One of my favourite things in the world to do is pick up my son Cohen from school. Each day, at 3:13pm on the dot, he rushes outside and gives me a big hug. Same routine, every day. Cohen has special needs, so I’m protective of him. It warms my heart to see him so excited as he tells me what he did that day, who he played with, and what he learned.
I feel so fortunate to be there for these special moments. I feel so grateful that I have a family business that affords me this great freedom. At Cohen’s school there are very few dads that pick up their kids. I am happy to be one of the few. So today I was caught off guard when my own emotions threw me a curve ball. I was waiting outside the school for Cohen to come out when my friend’s wife, said the following to me:
So you’re one of the Mom’s now!
It caught me off guard. I laughed, and said “I guess so”, and it passed. Nothing more. But it left me troubled, unsettled, uneasy, even a bit angry, enough so that when Cohen ran outside I was still caught in my own emotions, so I missed the tender nuances of his embrace. I missed what is normally the highlight of my day.
As I got home, the statement still bothered me. It shouldn’t have bothered me, the women was actually trying to help me (knowing that my wife was out of town). I kept thinking about it, and then I started to wonder, “why was this bothering me so much?”.
I thought about my life in context:
- Professionally I have literally never been happier, we have a great family business that I chose to embrace with my wife. I love our business. It is expanding globally. We influence thousands of people. It has afforded me great freedoms in my life. It has also allowed me to actively pursue my dream of being a published writer. My first book is very close to publication. I am truly happy with where I am, and I feel I can adequately judge my state, given that I was really depressed when I was practicing law.
- Meghann and I run what you might call a “true partnership home”. There aren’t “gender specific roles” in our home. Each of us take part in household chores, child raising duties, cooking, cleaning, and laundry. We don’t designate. We are equals and partners. We truly like it this way.
- I have incredible respect for moms. My mom was a stay at home mom. As a partial “stay at home dad” I know very well how difficult, and often externally unrewarding this task is. I am so grateful for my mom, for her sacrifice. Deep down inside I am honoured to be associated with moms. Not many men have this distinction.
- I am utterly grateful for the chance I have to work from home, and for the chance I have to be there for my kids. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
So if this is the case, why did the comment bother me so much. It wasn’t congruent. Then it hit me.
The Chimpanzee was back
The chimpanzee is the source of every negative emotion that I have ever experienced in my life. I am absolutely, 100% certain of it. Jealousy, pride, arrogance, insecurity, fear, sensitivity, brutal ambition, vanity – they are all derived from the chimpanzee.
The chimpanzee is what I call the ego, or the consciousness of the self
I’ve experienced the chimpanzee many times since I left law. I’ve experienced it when people mock our business because of the nature of the products, or mock me for selling them. I’ve experienced it when someone makes an ignorant comment regarding “pyramid schemes” when they clearly have no idea what they are talking about. I’ve experienced it when people think that we were “lucky” because we got in early – discounting the literal thousands of hours that me and Meg have put into the business. I’ve experienced it when people talk to me about going back to law, and not being so idealistic.
And today, for some irrational reason, I experienced it when I was associated with being a mom.
I think it is because deep down inside I still have fear. As much as I am trying my best to condition myself out of this, I still fear what people think of me. I want to be seen as “smart”, “innovative”, “creative”, and “driven”. I haven’t detached from the opinions of others fully. This is the ego. This is my consciousness of the self. This is the chimpanzee, wanting bananas and wanting to be seen.
When I am focused on my self, it is remarkably easy to experience negative emotions. Focusing on my self includes focusing on what I want (results) or how I am being perceived by others. These things are often out of my control. This focus fuels the conflict of the self. The more I focus on things, the more I want them. The more I want them, the easier it is to get disappointed when I don’t receive them.
I used to think that desire was the secret to life. I have read many, many books that suggest as much. You just need to want it bad enough. Let that burning desire build up in you. Crave it. Want it. Do anything to get it. However, over the past several years I’ve made a remarkable discovery that has changed my life:
Desire is at the heart of the ego. It is a craving that is never satisfied. Wanting only leads to more wanting. Yet, desire isn’t the source of my strength. Quite the opposite. Desire is my downfall.
The self-help, and “success” books get it wrong here. What makes me work into the night, what makes me take risks, and boldly strive for innovation, creativity, and a life that is both unique and full of positive contribution is NOT self-directed desire.
The source of my strength is curiosity. It is asking “can that be done?”, and “can I do it?”. It is mastery, and wanting to perfect a craft, for the sake of the craft. It is doing something not because of the “reward” that I get from it, but simply because the action itself is it’s own reward.
This discovery has changed my life. It has re-organized my schedule. It has literally turned me into a different person – a person who is anchored, and able to influence others – a person who can rationalize ego, and see it for what it really is. A person who can be happy each day because he has figured out how to give himself rewards, independent of the reward system that exists in the world.
All the emotional empowerment that I feel is because of curiosity, intrinsic motivation and the pursuit of mastery. It is not desire. It is not wanting. These trigger the chimpanzee. These leave me susceptible to the ever changing winds of emotion. I believe that if you want true freedom in life, mental freedom, emotional freedom, you will learn to free yourself from your self. Very hard to do, but a fight that I am engaging in each day.