Growing Into Our Humanity, Part 3: The Myth of the “Ego-Free Project” | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Growing Into Our Humanity, Part 3: The Myth of the “Ego-Free Project”

I haven’t been on the internet much lately, because I’ve been deeply engaged in a new project.  I’ve been creating a computer game with a friend.  It’s built around an adventure story, as many games are, but the main focus is my ideas about what the spirituality of prehistoric people was like.

Being a reflective sort of guy, as I’ve worked on this, I’ve been asking myself from time to time “why am I doing this?”  Two reasons have come to mind.  One is that I think this game could really stimulate the personal growth of people playing it.  The other is that I want to be recognized, and for people to think I am cool.

Are My Wounds Behind The Wheel?

The second reason has troubled me a bit.  If I’m doing this because I want people to think I’m cool, doesn’t that mean my ego is driving the project?  Doesn’t that mean my wounded child part — the part that feels abandoned and needs approval — is really behind what I’m doing?  And if so, is it healthy for me to keep moving forward?

I hang out with lots of folks who are “on a spiritual path,” or interested in self-development, and many of them are dealing with the same dilemma.  They worry that, if they work on a project they feel called to do, they’ll be feeding the “selfish” part of themselves, instead of doing the seva, or selfless service, they think they should do.

After a lot of thinking about this issue, I’ve come to the conclusion that an “ego-free project” is a pipe dream.  No matter what I do, I’ll probably be motivated, to some degree, by a desire for approval — and, I’ll also be driven by a genuine wish to serve.  In other words, there will always be a mix of “healthy” and “unhealthy” motives behind everything I do.

Real Self-Love Loves The Ego

Although I can’t totally get rid of these “unhealthy” motives, and the ways I operate from a sense of lack instead of abundance, I can choose how I relate to those motives.  I can choose to acknowledge and accept them, rather than pretending they aren’t there or beating myself up because they exist.

When I can admit, without self-blame, that “part of me is wanting attention,” a weight lifts from my shoulders, and my body feels lighter.  In those moments, I’m practicing real self-love, as opposed to just loving the parts of me that I label as pure and righteous.

On the other hand, pushing those “unhealthy” parts away, in my experience, just creates more unhealthiness.  When I pretend I don’t have a “selfish” part, I end up projecting my selfishness onto others — judging them as self-centered, and casting myself as superior.  That’s an unpleasant experience for everybody.

I often notice the same dynamic when I’m with people whose spirituality is all about “selflessness” — when they talk about the volunteer work they do, with no expectation of reward or approval, I usually notice an undertone of aggression that sounds to me like “and how much service do you do?”

I’ve harped on this theme lately, but I think it’s important — that personal growth in its highest form is about getting comfortable and familiar with all parts of ourselves, including those we tend to label as bad, inappropriate, embarrassing, and so on.  The more “okay” we get with those parts, I think, the more peace and focus we can find in all areas of our lives.

11 thoughts on
Growing Into Our Humanity, Part 3: The Myth of the “Ego-Free Project”

  1. Evan

    Hi Chris, I think to be human means to have needs (and even desires). This means that we are vulnerable. And it means that we relate to our environment to sustaing ourselves (in lots of ways – not just the physical).

    If we deny or suppress a need it doesn’t go away. I think it actually comes to structure more and more of our lives. This applies to a need for approval as much as any other.

    Like you I have seen the aggression of those who want to be selfless.

    I think we can have our needs met and not at the expense of others. I think it is even possible that it can contribute to others – my need to create can satisfy another’s need for beauty, my need to teach can satisfy another’s thirst for knowledge.

    I love the graphic too.

  2. Sara


    So true!!! The Yin needs the Yang; they come together. It’s true of life all around us. I like how you’ve been talking about this. There so much out there that says if you want to be at that higher place of living; you must jettison your baser needs and wants. I don’t believe this kind of thinking is very practical and I’m pleased someone is speaking up about this.

    Thank you from all of us who, every now and then, really, really want to be cool:~)

  3. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evan — yes, that’s true in my experience as well — that, if we pretend that a need isn’t there, like, for instance, a need for attention, then our life still becomes centered on that need — only it’s focused on repressing the need as opposed to indulging it. And like you say, I can actually serve others by fulfilling my desire for attention — in the process of fulfilling that desire, I may produce something that benefits them.

