Of all my nasty habits, and I have many, ego was and is the most self-destructive. My ego ruined friendships, hurt too many and let others down.
Ego is a partner of conceit, which Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, calls “excessive appreciation of one’s worth or virtue.”
“The ego is only an illusion, but a very influential one,” writes American psychologist Wayne Dyer. “Letting the ego-illusion become your identity can prevent you from knowing your true self. Ego, the false idea of believing that you are what you have or what you do, is a backwards way of assessing and living life.”
Doing a few things well early in life put my ego into overdrive. I became a full-time newspaper reporter at age 17, won my first writing award from the Virginia Press Association at 19.
I thought I was a big deal. I wasn’t. I was nothing more than a lucky kid with just enough writing ability to string declarative sentences together in a readable way.
“Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average,” said Sigmund Freud. “His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part.”
I began to drink at 15 and the alcohol fed my exaggerated sense of self-worth. I did too many things to feed my illusion of self-worth.
My first daily newspaper job at The Roanoke Times came with the proviso that I get a college degree within five years. I dropped out of classes at the Roanoke Center of the University of Virginia after two-year because I could not keep up full-time schedules of both classes and at the newspaper but didn’t tell the Times.
When they found out, I was given two weeks notice. That notice came on a Friday and, on the Monday that followed, I was on a plane to St. Louis to interview for an open reporter position at the Alton Evening Telegraph, an afternoon daily newspaper in that metro area. I flew back Monday evening with the job.
My ego told me that I didn’t need no stinkin’ college degree because I was too damn good at my job without one. Within five years, I had a weekly opinion column. A couple of years later, I was Weekend Editor who edited the weekly magazine, drove a red TR-6 convertible and dated several of the most desirable women available.
I was on top of the world as a local celebrity columnist and my ego grew even more.
It was an illusion. I was a drunk who endangered people by driving under the influence and left a trail of broken relationships. One dumped girlfriend stalked me and cut the brake lines of my car, causing a crash when a lady friend was driving. Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt.
After 12 years in Alton, Congressman Paul Findley, who represented Alton, offered me a chance to go to Washington as his press secretary, another jump in salary. I rationalized the move out of newspapers as a brief sabbatical to learn a little about how Washington worked so I could return use that knowledge for reporting.
But working in Washington fed my ego and illusion that I was a some kind of hot shot. Within three years I was a Congressional chief of staff. National political campaign committees recruited me to work weekends traveling around the country as a consultant to advise candidates.
I had access to the White House as an advisor to presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush and lectured at the American Campaign Academy, which taught aspiring political operatives. I wrote a guide called “Hitting the Ground Running” to help newly arrived members of Congress and became a regular participant at seminars at The Washington Center for Politics & Journalism.
In 1987, National Association of Realtors senior vice president Steve Driesler asked me to join the political programs division, where I became division vice president for political programs with responsibility over what was then the largest political action committee in Washington and an issues mobilization fund that poured millions into referendums in states around the country.
My already large ego continued to grow out of control. So did my alcoholism. In 1994, I walked away from political activism and booze but my ego remained as I became senior communications associate for a business communications company and returned to free-lance work for newspapers, magazines and online websites. I also headed Capitol Hill Blue, a national political news website that New York Times media writer Felicity Barrringer called “a must read for editors” for news organizations like U.S. News & World Report..
By year 2000, I was traveling around the world, either covering news or advising businesses on how to communicate with the public and/or the media. On Sept. 11, 2001, I was at the Pentagon, photographing the carnage of a terrorist attack. Those photos appeared in newspapers around the world.
None of this came as a result of talent or educations or training or ability. It, and I, were illusions.
I was sober, but remained what psychologists call “a dry drunk,” someone who still had bad traits. My worst trait was an ego that fed my illusions that I could survive any challenge, any threat or anything else.
Too many traces of that ego remained after Amy and I left Washington in 2004, in part to semi-retire and part to help my mother in her final years in Floyd County. Still, I tended to lecture readers of Blue Ridge Muse, continued to write biting columns for Capitol Hill Blue, wrote OpEd pieces for national newspapers and returned to Washington each year to appear at the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism.
I created too many controversies with my writing, angered and alienated too many people with my attitude and ego.
On Nov. 9, 2012.my ego and my motorcycle came crashing down on when I laid the bike down in an attempt to avoid hitting a cow on U.S. 221 at Pogue Valley Road in Roanoke County, between Cave Spring and the bottom of Bent Mountain.
I don’t remember that accident or anything that happened until I woke up, still in the hospital in Roanoke on the morning of, Dec. 5. I had broken my right leg in several places, my right ankle, ripped off the right side of my face, dislocated my right eye and suffered a closed-head injury that caused massive brain trauma.
When I left Carilion Hospital on Christmas eve, the notation on my discharge papers concluded I was “a walking miracle.”
Perhaps but I would need more than a year of extensive therapy and rehabilitation to walk, with difficulty. I wasn’t indestructible, as my ego once claimed. I was, once again, extremely lucky.
My brain injuries left me with short term memory loss, a lingering inability to complete sentences in conversations and a lot of self-doubt. I still ride motorcycles but do so less frequently, hardly ever at night and on shorter trips.
I have to keep detailed calendars of when and where I need to be at what times every day.
Amy says I doubt myself more. Good. I need those self-doubts. I have led a charmed life where luck substituted for talent, education and ability. After getting fired three times, always with cause, I immediately went at another job with more pay, more responsibility and more benefits.
Was I that good? Not a chance. I was lucky by being at the right place at the right time. People took chances on me. Some of them got burned.
In too many cases, I did not deserve such luck. I avoided real punishment. Perhaps, if I had suffered more from setbacks, it could have brought my ego under control.
I am not a good man. I have hurt too many people, squandered the trust of too many others and escaped too many transgressions. My wife of 39 years deserves better. Her support means so much. It is far more than I deserve.
Do I still have an ego? Of course. Is it out of control? I hope not, but like my 24 years, nine months and 18 days of keeping the beast of alcoholism at bay, egotism also lurks in the shadows, waiting for a moment of weakness to pounce. recovery from more than three decades egotism is a beast that hovers, waiting for a moment of weakness to pounce and take control. I struggle to keep both at bay, one day at a time.