Understanding ego

Ego is something you hear about a lot.

It comes up in spiritual conversations, therapy sessions, tarot readings, and self-help books.

Maybe you’ve talked about your own ego, or felt the weight of someone else’s ego.

We all know at least one person who’s got a larger-than-life ego.

Take my late friend, Nik Beat, who was a poet and performer. Nik used to introduce himself on stage by saying, “The ego has landed.”

But is ego bad, or good?

Something I hear a lot from my clients and students is that they worry about making “ego-based decisions.”

When we dig a little deeper into what they mean, there is usually a lot of guilt under that statement:

Guilt about being selfish, putting yourself first, or prioritizing your happiness.

Is it wrong to follow an ambition? Is it wrong to enjoy your life?

I don’t think so.

To be honest, if I always put my own desires last, then I wouldn’t have done much so far.

A lot of people enjoy the books I have written, but those books would not exist if I had denied myself the joy of pursuing a creative vision.

And a lot of people enjoy these newsletters that I write, and the work I do through my business. But these things didn’t happen by accident: I do this because I decided it was important enough for me to put my energy into.

Was that selfish of me? I don’t think so. So why would it be selfish for anyone else to something similar?

In its simplest definitions, your ego is YOU – more specifically, is “I.”

Ego is the statement, “I am…”

Ego is about the self, but nurturing the ego is not inherently selfish. Like anything else in life, an ego can suffer from imbalance and extremes – but that goes both ways. An overly needy ego might put its owner first at the expense of everyone else, whereas an underfed ego might tell its own to fade into the background altogether.

Yet there is so much confusion around the concept of ego. Some spiritual teachings tell us that we should transcend the ego, or work beyond its desires altogether.

Yet your ego is tied in with your confidence and self-esteem. Keeping the ego in check is one thing; putting it to the side altogether is another.

Some groups of people are told to downplay their egos more than others. As a woman, I’ve often received the message that it’s better to be humble and quiet about my accomplishments or skills.

Even better: Be totally clueless about your awesomeness so that people can take full advantage of you by not paying you what you’re really worth, or undermining you while taking all the credit for your work.

Playing down the ego works to other people’s advantage. Some individuals want you to downplay your talents and desires because it ties you down with them.

Which is why it’s important to be careful about what you believe when it comes to ego.

Yes, we can’t get through life without compromise, team work, and cooperation.

Yes, there are times when our egos get bruised because we are not at the level we want to be – yet.

Yes, there are times when we need to accept there’s more to learn, more to improve upon, and more to accomplish.

But there are also times when your ego helps you. It is that knowing within that says, “I deserve to be treated better than this.” Or, “I deserve to be recognized, too.”

Ego is an essential part of who you are. Ego protects you from being kept small. It helps you to take up space in the world rather than shrink in someone else’s shadow.

Ego is what helps a musician step up on a stage. It’s what inspires a writer to pen a novel. It’s what puts art in galleries and builds your favourite businesses and brands.

Why? Because ego is what gives you the confidence to go for it. To say to yourself, “You know what? I think my idea is really awesome.”

Ego is what helps you realize you deserve to put your energy into something you care about.

When I talk to people who are worried about feeding their egos or making an “ego-based choice,” they are often worried that if they make a decision that feels pleasurable, they are somehow less spiritual than they want to be.

Which is why some of the advice out there on transcending the ego isn’t always meant to be taken at face value.

There are times to transcend the ego, times to put it aside and say, “Even though I’m hurt, I’m gonna let this go.”

And then there are times to lean on that ego and say to yourself, “You know what? I am so tired of putting everyone else first.”

So often I see people hesitate to work on their art, or focus on building a business, or pursuing a hobby that brings them joy because of the guilt they feel over it.

Especially spiritual people.

They have become convinced that the only way to be spiritual is to be of service, give of yourself constantly, and always put yourself last after everyone else is taken care of.

That might work for someone out there, but in my experience, that way of living gets exhausting really quick.

I know what you’re thinking, though: “Egos do get out of control! I have seen it happen and it’s ugly.”

You’re right: It is ugly. And there ways to know if your ego – or someone else’s – is taking over the show.

A problematic ego might look like… The newbie at the gym who just hurt themselves because they tried to do too much, too soon, without any experience or training first;

…. or the mentor who won’t celebrate or support their mentee’s success;

…or the teacher who withholds knowledge from their students because they don’t want to lose their place as expert or authority…

… or the student who thinks they should be teaching the class instead of taking it…

… or the leader who decides they know enough and no longer needs to learn anything new.  

This list could go on, but you could get the idea.

The goal here isn’t to feel ashamed for having an ego – we all do. The work is in recognizing that egos can go wayward, but we can work to maintain an appropriate relationship with the ego so that it helps us live the best lives possible.

Through my work as a tarot reader, I’ve found that, more often than not, those who are concerned about making an ego-based decision are usually individuals who need to nurture their egos a little more.

Having the confidence and healthy self-esteem to pursue a goal, end a bad situation, or make a life change is not an expression of an out-of-control ego. It is the sign of a person who knows what they want, what they need, and how to take responsibility for their own path.

Your ego can be one of your best allies, and assets, if you nurture it wisely. Like anything else in life, your ego needs balance, attention, and a little TLC.

Until next time,

Liz xo

Sign up for weekly insights and simple spiritual practices that will help you live with intention, purpose and alignment.