I have spent a great deal of time in this space distinguishing between ego and essence. Ego, the elaborate facades we construct in response to our human experience and essence, the pure spiritual essence with which we all arrive here.
The biggest problems humans have are (1) distinguishing their egos from their essence; understanding that they are different, and (2) coming to realize that operating from ego is debilitating to our optimum performance because it overshadows the magic and miracles of essence. Why? Because the ego dwells in the past and the future while the essence operates in the now.
Nowhere was this played out to greater effect than in the contretemps between Tiger Woods and Steve Williams, his ex-caddie. As everyone knows, Woods unceremoniously fired Williams for disloyalty after he asked Tiger for permission to caddie for his friend, Adam Scott, in the U.S. Open. There are discrepancies over whether Woods fired him by phone (Williams’ version) or in a meeting after the following week’s tournament at Aronimink (Woods’ version). Once Williams knew he was fired, he worked for Scott on a trial basis and, their chemistry confirmed, full-time for this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone which he helped Scott win by 4 strokes.
Scott missed the cut at the U.S. Open, finished T3 at Aronimink, T25 at the British Open and gloriously won Firestone going away.
For someone like Williams who felt that he had been wronged, the victory was very sweet. Still standing by the side of the green packing up Scott’s bag when David Feherty plopped his microphone in his face, Williams went off:
I gotta tell you, David, I’ve been a caddie for 33 years and that’s the best week of my life. And I’m not joking. I’m never ever going to forget that week. The people here this week have been absolutely unbelievable and all the support from the people back in New Zealand, including my family. It’s the greatest week of my life.
I caddie and I go [auto] racing and when I go to the racetrack the only place I’m interested in finishing is first. When I go to the golf course it’s the only place I’m trying to finish. Obviously it’s a very tough game, you can’t always win, but I’m a very confident front runner. And there was a lot of expectations today. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. Obviously Adam was leading the tournament and there was a lot being said this week. It’s an incredible feeling to back it up. I always back myself just like I do when I go racing. I’m a great front runner when I go racing and I feel like I’m a great front runner when I caddie.
So, I’ve a great belief in myself, but honestly, that’s the best week of my life. I’ve caddied for 33 years, 145 wins now, and that’s the best win I’ve ever had.
For all of the understandable emotional release behind it, this is the ranting of a wounded ego. Now make no mistake, the ego can be a catalyst to higher levels of performance—this is an obvious instance. But the nervousness that Williams said he was experiencing was his ego taking him out of the present where all of his attention was required to do his job for Scott. There is a selflessness to essence because the ego isn’t present. It becomes just about the task at hand; we’re completely immersed in it.
I had this conversation this very week with a man I know. I was trying to explain how the ego disappears when you are truly operating in the present. “For you, your relationship with your wife is at its best when you disappear and it becomes just about her and, for her, her relationship with you is at its best when she disappears and it becomes just about you. This automatically happens in your relationship with your kids; in your love of them, it’s never about you, it’s always about them.”
The inability to do this, to sublimate our egos to the present, is the Achilles heel of humans generally and golfers specifically who are trying to play the game at a higher level. It doesn’t matter whether that level is winning a PGA Tour event or moving from being a 30-handicap to a 25. It all requires acute, still awareness of what’s going on in our swings and the roilings of ego robs us of it. If our attention is there, it can’t be here.
This is not just Williams that this happened to. Spend any time at all reading the posts and comments on the golf blogs about this issue and you will discover the blazing inferno of raging egos: Woods was an idiot for letting the best caddie in the game get away from him for something so petty; Woods had every right to make a caddie change; Williams was treated disgracefully given his 12 years of loyalty and exemplary performance; getting fired is a routine occupational hazard of even the best caddies and Williams should have taken it like a man. In short, it was St. Tiger versus St. Stevie depending on whose ego construct was compatible with whichever egregious offense.
So the lesson for us in all of this is to stop a minute and listen to the din. To notice how dissonant, disruptive and unproductive it is. Because this one between Woods and Williams is so vibrant and unmistakable, it is a wonderful example of the distinction between ego and essence.
And once we are able to see this operating in others, perhaps being able to see it operating in ourselves is not too far away.
That is how the mastery process works, sublimating the ego in order to pay undivided attention to what is occurring in the moment. Because that’s where the magic and miracles happen.