TRANSCRIPT The Still Space Podcast Episode #2 - The Dance with Your Ego

TRANSCRIPT Episode #2 The Dance with Your Ego

The audio podcast can be heard here: You can subscribe there as well.

The Dance with Your Ego

     Self-awareness is two-fold – internal and external. People with high self-awareness are in touch with their own feelings, values, strengths, priorities, and emotions. They are also aware that others have these same traits. Strong leaders can see people for who they are without judging themselves for not being the same or good enough to have gotten to where they are. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.

     My story is living testament that anyone can turn their life, their perspective, their relationships, their leadership, their career around by developing The Three Things, yet it all began with self-awareness. At the age of 35 I was a stay-at-home mother with four children under seven-years-old and a self-employed husband. I had a degree with which I was earning $30,000 a year when I left the workforce to be a fulltime mother. What I didn’t count on was that my marriage would become unpalatable. I filed for divorce as a leap of faith, never anticipating what was to come. Within months of filing for divorce the children and I went from the country club life to welfare, food stamps, medical assistance, homelessness, and no automobile from where I had to re-invent my life to support my family. Somebody in the family had to lead. As much as I wanted a fairy-godmother or a prince to save the day, I knew I had to rescue myself.

     What I have come to realize over the years following this time of anguish is that people can only take away your things. They can’t take away your spirit. You control that. If you choose to allow others to take away your peace, your sense of humor, your ability to love and nurture and your integrity, then you have lost yourself and begun to value what the evil and unhappy hold dear – power, money, and material goods. No one said that the one holding the most stuff gets the most peace. Trappings (titles, money, homes, cars, control) do not settle a soul.

     Managing the dance with the ego is an intentional one. It takes patience and acceptance to peel back the coverings we lay on top of the ego to protect it. You might be angry about something. Your ego has been bruised and you feel something was unjust. But what are the coverings you put on top of that to avoid the discomfort that brings you? Do you make excuses for your reactive behavior? Do you become annoyed with people who have done nothing to offend you? Do you evade people that remind you of the discomfort? Are you short tempered with someone for no reason? Do you have a hard time listening to people who are suffering because your compassion tank is empty – even for yourself? Do you avoid important things because you don’t feel you have the energy for them? Peeling back the layers means asking yourself what is really behind your behavior so you can raise your awareness. Are you really annoyed or are you trying to protect yourself so much that you’ve become detached? Are you erupting for no reason because you are guarding yourself such that you don’t have compassion even for yourself let alone anyone else right now?

     I was angry during and after my divorce. Really angry. I was angry that I had to do everything – help with all the schoolwork, drive back and forth to all the sports games and practices, earn the living to support the children, research-advocate-educate our child with a disability alone, and that the four children’s father was not involved in their lives and was playing ‘poor man’ in the courts. I was angry that I had to be mom and dad. It didn’t leave room for me to be me. I was tired. And emotionally vacant. I couldn’t be the emotional grounding my children needed because I wasn’t even able to be that for myself. And I didn’t have the humility to peel back the coverings I put over my ego – to be aware of how I couldn’t be with my pain or what it was costing me.

     I lost thousands of dollars on lawyers – money that should have been used to feed my children. Finally, I stopped paying lawyers because I was repeatedly losing and none of them wanted to represent a woman who couldn’t pay them.

     I started representing myself in court because I was out of money and had to. I was scared at first. My ego reminded me how unsafe this would be. What made me think I could stand up in court against a $450 an hour lawyer and be successful? I was afraid I’d embarrass myself in the process. When my ex-husband appealed a child support and alimony award of $269 a week for the five of us after he had just appeared in the society column of the local newspaper, I knew I had to do it for my children. Guess what happened? I actually won! That’s when I started to realize I was pretty capable when I peeled back the layers over my ego, abandoned the need to be right, let go of expectations for justice, and focused not on winning or losing, just on doing my best.

