“Two creams and one sugar,” announced Dave.
“And in a china mug,” I noted with a smile.
Dave lowered himself into the chair across from me. “You really think it tastes better in mug?” he asked, removing the lid from his paper cup.
“Does to me,” I replied. “And it’s much easier to hang onto.” Dave laughed.
It was time again for our Sunday morning coffee meeting, when Dave and I spent time solving the problems of the world or at least, ruminating on them.
“You know,” said Dave. “I read once that life is like a cup of coffee.”
“Really?” I said. “Sometimes smooth and other times bitter?”
“Actually,” said Dave, “this story was about cups.”
He told me of an insightful story he had read once titled: A Cup of Coffee. Written anonymously, it is a parable about life and things of value.
“A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation turned into complaints about stress in work and life.
Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups — porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite — telling them to help themselves to the coffee.
When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said, “If you noticed all the nice looking expensive cups have been taken up leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress.
“Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups and then you began eyeing each other’s cups.”
I like the parable of the coffee cup because it illuminates an aspect of personality where many of us dwell — ego. Consider: if life is the coffee then why do we become so concerned about the cup? Put differently, why does the size of our house or bank account, the brand of car we drive or the outward significance of the job we perform become an overriding concern?
We all like to have nice things; nothing wrong with that. Problems arise when we define ourselves by the external. We presume to gauge the quality and value of our life by what is visible on the surface.
To make matters worse, we use the same distorted criteria to appraise those around us which leads to feelings of superiority, pretentiousness — or more often, envy and resentment.
I once read that ego is the great deceiver — the false self. Definitions vary but for the sake of this piece, let’s say that ego is the aspect of personality that is self-serving and self-important. When we build our ego, we invest deeply in our “stories” about people, life and position. Who we think we are becomes tied to form. We buy into illusions and perceptions that limit our awareness and separate us from our humanity.
When we build our self-esteem we grow in awareness and develop a sustained confidence — a grounded self-assurance that acknowledges all of our strengths and opportunities. A new consciousness begins to evolve, one no longer restrained by ego’s narrow view of self.
Dr. Wayne Dyer, a renowned author and speaker in the field of self-development, writes of seven steps necessary to conquer ego-identification.
• Stop being offended. This is the ego at work convincing you that the world shouldn’t be the way it is.
• Let go of your need to win. Ego loves to divide us up in winners and losers.
• Let go of your need to be right; it’s like saying to ego, I’m not a slave to you.
• Let go of your need to be superior. When you project feelings of superiority, that’s what you get back, leading to resentment and ultimately hostility.
• Let go of your need to have more. No matter how much you achieve or acquire, your ego will insist that it isn’t enough. Realize how little you need in order to be satisfied and at peace.
• Let go of identifying yourself on the basis of your achievements. The less you need to take credit for your achievements, the more you’re free to achieve and the more will show up for you.
• Let go of your reputation. Your reputation is not located in you — it resides in the minds of others. If you speak to 30 people, you will have 30 reputations.
It was the same anonymous author of The Coffee Cup parable who wrote, “The happiest people don’t have the best of everything – they just make the best of everything.”
Murray Fuhrer is a local self-esteem expert and facilitator. Check www.extremeesteem.ca.