence gives.

Ego is concerned with the self and preserving what it wants. The ego may be interested in helping others. But it isn’t inherently motivated by serving others. It is motivated by maintaining and managing your identity.

A calling might begin with the expression of the self, but it moves toward the needs of others. Author Frederick Buechner says that your calling is “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

While your ego does a necessary job of helping you function in the world, it is your calling that creates a more authentic, soulful way to be in the world.


1 Comment

  1. Reply Gwen Ellery 26th May 2014

    Thank you, Laurie. This is exactly what I needed to read today!