Ego is a dirty word these days. “Get out of your ego”; “Your ego is the enemy.” I used to believe that when I had evolved enough, my ego would dissolve. Over the past five years, my thoughts on this have changed. There is no such thing as getting rid of ego. It sounds like a lofty goal and is an impossible feat. As my brilliant, old shrink Chris Ford used to say, “the goal is to create a healthy ego, you need a healthy ego to survive.”
So that begs the question, what is a healthy ego?
At my latest course, Tony Robbin’s “Date with Destiny,” I had a breakthrough on how to gauge whether I was living in the healthy part of my ego. Tony talked about The Six Human Needs: Certainty, Uncertainty/ Variety, Significance, Love/Connection, Growth, and Contribution. You do workbook and partner exercises to discover what two needs you inhabit most of the time. I knew as Tony explained that Certainty was the number one need. I like being in control, a lot. Certainty is also a commitment to being comfortable. Much of my planning involves creating optimal contented circumstances for myself. For example, I struggle for months before signing up for the workshops I attend. I know that they are designed to be uncomfortable, and I spend the week before in a state of dread. I know the cancellation policy and locations of all the exit doors.
My need for certainty conflicts with my need for Growth, Connection, and Contribution. True fulfillment is only available when you spend time in those three needs. Tony makes it clear that you can have all six needs met and there is nothing wrong with any of them when they are in the right order. When I allow certainty to be the deciding factor in my life choices, I limit growth and ultimately my happiness.
Unclear on my second need, I had to dig deeper. I assumed it was Growth or Contribution because spending time in either of these areas lights me up. Attending transformational workshops, doing service work in AA, and mentoring teenage girls in the Bronx are highlights in my life aside from Daniel and our children. So if I am already living a life I love, why am I crammed into a freezing West Palm Beach conference center pondering this question?
To reach a point where I even consider signing up for a workshop like Date With Destiny, my need for Growth has to outweigh my need for Certainty. Pain has always been my greatest motivator. When I stay stagnant for too long, I get depressed which manifests in complaints. I make everyone around me wrong before I go inside. When the low-grade misery morphs into pain, I take action. Even though I loved my life, I was dissatisfied with the level of my contribution. I was capable of doing a lot more in the world, now that my kids were in school full time, I was out of excuses.
Breakthroughs pop up in an instant, no rhyme or reason to them. Suddenly, I understood that my need for Growth and Significance were intertwined. Although I don’t strive to be significant in an overt way, the reason I felt dissatisfied was that my volunteer work didn’t feel like enough. When I sit down at a Manhattan table of significance, I fall short using the metric that most people use here, multiple degrees and titled jobs. Every environment also has a need structure, and on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, significance is king.
When I focus on my need for growth, the path ahead in the work I already do looks different than if I am striving to keep up with the conversation around me. Tony announced at the same time, “Significance is a mountain without a top! If you have this as your top two needs, you must get rid of it! It will make you miserable.” YES.
Every morning before I start writing, I go through a morning ritual which involves meditation and a cold shower. I stay in touch with my WHY as I write, and throughout my day. Spreading and supporting Growth is my happy place. Whenever I leave the world of action (contribution) and step over into results (What do you think of me? Am I doing a good job?), I move into significance.
It’s a great question to ask your self regularly. At work, when you are showing up for a friend, training for a marathon, volunteering at a kid’s school- what need am I in right now? Guarantee if it is Growth, Love, or Contribution you will be satisfied. If you feel that you are not being appropriately acknowledged, then you are probably in significance.
The part of the ego that doesn’t serve us is the part that needs to be in control and acts for the reward of recognition. A healthy ego focuses on putting growth or love or contribution first. Significance naturally moves down to the bottom when one of those three needs is first; the order is imperative. The great news is we can choose to shift our needs any day, any time. Today, I am putting Growth first.