4 Ways To Challenge Adversity & Failure Without Ego
There is no way around it – we will experience difficulty. We will feel the touch of failure. As Benjamin Franklin observed, those who “drink to the bottom of the cup must expect to meet with some of the dregs.”
Everyone at some point has gone through difficulties to get to where they are, all of them made mistakes. They found within those experiences some benefit – even if it was simply the realisation that they were not infallible and that things would not always go their way. They found that self-awareness is the GPS sat-nav guiding their journey through – if they hadn’t, they wouldn’t have gotten better and they wouldn’t have been able to rise again.
For us to follow their example and push through failure we can be sure of one thing we’ll want to avoid. Ego.
Unless we use this moment as an opportunity to understand ourselves and our own mind better, ego will seek out failure like true north. Unless we learn, right here and right now, from our mistakes.
During times of adversity, we need to keep in mind the four principles below to help us get back up on our feet and do so without ego, which when unleashed will only make things worse.
Alive Time Or Dead Time?
According to author Robert Greene, there are two types of time in our lives: dead time, when people are passive and waiting, and alive time, when people are learning and acting and utilising every second. Every moment of failure, every moment or situation that we did not deliberately choose or control, presents this choice:
Alive time. Dead time.
During times of failure the ego in all of us wants to complain about the shittyness of the situation. How it’s unfair. How we’d rather be doing just about anything else. And it’s this attitude that creates dead time we can never get back. In this way, ego is the mortal enemy of alive time.
It’s easy to be angry, to be aggrieved, to be depressed, heartbroken or even bitter. Ego says: “I don’t want this. I want ______. I want it my way.” Trust me, this accomplishes nothing!
The next time you find yourself stuck, I’d like you to take the opportunity and try it. “I am using it for my purposes. I will not let this be dead time for me. The dead time was when we were controlled by ego.”
Alive time. Dead time. Which will it be?
Focus Only On What You Can Control
Failure and rejection can be a miserable place. How do you carry on? How do you take pride in yourself and your work?
In my article about rejection and how we handle it, I wrote something I have to remind myself about all the time:
Rejection is a part of humanity, and quite an important one at that. 99.9% of the time things aren’t going to work out according to plan – it’s how we handle it that makes us grow. Its time to look deeper at the word “no” and realise that when someone says it’s impossible, what he or she really mean is that it’s impossible for them.
Your effort, doing the best, is what you can control. This is what you need to focus on.
Do your work. Do it well. Then let go. That’s all there needs to be. Recognition and rewards, those are just extra. Rejection, that’s on them, not on us.
In other words, the less attached we are to outcomes the better. When fulfilling our own standards is what fills us with pride and self-respect. When the effort – not the results, good or bad – is enough. With ego, this is not nearly sufficient, it wants recognition and validation.
By making a distinction between your inner scorecard and others external one, your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of is the only metric to measure yourself against. Your own standards.
Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.
Don’t let ego hold sway and distract you with whether or not we are getting credit and validation. It’s far better when doing good work is sufficient.
Don’t Make Things Worse
People make mistakes all the time. This is all perfectly fine; it’s what being an entrepreneur or an event planner or even a business executive is about. We take risks. We mess up. The problem is that when we get our identity tied up in our work, we worry that any kind of failure will then say something bad about us as a person. It’s a fear of taking responsibility, of admitting that we might have messed up.
Ego asks: Why is this happening to me? How do I save this and prove to everyone I’m as great as they think? It’s the animal fear of even the slightest sign of weakness.
It’s not that you should quit everything. It’s that a fighter who can’t tap out or a boxer who can’t recognise when it’s time to retire gets seriously hurt.
You have to be able to see the bigger picture. Are you going to make it worse? Or are you going to emerge from this with your dignity and character intact? Are you going to live to fight another day?
One of ego’s worst traits is the tendency to turn a minor inconvenience or insult into a massive puss filled sore. The wound festers, becomes infected, and can borderline kill us with the hatred and anger bubbling up.
Hatred is ego embodied.
In times of failure or adversity, it’s so easy to hate. Hate defers blame. It makes someone else responsible. It’s a distraction tool; we don’t do much else when we’re busy getting avenging or investigating the wrongs that have supposedly been done to us. Does this get us any closer to where we want to be? No. It just keeps us where we are – or worse, arrests our development entirely.
You know what is a better response to an attack or a slight or something you don’t like? Love. That’s right, love. For the neighbour who won’t turn down the music. For the parent that let you down. For the civil servant who lost your paperwork. For the client that rejects you. For the critic who attacks you. The bitch or the bastard who cheated on you.
Great leaders use love instead of hating their enemies, they feel a sort of pity and empathy for them. Think of Martin Luther King Jr., over and over again, preaching that hate was a burden and love was freedom. Love was transformational, hate was debilitating. “Hate,” he said “is a cancer that gnaws away at the very vital centre of your life and your existence. It is like eroding acid that eats away the best and the objective centre of your life.”
At The End Of The Day
These are the behaviours and standards we need to embrace and commit to be able to handle adversity. We will choose alive time and not let any moment go to waste. We will focus only on what we can control: exerting maximum effort at being our best selves. We will act with dignity and decorum and emerge with our character intact.
The difficulty that we are experiencing now? It is not a position we chose for ourselves? We can push through with strength and purpose, but not ego. In other words, we will not let ego turn a temporary failure into a permanent one. That’s a choice we can make.