Looking for Gold Stars?
Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors
Looking for Gold Stars?Learning the value of your authentic self.
Our early teaching convinces us that who we are is defined by our accomplishments. Our educational system emphasizes accomplishment, reinforcing the idea even more. No gold star is easily interpreted as no value as a person. When we fail a test, our sense of self is a feeling of failure, and such ego-strengthening notions become our reality. From preschool through graduate school, the messages are similar: We’re defined by how well we do. If we don’t do well, we’re labeled “underachievers.” The concept of Ambition as an indicator of how much worth we have, both in the eyes of our fellow humans and even in the mind of God, is cemented firmly into our consciousness.
These ideas carry over into every aspect of our developing ego. The popular saying “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” makes losers out of 50 percent of competitors, since every competition that has a winner must also have a loser. In all areas of life, whatever we do tends to define our worth. The artist whose portfolio is judged inferior to another’s often feels a loss of value as a human being. The singer who doesn’t make it to number one in some category feels that he or she is worth less.
Ego training continues into adulthood, often eradicating any self-concept based on our Divinity as a piece of God who came from nondoing and is headed back to nondoing. Ego training contributes to a self-concept that makes us shrivel into a feeling of insignificance at our meager portfolio in contrast to those who have achieved more. The truth is that we don’t have to do a thing in order to validate ourselves as worthy and valuable.
In the movie The Shift, David, the frustrated filmmaker, illustrates what I’m writing about. His character acts out problems that arise with his ego belief: I am what I do. If he can’t make his movie, he loses not only his happiness, but his soul as well. It’s only when David begins to let go, to take a few moments to be present in the present and let in the ideas that are being taught in the film, that the magic begins to take hold. I repeat what will become a familiar theme: If we are what we do, then when we don’t or can’t, we aren’t. I think we need to pay special attention to this point.
Most people raised in the modern world are skeptical of doing nothing. We’re weaned on Ambition, and particularly the “doing more” expression of it. Yet we need to consider the very real and troubling aspects of believing that we are what we do.
In the film, David loses his sense of self-worth because of ego’s teachings. He becomes depressed and feels totally lost—all because he’s bought in to teachings that he’s defined as a worthy individual on the basis of what he accomplishes. For David, then, not having the film project he wants causes him to feel that he’s not a person of value. It’s a false conclusion based on living from the false self.
This is the danger of listening to ego rather than our authentic self. Every time we feel as though we’ve failed, we place our worth as a human being in jeopardy. My advice on relinquishing ego’s assumptions that we are what we do is to live from our most authentic self. Then when we’re able, we must replace Ambition with Meaning. What does it take to shift out of this detrimental belief system? In the film The Shift, I suggest thinking of our relationship to God or the great Tao by imagining the ocean as symbolic of God, and ourselves symbolized by a small glass of water from the ocean. If asked what’s in the glass, we’d say, “A glass of God. It’s not as big or as strong, but it’s a glass of God.” If we empty the glass of water on the sidewalk, we’d see it disappear as it vaporized.
Ultimately, it would return to its source. While the ocean water is in the glass, separate from its source, it lacks the power of the ocean. But when it rejoins its source, it is once again part of the powerful ocean. That water on the sidewalk having lost its connection to its source is a symbol of ego.