Ego Wants and Soul Needs

You’ve probably heard of the importance of distinguishing between want and need when it comes to spending money. But what about manifestations of ego-wants, such as the jobs or relationships we choose? Or where we decide to live?

What is a soul-need and an ego-want? The soul-need has to do with you, and what makes you happy. The ego is all about how it looks on the outside. The ego wants to gain approval and avoid humiliation. It fears rejection. That means either avoiding everything at all costs, or only doing what looks good, that has a visible value. Because yes, the ego is superficial, and it is completely outwardly focused.

How to Spot the Ego

The ego manifests as that voice in your head that sounds on the verge of panic, telling you not to do something you desire. There’s often a feeling of disappointment, or conflict. Or the ego argues you should do something that has you thinking, ‘Well, I don’t really want…’ Again there’s that bad feeling, like an imbalance. The flow isn’t smooth and even, you’re unsettled. Usually the ego is loud enough to drown out the other voice, the one that really knows what’s best: the soul.

That’s the ego at play, making us worry we’re not good enough and we have to be something other than ourselves. No, correct that, other than we see ourselves as being. This is the tricky thing: your ego is you. It’s all subjective. It shows you a distorted image and offers a correspondingly distorted solution, which seems logical but is, of course, wrong. The ego knows exactly what to say. You’ll think it’s your reasonable self, except you don’t feel really good about what you’re doing. I know. I’ve been down that road so many times.

The Sad Result

The ego will have you dating the wrong people, working the wrong job, living in a place you don’t like or can’t afford. The list goes on. I’ve tried to imagine what my life would have been like if I’d always chosen what fed my soul, without regard to markers like money, status, job title, material wealth, peer approval. You can put in family approval also, even if that wasn’t a big one for me. The sad result is you expect to fell better but you feel worse.

Been There, Done All That

I worked a summer job at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Eons ago, before they moved into the new super hospital. I typed letters from a Dictaphone. The office was plain, the paint was yellow and peeling but there was a real window that opened and a tree outside. I left for something that paid better, in a high rise. There was no view because the offices rimmed the perimeter. I sat in a secretarial pool in the middle. Ick. The bigwigs who inhabited the offices, with the windows, never spoke to me, not that I cared. I didn’t even stay a month. The move wasn’t worth it. I missed my tree.

I dated someone who had a great job, excellent education, looked good and lived in a penthouse. But we didn’t have much in common. Maybe he didn’t make that much effort because he didn’t take me that seriously. Because he was engaged to someone who lived in another city. I should have broken it off sooner. But damn, it was an impressive relationship–on the outside.

There have been job moves and promotion applications, that I neither had the motivation nor interest for but somehow went down the road of believing I was at that point in my career, it was a good move, and if I was serious (read mature, again) I’d be willing to put in the time and effort.

A Waste of Time

Overall, what a waste of time. The ego, of course, has reasonable suggestions and explanations. ‘You can’t be a bohemian and work in a shabby office your whole life. Grow up.’ ‘Maybe you misunderstood and he goes out of town on business every week end. Maybe he’s undecided. Maybe you should be mature and give him a chance.’ My ego always plays the maturity and act-like-a-grown-up thing with me. It’s my ego, it knows me. Yours will find its own ways.

In A return to Love Marianne Williamson writes: ‘The ego is our mental power turned against ourselves. It is clever, like we are, and smooth-talking, like we are, and manipulative, like we are… It’s not stupid, because we’re not. Rather it says things like “Hi, I’m your mature adult self…”’


Sometimes I relapse. Last year, I entered a short story contest, encouraged by a friend. I knew my writing wasn’t the style or genre that made the cut. I’d read the winners from the previous years. But, ego flattered, off I went. Entering both the fiction and non-fiction categories. I wasn’t a finalist. I wasn’t shortlisted. Heck, I wasn’t even long listed. I knew this but I was flattered and my imagination did the rest. Why? Because my ego responded. The ego loves anything hierarchical, because it provides outside validation. Who cares what you think, you have external approval?

Remember old Bugs Bunny cartoons? When he puts on a bonnet and Yosemite Sam thinks he’s a missus (I think Bugs pretends to be a widow) and comes ‘a courtin’ and Bugs says, “Oh, who? Little ’ol meeee?”

OK, so that’s my ego. My ego wants attention. My soul couldn’t care less. “Who me? ooooh, you thought of me, I’m so flattered, of course, I’ll do it…” “You think I’d be perfect to ride a barrel over Niagara Falls? Oh, OK. Let me get my helmet.”

Hey, maybe I just can’t write. Or write anything short. My first manuscript was two hundred thousand words. But does it matter? If you ask my ego, yes. I should stop immediately. Cease! People will criticize you. You’re a dreamer, a phony. But if you ask the real me, I don’t think I’ll ever stop telling stories. And in the end the soul me makes me much happier that my ego. Next week, perhaps, I’ll post the first installment of said short story. Even if my ego is having fits.

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash