Sunday, June 4, 2017

Watch What You Feed that Ego

For those who don't follow me on Instagram or Twitter, this is our agave flower spike. It's fixing to bloom any day now. Really spectacular!

Some of my friends find this monster spike unsettling and alien. More than one has compared it to the flesh-eating, massively growing plant in Little Shop of Horrors.

I can see their (okay, pretty melodramatic) point. But there was something about that manipulative plant, whose hunger for human flesh could never be sated, that sticks in our heads and still gives us the creeps.

We could say it's that atavistic and animal instinct to avoid the predator. I'd go a step further and say that stories of this type warn us of another great peril of being human: the overweening ego. That's our topic this week, asking each other "How Do You Keep It Humble?" aka "Great Cautionary Tales: the Enormous Ego Edition."

Now, there's nothing wrong with a healthy ego. In fact, I'd posit that it's crucial to being a successful author. You need that ego to believe in your own work enough to survive all the criticism, rejections, and those (So Not) helpful advice givers who counsel you to give up on your silly, impossible dreams. Ego is good, because that's what gets a writer through it all. We need a strong ego.

But a strong ego is like a strong body - it should be made of muscle and bone, not fat. An ego built on a solid foundation will be a workhorse. An ego made of lean, well-trained strength is an asset to fight off all attackers.

An overfat ego, or an obese ego, is a liability. It grows huge and bloated on a poor diet of flattery, lies, and denial. It gets in the way. No longer is the ego a responsive weapon and foundation, but it becomes an insatiable monster demanding ever more to feed it. It craves flattery and attention. The truth burns, so it fosters lies and denial. The overfed, bloated ego lives and grows only to serve itself.

That's the greatest danger told by these cautionary tales. In the beginning, the plant offers Seymour gifts, wishes granted, in exchange for food. But in the end, it consumed everything good in his life.

That's what a bloated ego does. It loves only itself, and it will devour everything if not controlled.

So, how do you keep that healthy ego fit and in fighting trim? Watch what you feed it.

  • It's wonderful to have your work praised, but keep it in perspective. Remember that it's the work that's wonderful, not YOU.
  • Consider the source. There's a lot of suck-ups out there who will tell you everything you want to hear. Your true friends will call you on your bullshit, too. Treasure them.
  • Be brutally honest with yourself. Graciously and joyfully accept the good things that come your way, but always treat them like gifts, not your just due.
  • It ain't just a river in Egypt. Guard against denial. Even on the little things, make sure you're seeing things clearly, not the way that makes you look the best.
  • Acknowledge the role of serendipity and blessings. We achieve success through hard work, but also through the grace of the universe. Whatever you believe in, give thanks daily for the luck that brings you good things.
  • Ask "why me?" One of my favorite religious studies professors said, "When bad things occur, we raise our gaze to heaven and ask God, 'why me?' But when good things happen, do we ever question it?" This has stood me in excellent stead. When something terrific happens, I ask "why me?" and then I give thanks.
  • Observe the cautionary tales. When that writer does something that makes you roll your eyes at their huge ego? Quit rolling and pay attention. It can happen to any of us. Be vigilant!
And, please, don't feed the plants. ;-)