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It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows
Epictetus, Greek Stoic Philosopher
Ego was always there. Now it’s emboldened.
Those graduation posts you see on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram are a spectacle, particularly the LinkedIn ones. It’s a chance for the large majority of students to spew all of their achievements of the past 3 or 4 years so that employers and friends will look upon them favourably and lavish them with praise. Some were just outright ridiculous, I read one post from a student who put at the top of her list of achievements ‘Overcame anxiety’, not only is that impossible, it is the equivalent of saying I have overcome sadness so I will be permanently happy.
Ego is not just bad for social media newsfeeds, it can stop you from achieving magnificent things in life because it will consume your thoughts with questions about what other people think about you.
Ego affects all of us.
Earlier this year, I was nominated for the Outstanding Student Contribution Award. An award that is given to eight students across the whole university each year for their activities outside of academia. I didn’t win and I was furious. I felt entitled to the award given all my work with my department and numerous organisations across my three years. In hindsight, my ego was blocking my rational thoughts.
Yes it would have been nice to win but how does it change anything apart from letting me boast about it on my CV and LinkedIn. It was simply a badge of honour that would just make me feel more comfortable about my current standing in the world. The reality is that I should not be standing, instead I should be sitting down and getting on with my work. After all, it was not awards that got me a nomination in the first place, it was the work and that’s what should always be the priority. What helps you do your best work? An award? Give it a rest.
Always stay a student
The world is constantly changing, evolving, and that means you need to stay ahead or at least keep up. Learning is eternal because knowledge is ephemeral. I know that most of the things I learned in my degree are either outdated, wrong or irrelevant. Just because you have a certificate to say you know something does not mean you have mastered the subject. Nurturing a student mindset gives you the flexibility to adjust to a world that is chaotic. Today, there are more opportunities to learn than ever before. Books and courses are cheaper than ever. There is no excuse for not getting your education.
Alive time or dead time?
According to the writer Robert Greene, there are two types of times in our lives: dead time where people are passive and waiting, and alive time, where people are learning and acting and utilising every second. Dead time stems from ego, when we believe things will just come to us and we will get what we deserve. That’s ego. There are no guarantees that you will get anything in life, not even life itself.
When Malcolm X was sentenced to 10 years in prison, he had a choice to make. Alive time or dead time? Malcolm choose alive time. He read history, he read sociology, he read about religion and copied down the entire dictionary from start to finish. He converted prison time into study time. You can be dead and your heart can still be beating. Stay alive at all costs.
Maintain your own scorecard
Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of, that is the metric to measure yourself against. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be terrible and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves. If I offered you £1 million to punch your mum in the face as hard as you can, would you take it?
Taking the money would mean you have significantly improved your rankings on the world’s rich list, but I doubt you would be proud of your achievement.
What if “nobody will know”, do you still proceed with shady behaviour or do you hold yourself against a standard. It’s about what you should or shouldn’t do. The people who right hook their mums and think nobody will find out about their actions, self-select themselves to be excluded from society. A punishment worse than death.
Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him.
Ralph Waldo Emerson