While we all hold up humility as an admirable trait, we’re not always sure it can get us to the goals we aspire to. We look at a Kanye West or a Donald Trump or a Steve Jobs and think: sure that person’s an egomaniac, but ego was clearly critical to their success. Success often comes with this temptation—to mythologize, to excuse, to gloss over the consequences and the difficulties.
Rivers Cuomo achieved exactly what he always wanted. The frontman for Weezer was the bonafide rockstar he dreamed of being—sold out crowds, mansions in Beverly Hills, assistants catering to his every wish, groupies, parties, fame. You might have said he had it all. Except while Cuomo “had it all,” his band members didn’t talk to him and he hated the music he was making. Producer Rick Rubin called Weezer one of the most dysfunctional groups he’s ever worked with.
Cuomo was steeped in, as he put it, a “life of ego and vice.” But it got him to where he wanted to go. Unlike most disillusioned egomaniacs, when Cuomo came out on the other side he was vocal about dispelling the myth that success necessitates ego:
“I needed to stop being that person...It took awhile for me to realise this—an ego is the biggest menace to a songwriter. It can destroy you. It takes away your ability to step outside of yourself, which I feel is important if you want to make music that means something to people.”
The Stoics said that hubris—ego by its other name—was the ultimate enemy. That “it can ruin your life,” Marcus would say, because “it ruins your character.” Again, even if it might make you successful in the meantime. To the Stoics, humility and self-awareness are not only stronger, but better and more virtuous. That’s why ego must be conquered. For our art, for our happiness, for the sake of the world.
We must remember that you become great by stripping yourself of pretenses and ego. You can have a stadium full of fans, but if your band members hate you, how great, how successful are you? And how long is it likely to last? How can you make anything that matters to other people if the only thing that matters to you is yourself? When you step outside yourself, when you put things bigger and more important than yourself first, when you see ego for the menace it is--for the enemy that it is—you will be great and do great.