Awareness of Self: The Death of My Ego

mind-sticky-notesMost of the time my brain feels like it’s a room covered in thousands of post-it notes filled with my thoughts. I’ve started to increase my awareness of the words written on those sticky notes and how they negatively impact my daily thoughts.

Okay, that sounded very philosophical. Let me break it down for you….

How It Started:

So there was this guy (yeah matters of the heart can always enlighten you) who I dated briefly. Having a keen sense of the type of guy that fits my personality and vision of life, I realized fairly quickly that he wasn’t my type. Nevertheless, I carried on ignoring the voice in my head that told me he wasn’t the one. The voice in my head told me that he checked all of my boxes and I was simply being my typical selective self. Despite the rational side of me trying to convince myself that he was a perfectly suitable guy, I just couldn’t feel the chemistry. Needless to say, my interactions with said guy unraveled and I was left feeling somewhat saddened, while my friends looked at me in complete confusion knowing what I failed to acknowledge until that point—I never liked the guy in the first place. but, how was I unable to see in myself what my friends were easily able to recognize? If you ask some of my friends, I just need to start smoking weed and be more chill.  Since that isn’t happening I searched for a more lasting solution, which I’ll expound on in a second. But first, let me explain further how my mind works.

The rational and academic side of my brain recognizes how blessed I am and how “accomplished” I appear to be by most standards. Yet, oftentimes I silently struggle with knowing what I think I need to feel happy, worthwhile and fulfilled. Sometimes, I think it’s having a successful career that feeds my passion, and other times I think it’s acquiring more wealth. Then there are moments when the need manifests itself in believing that my happiness and fulfillment will be achieved once I am married with children—until I speak to my friends who are married with kids. Although logically, I know that these desires will likely not cause me to reach the apex of happiness, it doesn’t stop the needs from creeping into my mind and lodging itself onto a permanent sticky note. This misperception was what precluded me from accepting that this guy was simply neither what I needed nor wanted.

So I decided to dig a little deeper. What was causing my unsettling feelings of dissatisfaction and uncertainty? I took the time to go into my head and consciously observe my daily thoughts. I focused on the sentences that replay in my mind while feeding my consciousness about who I am, what I want and how I approach the world. These were the subliminal reflections that penetrated my mind but were oftentimes not verbalized. I quickly realized that these thoughts were distinct from who I outwardly believed myself to be.

I perceive myself as a confident, self-assured woman; a person who not only knows what she wants out of life, but is well on her way to accomplishing it. I am smart, talented and sociable…I am blessed. So what is the problem? Why were my subconscious thoughts not always reflecting the Superwoman I felt I projected to the world? How could I rewire my mind to align itself with my outward beliefs?

The Realization:

I was determined to find the root of the problem. And after some reflection, I landed on three distinct letters that summed it up: E-G-O.

Our ego doesn’t only cause us to have an inflated sense of self. It can also cause us to create positive and negative mental distortions. Our emotions such as sadness, fear, anger, anxiety impatience and frustrations stem from our egos (I’m not that brilliant, this fact came from an Eckhart Tolle book I read).  I started to notice that my Ego (it’s capitalize because it has a life of its own) manifested itself in almost all of my thoughts. For example, sometimes I think exclusively about my shortcomings and overlook my positive qualities; this is a negative distortion caused by my Ego. Other times I disregard positive facts when they don’t align with my negative thought. For instance, when someone pays me a compliment—while I thank the person, I think to myself that he is only saying it to spit game. Or when I blame myself for something going wrong and ruminate on what I could have done better, while never fully recognizing that the real shortcoming was in the other person–like the guy I mentioned above.

So I finally recognize what needed to be done. It was time to rewrite some of those sticky notes in my head! But first I had to learn to separate my Ego from my true self.

Goodbye Ego:

I’m not going to profess that I have overcome the challenge of clearing the negative sticky notes from my mind, but at the very least, I am learning the importance of standing in my truth. I am becoming more cognizant of my feelings because most of them stem from my Ego, which is the driving force behind most of my perceptions.  It’s still a work in progress, and I haven’t conquered it, but I know that I am in complete control of my thoughts. Therefore, I am now able to decipher when my Ego is playing a role in how I am feeling at any given moment. 

So the feeling of sadness for said guy lasted very briefly when I thought about why I was sad.  It wasn’t because I actually liked him; my sadness was really driven by a deeper fear of being alone.  When I acknowledged that truth, I was able to rewire that distorted sticky note in my head and momentarily kill the Ego.  I am not alone. I have an amazing support system of special people in my life.  Therefore, the notion of loneliness was merely a negative distortion and not my reality. 

