Reminder: The questions asked in this occasional column are posed by actual people.
Dear Savvy Sister,
I thought I was supposed to get more mellow as I grew older. That was my plan. To become more Buddha-like. But my hormones flew the coop a couple of years ago and now I bite everybody’s head off, like, all the time. So there’s that. And now, I feel like my ego is getting too big and fragile. Next week, my big conference starts, and all I can think about is: will I win or will my nemesis beat me this year? This one guy keeps ending up in my group, every effing year. I’d really like to focus on learning and pretending to be a better person than I am. Maybe a tattoo would help?
Legend in my Mind
First of all, yes, of course a tattoo would help. Tattoos always help, particularly if you are approaching or have passed the half-century mark. Do not put it someplace where only you can see it. What’s the point? Make sure it’s visible, and design something that makes a statement.
My dear friend, the writer Connie May Fowler, has a tattoo of Virginia Woolf’s signature on her shoulder. In addition to being a literary great, Woolf was also considered to be among the most important feminist figures in the post-modern world. Now that’s a statement. A bleeding heart wrapped in barbed wire? Not so much.
But before you get your tattoo, let’s talk about your ego. Virginia Woolf herself understood this temptation to self-obsess, and she left us this pithy quote to ponder: Where the Mind is biggest, the Heart, the Senses, Magnanimity, Charity, Tolerance, Kindliness, and the rest of them scarcely have room to breathe.
Isn’t that lovely? It’s a very high-brow way of saying, “If you think about yourself too much, you’re an asshole.” And that tendency doesn’t go away with age; in fact, without practice to the contrary, it strengthens.
See? I’m as close to Buddha as you can get without rubbing a fat man’s belly. Okay, no, that’s not true. In fact, the only reason I’m so aptly able to advise you on this topic is that my own ego has been quite swollen lately. It’s not that I think I’m like sliced bread – it’s more that I’m afraid other people don’t think I’m like sliced bread. Maybe they just think I’m like….lumpy dough that has failed to rise. What if I finally publish my book and critics say it’s no good? What if my advice column takes off and I really suck at this? What if my hair starts thinning on top and just as I reach my pinnacle of success, I have to start doing girl comb-overs?
Wait. What are we talking about? Oh, right, the ego. Your ego. Gawd, did I just totally insert myself into your problem? Damn. See how carried away we can get?
A couple of months ago I watched Supersoul Sunday on the Oprah Winfrey Network. It’s my weekly dose of spirituality. Oprah was interviewing self-help guru Wayne Dyer, and Dyer said something about letting go of your ego in order to truly find yourself. It really stuck with me. Here’s the expanded version:
True nobility isn’t about being better than someone else. It’s about being better than you used to be. Stay focused on your growth, with a constant awareness that no one on this planet is any better than anyone else. We all emanate from the same creative life force. We all have a mission to realize our intended essence; all that we need to fulfill our destiny is available to us….The mantra of ego is more. It’s never satisfied. No matter how much you achieve or acquire, your ego will insist that it isn’t enough. You’ll find yourself in a perpetual state of striving, and eliminate the possibility of ever arriving. Yet in reality you’ve already arrived, and how you choose to use this present moment of your life is your choice.
Now that’s some deep shit. And I realize it’s easier said than done. Example: right before Christmas, I tried to jump on the whole Pay It Forward bandwagon. Husband and I were out to lunch, and he was feeling down, so I told him I would do something to cheer him up. I bought a $20 gift card from the restaurant and told him to give it to a random person eating as we left. He looked at me like I had asked him to shove his sandwich down his pants. “Really,” I said. “You should do it.” He paid the bill and fled for the exit at the speed of light. So I did it instead. I walked up to a grumpy-looking old couple and said hello. The man stared up at me suspiciously. I placed the gift card on the table, said “Merry Christmas,” and walked outside.
As we walked away, Husband shook his head. He was mortified. So I became mortified, too. “What?” I asked. “Was that stupid? Did you think that was stupid? Did I look like an idiot? You’re making me feel bad. Should I go take it back?”
It took me a good 10 minutes to realize that I was turning this whole Random Act of Kindness incident into an issue all about me. MY EGO had gotten in the way. I had committed a kindness with the sole intention of gaining self-worth in my own mind. I wasn’t Paying It Forward. I was Self-Soothing. #FAIL
So as you anticipate this conference, don’t have a nemesis! Who needs one? Buy this guy a cup of coffee, or maybe just picture him in his underwear with white pasty legs and black socks, and focus on what you want to accomplish. Want to put together the perfect project proposal? Just do it! If his proposal is better, who cares? Yours is uniquely yours, and that makes it perfect for you.
Finally, get yourself some hormone replacement therapy, and if you’re worried about the health risks, find some Prozac, too, though I’m a Cymbalta gal myself. Hot diggity, I love drugs.
Simmer down, Legend. My guess is you’re better than you think. But the less you think about that, the better.
the Savvy Sister