In ancient Rome, during triumphal marches through city, a slave always rode on the chariot carrying the honoree. His job was to stand behind the honoree holding a laurel wreath over the hero’s head while whispering “Remember, thou art but a man.” Wise people, those Romans.
Every human being—I’m sure this was true even of Roman generals—is a mixture of ego and insecurities: they are part of what makes us human. It is the varying percentages of each which helps make each of us who we are and sets us apart from everyone else. I’m not sure what the ideal percentage of each might be, but suspect that most of us fall somewhere around 10 points to either side of the 50 percent center line, with some natural degree of fluxuation between them. Ego and insecurity are a little like oil and vinegar in a cruet, each clearly defined.
I truly admire people with healthy egos, and have noticed that those who have them seldom seem aware of it. But then, that’s the point of a healthy ego: there is no need to question it. And while people who project too strong an ego can be insufferable, it’s been my experience that obnoxious egos are often chimeras, and those who display them often are doing so to hide their insecurities
But in some people, writers among them, it’s as though someone were shaking the bejezus out of the cruet and the ego and insecurity are so jumbled as to be indistinguishable. I know whereof I speak, because my ego and insecurity have been in the process of emulsification in the cruet of my mind for as long as I can remember. My ego tells me I’m great, and that anyone who reads my words will automatically become devoted and adoring fans. My insecurity tells my ego it’s full of crap, and I’m no damned good (on a bad day) or mediocre at best (on a good day) and that anyone who tells me I do have some worth is just being kind.
A writer’s ego is large enough to assume people will want to read what they have written, and often unjustifiably insecure in fearing they won’t. I am frequently awed by the extremes of both my ego and my insecurities and frustrated by the fact that they invariable negate one another. It is my ego which writes these blogs, and my insecurities that constantly scoff at how I can have the temerity to think that anyone could actually care what I have to say.
For whatever reason, many writers—and you don’t need a caliper and slide rule to figure out I’m including myself here—have a desperate need for approval, which is a form of validation. Every human needs validation, but writers…I…seem for whatever reason to be particularly needy. There is never enough love; never enough approval, and a perverse willingness to find and magnify faults and flaws. I fully realize I’m an emotional sponge, eager to soak up every drop of approval I can get. And when I don’t get enough—which of course I never possibly can—I chalk it up to my unworthiness and figuratively beat myself severely about the head and shoulders for it.
But underneath it all, or perhaps because of it, I am truly convinced (ego) that I am not alone in the way I feel; that you may sometimes feel the same way, and that through my throwing myself out in front of you, you might see that you are not as alone as you may think. It is pure ego for me to assume so, but would be nice if it were true. I think they call it “validation.”
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