- A feeling of self-respect and personal worth
- Satisfaction with your (or another’s) achievements
- The trait of being spurred on by a dislike of falling below your standards
- Unreasonable and inordinate self-esteem (personified as one of the deadly sins)
There’s an old saying that goes something like “pride comes before a fall,” one that my mother used to quote on regular occasions; but sayings aside, it does seem that the more you love yourself, and value your own achievements, above all others, the more precarious your position becomes.
Imagine, for a moment, that we all have our positions on the steps of pyramids. If we fall off the first step it won’t hurt a bit, but the further we climb the narrower the steps become, until finally you have reached the apex of your life; but you are balancing on a small point. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if even a small gust of wind comes, you will fall, and when you hit the “bottom” that is seriously going to hurt!
Well, it’s the same with how much you value yourself. If you think you are ok, and life is ok, and something bad happens to you, like losing your job, or the respect of others, well, you haven’t lost very much. But if you think you are the greatest thing on earth, and suddenly find out that actually you’re not, or someone pushes you from that position, the resulting fall from grace is enough to send you spiralling into deep depression.
I often wondered if I had an unhealthy love of self, and I even bought a book on narcissism to see if I conformed to their definition. I did! “What? Me, a narcissist? Never!” I thought. I might like looking at myself in the mirror, but that’s just to check I don’t have jam on my face, or shaving cream in my ear (wasn’t it?).
An exceptional interest in and admiration for yourself
So I tried to understand what it was to be a narcissist, just in case! I agreed that perhaps I did sometimes take an “exceptional interest” in myself, but if I didn’t, then who would. The book went on to explain that narcissists think they are very important, and asked questions such as: “Do you feel as if you have something very important to say to everyone,” or “do you have a special plan for the world,” or “do you want to change the world?” At this point I got really scared. I had just started writing my book I thought was important for people to read, but then I wondered if this might all be a projection of my love of self.
So I started to question whether I admired myself for creating this book, and I had to say yes in some way, but only because I had never done anything good for anyone else in my life apart from myself.
I was beginning to regret ever opening the book. The questions went on and on, and I became more and more depressed. I wasn’t writing a book to help people understand the world, I was writing a book so I would become famous, and people would want my autograph or want to come and talk to me in the street…
I decided I was becoming slightly deranged, and put the book down, never to reopen it. But it did start to get me thinking about my reasons for doing things. Perhaps this book was just another way of projecting how much better I was than everyone else? I couldn’t be sure, so I decided to investigate it further with my mind.
Feelings of excessive pride
The trait of being unduly vain and conceited; false pride
So if I wasn’t a narcissist, perhaps I was just vain (having an exaggerated sense of self-importance). Perhaps I really had low self-esteem, and I was trying to overcome it with delusions of grandeur. Perhaps I would just like to be important but knew in my heart of hearts that it would never happen, and I was destined for a life of mediocrity and insignificance.
I started to trawl back through my memories to see if there was any truth in it, and there was to some extent.
For as long as I can remember I wanted to be famous. I pretended I was a pop star in my bedroom, after all, I’d bought all the gear, I just had no clue how to use it! I even recorded a song (which was terrible) in a professional studio. I would look at myself in the mirror singing, and I would go to the karaoke night at the local pub, where (whether due to the state of intoxication of the locals) I would always sound a lot better than them (you know big fish, small pond), and it gave me great feelings of pride to be applauded by them at the end of every song. “You’re such a good singer, alan,” they would say, until it came time for the karaoke competition and outsiders would sign up.
I hated that they were better than me, I hated that they got more applause. I hated going home empty handed afterwards having come a measly fourteenth place. But when I got home, I would think: “I’m better than them, I’ll show them,” but I never did.
I never did well at school either, but I always gave the impression I did. I never did well at work, but that was because everyone else was stupid, not me! Couldn’t they see how much better I was than them? But at job after job, I got sacked for one reason or other. Perhaps they could see that my own feelings of self-importance never matched up to the standard of work I produced.
But after many years of trying to get a good job, I finally landed an contract in information technology, where I was in charge, and that felt good. I had staff working for me, and I walked around the place like I owned it. I had made it, I was important it was no longer just in my imagination. But I became arrogant, I abused my position and was duly sacked.
I felt terrible, like my whole world had collapsed in on me. I was marched out of the front door, told to hand over my company car keys, my laptop, mobile phone and my corporate credit card. I had to call my mum to come and get me. Here was I, an important person in the computer industry, sacked. All the people who had tolerated my haughty behaviour just looked on as I was escorted from the building, and I cursed my mum who had told me so many times:
“Be careful alan, pride comes before a fall.”
“I’m all right, I used to say, nothing’s going to happen to me.”
I may not have been on the top of the pyramid, but even from where I fell from, it hurt – a lot. Images kept revolving in my mind about how this had happened and how stupid I had been. I wasn’t important, I just thought I was.
Many years have passed since that unfortunate day, but it was a cycle of self-importance followed by a fall from grace that carried on for many years to come. I won’t bore you with the details but let’s just say it was the same story as the last section.
