What Motivates You: Calling or Ego?

ego2-drhannanI found this gem of an article in the March 2014 issue of Inc. Magazine.  I wish it were an entire book – there’s much to consider here. But narrowing it down to three basic distinctions isn’t a bad place to start. I’m taking some of this verbatim from columnist Shelley Prevost – these are her ideas, not mine. I’m just putting them in question form because I think they’re handy, especially for artistic types as we consider new projects.

If you’re trying to decipher what’s driving you – ego or calling – consider these three questions:

1. Are you burnt out? 

Ego leads to burnout, calling leads to fulfillment. When you feel deep satisfaction when you’re in the muddle with a project that may or may not lead to anything, and long to keep going…that’s a sign of calling.

2. Is your main focus the finish line?

Ego focuses on the result, whereas calling focuses on the process. Prevost points out that when we feel like all our work is pointless unless or until we get the result we were shooting for–publish the book, finish the race, thwart the evil villian once and for all (oops, that’s my superhero side slipping out!) — we’re at the mercy of our egos.  “A calling, however, can handle the stress of ambiguity.” (Isn’t that a nice way to put it?)

3. Are you thinking about the impact this project will have on you, or on others? 

This is a tricky one, because most writers write for other people…and the way we imagine it will feel to have them read our book. See how circular that can be? But I think the question comes to this: am I writing to have written another book, or can I see in my mind’s eye an individual reader who will be entertained/inspired because I wrote another book?

Interesting questions, right?

My thoughts: Having an ego gets a bad rap (especially in faith circles). The temptation is to pretend that we’re above all this, that our motives pure and altruistic. What crap. NOBODY has more ego that someone who writes or speaks or sings or performs for a living. It takes ego to carry the audacious idea that not only do we have something to say…but other people should stop what they’re doing and listen.

Ego isn’t bad. It’s just that those little seeds of narcissism need careful tending, lest they grow all up through our creative Unknownprocess and ruin everything. The ego says, “I have something to say!” whereas calling helps you slow down enough to figure out what that something is, and how to say it well.

I’ve written from both of these places. Obviously, the stuff I wrote when I was fulfilled, enjoying the process, and thinking of readers is far better than what I’ve come up with in the throes of “I have to get another book written or I’m a failure!” angst. The first-catagory pages are the ones I come back to again and again, adding and editing, tinkering and moving things around, waiting to see what new thoughts and shapes emerge. I’m grateful for this reminder that this isn’t just a waste of time when I SHOULD REALLY BE WRITING!

This IS writing.

Bonus: Digging around, I found this longer article by Prevost expanding on this topic. Enjoy :)

One thought on “What Motivates You: Calling or Ego?

  1. Lately, I’m not sure I have a calling. There are worthy things I am inspired by and so invest time in (like certain charitable endeavors) and I love to sing and record music. I just don’t feel like either one wants to take over my life. I mean I would totally do music full time if I could but so far that hasn’t presented itself and as I go after it, I start to wonder what I’m going after. I definitely feel the burn out at times. But there’s nothing else I want to do and whenever I decide, okay, maybe music is just a hobby, then a big important door opens just a crack and I’m hooked again. And I agree with you Trish, for artists, at least a little ego is standard.

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