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Doesn’t it always seem we’re surrounded by idiots in this world? People that cut us off in traffic, are mean to us at work, and only seem to be out for themselves. It’s not surprising then that our inclination is to guard our own, dominate our sphere, and to hell with everyone else. And if such an attitude leads to a big ego, well, so be it. We can go it alone, exact revenge on anyone who says otherwise, and make sure everyone knows it. What if this not only left destruction for others in our wake, but was the cause of our own downfall, the exact thing we were trying to prevent?
The Dirt: Better have a ‘me first’ attitude / sometimes you have to be an a**hole.
In psychological terms according to Freud, the ego is the great moderator. It negotiates and moderates the impulses of the id and the constraints of the superego. For if the id wins, we would be too wild and uncontrolled to exist in society and if the superego wins, we’d be too ideal and unrealistic to get anything done in society. So the ego has a very important job and must constantly be on its toes else we end up paralyzed with constraint or constrained in a jail cell. Either way, not a good day for us.
In colloquial talk, the term ego as used in to describe our sense of self. In contrast to the psychological meaning, too much ego is generally considered to be a bad thing. Yet we tend to see it often, even and especially at top levels of various organizations like government. Unfortunately, this is where the sting of ego hurts the most. While it will short-live a political career, the effects incurred by the rest of us during such time in office can have lasting effects and significant ramifications.
For the record, perhaps there should always be a small amount of ego. I’m not suggesting it should be completely removed or suppressed, rather that it takes on the form of confidence and not arrogance. That it is a source of pride in community, not narcissism. That it allows us dominion over ourselves, and not anoints us dominion over others.
Let’s follow our modern usage and see how too much ego is hurting us and others and what we may be able to do about it. The risk, as with most things, are at the extremes.
Ego is selfish
Anytime ego is involved, it’s puts us first. Our feelings of importance come before those of our family. Our feelings of superiority come before those of our equals. Our feelings of righteousness come before those of the good. We are the center of our universe and all things must revolve in the proper order…around us. There can only be one epicenter and therefore it might as well be us. It’s the person who treats service folks poorly, seeing them as somehow less important. It buys the new toy watercraft before buying life insurance for the family. It takes all the credit for the good and transfers all the blame to others for the bad.
The challenge is that if we are successful in being right, we often cannot be rich. There is no such thing as a self-made billionaire. Sure, some folks had to outwork others by football fields and they were rewarded with an amazing life. But even they did not do it all alone. They had business relationships, employees, other examples of success, books, teachers, mentors, and perhaps even someone that pissed them off so much that it became their main driver to succeed. If I must, I’ll even call in the societal infrastructure, food, water, and technology required to even get their vision off the ground. Regardless, a selfish approach is a lonely and consequently unsuccessful way to live.
Ego can’t be wrong.
Ego doesn’t see right and wrong from an objective point of view. Rather it simply redefines that which is right and wrong. If we benefit from it, by definition, it’s right. If we do not benefit from it, it’s obviously wrong. After all, we’re so amazing, how could we possibly make a bad decision? Therefore, ego also shuns criticism. If we’re never wrong, what should there be to criticize anyways? It’s the spouse or parent that would rather argue than admit they may be wrong. It’s the labeling of others as fake or biased in order to distract attention from themselves.
The challenge with never being wrong is that we can never learn. It’s only through mistakes, failures, stumbles, and hiccups that we learn and grow. Success is not a very good teacher. If anything, success diminishes our penchant for learning. We also hamper our chances of improving. Being right implies that we are at the peak, the apex of our understanding and implementation. While those mere mortals know that there is always room for improvement, we know we’ve reached the gods.
Ego can’t coexist
When we’re selfish and always right, there is no room for others. More so to the point, there’s no need for others. And when others don’t feel needed, they don’t stick around. One of the six basic human needs is contribution. What could others possibly contribute when we’re full of righteousness? Anything that threatens what we know cannot be tolerated so contrary viewpoints are never welcome. It’s the head of state that tries to win the battle, even at the expense of the war. It’s the (now former) friend that points out a poor habit of ours – drinking, smoking, drugs, etc. out of genuine concern.
