On sacrificing ego and shattering comfort zones

Perhaps the most painful sacrifice is to slaughter one’s own ego, especially in a country like Pakistan

M Bilal Lakhani July 25, 2021

Eid has come and gone but have we learned any real lessons on sacrifice? Perhaps the most painful sacrifice is to slaughter one’s own ego, especially in a country like Pakistan, where the size of your ego is a tangible manifestation of your status in society. Socialised in Pakistani society, I’ve been driven all my life to satisfy and strengthen my ego by achieving life goals faster and better than my peer set. While this has constructed an outwardly successful life, it rings hollow on the inside.

I joke to friends that I have a mid-life crisis every year. But this time it’s serious. I’m sitting on the edge of my 35th birthday and wondering how little time I have left on this earth. I’m also reflecting on my ego and everything I’ve achieved in life. Frankly, most of it is a function of being at the right place at the right time or just plain lucky. Why am I alive today while my friend is the one who got a heart attack and suddenly dropped dead? Why do I have functioning hands, legs and eyes, while so many are deprived of such blessings? Was I really sent on earth to take an ego trip or is there a larger purpose?

All my life I’ve coloured within the lines. The kind of boy a girl could take home to meet her parents. Straight out of college, I got a safe, comfortable corporate job which could massage my ego on being ‘successful’ without the need to ask hard questions. A few years later, I realised this wasn’t enough and that I wanted to follow a bigger purpose or mission. I had a passion for public service and a gift for writing and talking so I picked up journalism and advocacy. I was too afraid to pursue this full time so kept the corporate gig and pursued my passion on the side. I thought I was living the best of both worlds. Now I realise I was checking boxes.

The truth is journalism comes with its own ego trip. And at some point, it became about my ego versus service. I actually remember the exact inflection point; it was point where I began to break through and get traction. This can’t be my purpose in life, I screamed to myself halfway through Ramazan this year. This is about me, not public service. Why am I trying so hard to find a purpose, beyond my work, when God has already revealed what His purpose for me is? As a Muslim, I genuinely believe God has made it my purpose to worship and serve Him. Why then, am I working so hard to find a purpose beyond this?

A couple of possible theories emerge to answer this dilemma. First, I’ve fallen for this generational millennial mantra of finding your ‘purpose’. Second, I was simply compensating for the mundane-ness of everyday life by pursuing a larger purpose. But the correct thesis to solve this conundrum was that I pursued yet another ego trip. Purpose, just like everything else in my life, was gateway drug to achievement and massaging my ego. This realisation has many profound implications for my life, if internalised.

First, this means what I define as my purpose today is just a second job. And if I’m not in the mood to ‘write’ or ‘make an impact’ in a particular week, it doesn’t mean I’ve lost my purpose, it means I’m doing too much. My real purpose, the purpose which I ignore by giving preference to my ego trips, is to be in service of God. And thus, to be in service of God, I need to sacrifice my ego. The only problem is: I don’t know how. No one has ever taught me how to sacrifice your own ego. It’s a lesson one is rarely taught in Pakistan. Some religious scholars used to organise people’s slippers in the mosque as a way to fight their ego. How will I take on my ego?

I don’t know but I’m committed to finding a way. This will require me to shatter my comfort zone and the fundamental pillars on which my life stands today, including my own ego.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2021.

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