Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always craved recognition. It’s not a surprise really. I grew up in a situation where the majority of attention I got was negative. I’d get grounded on the drop of a coin, or was told I was a disappointment on a regular basis and no matter what I did, it was never enough. That was the seed for my desire to be recognized.


Recognition is an insidious trap. On the one hand it gives you a temporary feeling of validation, and on the other hand you can never get enough and what you get is double-edged because it’s an ego trap that sabotages you. You always want more and so it influences what you do and why you do it. It’s an intoxicating feeling to be recognized, but its also a feeling that leads you into dangerous territory.


So how do you recognize the trap?


First we have to acknowledge that the desire to be recognize can and will influence many of our actions. It’s a natural drive and it can lead to good things, but when it’s the primary driver it can also sabotage your efforts because being recognized becomes more important than anything else. Look at what’s motivating you to do what you’re doing. Are you doing it for the right reasons, or are you doing it because you want to be recognized? Is your self-interest benefitting more than anything else? Are you doing it because you want acknowledgment, praise and validation, or are you doing it because it needs to be done?


Answering these questions honestly can be hard, but helpful because then you understand what your prime motivation is and how that is influencing your choices and actions you begin to see the ego trap you are in. I went through a period of time where I was thoroughly embedding in my recognition trap. I wanted to be recognized and it ultimately lead to a hard fall, because I couldn’t see how my desire to be recognized was getting in the way of what I really wanted to accomplish. Even now there are days I struggle with my desire to be recognized, because it was such a pervasive part of my identity.


What I have found helps with that struggle is the deliberate choice to simplify my life, removing any and all distractions, including the distraction of needing recognition. I’ve then asked myself what it is I really need to do and why. In my case, this has resulted in a refocus of my spiritual practice and also the choice to focus on writing a lot more than I have in the last couple of years. These are the two things that matter to me, regardless of whether I’m recognized for them or not.


Ironically, of course, I have gotten recognition for my writing and magical practice, but when I stopped focusing on getting recognition because I realized it was an ego trap, it changed how I approached my writing and spiritual practice. It became less about other people and what they might do or need and a lot more about what actually speaks to me and why it speaks to me. Yet I sit with the realization, nonetheless that I am still doing activities I’ve gotten recognition for and so the key, each and every day is to revisit my motivation and ask myself, “Why am I really doing this? What’s motivating me to write this or engage in this practice or experiment? Why does this matter to me?”


When you recognize what’s motivating you, then you can assess whether what you’re doing is coming from the right place or if you need to refocus or do some internal work. And it gets easier because once you recognize the recognition trap, you know when its about to close on your foot, and you don’t step forward into the bear trap. As I said above, there are days I struggle, days I work through my feelings around recognition and why that has been so important to me, but the internal work I’m doing is helping me release a lot of internal tensions around recognition and in the process simplifying my life so I can do what really fulfills me instead of continually seeking validation.


Taylor Ellwood is the author of Pop Culture Magic Systems and many other books on magic. To learn about his latest projects, please visit Magical Experiments.