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Live From the Garden of Greed and Ego

I’ve always been told that “nothing kills deals like greed and ego” – at the time I found that to be amusing because a greedy ego-maniac was explaining this mantra to me. Perhaps that’s the most interesting and powerful thing about Ego, it’s ability to mask itself from those being governed by it.  Greed is often easy to spot but Ego tends to be a shield, a protective layer between the reality of others and the projected reality of self.  Ego is a story we tell ourselves to suppress happenings that in some cases, need to be suppressed, but Ego can also prevent us from experiencing the pain of feedback that is absolutely necessary to learn from our missteps. 

Have you ever met someone who’s view of “self” is simply incongruous with the views others have of them?  We all have.  I’ve encountered many people over the years with this seemingly impassable divide between perception and reality.  And I too have been that person.  The gap always starts small, a few disagreements with the feedback from others at first, but it grows wider rapidly with every stiff arm we extend to truth.  I didn’t understand truth for a long time – mainly because I thought there was one.  The fact is, “truth” is an agreed upon perception. If enough people’s truth is in conflict with your own, you definitely have a choice to make.  You can defend your truth – this is perhaps the most natural reaction for those governed by Ego – or you can abandon it in favor of a new one.  You’ll notice I don’t say that this new truth has to be the one that was presented by the opposition – but your maxim must change.

Ego is a powerful thing – and it’s not necessarily a bad thing – to be governed by Ego, however, is.  I sat in Thursday’s keynote at #DF13 and listened as some of the great self-help authors and medical health experts spoke about the importance of knowing one’s self and achieving a state of self actualization.  Many points of view were shared – amusing anecdotes, stories of the importance of letting go as a way to gain, etc.  So I sat there, somewhat introspective, considering a point of view we all know, but rarely apply, and eventually gravitated to one singular phrase that I’ve been repeating in my head since that day.  I hope to continue repeating it every day.  “Be open to everything, but cling to nothing.”  It’s a quote often attributed to Tilopa and anyone familiar with Buddhist teachings or meditative practices, I’m sure, find it familiar.  The Ego allows us to contradict this statement perfectly.  Everything is clutched and held to be impermeable.  The feedback we receive, discarded, the notions that our ideas are superior, held dear.  Nothing about holding on will allow us to truly receive anything.

Rarely does a day go by where I don’t receive some sort of feedback not aligned with my own self-image. I gave a talk at a conference.  A few weeks ago, I received some very eye opening feedback about my performance there – basically it sucked.  My first reaction was to defend it – who were these people to give ME this type of brow beating.  I am THIS and I deserve BETTER – this information isn’t aligned to what I believe myself to be.  I held on to the notions of superiority and entitlement and excellence.  And then I let them go.  I’ve become slow to respond on items that evoke an emotional response in me.  My Ego drives those responses and I know they don’t serve me.  Within a few minutes of receiving this particular feedback, which came in the form of an email, I had accepted it. Within 24 hours I had internalized it.  Within the next few hours I had incorporated it and I believed it and I made changes in myself to overcome it.  I remember completely “phoning in” this talk, deep down I knew I hadn’t done my best. After that day, I didn’t seek out the feedback of others mainly so that I could preserve my safe bubble, the bubble of my egotistical dissolution. 

The ability to incorporate feedback and use it to motivate yourself is not an easy process – it’s much easier to mute that type of information and strengthen your self-image artificially.  The shield of Ego is comprised almost completely by the lies we tell ourselves – the remainder are lies others tell us.  When that false armor finally crumbles it is ultimately painful, many times the pain the small blows would have born if they were not instead deflected by our dismissive lies.  Of all the lies to tell, the ones we tell ourselves harm the most.  The kill shot that dispatches the shield of Ego is always the one we never see coming – and often by then it’s too late.

By tearing down our own shield, we open ourselves to the true feedback of others and we are free to experience it.  The value in experiencing the truth of others is invaluable.  Nothing will tell you more about yourself than listening, earnestly, to others.  When I started to recognize this in myself, I also gained better insight into others.  As a consultant that’s a valuable lesson, as an employer that’s an absolute necessity.  My biggest takeaway from Dreamforce was a renewed and heightened sense of awareness around the presence of Ego and also the recognition of how destructive it can be.  As I took in the rest of the show, it’s hard not to draw parallels to the technology world.  So much change is taking place, and at a pace that quickens everyday.  We can cling to outdated beliefs, we can plot our course as a continuation of the path we’ve already traveled or we can open ourselves to everything.  My first Dreamforce was in 2006, and as I walked through the exhibit hall this year I was reminded of how different the landscape looked in those early years.  The companies that comprised the majority of the footprint in those days, weren’t even represented this year.  I had to wonder how clinging to truths that they held that others did not must have contributed to their decline.  What could they have let go of which was preventing their growth?  It’s a question we all have to ask daily.  What will you let go of today?

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