A few weeks ago I watched a docu-series called “Last Chance U” about a small community college in Eastern Mississippi that is a fertile recruiting ground for major Division I college football programs. The docu-series chronicled the team during the 2015 season as they pursued their third straight national championship, with a particular focus on several of the high promise players. During the series you have a good chance to observe the players and see what makes them “tick.” It’s worth noting that most of these players are in their late teens or early twenties and have a ton of life lessons to learn as they mature. However, the one thing stuck out for many of the players was their ego and the impacts their egos had on their opportunities. If I summarize it in a single statement it would be this: Our natural abilities will create opportunities for us but our ego, if left unchecked, can enable us to close the door on those opportunities.
An ego, defined as “a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance,” is a natural and healthy thing. We all think of ourselves in some light and those thoughts are instrumental in propelling us forward in the goals we set, activities we take on and the accomplishments we achieve. In some cases, we are the only person that believes in ourselves to accomplish something. One of the major driving forces for that is ego; the recognition of who we are, who made us, and what gifts and talents were placed in us to accomplish anything that is set before us. Thus the ego plays a very vital role in our day to day operations as the ability, or gift, will make room for us and it will bring us before influential and powerful people. However, having an over or under inflated ego can be a detrimental thing. Said another way, an ego without the appropriate amount of humility can be self-destructing.
I watched this docu-series and many of the players chronicled were phenomenally gifted with huge dreams of what colleges they wanted to attend. The dream isn’t the issue, but with the dream came the expectation of what teams the athletes felt should recruit them. Most athletes wanted to be recruited by major Division I programs in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). While many were getting scouts from Division I schools attending the games, 95% of the scouts were not from these SEC schools. Due to a misalignment in expectations (or calling a spade a spade, over-inflated egos) some of the athletes were disappointed with their opportunities and in some cases turned down or ignored the opportunities they had. The gift opened the door and made the room, yet the over-inflated ego threatened to slam the door shut and close off the opportunity.
I use this docu-series as an example, but if we’re honest with ourselves we do the same things in our daily lives to some degree. We tend to think more or less of ourselves than we ought. We tend to place a higher emphasis on the things that we can or cannot do instead of putting the emphasis on the gift and the things that the gift will allow to naturally occur. We fail to realize that comparing ourselves amongst ourselves — our accomplishments against the accomplishments of others — is not wise. Comparing our abilities to others’ abilities isn’t wise because our individual abilities are unique to us; the abilities others have should not be the standard we adhere to.
To make my point even further, I’ll maintain the football analogy and use Eric Dickerson and Walter Payton as my examples. Both were GREAT NFL hall of fame running backs and on the surface one could say both had the gift of running with a football. But if you take a closer look they possessed VERY different abilities. Eric Dickerson was extremely fast and could outrun you to the hole or to the corner, while Walter Payton was not as fast but very quick, sharp and physically punishing. If Eric Dickerson attempted to run the ball in the same fashion as Walter Payton, he would have failed and vice versa. These two men didn’t compare themselves amongst themselves, they focused on honing and crafting the gift that they had, and in turn they both became phenomenal.
Comparing yourself amongst yourself isn’t just the act of comparing yourself against people, but it is also comparing yourself against society and what it defines as appropriate. Society defines a number of topics that influence our lives. These range from simple things such as how we dress, where we shop or what we eat to more complex things such as how much we work, how much time we spend with family, who we choose to associate with or what type of career we should have. Whether we realize it or not, these societal norms slowly begin to dominate our thoughts if we allow them to. By allowing these societal norms to dominate in such a fashion we run the risk of losing something; the UNIQUE EXPERIENCE of being ourselves with all of the associated gifts and talents that we possess as individuals. By choosing to follow societal norms you could be losing the opportunity to explore other passions or interests, to meet new people and be exposed to new and exciting areas of interest, or simply to de-stress and get some well needed rest.
I’m unsure how this would apply to you, but here’s how it applies to me – writing is a new door for me. Maybe I’m a great writer; maybe I’m a poor writer — that’s not for me to decide. Irrespective of my abilities as a writer, my writing won’t be as good as it could be if I continue to allow my ego to get in the way of the ability or if I allow societal pressures to dominate my thinking. Both of these influencers are consuming brain cycles, creating concerns, causing worry and driving an associated agenda to address the concern and worry. How much is this expended effort getting in the way of my natural abilities as a writer? How much further would I be if I did not allow myself to think about those items and just focus on the experience of writing, the experience of rest and the mutual enjoyment contained within both? Society tends to focus on the things that it can measure. Because I’m unable to measure the benefits of my writing and the associated impact it may have on others, society says, “Throw it out and focus on the measurable.” However, that’s unwise as the gift is tangible and will have impact. Therefore, I choose to believe that my next phase will take care of itself, allow myself to focus on the now and see where this door leads.
What do I do now? Is there an opportunity in front of me I should pursue? Do I have the gifts and talents that will take me to a place I’ve never been before? I’m sure I’m not the first person to ask these questions of myself. Perhaps the young men in that docu-series asked themselves these questions before making their final decisions. At some point we’re all faced with managing our own ego’s and ensuring we never have to look back and ask ourselves “Did YOU close the door?”.
The photo above is a picture of the Monument to the People’s Heroes located in Tienanmen Square in Beijing, China. I captured this photograph while on a 3 month assignment in China. The decision to take a three month assignment abroad was a HUGE decision. While it benefited my professional career, personally it was the catalyst for two great enjoyments in life: Photography and Travel. Now that I think about it, it was standing in front of the monument that I first realized how much I enjoyed taking pictures. As a secondary thought this picture may be the first “really good” picture I ever captured. Almost 11 years later it is difficult for me to fathom how different things would be for me personally if I had closed the door on that opportunity.