I was having coffee with one of my dearest writer friends this weekend when the subject of ego came up. She is gracious and funny and ridiculously talented and accomplished, so I was surprised to hear her mention how much she struggles with Ego, too, that side of herself that can’t bear to look good and always be at her best. Let me tell you: Ego is a bigger buzz kill when it comes to creative work than Discouragement and Poor Self-Esteem put together. Working with Ego while you’re writing – or drawing or dancing or latch-hooking – is like having a pageant mom always breathing heavily over your shoulder, making you wear heels and makeup to the playground.
But if you’ve ever been proud of any work you’ve ever done, it’s hard to keep Ego from shouldering her way into the creative process of whatever comes next. She’s really tricky, too, coming in with nothing but praise for you and your potential, seeming for all the world like the kind of champion that cheers you on, not the one that would drown kittens to win The Gold. And there’s nothing you can do to get rid of her, no matter how hard you try, because she’s programmed into you from the get go. So, what to do?
I wish I could tell you how to get rid of her, but I can’t. I do think it helps to know she’s there, or that’s she’s almost always on her way. A stage mom never misses a performance – or even a rehearsal, for that matter. But maybe she doesn’t have to sit in the front row. Maybe you can build a nice, plush chair with purple velvet upholstery for her in the nose bleeders, and tell her she deserves the rest for all the inexhaustible work she’s doing on your behalf. Maybe you can remind her about the award you won for best depiction of Mozart in macaroni when you were in third grade; I don’t think she’s that fussy about the kind of wins you get – like an empty soul who lives for someone else, she is just hungry for wins of any kind.
I’m not sure if this is the way to appease her, but I do know that it’s vitally important that you don’t let her get close enough to whisper in your ear, because if she does, she’ll be digging her invisible talons into you when she does. But this is sometimes harder than it looks, because while she’ll be the first to go shouting your accomplishments from the rooftops, if you give her too much encouragement, she’ll soon be sneaking into your room in the middle of the night to whisper her unreasonable, unimaginative ideas in your ear.
And I have to say that nothing helps more than keeping that last little bit of information close at hand: namely, that she IS unimaginative – anyone who only wants to be #1 is going to have massive failures of the imagination. After all, who can really create under such conditions? I don’t believe there is such a thing as that legendary artist who believes in himself above all other things and creates unchecked by whatever feedback, criticism, or wonder comes his way. The truth is, I think creativity comes from compassion and caring deeply about the world around you – particularly when it comes to how our humanity gets expressed and discussed and interpreted by us all. So while I know Ego is always going to invite herself to the party – and usually shows up first – I find it does help to remind myself that she is not the most interesting guest, rarely even fun to talk to, and is best relegated to the tables in the back with my unreasonable second-grade music teacher and the dentist who put me in braces.