August 17, 2019

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Three): Why Ego Has To Go

rhodesEgo is why we believe what we believe and act the way we act. Ego is in charge of deciding what’s normal and possible, and one thing it knows for sure is that the kind of enlightenment we’re talking about in this series is neither.

Ego sounds authoritative, but feels a lot less so when you realize that, on a cellular level, it’s the aggregate of our brains’ most commonly used neural pathways. As we saw last time, if our brains can conceive of the idea of a life and a career filled with happiness and fulfillment, they’re ready to give it to us. Neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to rewire itself – can actually trump ego, and make impossible things happen.

That’s a hopeful thought, but it doesn’t make it easy to let go of ego. Ego got the corner office because of its track record. It kept us safe when we were kids, navigated us through adolescence, made sure we got things done when we grew up. No problem with any of that, but that’s actually the point.

Ego is our life regulator. As long as it stays in charge, it’s business as usual. If we’re not experiencing life the way we want, that’s because our ego structures aren’t buying into the idea. And guess what: they never will. Ego is a one-trick pony; it won’t and can’t learn; all it can do is execute its ideal of how things are and ought to be. If we want something new, we need new neural pathways to replace the ones currently in charge. The corner office needs a new tenant.

I’ve used this quote from Einstein before, but it’s so good, why not do it again:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

He might have substituted “the same ego” for “the same kind of thinking.” Ego is embedded in our life experiences (including the one we’re having right at this moment, reading this). Want more of the same? Let ego keep its job. Want change – not little change, but BIG change? Then it’s time for the severance package.

We’d like ego to keep its job because we’re used to it and think it can change. Not gonna happen: the list of ego features that need to change is just too overwhelming.

  • Our intellect – particularly the different kinds of intelligence we do or don’t use;
  • Our approach to relationships at work and home;
  • The beliefs we hold about how life works, what’s important and what’s not, etc.;
  • Our sense of identity and meaning and purpose;
  • Our learning style;
  • Our decision-making style;
  • Our likes and dislikes, areas of knowledge and ignorance, competence and incompetence.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

When our quest for enlightenment runs into resistance, we blame ourselves, blame life, blame Fate, blame the gods…. Better to simply acknowledge that the brain wiring that supports ego is just humming along the way it always has. We can stay stuck in ego, or we can go ahead without it, but one thing we can’t do is teach it new tricks.

We’ll talk more about that next time.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. He has also been in and out of the practice more times than anyone can count, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in The Colorado Lawyer. He also plans to publish a book on that topic later this year. He’s a certified mentor with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, offers career and performance coaching, and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including University of Denver Law School, the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section, and the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at

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  1. […] as long as it’s in charge, we’re not going anywhere. That’s why ego has to go, like we saw last time. That’s simply said, not easy to […]

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