Lately, I’ve been think­ing about how of­ten pride stabs my cre­ative process in the back.

This is partly be­cause I’ve been read­ing Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday: Holiday is a growth mar­keter and blog­ger who also has a huge in­ter­est in the Stoics. This book draws from a few threads from them, and other suc­cess sto­ries through his­tory to show how of­ten ego gets in the way of ac­tual suc­cess.

If ego is the voice that tells us we’re bet­ter than we re­ally are, we can say ego in­hibits true suc­cess by pre­vent­ing a di­rect and hon­est con­nec­tion to the world around us.

One of the early mem­bers of Alcoholics Anonymous de­fined ego as a con­scious sep­a­ra­tion from’. From what? Everything.

However this is not just about think­ing your work is bet­ter than any­one else thinks it is. It can also work the other way around—think­ing that you work is never good enough can also be the work of the ego.

Like a lot of self-help books, it’s a bit of a one tune book with vari­a­tions on a theme: the ways that ego can de­vise to slit your own ham­strings be­fore you start, or dur­ing your ef­fort, or even af­ter your ini­tial suc­cess.

But, it’s also a tune that I needed to hear in all those vari­a­tions. Because I have an ego prob­lem.

My guess is that most would­n’t think that to look at me, or hear from me. I’m not loudly spo­ken, or very of­ten the cen­ter of at­ten­tion. But that’s not the only way that ego­tism plays out.

The prob­lem for me is that what can ac­tu­ally be be­hind the thought of I’m not good enough for that“ is … but I should be good enough for that.” And so what looks like hu­mil­ity at first is ac­tu­ally pride in dis­guise. It’s not a pride in what you’ve achieved but a pride in your self-con­cep­tion. It’s a sort of artis­tic en­ti­tle­ment—I know I have a gift, so there­fore I should be tal­ented, or find this easy, or peo­ple should al­ready be ac­knowl­edg­ing my suc­cess in the New Yorker.

This is not to say that it’s wrong to be am­bi­tious—to have high hopes or good taste for the cre­ative act that you want to put out into the world. One pre­sumes you would­n’t be try­ing to make some­thing un­less you thought it would put some good into the world of some­one some­where. However this kind of am­bi­tion is, Holiday ar­gues, best served by a putting aside of ego, and a ded­i­ca­tion to the craft.

There’s just one thing that keeps ego around: com­fort. Pursuing great work—whether it is in sports or art or busi­ness—is of­ten ter­ri­fy­ing. Ego soothes that fear. It’s a salve to that in­se­cu­rity. Replacing the ra­tio­nal and aware parts of our psy­che with blus­ter and self-ab­sorp­tion, ego tells us what we want to hear, when we want to hear it.

This made me re­alise last night that I’ve al­ways thought of my­self as a writer, and a good one. That’s the fall­back po­si­tion for my ego. The place my ego can go the hand­ful ofmany times when I feel like I’ve screwed some­thing up and my ego needs a place to go to make it­self com­fort­able: At least you’re a good writer’.

It’s painful to ad­mit but here’s what this has meant time af­ter time: that I’ve failed to ac­tu­ally put blis­ters on my fin­gers to hone my craft. That when I see a piece by one of my peers that other peo­ple like, that my ego whis­pers side­ways in a Gollum voice, They should be read­ing yours’, while fail­ing to ac­knowl­edge that, ac­tu­ally, I haven’t put any al­ter­na­tive out there for peo­ple to read. That ac­tu­ally, maybe they are just bet­ter at writ­ing and hav­ing writ­ten.

So then, here is my pub­lic de­c­la­ra­tion to my ego: I’m not much of a writer. But since I’m not much of a writer, I can get down in the dirt and bleed at the craft for a while.

Here’s a quote from one of my he­roes, Ursula K. LeGuin

If I can keep my­self, my ego, my wishes and opin­ions, my men­tal junk, out of the way and find the fo­cus of the story, and fol­low the move­ment of the story, the story will tell it­self.”

So, I have this in­dex card with a Ursula K. Le Guin quote posted up above my writ­ing desk. I think to my­self, if she needed this re­minder, with all her prodi­gious gift and imag­i­na­tion and out­put, then maybe I do too.