This is a freestyle piece about my biggest current struggle.
The ego battle
I first noticed it shortly after my daughter was born in 2020. Due to her struggles with sleeping, I had to take her on long walks multiple times per day, every day, to get her to nap. Often, I would clock up 4-5 hours per day just walking her in a stroller.
My wife was mostly unable to help because the difficult birth had left her physically destroyed. So on top of working full time, I basically spent every spare minute walking Chloe around.
And the entire time I battled with frustration.
It just felt like such a waste of time. Chloe was too small to even know that it was me pushing the stroller, and of course about one-third of the time she was asleep. I was keenly aware that it required no brain-power or personal connection with her to do this task. Anyone could do it. Hell, a well-trained chimp could do it.
And yet here I was, master coach, author, podcaster etc., spending a vast majority of my time mindlessly pushing a stroller around, often just rolling it back and forth in some small cramped area of our local town because it was the only quiet place I could find.
Or as I put it in my mind: I felt like a spaceship being used to mow a lawn.
My ego raged against the complete disuse of my talents, skills and abilities. I could be writing and coaching and changing lives, but instead I’m basically being an overqualified monkey.
As my therapist pointed out, I simply couldn’t accept the truth: that not only was pushing the stroller my job, but that also it was the best use of my time, skills and abilities. I was being a father in body, but not in mind and heart. I was resistant to my role, and it caused me endless emotional suffering.
I’m a problem-solver. I have no issue taking responsibility, figuring out solutions, acting bravely, and being a leader. These are my super-powers. It thrills me to engage in these challenges.
And yet, the more I master these values, the less I am called to live by them.
Since my daughter was born, I’ve found that most of my superpowers are rusting like unused tools left in the backyard shed inside my mind.
I excel in confrontations, yet there’s no one to fight. I am brave in the face of problems to solve, and yet I’m mostly facing unsolvable issues that must simply be tolerated and accepted. I can create wonderful social connections, yet the only people I’m talking to are my wife and child.
I rage in frustration constantly about not being able to live to my potential, and instead face being resigned to “mundane, simple, and banal” tasks that only require patience, endurance, love, understanding, and humility.
This is probably how soon-to-be-famous actors feel when they’re waiting tables; how potential rockstars feel when they’re stacking shelves at the supermarket; how PhD students feel when they’re marking undergrad papers for their professors.
At least, that’s how they’d feel if they think like me, and lack the ability to do what they’re called to do when they’d rather be doing something sexier.
Nearly all major philosophies eventually arrive at the same conclusion: amor fati; that true wisdom comes from accepting fate. They often talk about how the most enlightened sages still chop wood and bear water and do all the mundane tasks they’ve always done, but from a new perspective of acceptance and humility and understanding.
I’ve yet to achieve this enlightenment.
I’ve always thought of Core Values as things we choose. We see people we admire, and we compare that with people we despise, and from this comparison emerges a set of principles that we’d be proud to live by and ashamed to breach.
I’ve categorized these into two types: soft and hard values. Soft values are the ones you find it easy to live by, and hard values are much more challenging. But both values have the commonality that you wish to live by them.
The forced value
It’s only more recently that I’ve seen the emergence of a new kind of value: the forced value.
This is a value that Fate is clearly demanding you live by, even though you do not choose it and would not have thought to add it to your list. You don’t even admire it in others in any conscious way. It doesn’t impress you or seem relevant to your goals. But Fate demands it anyway.
I’ve struggled to name this value, because I am able to live by the values of Acceptance and Humility in many situations. It seems that this is something else. This one feels more like being a slave and yet embracing your slavery, such that you would keep working in the fields even if they removed your chains.
Then I found the word I was looking for: Servility.
While serving people is a welcomed daily practice for me, whether it’s coaching or taking care of my family, Servility is more about obeying the determination of Fate. I must serve the logos; that is, I must adopt the correct humble position that I have been forced to adopt, and do so with a willingness and enthusiasm befitting one who has chosen this position.
I must not only notice that I am enslaved by my values and my circumstances, I must also willingly choose it and embrace the required actions. I’ve often talked about The Shortest Path – determining which action is the most effective when considering your values, goals, and situation. Servility is about walking The Shortest Path when it’s not a free choice.
My wife is afflicted with chronic health problems and complex family issues. My daughter is an angel but struggles to sleep. I live in a country whose language I don’t speak well enough to engage in complex conversation. We don’t have much in the way of support from others.
This background situation often forces me into positions that I struggle to embrace.
Sometimes Servility means sitting still and quiet in the dark on an uncomfortable chair for hours at a time to accompany my daughter while she struggles to fall asleep. Sometimes it means putting aside fulfilling work tasks to simply cuddle my wife while she cries. Sometimes it means taking a long time to complete a task that’s out of my lane, like a plumbing job, because there’s no one else to do it. Sometimes it means yet again delaying my goal to take up martial arts or continue with my Czech lessons or make new friends.
And so very often, it means sitting or standing around as patiently as possible, doing very little and using none of my superpowers. It means enduring my ego as it rants on about how I’m not using any of my skills and intelligence and talents, and instead doing basic mundane tasks that almost anyone could do.
Yet, such tasks are the best use of my time.
The wake up call
I had a painful epiphany recently. After receiving some bad news about my wife’s family, I suddenly realized that my future life had just been predetermined indefinitely. Due to the situation we’re now in, combined with my values and ethics, my actions for the foreseeable future are already decided.
I’ve never before been so clear on the non-existence of free will. I saw my life pre-planned for many years to come, with very little margin for randomness or freedom of choice.
One of the “downsides” to living strongly with integrity is that it slowly becomes increasingly impossible not to. I can no longer be dishonest. I struggle to avoid responsibility. I can’t run away from uncomfortable tasks that need to be done. My values basically force me to act.
My previous lack of integrity at least afforded me extra options. I could lie, cheat, procrastinate, ghost people, binge on coping mechanisms, and run away from my problems. Now, I’ve become so committed to integrity that I am actually enslaved by my values. I no longer have much sense of free choice: my values simply analyze whatever situation I’m in and command me how to act, and I nearly always obey.
Fate has spoken, and my values have answered. The path in front of me is one of Servility. I must put aside big dreams and selfish desires, and do what’s right for my family. This isn’t a noble choice. This isn’t people-pleasing or approval-seeking. There is no choice. My integrity won’t allow me to step away from these duties. I signed up for this, and could not breach my commitment even if I wanted to.
And these duties ahead of me are mostly mundane. They’re nothing to write home about. It takes very little intellect or strength of any kind to care for my daughter and comfort my wife and wash the dishes and do the food shopping.
All my dreams about writing books and getting a black belt and debating people on TV vanished the minute I got that bad news, and that starry-eyed vision of the future was replaced with one of a quiet, patient, enduring father and husband who serves his family day and night, fading into the background, doing what’s right over what feels good to his ego.
I’m already there physically. At least I’m acting in accordance with my values and doing what’s right. But my mind still rebels. My mind still yearns for greatness and impact and new experiences and social fun and extreme challenges.
But even though I might see myself as a spaceship, my job is to mow the lawn. And until I convince my mind to release me from egotistical dreams and accept my new position as a Servant, I will never know peace.
There are no other options.