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Why do many people with huge egos seem successful in life? || Acharya Prashant, with youth (2013)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
9 min
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Acharya Prashant (AP): The questioner asks, if ego, really the devil that we make it out to be? And if it is so, then why do I find people with huge egos succeeding in this society, being termed as respectable, and everything?

What is the ego? Ego means I do not know myself, and my sense of the self comes from outside. I am living on somebody else’s idea of what I am. I have not bothered to find out what my real self is, and as a substitute, I have just borrowed other’s opinions and beliefs. I have been handed over thoughts and identities and I have internalized them. I have just taken them to be true. So much so, that I have started saying that I am what you tell me I am.

You tell me that I am a Hindu, so I have started believing that I am a Hindu. You have given me a few certificates, so I have started believing that I am competent. And you have told me that I am a laggard in such and such ways, so I have taken it that I am not good enough. This is what is ego. Ego is not pride. Pride is a very limited expression of the ego.

Ego is the absence of self-awareness.

I do not know myself, so I look at myself from the eyes of others. I do not know myself, so I am looking at myself through the eyes of others. This is what ego is. Now what will this ego do to me?

So, I am sitting over here, and I am looking at myself from the eyes of this audience. Now, if the audience claps, I will think that I am good, capable. And if this audience doesn’t clap, or starts hooting, I will say that I am unworthy and incompetent. So, what have I become? Shall I say, I have become a slave of this audience? Have I not become a slave of this audience? Because if this audience wants, it can make me feel worthy. And if it wants, it can immediately make me feel unworthy. So, my sense of myself is now totally dependent upon the audience. I have become a slave to other’s opinions, and that’s the kind of life we all live. And that is why we are so afraid of others.

When you come to speak in front of an audience, do you see why you are so afraid, why you become so nervous and feel jittery? Ego is the reason. You never hesitate to speak when you are in solitude, alone in a room. Are you nervous even then? No, you are not. Have you not wondered why you become nervous when speaking in front of a hundred or two hundred people, even ten people? Have you ever wondered?

The reason is because your self-esteem is not your own, you are borrowing it from others. And hence you are afraid that others can take it back. To live in ego is to live in constant fear, because your identity is coming from somebody else. And hence, somebody else can also take it back.

Your friends have so far told you that you are brilliant. But you come to the podium, and you start speaking, and the same friends can also now tell you that you are stupid. And because you believed it and internalized it when they said that you are brilliant, you have to also believe it when they say that you are stupid.

So, you will remain in constant fear of your friends. They are now your masters. They determine what you do. You’ll not be free to act. You’ll always have one eye upon what they are thinking of you. And that’s all society is, right? Always thinking of what others are thinking of me. That is what ego is! It makes you so fearful. It makes you a slave of everybody else. Your life does not remain your own. You start doing things just to please others so that they may say good things about you.

Now, the next part of the question is: then why do I see egoistic people succeeding?

If success is that goals given by others—you remember, we talked of that? If success is about achieving goals given by others, then the ‘others’ will be very happy when you are successful. Go into the statement again. If success is about achieving goals given by others, then others will obviously be happy when you are successful. Why?

Questioner (Q): Because you have satisfied their ego.

AP: Because you have achieved the goals given by them. You see, I give my slave a target to achieve something. Let’s say I tell him to bring something from the market. And I have given this as a goal to him. Obviously, I’ll be very happy when he brings that stuff from the market. And I’ll say you are successful. But was that really his goal to bring that stuff from the market? Is he really successful?

The fact is the master has succeeded. I wanted him to do something, he has done that, whose success is this? Mine or his? It’s actually my success.

Society will greatly praise you if you are a slave of the society.

That is the reason why you see egoistic people being respected by the society. The fact is that the society can respect only those who are its slaves, those who do what the society commands them to do. Otherwise, why will the society respect you?

When one is really authentic, really genuine and ego-free, really an individual, actually he faces a lot of resistance from the society. Forget about respecting him or praising him, the society becomes his enemy.

In the kind of society that we have, only great slaves will be greatly respected.

Because when I am a great slave, I am doing what the society wants me to do. And when I do what the society wants me to do, obviously, the society will be happy. The society wants you to be greedy, ambitious, competitive, and violent. When you will be competitive, ambitious and violent, the society will say great things about you.

The society wants you to be parochial and nationalistic, and it wants you to have a particular set of values, social values. When you have all that, obviously, the society will be happy and honour you. But, in being honoured by the society, in leading your life according to the society, you are killing yourself. You are compromising on the very essence of life. You are not alive at all.

Don’t go by the yardsticks of the society. You have your own intelligence to live with. You are no more ten year old. Your brains are ripe enough now. And you must be your own individual, Yes? Difficult?

Q: Sir, no one can live in this society without having ego.

AP: No one can live in this society without being a slave?

‘No one can live in this society without being a slave’, that’s what the questioner says. Let’s look at what you mean by ‘this’ society.

What would be the society of a terrorist? Who are the people you will find around a terrorist?

Q: Sir, terrorists.

AP: Other terrorists. So, for the terrorist, the society is full of?

Q: Terrorists.

AP: Terrorists! Because if you are a terrorist, you will only have terrorists around you. Will you find a terrorist in a society of monks? What is society for you except the three-hundred, four-hundred, five-hundred people you have seen in your life, or read of, or heard of? And you only attract those people in your life who are as you are.

If you are a monk, you will say the society is full of monks. If you are a terrorist, you will say the society is full of terrorists. Don’t say that the society is like this. There are a million societies parallelly. There are a million societies parallelly, you get the society that you deserve.

So, if you are in a particular society, it is because you are like this. Because a terrorist is a terrorist, hence, his society is full of terrorists. Because you are what you are, hence, you find only a society of slaves around you. So, if you find that people around are all slaves, then what does that tell about you?

So, the moment you say that the society is like this, all you are saying is that I am like this. Because there are seven billion people in the world, and all you know of are some seven-hundred people. The moment you change, the society around you changes.

The moment you change, the society around you changes. Do not bring in the society as a proof, because the society is nothing but a reflection of what you are.

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