Best-Of Advice

On greatness and killing your ego

Dear Coquette,

How do I accept that I won’t ever be great or outstanding? I always thought I had talent, and maybe I’m not bad, but a great many people are far better. I can’t stop thinking this and it’s causing me great anxiety.


Kill your ego, because nothing you do will ever matter. That’s okay, though. It’s not just you. It’s all of us. It’s taken 100,000 years for our species to hump and grunt its way into momentary dominance on this pale blue dot, but nothing we’ve accomplished is all that outstanding when you consider that a Mall of America-sized asteroid is all it would take to turn humanity into the next thin layer of fossil fuels.

Greatness is nothing but the surface tension on the spit bubble of human endeavor. On a geological time scale, our measurable effect on the planet is a greasy burp. We are seven billion tiny flecks of talking meat stuck to an unremarkable mud ball hurtling through space in an unimaginably vast universe for no particular reason. There is no difference between kings and cripples, my friend. We’re all the same hodgepodge of primordial goo, and the pursuit of greatness is a fool’s errand.

Pursue happiness instead. Find peace in your insignificance, and just let your anxiety go. Learn to savor the likely truth that the sum total of human achievement won’t even register in the grand scheme, so you might as well just enjoy whatever talents you have. Use them to make yourself and others happy, and set aside any desire to be great or outstanding.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t do your best. You should. If you’re talented, by all means, exploit that talent to the fullest extent possible. Just don’t do it for the sake of greatness. Do it for the sake of happiness. If the distinction is a little hazy, that’s because your ego is doing its best to get in the way. Your ego wants to put you on a pedestal at the center of the universe. It wants to convince you of silly things like jealous gods and life after death. Your ego would never allow you to believe that you are anything other than a special snowflake, which is why you have to kill it.

Annihilating your ego is the quickest way to happiness. Embracing your insignificance will make your anxiety suddenly seem ridiculous. You’ll recognize petty emotions like schadenfreude and envy for the childish tantrums that they are. You’ll stop comparing your talents to others, and you’ll be able to enjoy being good at something without the need to be great.


11 thoughts on “On greatness and killing your ego

  1. Lyndsay says:

    I really wanted to share this but then I saw the word ‘cripple’ and figured a bunch of ppl on my facebook would have a problem with it. I mean, I do too but I appreciate the rest of the piece so much….anyway that’s my comment

    • Lainey says:

      Really? Now people can’t use the word “cripple?” without people becoming offended? Why? It’s a perfectly good word in this context. Jeez, my sister is crippled, ie, she can’t walk without crutches and is mostly in a wheel chair and I don’t find the word offensive, it is what it is.

      • frankie says:

        just because you personally don’t find it offensive, doesn’t mean other people do not. in that same vein, I know many disabled people who find it offensive. so we can call it even

      • Lainey, you’re not disabled yourself, are you? How do I put this? Using the word “cripple” among disabled people is rather like saying the N word among people of colour. It’s OK if we say it ourselves or between our friend groups, but if a person without a disability comes out with it, not cool. Generally because those of you who aren’t disabled in some way have very little idea of what it’s like to live with disability, and no first-hand experience at all.

        I don’t see you saying your sister doesn’t find the word offensive, btw. Did you bother to ask her? I wonder.

        Oh, for the record, I’m a full-time wheelchair user with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome & umpteen other issues. While I don’t mind my disabled mates throwing around words like “crip” and “gimp”, coming from non-disabled people they really are offensive, because it’s still common parlance to use terms for disabilities as insults among the general population. And using such terms as negatives and insults just perpetuates the negative behaviours that disabled people get from abled people all day every day.

        That? Is WAY not cool. And that’s why I won’t be sharing this post either. It’s nothing like CQ’s usual carelessness with language – this stuff helps to show off & continue a casually-regarded sociological injustice that should have been eradicated by now, and is being done by someone on the inflicting side, here. If CQ were disabled, which from all she writes I gather she’s not, that would be different.

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  3. So Ready says:

    Now, pedantics in the comment section aside, how does one go about the process of killing one’s ego? Especially when one does not have access to hallucinogens.

    • Aya says:

      First, notice you have an ego. Reward yourself for noticing. Just give yourself a little mental pat on the back. Now, remember this feeling — the one of being so far away from your greatness that you realize it’s meaningless.

      Repeat as often as possible. And every time you notice, not matter how badly your ego was winning before, no matter how long between moments of noticing — EVERY SINGLE TIME — reward yourself.

      It will happen more and more.

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