The challenge with not being able to coexist is the lack of diversity of thought. Even though we may know a lot, we surely can’t know it all. We become trapped by our old habits, biases, conditioning, and even successes. Even if people can stand to be around us, they will just yes us to death. While that will stroke our ego, it will kill our creativity and render us ineffective in the marketplace and life long-term. And that’s no way to win together.
Ego is loud
Here ye, here ye, see how great I am. Ego must be noticed. The worst thing that an ego can endure is absence of mind. Positive, negative, neutral, weird, crazy, it doesn’t even matter. As long as we’re in the news, the gossip, the bright lights, we’re good. We are very proud of ourselves and everyone will know it. It’s the life of the party that believes it can hold its liquor. It’s the vain guy in the fancy clothes and nice care that’s more show than go.
The challenge is that boastfulness is often the shell in which insecurity hides. Our type of vanity doesn’t have mirrors. When tested with something secure, we’ll often fall to pieces and resort to insult and violence. This can only serve to further diminish our integrity and stature in the eyes of all that see or hear about the meltdown. We may be strong in some areas, but we’re fragile when it comes to ourselves. Our Achilles heel is our self-image and when on that kind of shaky ground, success will be hard to hold.
Ego is vengeful.
When we are wronged, we must make it right…at least in our eyes. In other words, an eye for an eye. Our level of insecurity won’t let us sleep at night knowing that someone might gotten better than us, or just the better of us. Our revenge give us a feeling of satisfaction whether or not it fixes the problem. It’s the road rage from the most minor of traffic gaffes. It’s the enrichment of lawyers of frivolous lawsuits, win or lose.
The challenge is that we can’t let go of the past. The hate, anger, envy, and jealousy of the past is very heavy to carry around and it’s the ultimate distraction from the future. Trying to get even is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. Plus, we are always looking for offense. As we all know, that which we focus on, we get. So not only are carrying the past, but we’re constantly piling more on. Eventually the party will end. Looking backwards is no way to get ahead in life.
Ego must drive
We must be in control. We see everyone else somewhere between incompetent and just plain stupid. Surely we can’t allow babies to fly airplanes and dumb people to design bridges, so how could we let others take the lead in our own lives and businesses? It’s the manager mentality when the organization needs a true leader. It’s the parent that does everything for their child, even at 30 years old.
The challenge is that we’re not the best in everything. Even if we believe we could be the best, there isn’t enough hours in our day to master every aspect. So we must allow others to take control. Imagine us trying to fix our own transmission or do open heart surgery on ourselves. Those are silly examples, but teh lesson holds that we can’t do it all. And if we try, we may end up being average to poor in each and that’s no way to achieve success in life.
At the end of the day, the egoist is a delusional person. Of course they can still be great at their craft, but they allow that confidence to spill over into other areas of life, leading them to feel invincible. As they say, however, all good delusions must come to and end. So how can we drop or at least minimize the ego?
Thoughts on dropping the ego
- Confidence. Be confident enough in yourself that you not only allow others to win, you enjoy seeing others win. It becomes arrogance when you don’t believe anyone else can do what you do
- Let it go. Drop the past and the forgive the damage that was done. Besides, forgiveness is the best gift you can give yourself, yet it’s the most unselfish.
- Trust others. Know that no matter what you can still succeed. When you’re not looking behind your back anymore, you can look ahead. Believe in yourself enough to take the good with the bad.
- Be grateful. Gratitude is the best attitude for losing ego. It puts things larger than yourself in perspective and helps you appreciate what you have and those that don’t have it.
- Practice humility. It doesn’t come natural to an egotistical person, but imagine passing up an opportunity to boast and instead let your actions do the talking. The great Walter Payton once said, “When you’re good, you tell everyone. When you’re great, everyone tells you.”
- Stay a student. When you realize that the more you know, the more you truly don’t know, it’s very humbling. Keep searching for truth and learning more along the way and the ego, outside of delusion, will never stand a chance.
- Help everyone. In corporate America, servant leadership is where the boss works for the employee to make sure they can do their job. In turn, the employee succeeds and the boss looks good. It works in life as well.
The good news is that we can be confident without being arrogant. We can love ourselves and love others. We can be in control of ourselves even when others are driving, And we can do it all without having to say it all. I dare you to share this with four people that think their stuff doesn’t stink. We’ll share at the top because the bottom’s much too crowded.
“Big egos are big shields for lots of empty space.”