One of my favorite Paula Poundstone sets has to do with her cats. Actually, she talks about her twelve cats all the time; “I sift. All. Day. Long.” She jokes. The puffing up one though is by far the best. She goes on this five-minute rant about her cats and puffing up. She doesn’t get it. If all the cats know each other, they live together for goodness sakes, then what’s the good of puffing up, she says. Nobody should be fooled by this. In fact, she continues, the fat alfa male should insist that, “from here on out there will be no more puffing up, because it’s fucking exhausting. Really.”
I’m doing it no justice by paraphrasing it, so here’s the real deal: I Heart Jokes by Paula Poundstone.
So what do we and Paula Poundstone’s cats have in common, you ask?
Well, isn’t that exactly what we do when we brag, lie, name-drop, interrupt, assert, dominate, compare, manipulate, insult, etc?
When our sense of self is challenged and ego feels threatened, isn’t that our natural response? to puff up?
Just as you could get a picture of a silly cat puffing up, not fooling anybody, enemy or roommate. Don’t we as humans look just as silly? Isn’t it obvious even when a stranger is putting in every effort to puff up?
What purpose is all this puffing up serving anyway? Even just a little puff seems like it’s feeding a nasty habit.
Let’s face it. Our ego is perpetually seven–eight on a good day. It needs some training and coddling. Despite what we’ve been told, the objective is not to get rid of ego. It is to befriend it. Help it mature a bit. Come to have it see eye-to-eye.
I like this definition of ego from dictionary.com: the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and
willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.
See? It’s important. It gives us our creativity, our individuality, our expression and so much more. We don’t want to get rid of it–we just have to check it, as in karate chop it, sometimes.
How do we go about training it?
Well, for me, I notice myself start to puff up and I just smile. I do nothing. If I’m half puffed and I realize, “Oh shit, I just puffed!” I quickly pull the plug. So, for instance, if I begin a story and start to embellish (one of my favorite pastimes), I back-peddle to the real story, even if it’s not nearly as exciting as my version;)
Sometimes in the gym, since there is so much puffing up going on, I’ll feel myself want to puff and I resist the urge to be so cool. It’s tough in the face of all that puffing! Same goes for dinner parties, work events, reunions, weddings, on the golf course, you name it.
The first step, as with anything, is observation. Notice throughout a few days just how much puffing up is going on, in you and around you. You might be surprised by just how silly we all look.
I leave you with this: Keep the puffing to a minimum and not only will you witness your ego maturing, you’ll see just how cool you can be without the facade.