Vera Countess von Lehndorff wrote a letter to James Harmon for his book, Take My Advice, and in her letter she discusses goals, ambitions, talents, and our journey. She encourages us to have courageous goals, but she also brings in a bit of self awareness with out goal setting. “You want to be the greatest? You want to just feed your ego? That’s not so great.” This quote is her response to lofty goals and visions of success.
When I read over this quote I think about the goals that I have had throughout life, and how many of them are less about me, and are in one way or another more about fulfilling other people’s expectations and looking impressive. These types of goals promise us a land where we will feel high and mighty because we will gain the respect and admiration of others as a result of our greatness. However, these goals may not always be aligned with our true purpose or talents, and pursuing them relentlessly could cost us our peace of mind, happiness, and relationships.
For me, building habits of self awareness and learning how to look inwards to examine my goals has helped me understand where my goals originated. When I began to examine my goals I found I pursued some because society had determined that they were lofty and valuable. When I return to von Lehndorff’s quote I can see the ways in which pushing towards goals that simply feed an ego are more damaging than positive for the individual and the world. Losing sight of other people to pursue a goal that will build your ego will direct you to a place where people may be impressed by your title or your material possessions, but you may risk jeopardizing true friendships along the way. If you set out on a goal that only serves your ego, you also risk missing the chance to provide something meaningful and unique to the world. I am currently reading The Go-Giver by Bob Berg, and Berg would agree with this point of view. He would argue that you can provide value and find success by chasing goals that only serve yourself, but that in order to reach a level of stratospheric success you must focus more on the value you provide to others. This means that you must forget about your own ego and find goals that serve others as much as yourself.
Ultimately, I believe the problem with chasing a goal fueled by ego is the likelihood that you will burn out. You run the chance of pushing yourself into situations that serve your ego rather than your purpose, and you miss out on actively working towards goals that excite you and fuel a passion. In the end, aiming for greatness takes you away from happiness because your ego is built by your accomplishments and outside recognition. If you abandon ego and learn to operate without requiring the praise and admiration of others, you can find a level of greatness where you understand that you are great independently of outside recognition and ego serving applause.