If you ever hope to experience greatness, or at least true freedom, you have to leave your ego behind and be willing to lose control.
By David Todd McCarty | Thursday, August 6, 2020
“When the old map makers got to the edge of the world, they used to write, ”Beyond this place there be dragons.”Out of Africa
“Your mama don’t dance and your daddy don’t rock and roll”Loggins and Messina
If you’ve ever been to a wedding, at some point, they open up the dance floor and Uncle Fred and Aunt Marjorie, along with a significant portion of the guests, will invariably get up and head to the dance floor. There are the early adopters who lead the way, there are also the ones who hang back but eventually are coaxed to join in, maybe after one more glass of wine, and then there are the wallflowers who sit resolutely in their chairs and refuse to engage.
The dance floor itself is typically split into two groups, those who move in ways we universally recognize in society as representing good dancing, and those who don’t seem to make the connection between their body’s movements and the rhythm of the music. In nearly all cases, there is no significant difference in the amount of enjoyment the two groups of dancers are having, despite their different skill levels. But there is a wide chasm between those on the floor, and those in their seats watching. The difference isn’t what the dancers brought to the dance floor, but what they left behind.
In his book “Feck Perfunction: Dangerous Ideas On The Business Of Life”, the author James Victore explains that it’s your ego that keeps you from dancing. Your ego doesn’t want you to look silly or stupid, it wants to protect you from ridicule and shame. It wants you to fit in and not to do anything that might rock the boat. It is not adventurous, it is practical. It is not progressive, it is conservative. The ego doesn’t control creativity, innovation and fun, in fact most often, you could argue that it actively hinders it.
The concept of the ego is often confusing and fraught with many different interpretations. Freud defined it as a part of our personality that mediates between the Id, the primitive part of the mind that is our subconscious, and the Super-ego which operates as our moral authority. In other definitions, it is merely the conscious mind, or the awareness of one’s own identity, but all too often when we refer to the ego, we think of vanity and self-importance.
For our purposes, it’s easiest to think of ego as that part of our personality that is most interested in self-preservation. Our ego is there to make sure we don’t allow our more base instincts to take over, or to act as a guide to keep us out of trouble.
In human evolution, operating outside of the norm, was frowned upon, as it represented not only danger to the individual but danger to the group as well. Survival relied on keeping to the middle of the pack, because it was those on the fringes that got picked off. The strength of the group was maintained by no one getting too far outside of the circle. That was the way to keep the group safe.
But that’s not where innovation lies. Explorers and innovators and healers all had to break the rules, go outside the norms, and stretch the boundaries of what was possible. This was where storytellers came in. They not only explained the world around us, but expanded our understanding of what was possible. There is nothing safe about dreaming of things that do not yet exist.
Western culture dictates that failure is bad, and something to be avoided at all costs, but it’s only through failure that we progress as a society. It’s only through the risk of failure that you have any hope of finding anything new.
When you learn to snow ski, you fall a lot. There is a certain type of skier who reaches a certain level where no longer fall; they find a contentment with their level of ability and cease to progress. But there are others who continue to push the limits of their abilities and they will always continue to fall, but they will also improve and find new levels of enjoyment.
If you’re not falling, you’re simply not trying hard enough.
So where is the intersection of dancing and falling, of avoiding embarrassment and failure? It’s letting go of your ego and allowing that failing or looking silly is a largely irrelevant condition in the big scheme of life.
I had a friend named Donnie who used to dance at parties, concerts and weddings. He would head onto the dance floor by himself and we would all stop and watch. He was not a good dancer, and he was probably drunk most of the time in those years, but we watched with envy because no one was having more fun on the dance floor than Donnie. I’m not even sure his eyes were fully open, as he careened around the floor, feeling the music and letting the joy wash over himself. He was not performing, he was in what some people today would call flow.
We all need to be more comfortable with letting go and looking silly, risking more and being more willing to fail, especially when the only thing at risk is our ego.
Your ego can’t dance, so stop allowing it to make decisions about the music you use as the soundtrack to your life.