Any traditionally published author will tell you that the prospect of their book being remaindered (and going out of print) is fodder for nightmares. And yet when it happened to author Camille DeAngelis, she found a powerful opportunity to evolve. Here are six tips to manage your ego.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the most effective way to manage feelings of jealousy and frustration is to create a consistent and sustainable system of self care. The human ego has evolved out of a primal fear that there isn’t enough to go around—be it dinner or approbation—so when you make a point to nourish and approve of yourself, you take back your ability to find peace and fulfillment regardless of what’s going on in your career.
1. Commit to your own evolution
Carl Jung taught that confronting and resolving one's “shadow self” was the one great work of a human lifetime, and now it’s our turn. Accept the challenge with grace and good humor, marking this turning point with any ritual that feels significant to you—be it a simple declaration on a fresh page in your journal or a festive beverage with a toast to (eventual) self actualization. This is the most worthwhile project you will ever undertake.
2. Redefine success
When asked in an interview about colleagues getting the roles he’d wanted, Kevin Bacon remarked, “Seeing somebody else’s success as your failure is a cancerous way to live.” When you compare your achievements, or nurse the toxic feeling that you ought to have accomplished more by now, you are writing your very own recipe for madness. Stop chasing after society’s standards of “success” and strive for satisfaction instead, measuring your own performance by criteria you actually have control over. For instance, I have written a children’s novel that, so far, no one has wanted to publish (and it’s been on submission on and off for four years now). I’ve always considered it some of my very best work, though. I feel fulfilled in my ambition and proud of my story even though I’ve failed by traditional publishing standards.
3. Rewrite your narratives
We’re all storytellers from the time that we’re able to string the words together, but no story is so powerful as those we tell ourselves about who we are, how the world sees us, and what we are capable of. Sometimes these narratives are beneficial, but more often than not they perpetuate a tired set of ego-driven self-limiting beliefs. For example, I have spent the past decade consoling myself over unimpressive sales figures with the explanation that I am a novelist with plotlines too quirky to appeal to a mainstream readership, that I am a genuine artist for laboring cheerfully in obscurity while more successful writers pander to the market. I have told the stories I wanted to tell, and I certainly have nothing to gain by pitting myself against the rest of the publishing industry! These days my practice is recognizing such egocentric “outsider” thoughts as they arise, calmly calling BS and dismissing the old story.
4. Convert toxic energy into fresh creative juju
As you practice observing your inner monologue, you may be shocked to realize the magnitude of the negativity. But once you’re aware of how much energy you’re expending in anger and frustration, you can reroute it into something positive. Any creative response is a triumph, be it baking a loaf of sourdough, filling in a page of an adult coloring book, or dancing like a maniac to that song you haven’t heard since the Reagan administration.
5. Develop a toolkit for processing your emotions
Experiment with simple strategies for handling jealousy and other dark emotions as they arise. Once you’ve figured out what works, employ those techniques like it’s your new religion. For me, an exhale-retention breathing exercise I learned in yoga class has been the most effective at keeping me calm when my ego is raging. I know by now that if I don’t react compassionately, I’m sentencing myself to a night of tearful self loathing. I’ve also come up with a few bits of practical philosophy that invariably improve my mood in the midst of disappointment, like “somebody needed it more than I did” when I receive a rejection for a fellowship or other opportunity I really wanted.
6. Make yourself useful
I make this point a lot, but it bears repeating that what the world needs most is people who go out of their way to be kind to one another. So the next time you catch yourself feeling gloomy over your so-called failures, look for what you can do to make someone else’s life easier or more enjoyable. Hold the door, smile at strangers, mow the lawn for your elderly neighbor. Once you’re refocused on making a contribution rather than proving your worth, you’ll find a truer sense of fulfillment than what any external accomplishment could have afforded you.
Camille DeAngelis is a novelist and travel writer. Life Without Envy: Ego Management for Creative People is available on September 27, 2016. Visit Camille online at www.cometparty.com.