Never Tie Your Sense of Self to These 3 Common Things

What does ego death feel like? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Jeff Meyerson, Host of Software Engineering Daily, on Quora:

Ego death is experienced when your sense of self is tied to something that gets lost.

If your ego maps to money, physique, or family, then you are risking ego death. These are not resilient sources of self-identity. Possessions can be lost, bodies degrade, and family members die.

Ego death upon loss of money: epidemic among stock traders, investors, and gamblers.

Jesse Livermore killed himself after losing all of his money and letting his relationships crumble in lockstep. Teenage poker tragedy Grimstarr became unhinged and eventually left the community (or changed his identity) after a traumatic financial fluctuation.

Money has always been a dangerous numerical substitute for ego. Today there are many other metrics.

Many of us live by metrics. Recurring revenue, rebounds, net worth, BMI, retweets, answer views, likes, ranking on Hacker News, upvotes. These are neither leading indicators nor lagging indicators of your worth as a person.

Don't become an entirely quantified self. There is no algorithm for unequivocal judgment. There is no way to aggregate a portfolio of numbers into a healthy ego.

Tying self-worth to discrete numbers is an invitation for pain.

Ego death upon losing physique: athletes sometimes let career-ending injuries halt their lives completely. Losing some ego after such an injury is unavoidable. But ego death can be avoided. Doyle Brunson would have probably joined the Lakers if not for injuring his knee.

"Just when young Doyle was on top of the world, the unthinkable happened. He recalls: "I got injured and busted up my knee. That ended whatever aspirations I had of becoming a professional athlete. It wasn't easy to accept the fact that my career in sports was over, just like that."

This injury would have permanently destroyed the spirit of individuals without resilience. But because of a strong ego, Doyle pivoted careers and became the best poker player in the world.

Ego death upon losing family: Parents sometimes say, "I live for my children." A man will say, "I live for my wife."

Tying your identity to the well-being or attention of a single other individual is very risky. Spouses die in car accidents or fall out of love. Children decide to dissociate from their parents. It is unromantic to think of these possibilities but pragmatic to prepare for them.

Tending to a loved one in the hospital or standing beside a grave will make your ego weak, but does not need to cause ego death. A healthy ego can acknowledge loss of a loved one and recover strength in spite of trauma. Viktor Frankl reminisces about life in the concentration camp:

"I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when Man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way--an honorable way--in such a position Man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory."

The best insurance against ego death is a contemplative, strong inner self-identity. An ego defined in this way is resilient against loss of money, reputation, physique, family, and friends.

Ego death is very painful, and there is no way to protect completely against it. Most people will experience ego death in their life at least once. Some people will resuscitate their ego and others will lose it forever.We should do our best to avoid having an ego that will die in the event of severe trauma.

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