What Tiger Woods Can Teach Us About Spirit and Ego
As first responders pulled Tiger Woods’ car from the ditch, the newscasters mulled over Woods’ future as a professional golfer. They recalled his various back and knee surgeries, his age, and his “bad luck.”
They underestimate the power of the human ego…and the human spirit.
When people tell you that you can’t, your ego and your spirit will tell you that you can. Both give you the necessary drive to accomplish goals. I was told in my 20s that I would never be able to run again, but I managed to run four marathons, two Ironman triathlons, and more than 50 other running-based races.
I had the same microdiscectomy as Woods in April 2014. I knew the pain he endured. I knew the frustration of not being able to move the way he wanted. He had hoped to begin chipping and putting three weeks after the surgery. I couldn’t wait to get back on the bike.
He would return to competition that August, and I would compete in an Ironman that September. After just a few months of recovery and rehabilitation, we were both were driven by the same spirit. We were also driven by ego.
We would both learn that even though our spirits were willing, our bodies weren’t ready. Our egos told us we were. Woods would struggle with pain on the golf course, and I would struggle with every step on my 26.2-mile run. My body was still out of balance, and my stride showed it.
There’s a subtle difference between the drive of the spirit and the drive of the ego.
As for me, I resisted the surgical table again. It broke my heart that I couldn’t compete at the level I wanted. Training was miserable because I would wake up the next day barely able to get out of bed. I would suffer this way for years, even with a steady yoga practice.
I hated that I would never be back on the podium again, but I later realized it was my ego setting up expectations. There’s a subtle difference between the drive of the spirit and the drive of the ego.
The ego is concerned with results. The spirit is concerned with gradual progress. The ego listens to external expectations. The spirit listens to internal wisdom.
The ego doesn’t like to move slow. The ego doesn’t like to wait. My ego hated to let go of my competitive drive. My ego scolded me with other people’s expectations of my athleticism. My ego was attached to my identity as a “successful triathlete.”
My spirit, however, told me to enjoy the journey. My spirit told me that I was more than any race result. My spirit isn’t concerned with “success” or any identity associated with it. Instead, my spirit guided me to a new chapter in my life — one that the ego would resist.
Now the newscasters and sports analysts are setting up expectations for Woods. They’re somewhat fatalistic in their judgments. They’re attached to Woods’ identity as a “professional golfer.” He’s much more than that. He’s a human being who makes mistakes and gets injured, just like everyone else.
If he listens to his ego and its expectations, he might enjoy temporary success. If he listens to his spirit, he’ll flourish as a member of humanity. Perhaps his spirit will guide him to a new chapter in his life. Maybe he might enjoy golf just for the sake of play.
We can do the same. We can listen to our ego, which might bring immediate gratification but eventual pain. We can also listen to our spirit, which requires a little patience, but it can lead us to a more resilient, unencumbered life.