Some years ago, these were my goals and aspirations. A high income. A number of business qualifications from renowned universities. A productive and intellectual career in finance. A stable loving monogamous relationship. By 2004, I had achieved and surpassed most people’s expectations, including my own. One by one, I checked them off the list. Finally after years of debt, alcoholism and promiscuity I was (according to society definition), successful. But I felt unfulfilled. My success was not enough.
Nevertheless, I built these goals and aspirations into the identity I was forging. After all, what other path was there? But then through divorce, redundancy, and parenthood I lost my successful life and my identity within the space of a year. I was left bereft. It wasn’t a breakdown, nothing so dramatic. It was more like bewilderness, chaos and confusion, the state of not knowing who I was. I’d worked so hard to be that person.
So who the hell was I now?
It took me some time to realise that the identity which had crumbled was not me.
The Ego is not who you really are. The ego is your self-image; it is your social mask; it is the role you are playing. Your social mask thrives on approval. It wants control, and it is sustained by power, because it lives in fear. ~ Deepak Chopra
My ego had formed an identity out of inherited values which I acted upon and given labels which I perpetuated. Even my name ~ Louisa ~ was part of my ego. I had had another name before adoption, I had changed my name through marriage and deed poll, and throughout all these changes, I was still me. My memory was also part of my ego; after all I had lost many memories through a car accident, alcoholism and drugs. But without my memories, I was still me. I had experienced many things and would experience plenty more. But I would still be me.
My values were not me.
My name was not me.
My memory was not me.
My experiences were not me.
In fact, everything in my ego-identity could change but I would still be me. Which meant that ‘I’ was more (far more) than my ego.
Nowadays I still consciously build many narratives using values, memories and experiences as lenses to interpret events in my life. Sometimes I switch lenses if the narrative doesn’t suit. Because they are not me. I can rewrite stories easily because I am aware that I can detach from them; that I don’t care about them.
This awareness is greater than my ego. This awareness is me.
As might be self-evident, in order to be aware of your awareness(!), there has to be an identity from which to separate yourself. The ego-identity must be developed in order to be observed, in order that we might become the observer.
We all have the ability to observe and evaluate our actions and remain untouched by them. But sometimes we identify so much with our ego-identity and its narratives that we fall into and perpetuate the drama. We are blinded to the fact that we are simply observers and can detach from the identity we have created, just like walking out of the cinema.
My ego-identity allows me to experience life in the first person. My ego-identity is composed of my actions and emotions. I am a writer. I am compassionate. I am quirky. But actually, what I am is intrinsically none of these things (in fact these are only recent acquisitions being previously corporate, capitalist and normative). These are things I have chosen to be and/or feel. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be something else…
My ego-identity is also judged by society as successful or unsuccessful, healthy or unhealthy, good or bad. And it often fails according to society judgements, sometimes spectacularly so.
Failure as we define it, is failure of the ego. We consider failure to be imperfect, whilst in reality failure is perfect. Because the formation of an identity and the development of awareness only happens by failure. Failure is nothing more than a path to greater awareness. It brings the value, joy and growth. And if it doesn’t it’s only because you haven’t realized it yet.
Failure provides opportunity to learn, observe and evaluate. It is therefore a necessary part of success. When you see your failures as part of your overall success instead of setbacks, you will see that with each failure comes the opportunity to grow a little bit (or a lot) more aware.
True success so I’ve learned, is when you contribute to life in a lasting way, when you consider your failures your ultimate triumphs, when you keep and reinforce your integrity, when you don’t enable anyone’s ego-identification and when you empower others.
You cannot have true success in life without detaching yourself from your ego and learning how to master its experiences. You cannot be successful without becoming your conscious self. And the way to do that is through failure.
Many people like me, attempt to contribute to life by providing a service to others. We know somehow, that this is a path towards happiness. But if the action is one of the ego-identity, it will empower no-one and contribute little to the world. The ego may ‘help’ according to the society definition, but this type of help without awareness only enables the victim-rescuer paradigm. It positions the person who is intending to ‘help’ as superior and therefore by definition, the ‘helped’ as inferior (you cannot hold one position without creating the other). This does not empower anyone.
We have all operated out of the ego at one point or another. It’s a necessary stage in our journey. But if we continue to do so, we might ‘help’ but we do not empower. In fact, you will only make a lasting contribution to life if instead of paying lip service to helping others, you concentrate on becoming your empowered self.
Deep, deep down you know that you already are. The question is only, will you admit it?
With thanks to Steve Pavlina for his article ‘Your True Identity‘