  4. Chris - Post author

    Hi Sara — I like the way you put it — that we often hear that we need to sort of rise above our humanity to “be spiritual” — but spirituality can also be about accepting and loving all the aspects of our humanity.

  5. Susie Amundson

    Greetings Chris

    Our motivations are certainly powerful drivers of our work and identities. As Sara, Eva, and you have shared, the choices we are attracted to are not dichotomous. But I do think we need to be aware and use a bit of caution about our desires and attachments. Whether it is volunteering at a homeless shelter, creating a video game for personal development, or seeing our name in lights — these are desires that seem best managed when we hold on to them lightly. When we keep all of it in perspective and use our humor to see the inane in some of our antics!

    I’ve been highly recognized in my original profession and although I enjoyed it, in the rear view mirror, I am much more satisfied that I developed a valuable tool for that profession and for its clients. The professional recognition was just a nice secondary effect.

    Good luck on all, including the “cool” part.

  6. Chris - Post author

    Hi Susie, I like what you say about being aware of our desires and attachments, and I think one of the best ways to do that is to openly admit that they are there — my sense is that I experience the most growth when I’m willing to acknowledge what I’m wanting, especially when I’m feeling some worry that what I want is “selfish” or “childish” or something like that. This post itself was hard to write because it involved admitting that I’m “not perfect,” because I have a part of me that cares about recognition, but I think that’s where the growth happens.

  7. Susie Amundson


    I agree with naming our desires — no need to push them away because then they can really start roaring! Name and Tame. The one part that seems a bit harsh is judging yourself as “selfish” even if you have desires. Sometimes with those strong desires I like to move in a little closer and see what part of my core they are emerging from. It just provides more insight and learning.

    Thanks for writing.

  8. Robin Easton

    Dear Chris, this is just priceless honest wisdom. I often feel SO humbled in your presence. You are amazingly honest here are that really cuts through all the crap and allows others to let down, let go, and also be honest.

    I love what you said about acknowledging that you want attention. I too have found that to be ESSENTIAL! It is adult behavior as opposed to babies who just cry and whine and expect the mother to KNOW what they need. They have no choice because a baby has no words. But as adults we CAN say, I would like this or that. Or I need this or that. And it makes things so much clearer and, as you say, lifts that load off the shoulders. It also clears the air. There are no unspoken needs that we silently walk around expecting other people to see.

    I remember a time of my life when I was in my twenties and I just wanted my partner to know all my needs and give me attention without me having to ask for anything. Lol!! :) And then I pouted when they didn’t, couldn’t, or didn’t see. Then one day it hit me that I was behaving like a baby, and I was NOT a baby. I was a grown woman who COULD ask for what I needed, even if was attention. I found that very liberating. There is just something SO clean about that.

    You are a fabulous writer, Chris. No, it more than that. You share in a wonderfully honest and real way. I so appreciate that. Hugs to you, and hope you are doing REALLY well. Rob :)

  9. Chris - Post author

    Hi Robin — that feels really good to have my honesty appreciated — I love that I can do my own work and give others something as well by just letting it all hang out. :)

    That’s a great observation, I think — that it takes maturity and courage to say what we want, rather than expecting other people to know what we want, or pretending we don’t want anything to avoid offending or bothering anyone, and so on. And like you say, it’s funny how that actually seems to get harder the closer we get with someone — the closeness creates more fear of losing, but the relationship can’t deepen unless we’re willing to turn toward that fear.

  10. Hilary

    Hi Chris .. I’m so behind .. and I save your posts – so I can concentrate on them .. except I’m not doing so well – as I’m way behind after blogger’s cavortings on and off line ..

    Gamers are the way of the future .. lots of pluses there .. can’t say I’m enamoured – but from the TED talks .. the creativity and development that comes from gamers is cool, very cool!!

    Re ego .. crumbs if you can build a game – go do it .. and have fun – bathe in the limelight or lack of .. you’ve created the app after all – so bathe .. rose water, I suggest ..

    Cheers – Hilary

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