“Hello ego. You’ve been busy today.”
by Nathan Sowell
Introduction by Duane Trammell
One of the key traits of a servant-leader is awareness. Robert Greenleaf wrote, “Awareness is not a giver of solace—it is just the opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener. Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers after solace. They have their own inner serenity.” In The Case for Servant Leadership, Kent Keith tells us “servant-leaders are aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They know that they are not perfect, and yet they can perform at a high level; they know they have their own emotions and biases, and yet they can make wise and fair decisions. By building on their own strengths and accepting their weaknesses, they are ready to build on the strengths and accept the weaknesses of others. They are less likely to judge, and more likely to encourage.”
In this short essay, Nathan lets us see inside his own journey of becoming more aware. He transparently wrestles with the concept of identity. He challenges the idea that the voices of judgment in our heads can really change who we are. By slowing down to be more present, we can feel more, and live from our essence. When we are connected to this deep part of ourselves, we serve and live life from a more meaningful place.
For me, the goal is to become aware.
I want to feel instead of react.
I’d rather be than become.
I’ve spent so much time trying to grow and improve myself. It feels good to better myself, and I’ve seen great results. I’m glad I’ve spent my time constructively. I just don’t know how much it matters.
It’s all just a bunch of thoughts. My image of myself is a construction of my thoughts. I spend so much energy keeping my mental constructs intact. If I don’t keep it intact, if I don’t feel secure in my identity, I feel lost.
Feeling lost is scary. Because when I feel lost, when I don’t know my identity, the point of living becomes less clear.
Having an identity gives me something to hold onto. It makes all the thinking worthwhile because my identity gives me a feeling of worth. My identity tells me that I’m doing the work today to make tomorrow wonderful. Therefore, not enjoying today isn’t a big deal because tomorrow will be better.
Or, my identity makes me feel better about myself by being better than others. That good feeling of being better makes the constant thinking worthwhile.
Or, my identity tells me that I am inferior to person XYZ and if I become better than him, I’ll be lofty enough to feel great about myself.
All these identities make the constant thinking feel worthwhile. However, if I don’t have a strong identity, that thinking isn’t so worthwhile. It’s just work without the reward. As long as I have an identity, what does it really matter if it’s good or bad?
It’s just different constructs of thought. I’m still thinking, just in different ways. If I feel good about myself, there is the fear of not maintaining my success. If I feel bad about myself, I rationalize how I am a victim or how I can improve.
My mind doesn’t stop when it comes to forming an identity.
So when I stop and think about all this, it’s kind of silly to me. How I think of myself doesn’t change who I am. How I think doesn’t change who I am. I like Tolle’s quote:
“You then no longer derive your identity, your sense of who you are, from the incessant stream of thinking that in the old consciousness you take to be yourself. What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that. The awareness that is prior to thought, the space in which the thought – or the emotion or sense perception – happens.”
I spend so much time trying to figure out who I am or how to improve myself, yet my I-am-ness never changes. My whole life, when I’ve slowed down enough to get in touch with myself, I’ve felt the same essence.
Today, I had a quick meeting with a guy from a private equity firm. On my way up the elevator, I was thinking about how I could make a good impression on him because I am attracted to working in private equity. Then, i thought, “What if I do impress him? What if I end up getting a job here? Will that change my enjoyment of life?” My answer was no. I’d feel better about myself for having a sweet job, but I’d be thinking even more in order to succeed in a very competitive environment.
Anyway, the point of this small essay is that I do so much to make myself feel good about myself or to avoid my fear. Yet, the feel good is always temporary and fear is always worse than the realization of my fears. It doesn’t make much sense to spend so much time with it.
As I become more aware what builds my ego, I can take my ego less seriously. As I take myself less seriously, my mind stops thinking so much. As my mind slows down, I’m more present. As I am more present, I notice things around and within me more. As I notice more, I feel myself and the things around me more. As I feel more, I start noticing the essence within me. As I notice my essence, I begin to see the connection between me and all and everything.
Nathan Sowell is a 25 year-old consultant working in mergers and acquisitions at a large financial services firm. He is mentoring Duane and AMCA about the next generation of leaders. They have conversations about life, struggles, triumphs, and what is important to each.