          Very early in our struggles I realized that I was going to be the primary provider for my children and had to figure out a way to do so quickly. Chasing a self-employed man through the courts was not a good use of my time, energy or money. The court isn’t designed to give anyone a conscience. I hadn’t worked outside the home in seven years so my skills were rusty and I wasn’t even sure what they were. The one thing I was certain of was that public assistance was not the way I wanted to live my life. I had done the big cry and a lot of asking, “Why me?” but that got me nothing but more paralyzed with fear and feeling like a victim.

     While my children were young, I had done a lot of volunteer writing for non-profit organizations. When I saw an ad in the largest metropolitan newspaper in our city for a freelance reporter I decided to send in my clips. Much to my surprise, they hired me without a journalism degree. My editor told me I could write like I was having a conversation when some of their Ivy League journalists could not do that. I went on to write for a number of other magazines, news and professional publications. From there I earned a certification as an association management executive and went on to be a self-employed public relations consultant, business writer, and trade association executive director, all work I did from home so my daughter with a developmental disability could get the in-home therapies she needed. It also freed me of childcare costs which were prohibitive for four children.

     When I needed adequate health benefits for the children and myself because I was making too much to remain on medical assistance, I entered the corporate world. I taught myself how to network, write grant proposals, desktop publish, create databases as well as other skills. I went on to be the executive director of a hospital foundation. 

     People ask me where I got my confidence to apply for positions I wasn’t qualified for on paper. I told them it was because I never doubted that I could learn just about anything, could list my measurable accomplishments, and I was willing to do just about whatever it took to meet the needs of my children.

     The hospital wasn’t asking me to do surgery. Only fiduciary oversight, management and fundraising. I went from the job interview for that role right to the bookstore and bought Fundraising for Dummies. They didn’t hire me because of my certifications, education or titles. They hired me because of my measurable results. I had raised more as a volunteer than their entire department had the year prior.

     The work was hard, but I WANTED to do it. That is how I got really good at it. Give me a prospective hire who WANTS to do the job and I can train them in what to do it. I can’t train them to want to do it. That is internal. You have to want something more than you are afraid of failing at it.

     I rose quickly in corporate America because I played to my strengths that I described earlier - intuition and discernment. If you spend most of your time developing your weaknesses, you will only be mediocre at best. Your strengths make you stand out. But my relationships were frayed. I didn’t prioritize them because I hadn’t prioritized a relationship with myself. I hadn’t solidified my own self-worth. I did a lot of, “I must not deserve happiness, or I wouldn’t be poor, single, and exhausted.”

     I was good at being a victim searching to be rescued. And I was a bit of a stoic bully if you got in my way. I had one focus. Support my family. I was in survival mode.

     In times of great personal challenge, you have a choice. You either realize very quickly that you want to prioritize peace and what you must change in yourself no matter the discomfort, or you charge onward in war to get what you want, taking no prisoners in the process. It is grace versus survival. After having done the latter to no avail, I knew I had to make a shift to grace and thriving. I just wasn’t sure how.

     This is where humility and vulnerability come in. Oh, these human traits were very hard for me. I failed miserably at them at first. I had built up such a guard around my soul and was so unaware of the effect of my own behavior that I couldn’t even see how I distanced people from me. I was really good at my work. I was really good at meeting goals and connecting with people for snippets of time when it was tied to a work goal. I could rally around a cause and advance strategies really well. But at the end of the day, I felt disconnected from everyone – my children, my colleagues, my friends and myself – because I didn’t believe I belonged among them. I didn’t believe I deserved sustainable success and happiness. I felt as if I was always one day away from going back to the despair of severe poverty – the fear that I would lose the respect and love of my family. I was afraid that the shame would lead to abandonment. That was a killer.

     I struggled with humility and vulnerability for a long time. My ego carried too much pride.

     Our ego keeps us safe. Your ego is like a radar that constantly scans for threat. When it perceives one it armors up – whether the threat is real or not. This is really important – whether the threat is real or not the ego will react if not regulated.

