What if I told you that there is one thing preventing you from attaining all of the success you've ever imagined, and it’s the same thing causing all of your pain? Would I have your attention?
It's not money, God, your soul mate or a unicorn horn. This one thing controls all of your actions, your current financial status, how you feel about yourself and others, and basically how you perceive the world.
Twenty years ago I realized that it's important to question things. One of my questions was "why do I do what I do?" And 20 years later, it lead me to the answer. Self mastery is part of the equation. If I do not have control over myself, then how can I succeed? It's like driving a car that turns left sometimes when you turn right. So I studied myself. That may sound strange to some, but try to examine our greatest achievers or the wisest of the wise, and they spent a lifetime doing so. And what is that “one thing”?
It's the ego. I typed "your ego" but deleted it. Why? Because I didn't want to hurt your ego and cause you to stop reading.
I remember listening to Van Halen in my youth. I heard all the stories about how David Lee Roth had a huge ego which eventually lead to the breakup of the band. I remember thinking to myself that a big ego was bad. I didn't grasp what that meant at the time, but thinking too much of yourself didn't feel right. This coincided with my self-belief that I wasn't good enough. I knew lots of arrogant people. I didn't like it when people were full of themselves.
A while back, I met one of Sim's (my wife and co-owner of our business) relatives and he went on to tell me about his great job and fancy car. I left the conversation thinking wow, that guy is successful. Sim later told me that he lived with, or off of his parents and most of it wasn't true. But I fell for it and placed that guy up on a pedestal. So his ego made up a story and my ego thought more of him.
This ego is like Steve Jobs's "reality distortion field." It warps the truth, or a perception thereof. So if we walk around with lies turning into truths, how can we succeed? For Jobs, this worked well. But not so much for others. It's one thing to make the impossible happen, which he did. It's another to tell yourself that you love your life, when you can't sleep at night, are on anti-depressants and are living on paycheck to paycheck.
There's a simple way to listen to your ego. We've been listening to it all of our lives, or since we fractured from a whole person as a young one. My ego is psychotic at times, has Tourette's syndrome, and is quite angry. It's like a little devil sitting on my shoulder. I've noticed lots of women's egos are quite different. Often they are telling them they are not good enough. Just look at all the marketing targeting women; it's all image based.
Okay, back to listening to your ego. You know that voice in your head? If not, stop reading, close your eyes for 30 seconds and listen. Well, that's your ego talking. What is it saying to you? When I drive, mine says the most horrible things with lots of swear words. It doesn't like people who are staring at their phones in traffic. It doesn't like fast drivers, slow drivers, BMWs, missing stop lights or the rush hour.
Once you begin to understand your ego, you can begin to take control of your life. After all, it is the filter for all six (or seven) of your senses. Know that 99.99999 percent of the things it says are not going to inspire you to be a better human being.
There is another voice in your head; it's called thinking. Think about the color red. Can you see it? Well that is conscious thought. It has its place, but you'll need to separate the two. And it often cannot be trusted because it is filtered through the ego. So you might say to yourself, I need to think about this math problem. With me being a furniture designer, one would think that I need to think about design. But I don't sit down and start designing. My designs just pop into my head now. It helps for me to feel inspired or at peace though.
You've probably witnessed some crazy homeless people walking the street talking to themselves? We work downtown and get it all the time. That person, who is probably schizophrenic, is saying out loud what the ego is telling them. After listening to mine for a few years, I know this to be true. Is the only difference between that crazy guy and me is the fact that I choose not to say what I am thinking?
Ponder that for a minute. The crazy ego in your head is the one guiding you. It has been since you were a little one. So, how can you achieve your dreams when there's a psycho or depressed ego leading the way? The truth is you cannot.
My wife and I turned a backyard furniture business into a multi-million dollar enterprise in three years. During the whole time we set monetary goals for growth. We hit them and thought we'd feel better. But it brought us chaos and misery. I didn't feel worthy of all the praise I was getting and we were running around putting out fires 24/7. We looked successful on the outside, but the outside doesn't matter. I didn't know it at the time, but I was seeking peace. I feel that now most of the time. While my mind (ego) is still talking smack all day long, I tune it out or choose not to listen. Knowing there's a nut case in my head is what makes the difference. I'm not nuts, although I thought I was for a long time.
Once your know this, your life will change. That self-talk did you no good. It made you miserable, sad, never feeling that you were enough. Knowing that and keeping it fresh in your mind, will change your destiny. I suggest listening to your ego over the next week. Set a reminder on your phone so you don't forget, at least until it becomes a habit. Once you understand this concept, you'll see other people's egos as plain as day. Everything people do is to feed the ego. Below that, all of our actions are motivated by a need to feel loved. Even though the ego wants to feel loved, its actions are counter to that. It doesn't know how to get what it wants. And so it does the opposite. Like when Sim is not showing me the affection I desire, I blow up on her following my ego's advice, instead of giving her flowers and giving her a hug.
There are so many good reads about the subject. Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday and The Power Of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, are some great books. Lots of entrepreneurs study business, the market and financial things. I study myself. Some might think that's egocentric. But you cannot succeed in anything if you do not know yourself. Know thyself.
Our economy is based on capitalism. Recently I realized that acquiring money and fame is what most people think they want. And how do we judge people we encounter? It's usually by what they do, what they are wearing and what they drive. That person has a BMW and is a successful commercial real estate broker, while that guy is just a welder and drives a beat up pickup. Our ego effortlessly categorized them from big to small. But that's no true measure of a person. Right now I am wearing a company T-shirt and some Costco shorts, underwear and socks. This ensemble cost around $30. I look average, maybe even poor to some. Yet time after time people look up to me because of the business I created with my wife. Vintage Industrial is not me. It's a passion of mine. The furniture I design is not me, it's an expression of my creativity. These things are not me.
I am me, or I am. And I feel at peace with the universe at this moment, which is something our country is lacking in my opinion. But that's okay, that is how things are. I need to be okay with the things I cannot change. That'll be another discussion.
I'll trade all of my physical possessions for peace. Things don't matter, people do. Do you know the feeling of peace?
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by Entrepreneur.com.ph.