I guess maybe I thought ego was my birthright. Ego, as in, to feel worthwhile, that I’ve got a place here; I belong and I’m going to stand out. That definition and mindset has now changed but allow the story the unfold… back to my birthright.
Timing is everything and it feels like this story of mine is coming to the close of a chapter; the chapter on ego. Ironically – or fortuitously – it was just last week in our podcast that our guest Stacey Morrison told me that my name in Te Reo Maori – Tūī – is often used in the phrase korokoro tūī, which means sweet singer, melodious voice, articulate speaker.
My name. My destiny.
I was named Tui and with where I’ve landed (recording podcasts, meditations, delivering workshops and the like), as well as where I’ve been, it seems I was destined to use my voice. Though that wasn’t always the case. Until I was 10, I carried my shyness around with me like a shadow. In year 6 (standard 4 back then), I won the part of narrator of a school production to be performed in Auckland’s biggest theatre. My mum called the school: “You can’t put her in that position. She’s so shy, she’ll get stage fright.” The school put me in that position. I didn’t get stage fright. I shone, I soared, it was as if my soul (and ego) was set free on a trajectory up, up, up. My star was rising (my ego was growing).
I starred in 4 more productions, speaking, singing (“… the sun’ll come out, tomorrow” – playing orphan Annie in Annie was a highlight). I loved the stage and the stage loved me. I became Head Girl of my high school, was selected for a Rotary International leadership award, sponsored onto Outward Bound…
The trajectory continued.
And then I was brought crashing down.
Nominated for a business leaders programme when I was 28 and working in digital marketing at The Warehouse, I had to participate in a 3-day assessment intensive to see if I had the goods to be invited onto the 18-month programme. Each nominee had to present their case as to why we were each leadership material. No problem, I thought, I’ve got decades of examples. I stood up and told my story. I sat down, pleased with myself. Then came the fall as I got told by the lead facilitator:
“You think you’re some superwoman who’s done all these things. You think you have self-awareness? Rubbish; how do you think your peers felt when you spouted off all these achievements?”
Shit. Fuck. What? I remember not wanting to go back on Day 2. But I did. My armour had been torn off, my rose coloured lenses too. I was vulnerable, scared. But on the other side of fear is hope, and between stimulus and response is a pause where I – we all – get to choose, and where meaning is made. At that point with my fear I could have chosen to:
… but instead I chose to:
I got selected and the growth I went through on that 18-month programme was profound and changed me in many ways. It was a $30k bespoke programme designed by The Warehouse talent management team. From hundreds of employees there were 12 of us selected (imagine how much Ego loved this). That’s a $2.5k investment in me and the ROI was and continues to be positively immeasurable. The most profound occurrence and insight was that during those 18 months I met my ego front-on, and recognised the deep yearning that my misguided ego was seeking.
Oh, Ego, I see what you were doing.
Ego – the true definition – is an inflated view of self, the part of you that separates itself from the outside world for survival. I never thought I was ‘better than’ anyone else, but I was certainly motivated by achievement and success. The problem was, it was extrinsic motivation; driven by the expectations of others, by our culture of competition, by a society that judges. My ego didn’t want me to be judged – whose does!? – so Ego largely (not always) led my mind and body, making sure I did work that was significant enough to be good enough to not be judged, because I wanted to feel worthwhile and to belong.
Herein lies my lesson: wanting this is okay and fully human because humans have two fundamental needs: to feel significant and a sense of belonging. But this isn’t brought to us by our ego; it doesn’t come from standing out in the crowd. It comes from:
- showing up as your whole beautifully imperfect self
- standing tall – not standing OUT but standing TALL – embodying with reverence your values and character
- being seen for who you are not what you do
My dear brother-in-law sent me a text just a few weeks ago. It said:
I really enjoyed the newly insouciant Tui last week – relaxed, and comfortable in the easy happiness of imperfection. I don’t know where you have been in yourself to get there but I like it. A lot. I imagine this to be as valuable to you professionally as it is at home and with your family. Bravo you for providing this leadership.
This is what I mean by showing up, standing tall, being seen. This is what happens when you say: ‘goodbye, Ego’. I didn’t change for recognition, nor was it fast, or always easy. It’s been years of personal development. I’ve simply grown into my authenticity – and my brother-in-law, who is incredibly, subtly observant and articulate, captured it beautifully. His text message was unexpected. It was humbling. And it was validating – not validating that I’ve done the ‘right’ thing, but that I’m showing up and being seen exactly how I want to be.
So now I say goodbye.
I’m now 39. I think it’s taken me the last 10 years to fully integrate that first step into vulnerability, that first taste of true connection, which I experienced in that assessment immersion. The last 10 years brought me children, yoga, meditation, desire mapping. Working with my desires, listening to my body, and mirroring my children has led me to a place of knowing, with my whole being, that a successful life isn’t one lived for extrinsic motivators. A successful life is connection, it’s compassion, it’s having the courage to lean into life, and being curious and playful with it. It’s making mistakes and it’s forgiveness. It’s seeing life not as a race but as a journey – with vision, sure, even ambition, but softened with a gentle patience and trust. It’s intuitive. It’s listening deeply. It’s taking off the armour and being wholeheartedly in.
I’m in. Are you?