My Ego also tried to emerge one day while teaching a law school class. During the beginning of my lecture, the 30 blank faces staring at me caused my mind to start racing.  It was as if I was speaking to them in Arabic or some other foreign language they didn’t understand.  My (Ego’s) immediate thought was, this is my fault, I made this lecture too complicated for them.  I quickly retracted the distorted thought, took a deep breath and asked, “why am I seeing blank faces?”  A student quickly responded that the syllabus had stated that I was covering a different topic that day.  Crisis averted and Ego eliminated—my lecture wasn’t the problem! 

Lesson:

What I’ve learned from killing my Ego is your thoughts are way more powerful than what we verbalize.  They are like post-it notes permanently stuck to your mind.  When we allow our ego to manipulate and distort our thoughts, we give life to things unnecessarily.  Saying farewell to my Ego has been difficult–it was such an integral part of who I was.  It initially left me wondering how to fill its void.  But as I’ve cleared some of the distorted post-it notes from my mind, I’ve  acquired a sense of peace and comfort in learning who I really am and I’ve learned to stop taking myself and life so seriously. 

 

 

 

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

A couple months ago, I decided to read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.  Although it was met with much acclaim, it has also faced quite a bit of criticism.  Nevertheless, this book has become my new bible!  As I turned each page, I couldn’t help but think how spot on Sandberg was.  She delicately expressed the difficulties in balancing motherhood and a job, while guiding women to take charge of their careers and closing the leadership gap between men and women.

I think most of the critics of Lean In are women who don’t aspire to become leaders of organizations and cannot fully relate to Sandberg’s seemingly overambitious, type A, superhuman temperament that permeates the words on each page.  Being CEO of one’s household carries its own challenges and is hard work for a woman.  However, Lean In focuses on the struggles of women and mothers who face the challenge of fulfilling the societal characteristics of a good woman/mother/wife while advancing their careers.

I could write on a variety of topics that Sandberg touches on in her book, but I decided to start by deconstructing a portion of the chapter titled “The Leadership Ambition Gap: What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?” In this chapter, Sandberg speaks about the self-fulfilling prophecies that are introduced during childhood and reinforced as we grow up.  Society has become comfortable with seeing one woman at the table in a boardroom, but we have not adjusted to a woman leading the entire board.  It remains an anomaly to not only have a female running a company’s division, but to have a woman as the chief executive.

bossySandberg points out that since more men aim for leadership roles, they are more likely to obtain them.  Although women have progressed since the 50s, societal pressures still cause them to keep an eye on marriage from a young age.  It is not that women are less ambitious than men, it’s just that their aspirations change more dramatically as they grow.  Additionally, cultural messages reinforce the ambition gap between men and women.  Someone recently coined the term “bawse” to characterize a man or woman who seems in control of his or her life/destiny.  But Sandberg notes that when women try to lead they are still labeled as bossy (in a pejorative way, not they way Kelis celebrates it in her track).  And even though some women may say they don’t need to be liked, they only need to be respected at work—that’s a lie.  Almost all women care about being liked especially in the workplace.

It’s time for women to bridge the performance gap!  What would you do if you weren’t afraid?  This is the trillion-dollar question. We’ve all heard someone (or ourselves) say “man I wish I could/did …” Oftentimes for a woman, fear is given as the reason why she hasn’t accomplished a goal.  But what if we weren’t restricted by our fears, what would we do?  The answer doesn’t have to entail bringing world peace or single-handedly ending hunger in developing countries.

cautiont to the wind“Risk taker” is far from a characteristic that is befitting to me.  I recognize the things I would do if I were fearless would require me to live poorly or marry rich.  Nevertheless, if I weren’t afraid, I would pack up and move to South Africa with my doggy; I’d become a legal consultant or study the history of the country and write a book comparing the struggles and current lives of South Africans vis à vis black Americans; I’d focus my practice of law on the truly indigent; I would live in a Spanish speaking country and submerge myself in the culture.  live more and care less.  Bottom line is there are so many things that I would do if I weren’t sometimes frozen from the fear that accomplishing these goals would preclude me from having other important things in my life–like a family.

After finishing Lean In, I will no longer live through my fears!  As Sandberg points out, the world needs more women to aim high, lean in to their careers and run the world because the world needs us to change it.  Women all around the world are counting on us.

“Ask yourself: What would I do if I weren’t afraid?  And then go do it.”

%d bloggers like this: