Last week I was sitting in the Sauna at the local gym (turns out there are compelling benefits to deliberate heat exposure as well as cold. Who knew? See Dr. Huberman’s summary).

I was sitting across from a girl who was holding her phone in such a way that I thought she was taking a picture of me (I know I’m killing it at age 46, but it seemed strange….I couldn’t wait to tell Hill that I still had it after all these years!). In reality, it took only a split second to realize that she was taking perfectly orchestrated selfies with low light, flawless hair, and slightly puckered lips, just on the brink of perspiration.

This photo session lasted a few minutes and my initial reaction was one of judgement. But then I experienced a moment of sadness due to pressures of perfection that social media places on our society. This is not an indictment of the pursuit of fitness and beauty. And I still might be missing her intent in taking these photos. But I’ve seen enough in both popular and social media to know the ideal that exists in our culture that so many are striving for. As I thought about it I was also aware of the burden that my three daughters might feel to act and look a certain way to gain acceptance and validation.

I believe this girl was attempting to portray an image both to herself and to the world, an image that likely consumed a significant amount of time and resources. But if we all take a step back it’s easy to see that you and I are trying to do the same thing. It may not be the perfect social media story, but it is unquestionably something.

What image are you trying to portray to the world? Does that image truly represent who you are?

Bestselling author Ryan Holiday defines ego as “an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition. It’s that petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility – that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.

In Solve for Happy, Mo Gawdat a more simple definition. “Ego is… a sense of identity, a persona – the way you see yourself and believe (or wish) that others see you.”

We are all born without ego. But as we grow and experience the world we respond to what we see others do. We mimic the behaviors of others that reinforce a positive self image and garner external praise. As we get older, we move further way from our true nature and closer to the accepted societal norms. Cultural expectations weigh heavily on each of us and we often cave to the pressure of fitting in. Too frequently we take on roles in life that are far from our preferred path and we become so consumed with those roles that we can lose track of what we value most.

Ego can also take on a negative image of oneself, the victim mentality – one based on the need to suffer. Again from Solve for Happy, “Negative personas can be driven by feelings of diminished self-worth, self-pity, guilt, or shame. I’m fat. I’m ugly. I’m short. I’m stupid. I don’t deserve to be loved. I’m a sinner who deserves to be punished.”

Whether our ego is rooted in visions of self-grandeur or self-pity it will involve masks that we put to show the world who we want to be. Mo Gawdat states, “For each role there is a look, a dress code, a lingo, a peer group, an enemy to hate, trendy topics to discuss, facial expressions to fake, and common sorrows to worry about.”

Again, what image are you trying to portray the world? Where did you get that ideal?

What would remain if you stripped yourself of every mask you’re wearing? What lies beneath the outward image that the world sees? Take away your money, your possessions, your relationships, your hobbies, your profession, your clothing, your social standing, your health, your beauty. Everything. Even look past the body you see in the mirror. What’s left?

Are you living a life true to yourself?

For the last couple years I’ve tried to identify the image I’ve always wanted to see in the mirror, the persona I’ve tried to portray. My entire life I’ve longed to be in the cool crowd, but have frequently stood on the outside. Every time I travel to New York I feel a strong desire to be someone of world-renown importance (it’s the craziest thing). I grew up overweight and out of shape and now I live in fear of gaining weight again. For most of my life I I connected personal value to my level of spiritual and religious devotion. There’s a good chance I’m writing this blog because I desperately want others to value my opinion.

When I step back and look at my journey of self discovery and improvement, I see progress when I can separate myself from these identities. I have taken the time to identify and write down the things I value most.

I’ll repeat what I said last week. I have value and worth as a human being because I am alive. You do too.

I invite you to think about what is truly important in life your life, and identify the false personas that keep you from pursuing what you value most. It’s the first step to leaving behind your ego.

Happy Reading,


Next week I will be reviewing my February book, Civil Rights Queen by Tomiko Brown-Nagin.

March’s book is The Wim Hof Method by Wim Hof