     The ego is primitive and has kept our species from being extinct because it is so good at keeping us safe. Without self-regulation it can hijack your peace, behavior, relationships and presence. Think of the overbearing leader or the one who has to talk just to be heard.

     After researching and examining the concepts I review in this book and that I needed to move away from stoic detachment I drew on my strengths, accepted my weaknesses with curiosity, and gave thanks for the blessings around me. The children and I are grateful that we live in a country that afforded us the ability to have survived on public assistance. It was an excruciatingly hard time in our lives. We needed the support to survive. 1

     I made a conscious choice to demonstrate to my children that we had nothing to be ashamed of. They watched me purchase groceries with a food stamps card. I never hid that. They were with me when I cashed welfare checks. They knew they were on the free and reduced lunch program at school.

     We all learned a lot from these challenges. Mostly we learned compassion for those who are struggling financially. Even as we were on food stamps we volunteered after church to pack food bags for the homeless. We learned that determination was essential for change. We learned that we had to own our own path from relying on outside support to self-sufficiency, independence and then abundance. We are grateful for the people who guided us and mentored us along the way. It contributed to who we are today.

     You, too, have signature strengths. When you know your superpowers, you learn to lean on them to guide you, especially when you have doubt. Everyone has a signature strength. Self-awareness helps you define how to use it to self-regulate your doubt, anger, frustration, and any other negative emotion.

     Executive and personal presence begins with self-awareness and observation without judgment of self or others. When we judge others, we judge ourselves far more. I was a master at both. Every emotional dagger I threw at my ex-husband, threw one right back at my self-esteem.

     Executive and personal presence will come naturally to you when you’ve increased your self-awareness and self-regulation of the thoughts and emotions that hold you back and can move to confidence despite the thought intrusion. You’ll learn how to do that here. It is realized authentically by being an expert on yourself – your strengths, values, purpose, personal mission, practices that ground you, and your value proposition. It also builds by mindfully observing, without bias, the same traits in others. It grows exponentially by knowing how to challenge your assumptions with the truth and how to accept yourself – be kind to yourself – with all your imperfections. Don’t worry. You WILL learn how to do that here.

     You want to be the one identified as a highly sought-after leader. You want to be the person of wisdom, candor, likability, and expertise that people promote, hire, compete to work for and with. Period. But you’re not there and it doesn’t seem fair.

     Nobody said life was fair. That’s like expecting the lion not to eat you because you didn’t eat him. You know you shouldn’t criticize yourself or compare yourself to others, but nothing seems to change how you feel about your life and career even after you’ve tried many things – self-help books, webinars, time management tools, groups, networking, to-do lists, retreats, conferences, fads, diets, podcasts, counseling. You’ve tried change as a strategy – changing jobs, places to live, clothes, planners, friends, hair, partners. Six months later you’re back to feeling the same way.

     Sometimes life stinks. You can accept that. Yet you might be starting to foresee that discomfort sticking around longer than you’d like and fear it might be around indefinitely. That scares you. You’re a person who aligns with purpose, but doubt makes you feel victimized, trapped and not in a purposeful place. 

     I’ve not only walked a mile in your shoes, I’ve broken a few heels and changed shoes dozens of times thinking that if I tried just one more thing I’d be happier and more effective. The harder I tried, the more stuck I became. And the more exhausted.

     I suspect you know a little about being stuck. It feels powerless.

     The two partners in the dance with the ego are triggers and self-control. The question is – Who will lead? You’re the dance instructor. You regulate the music to slow down the thought before the peaceful slow dance speeds out of control.  

     Ego will always be around to keep you safe. We should not be afraid of ego. We just don’t want to be hostage to triggers. Triggers are situations outside our control that activate assumptions from previous life experience, hijack your good reason and trip you into fear. Triggers can result in regrettable behavior. And they can also result is allowing the threat to pass without acting on it. You choose. You’re the dance instructor.

     The practices you develop to self-regulate fear will disarm the triggers and lead by separating perceived threats from real ones.

The audio podcast can be heard here: You can subscribe there,

Your coach,

Mary Lee


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