Is ambition and self-growth different for people at different stages of psychological development?
I think it is. Some people have very ambitious goals they just aren’t ready for. And it isn’t as simple as not yet learning the high value skills they want to profit from. Sometimes, they just don’t yet have an accurate enough view of reality.
Some people like to divide self-development into 4 stages: self-development, self-mastery, self-discovery, and self-actualization. I think those things are all pretty much synonyms and barely scratch the surface of growing into a complete version of yourself. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how different stages of one’s life alter the lens of how you approach your goals. You need to grow up to know what potential ambitions are hiding in your subconscious.
As long as you keep growing and allowing yourself new epiphanies, you’re more likely to encounter the next stage and grow even more.
In this article I will highlight 5 stages of psychological development, and relate them to ambitions and self-growth. There are more than 5 stages, but these are the ones you are most likely to encounter.
What are the 5 stages?
The 5 stages are:
- Ego Emergence
- Conforming to Norms
- The Creative Ego
- Exploring Reality
- Consciously Constructing The Self
Let’s explain each of these stages a little more so you know what I’m actually referring to.
1. Ego Emergence
This is when you first realize the existence of your self. It’s the most selfish stage. This is when you greedily chase desires and impulses with no concern for how your behavior may impact others. Think rebellious teenagers, dictators, thieves, and gang members. This stage includes a huge desire for respect and validation from others.
In this stage, people are more likely to lie, steal, cheat,deceive, and seriously injure others to reach their goals. They usually don’t see anything wrong with this behavior. Think back to a time in your life when you were most likely to lie or cheat on tests or games. Most people think back to to their childhood. They have memories of devising ways to cheat on tests, or crafting elaborate lies to manage how other people saw them.
Think about a lie you used to tell people all the time. Many people lie about their age for example. What was your motivation for telling that lie? Most lies are motivated by selfish desires, such as the desire for validation. We’ve all heard that everyone lies. But hopefully, you are lying a lot less than you used to when you were younger.
I don’t want to paint the Ego Emergence stage as all negative though. Because it is an essential stage of healthy human psychological development. It’s important to be honest with yourself about all your selfish desires at this stage. Don’t suppress or ignore them. You don’t need to act on all of them of course, but you should realize.
Something I’ve noticed with many clients is that they never gave themselves permission to go through this stage. They were brainwashed into believing having selfish desires was a sin, or that it’s wrong to act upon their impulses and express themselves. This leaves them as an empty shell waiting to be filled with personality and uniqueness. If they never allow themselves to have a self, they can’t move onto any of the next stages! They often feel hopeless and afraid of growing up because traumatic experiences and brainwashing prevent ego emergence.
When this stage can progress with minimal trauma it allows one to develop likes and dislikes, take risks, increase social experience, and develop the base on which the rest of your personality will rest.
2. Conforming to Norms
In the next stage, you get reasonable feedback from society about what counts as acceptable behavior and what doesn’t. Think about all the stories you’ve heard of criminals who went to jail, found religion in the joint and came out as reformed, law-abiding, contributing members of society. When their ego emerged maybe they felt it was necessary to commit crimes to survive. They had no reason to conform to all the laws. But suddenly punishment and the threat of more punishment really impacts some people. Not all obviously, but this is just one common example of how this stage works.
Everyone conforms to norms. Such as language, polite behavior when meeting a new person, and maintaining appropriate personal space, etc. Those are the usual examples. The societies you grow up in install all the programming you need to participate. If you never learn the rules, how could you ever be successful among these people?
Recently, I spend a lot of time networking with successful business people. They are all polite, sociable, and easy to talk to. Some have better social skills than others, but I have noticed the most successful are never selfish narcissists. Selfish people trying to start a business don’t care about all the norms they break and it hurts their chances at success! Obviously there are a lot more factors that determine business success but if you aren’t psychologically ready to contribute to society then you are much less likely to succeed.
A person trapped in the ego stage is only concerned with benefiting themselves. They may have some interesting goals, but nobody cares because those goals don’t help anyone else. When you accept society’s programming instead of resisting it, you open yourself up to the needs of others. You ignite a tiny spark of compassion. And that compassion is what you really need if you want to succeed with others. I resisted society’s programming for a very long time. I didn’t want to be a boring sheep. I didn’t want to get a boring job and do all the other boring things people do without even questioning if it’s the best path for their lives. But the truth is, when I finally allowed society to teach me, I learned a lot. I also started caring about others a lot more. Conforming to society isn’t 100% brainwashing. It’s a necessary part of self-growth. The challenge, however, is to make a conscious decision about reprogramming yourself when necessary.
3. The Creative Ego
This is where the real fun happens. When the ego first emerged it was terrified of rejection and death. So it fought for survival and approval. Then, social programming forced the ego to get back in line and follow the rules. But conformity restricts creativity. Artists and creative people notoriously hate going to school. They are forced to sit and listen with few to zero opportunities for creative expression.
It’s at this moment an individual must make a decision. Do they continue to endure safe, but boring conformity? Or do they finally give themselves permission to be creative, ambitious, or rational in an irrational community? This can be a very difficult decision to make.
Once the ego reemerges in this stage, it can be very selfish, but it is refined. It isn’t as dangerous as before. It’s more capable of focusing on goals that benefit both itself and others. I know several successful business people who were once in the military. They all agree that without the habits of self-discipline they gained while serving they wouldn’t have been able to build their businesses. It’s important to have both discipline and creative ambition /confidence to succeed. If you only have creativity, you have lots of great ideas, but oversleep, and get distracted easily. If you only have self-discipline you have lots of great habits, but are afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
That’s what I mean when I say it’s essential to go through all these stages to develop into a complete human being. If you make the conscious decision to stagnate at a certain level, that is your choice. You are free to do as you like. But if you are here at Evolve To Win then part of you must want to grow as much as you can.
4. Exploring Reality
I call this stage exploring reality because you are seeing how far you can go with your creative/ambitious side. Maybe you want to create amazing art or profitable start up for example. No matter what your goals are, take them as far as they will go. Notice how reality bounces back and bites you when you reach too far. Also notice, that this time you are allowed to stretch much farther than when your ego was aggressive and sensitive to insult. When your ego first emerged you did and said whatever you wanted. You lost friends because and encountered more conflicts. But now that your ego is refined and more socially savvy, you are more capable of navigating every situation. There are many reasons for that of course, but one important reason is that you have less ego invested in always being right and respected.
You have at lest a little more consideration for how your behavior could impact others. What happens at this point is that you are trying to once again balance the desire to do exactly what you want, and conform to consideration for your fellow human being. Maybe at this point a businessman might question how his factory impacts the local environment. But it isn’t because he suddenly has a love for fresh air and clean rivers. It’s because he’s suddenly bombarded with messages about how his business is polluting the area. Once again, social pressure convinces him to refine his approach to reality.
5. Consciously Constructing The Self
This is my favorite stage. But it is very rare. So far, very few people make it here. At this point, you’ve gone through an obstacle course that constantly forces you to choose between your own personal motivations and contributing to others. Eventually, you are able to recognize which stage other people are on. You don’t see yourself as superior to them. You don’t feel a desperate need to compel them to conform to your beliefs. You just allow yourself to have your own nuanced ideas and ways of looking at the world. You can take self-discipline from the conformity stage and confidence from the creativity stage. You feel free to learn whatever you want, and be exactly the person you want to become.
Which stage are you at? What challenges do you have moving on to the next stage? Let us know in the comments!