Ego has been on my mind a lot lately.
Specifically what drives our ego and how/if/when it serves us to act from an ego-driven place.
I’ve had quite a few “ego interactions” over the last month that really got me thinking.
Take yesterday for example, I was at the gym doing Pilates roll ups in a tucked away corner. A woman who obviously worked there but was off the clock came over and without asking permission or even saying hello she launched into advising me on how to perfect my form (I happen to work at this gym as well and had just taught a class but took my work shirt off to work out on my own). I thought her approach was a bit presumptuous but I was honestly thrilled to get a mini private Pilates session. She gave me some great feedback on how I could improve and suggested that I take the roll up exercise in increments, rather than as a continuous flow, in order to improve my strength and not skip over my weak places. I responded with gratitude and mentioned that I often teach it that way in my classes but had obviously gotten a little lazy in my own practice. She said “oh you teach, no wonder your form is so good” and we continued to exchange names and I thanked her for her advice and attention.
Overall it was totally a nice and positive interaction but I was left feeling a little silly that I felt the need to let her know that I was a Pilates teacher. In that moment I was the student, why did my ego drive me to “level the field” and become her peer and colleague? As teachers I think it is really important-crucial in fact- to still be students and this includes hanging your teacher hat at the door and surrendering to “student brain” when learning from others.
I suppose she and I were both ego-driven in that moment. She could have gone about her workout and kept to herself but she instead decided to share her knowledge with me thus giving advice and receiving an ego boost.
Last month I was at George Mason University for the annual American College Dance Festival. I was surrounded by about 500 dance students, fellow dance professors, and dance professionals for four days. (T’was wonderful and intense and exhausting.) I think meeting new people always makes me think a bit about ego and appearance and being surrounded by artist colleagues definitely heightens this experience.
Many of the other faculty members there have had/are having quite impressive careers; dancing in internationally touring companies, being guest residents in universities across the country, holding M.F.A’s in dance. I have done many wonderful things in this life and achieved a nice amount of success in the dance world as well but my CV pales in comparison to many of these inspiring artists. There’s also the fact that I was at the conference as faculty for a community college, not from a prestigious four-year dance program. I will readily admit that on one-hand my ego was elevated to be on the roster with these more experienced professors. On the other, I experienced a bit of insecurity and feelings of being “less than” to be surrounded by these “colleagues”.
The other thing that struck me intensely is how hard it is to talk about yourself professionally without sounding like a bit of an ego-maniac. How do we convey pride in our accomplishments without just “bragging”?
I don’t think ego is an inherently bad thing, I guess I’ve just been feeling hyper-aware of when it is helpful and when it is superfluous to the situation.
What I’ve come to realize is that there are times when an ego reaction is genuine and productive and times when it is because of insecurity and/or low self-esteem. I would like to move towards more of the former and fewer of the latter.
It’s when our ego drives unhealthy and unproductive competition and self-ridicule that problems arise. Marc and Angel said it well in their list of 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself.
“#15. Stop trying to compete against everyone else. – Don’t worry about what others are doing better than you. Concentrate on beating your own records every day. Success is a battle between YOU and YOURSELF only.”
This post was a bit rambling…thoughts?