I mentioned in a previous blog that there was a time in my career when I thought if I could get my face on a billboard on Sunset Blvd. I would know I had officially made it in show business.
Before I had a t.v. show, Sunset Blvd. was like a candy store and I was looking through the window. I could almost taste the candy. It looked so fantastic to be that person on the billboard – huge – everyone looking up at you. I was absolutely convinced there must be no greater feeling in the world than to be on one of those billboards, having your success broadcast 24 hours a day to the residents of Los Angeles, the capital of show business.
I eventually got a job co-hosting Dinner and a Movie on TBS. A couple of years into the show’s run they put on a pretty big ad campaign; People Magazine, the Today Show, our faces on the side of a building in Manhattan, and yes, a billboard on Sunset Blvd.
I lost respect for Sunset Blvd.
I was living the old Groucho Marx joke “I’d never want to belong to a country club that would have someone like me as a member.”
What I didn’t realize at the time is I was experiencing a game the ego loves to play that can best be described as a house of cards.
The ego, which loves fantasizing about the future (and regretting the past), paints a picture that we can feast on because the present moment is too painful. It tells us if we can just get this person place or thing we will be okay. We will be happy. Our anxiety will disappear.
We place so much value on this future happiness that we think of the present moment as something to get through. We are impatient, easily aggravated and tune out the needs of everyone around us, except those we think can speed us towards our promised happiness.
It’s like we’re so fixated on our life having an orgasm of success, we forget we’re giving it a cold, mechanical handjob.
Floor by floor we are building the house of card and one of two things happens.
One: We fail to reach the fantasy/goal, and sadly we may live our whole lives thinking it would have saved us. So we hold deep grudges against those who “got in our way”, our peers who achieved it, and ourselves for not attaining it.
Two: We achieve it and for a few seconds, maybe even a few months, there is a brief moment of ecstasy. We stand back and admire the house of cards. Our ego has gotten what it wanted. We are temporarily satisfied. We mistake the temporary glow of ego as true peace, true happiness.
But now that the ego is done building, it goes about its other natural activity – destroying. It begins to shake the table holding the very house of cards it worked so hard to build.
It picks apart the person, place or thing we “won” – and with precision, because it built it.
Some of the thoughts that passed through my brain within 24 hours of seeing myself on a billboard on Sunset Blvd.: It’s on the wrong part of Sunset, it’s not near the nightclubs; my show isn’t on a major network; my show isn’t listed in TV Guide so its not even a real show. I’m sharing the billboard with two other people so that’s not as good as being up there alone…
On and on, my ego shook the table until the house collapsed and I fell into a deep funk.
Years later, I learned that this is the game the ego plays and there is no winning with it. There is no sense in trying to protect the table, though some people do. Think of celebrities who engage in Twitter spats with complete strangers, or Bernie Madoff who went to unfathomable lengths to cling to his image as a trading guru.
Years ago, I remember watching Denzel Washington win his second Academy Award and thinking if I had a life like his I would be happier. He then closed his acceptance speech by mentioning that he still had fewer awards than Sidney Poitier and will always be chasing him. It struck me as odd at the time, but now that I know more about the ego it makes perfect sense.
His house of cards didn’t even survive the two minutes of an acceptance speech.
There are countless examples of people realizing their dream, and soon after becoming incredibly depressed. I’m not surprised at all. How can it not happen when your sense of self is wagered on a building that will be condemned?
Eric Clapton tells a story about reading the first bad review he got in Rolling Stone magazine. Up till that point people were literally spray-painting “Clapton is God” all over London. His ego bought into it. Rolling Stone critic Jon Landau said his style was full of blues clichés. When Clapton read the review, he fainted.
We all look at the driven billionaire and think, “Why are you still an angry workaholic?”
Because no material accomplishment can ever fully satisfy what the human being really wants which is to feel loved and connected to other human beings, not better than them.
I think fame makes true love more difficult, because most people equate fame with importance. So subconsciously we feel famous people are more important. Being loved by strangers who are impressed with your accomplishments isn’t real love. It’s adulation but that’s the only kind of love the ego can comprehend.
I’m probably lucky I’ve never been genuinely famous. I would have to hire someone just to catch me when I faint.
I can’t win with my ego, so I try to recognize where it injects itself into my life, and it’s pretty much everywhere all the time.
As I type this, my ego hopes it goes viral. I wrote that last sentence to bust myself – to shine a light on my ego as it started to unroll some blueprints.
Adulation fills in for love the way a great song is represented by Muzak. It kinda sounds like it, but it ain’t it.
I have never found any profound, lasting peace from recognition or adulation, but our media keeps making it look so awesome.
I’ve found peace by connecting to people; by laughing about how alike we really are and how ridiculous we look trying to prove otherwise.
What house of cards are you building right now?
What fantasy or obsession do you cling to so you can escape feeling your life at this moment?