So, as I tried to resolve this in my mind recently, I tried to imagine what life would have been like if I had never had these feelings of self-importance. Given that I was quite a bright lad and a quick learner, within a few years I could have landed an important job, the problem was, I wasn’t prepared to put the effort into learning the job and paying my dues. I wanted importance now, and when it wasn’t forthcoming, my brain helped me invent the importance. The problem was, I was the only person who couldn’t see I had created an illusion.
So as I sit down to write this topic, I come to you as a man humbled (subdued or brought low in condition or status, cause to feel shame; hurt the pride of) by recognition of his own lack of importance, and that whatever I do or say, has no real importance in the world, only that which I place upon it.
Am I the only one?
But that’s enough about me, I want to hear your stories of self-importance, or am I the only human on this planet whose low self-esteem brought about a state in which “I” became all important, if only to myself? Are there any of you out there that think you are more than you are? Do you believe you are important and that you have some special gift to share with the world? And if you did have a special gift would you care if anyone saw you whilst you shared it? Do you see the point of the question?
Those of us who like to think we are special, or important in the world, need others to recognise out talents. We need people to applaud, and we need people to say how great we are as it inflates our (already) over inflated egos, and we start to feel really proud of ourselves. “We are so proud of our son’s achievements,” I think my parents would like to have said, but they never got the chance.
But in my mind, I was already a high achiever, even if the facts didn’t quite match up. “You can fool all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time” or something like that, my dad used to say. And it was true to some extent.
I spent my life fooling people I was better than I was, probably fuelled by my mother’s constant insistence, “but you are great, alan!,” and me believing it. But when the time came to prove it, the audience were left disappointed, and I walked off with my tail between my legs.
But would it have been different if I was a high achiever? Would it have made a difference to me if I had come first in the karaoke competition or managed to keep my job? Would I have felt right in saying: “Yes, I am proud of my achievements,” or would it have just made me say: “I knew I was the best, I always knew it, I’m great, me!” As I’ve never been a high achiever I will never know. will I? But I guess the latter.
So how about you? Have you had some time to think about yourself?
Have you weighed up your achievements against your own vanity. Do they equal out? Or perhaps like some people who have made great achievements, you just keep quiet, and are only happy that you have managed to do a good job?
The problem with vanity is that it doesn’t just exist when people are actually looking, mainly because it exists in your own mind; but that doesn’t stop you imagining all the good things that people are saying about you, or will be saying about you, when you get the nobel peace prize, or something equally prestigious. But it’s kind of a sad way to live wouldn’t you say?
Constantly imagining yourself being awarded with prizes or showered with accolades for your (imaginary) great work.
Vanity aside, the problem still exists when the achievements are real. You still court the applause, and the admiration, whether you are a nuclear scientist, sportsman, or businessman. Because it makes you feel good. And your brain likes to feel good. So as you walk up to the podium to collect your “man of the year” award, the brain rewards you with millions of feel good chemicals, and you look out at the audience and pretend you are just a modest man.
Freedom from vanity or conceit
So how do you know if you are modest? Well, I think it would be fair to say that anyone who is trying to scrabble to the top of the pyramid is not modest. They are trying to be something, to become something, and they want recognition for it (financial and social); after all, what’s the point of trying to reach the top? To save the world?
You see, it doesn’t matter if you are trying to do good for the world or just line your own pockets with gold. If you want to be on top, then you must believe that you have a gift, or are in some way superior to other people. You must have faith in yourself, and you must feel important if you are to look and act important. Do you understand?
Do you think the president of any country is a modest man, or does he, like so many of them, believe he has a special purpose in the world “to free the world from tyranny and oppression,” or “to cleanse the world of all evil, oh, and the terrorists.”
You see if you have any position of power you must be important, because the position is “important,” so naturally it rubs off on your ego. And as you are at the top of the pyramid you just have to make one wrong move and down you go!
Of course, all of this climbing and falling is all in your mind. There is no such thing as importance, only self-importance. If we say that the politicians are important men, what we do is give them a label by which they can inflate their own self-importance. If you tell me I am important then I must be!
If there is ever anything important in the world, it is showing kindness to others. The rest is just nonsense, as I found out.
I came to realise that (a) I was not important, and (b) I thought I was important. If I had climbed the pyramid, I would have thought (a) I was important, and (b) I thought I was important. Do you see how insignificant importance is? But we all want it, don’t we? We see someone at the top of the pyramid and we think that is going to be me someday; and if we haven’t got the talent to climb, we just imagine it in our own minds, but then isn’t it all imaginary? All the labels and badges we give people to make them feel important just seek to divide us as a species even more than we are already.
I know now that “I am” and that is the end of it. I am neither important nor unimportant. I am writing this book, but it is just a few hundred pieces of paper bound together, neither important or unimportant – those are just man-made labels. If I had my way, we would remove the words from the dictionary! Then how would we describe ourselves? Oh, yes. Homo sapiens. The end.
by alan macmillan orr
‘the natural mibnd – waking up’