EP:202 The Balancing Act Between Pursuing Success and Feeding The Ego with Celebrity Photographer, Nick Onken

EP:202 The Balancing Act Between Pursuing Success and Feeding The Ego with Celebrity Photographer, Nick Onken

If instant gratification is food for the ego, then the world we presently live in is a feeding ground. Many of us attribute our sense of self or our worth to our career accolades, vicinity to prestige, status symbols, ‘likes’ or things which bring us external validation. 

But desiring success, a high-profile career or friends in high places does not need to be shunned because it is ‘egotistical’. Nor does having any of these things explicitly equate to the impossibility of spiritual enlightenment. As creators, we are worthy of abundance and have a right to create whatever we desire. 

The question is about being self-aware enough to separate and detach what feeds the ego versus what feeds the soul. And to determine if what you are pursuing is for the right reasons. 

We caught up with Nick Onken – creative entrepreneur, photographer, hat maker and podcast host of Nion Radio – who joined us from New York City, to discuss maintaining this balance of soul passion and ego in order to lead a life that is both conscious and ‘successful’ by normal standards. 

Influenced by Tim Ferris’ “Four Hour Work Week” at the age of 22, Nick’s career started out with the simple idea of intentionally designing his life and creating a life that he wanted. 

He shares some advice to anybody wanting to pursue a successful creative career. “If you want to make a living as an artist, you have to have a passion for the craft.”  

He also mentions the importance of surrounding yourself with people who are already living “the life” or have the level of success you wish to create, or “learning by osmosis” and just by being in their presence.

These are the things that Nick attributes his success to on a practical level, but on a personal level, the importance of being self-aware and detaching from what the ego needs is paramount to him. “The biggest thing [for me] is doing emotional intelligence and deeper spiritual work and learning how to detach from the ego” 

As a photographer, Nick has brushed shoulders with high profile celebrities and personalities such as Orlando Bloom, Usher, Justin Beiber, and Jessica Alba. He has done work with huge companies such as Coca Cola and Adidas and has had his work published in Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan magazines. 

The level of external gratification involved in his career could easily allow him to find validation in who or what he was shooting, or to determine his self-worth based on his career accolades. However, Nick remains particularly conscious of “learning how to detach from that and find fulfillment from an introspective space.”

The ethos he has for himself and the advice he would offer to anybody else in a similar industry is to focus on going back to the actual passion of the creation instead of the validation you can get from it. “To be able to separate from the ego and what the ego needs to be fed.”

Nick tells us about the Dark Night of the Soul he recently experienced, the impact that it had on his personal life and career and how it led to this importance in self-awareness and detaching from the ego for him. 

At the time, he didn’t even know what a Dark Night of the Soul was and was introduced to it through a friend that suggested he join a Breathwork class. He tells us how the emotions and feelings that unraveled for him during this experience made him go through an existential crisis of sorts, questioning everything and finding it difficult to communicate or socialize. Throughout this period, Nick tells us he had a hard time being inspired or wanting to create as he was feeling largely apathetic. He mentions how Eckardt Tolle’s “A New Earth” was largely influential to him during this period and how it helped him through, along with researching what the Dark Night of The Soul was and being able to “put a label on it and to understand what I was going through a little bit more.” 

Nick was able to move through this experience and come out the end by taking care of himself and doing as many energetic practices and healings as he possibly could. The experience has propelled him into greater alignment and helped him to be more self-aware.

Check out our suggestions for daily practices on how to become more self-aware and how to navigate through an awakening process. 

Engage with a regular healing practice 

There are so many different types of practices you can engage with, it’s just a matter of experimenting until you find one that resonates. Some things you might want to try are; breathwork (check out Nick’s “Breathwork for Creatives” here) yoga, shamanic healing, Reiki, EFT, and hypnosis.

Meditation or mindfulness practice 

There are so many different forms of meditation that it’s relatively easy to find one that suits you. You can have incredible benefits from as little as 5 minutes a day. If in doubt, youtube can be a great resource for guided meditations or attend a meditation class near you.

Spend time in nature

Going on nature walks, being by the ocean or spending some time in whatever type of natural environment you resonate with does wonders to calm the nervous system, connect you to your inner wisdom and soothe the Ego. 


Immerse yourself in content that is uplifting or that helps you to understand the process you’re going through. Nick suggests reading Eckhardt Tolle’s “A New Earth”. 

Surround yourself with the right people 

Reach out to friends who have gone through what you’ve gone through before or join communities where there’s an open dialogue about personal growth or spirituality. Having a supportive community or people around you certainly helps you to get through.

Whatever you do, know that – like Nick – you are going to make it through the darkness eventually and that what you may be going through is pinnacle to your personal growth, the expansion of your consciousness and for your own transformation.  Know that your personal and your professional success are inextricably linked and any self-reflective, spiritual or self-development work you do will have flow-on effects in your career, as Nick has shared.


If you are pursuing your soul purpose and want to set the dials to success, Nick is giving away a fifteen-minute consultation around your personal brand or your photography brand for one lucky reader. To be entered to win the giveaway, click here. A winner will be selected next week.

Connect with Nick

Follow on IG, Check out Nick’s blog, Subscribe to the Nion Radio Podcast, or get an epic custom hat made!