How science shows the damaging effects of ego on career success

successful former colleague of mine is someone who publicly, is without any airs. Privately, she believes she should be in an even bigger position than the one she’s in. She acknowledges she’s doing great work and receiving recognition for it. But like any person with a burning passion and desire, she wants much more.

I think she’s one of the best at her profession. She’s genuine, authentic and very hard-working. She seems to have it all. Yet I find that her ego is often at odds with how she’s perceived.

My friends, this is both a blessing and a curse. Here’s why:

Ego is a tightrope act you will walk personally, professionally, publicly and privately your whole life. Achieve success of any kind, you’ll find external recognition for your accomplishments. You’ll feel good on the inside. Ideally, this will lead to confidence and perseverance, rather than an inflated sense of self-worth which only leads to the pursuit of the next “high.”

This high can never truly be satisfied by any accomplishment. It’s driven by pride and ego, which will push you further away from what you truly desire at your inner core.

Ego is something we always need to stay on top of. The way we conquer the negative side of our ego is with emotional intelligence — keen self-awareness, empathy and self-management. Emotional intelligence helps us understand our ego and manage it accordingly.

Ego can lead to overconfidence. Being overly-confident often leads to mistakes. Dr. Joyce Ehrlinger of Washington State University, in a combined study with professors from Stanford and Florida State University, found overconfidence can lead to poor decisions:

“A little bit of overconfidence can be helpful,” said Ehrlinger, “but larger amounts of overconfidence can lead people to make bad decisions and to miss out on opportunities to learn.”

Particularly with social media, we’re wont to share our measures of success. All of us, even the most introverted among us, want to feel appreciated and recognized by our peers. For some, it’s easy to manifest a cult of personality, where it seems our whole world revolves around how great we are. We get frustrated when others don’t recognize our tremendous value!

With ego, when you keep it in check, you’re doing the right thing. When you go too far, losing control, it’s not what might hurt you on the outside, but what might affect you on the inside that could disrupt your behavior. Damage to your reputation can certainly hurt. I tend to focus more on character. The worst damage is self-inflicted. It’s dangerous when you corrupt your own sense of value and self-worth.

Are you fighting one of these battles?

Dr. Heidi Grant, a Senior Scientist at the Neuroleadership Institute, and associate director for the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University favors self-compassion. She wrote the book, Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, and believes self-compassion is instrumental in taking us away from anxiety and undue stress, toward optimism and happiness:

“Self-compassion is a willingness to look at your own mistakes and shortcomings with kindness and understanding — it’s embracing the fact that to err is indeed human. When you are self-compassionate in the face of difficulty, you neither judge yourself harshly, nor feel the need to defensively focus on all your awesome qualities to protect your ego. It’s not surprising that self-compassion leads, as many studies show, to higher levels of personal well-being, optimism and happiness, and to less anxiety and depression.” — Dr. Heidi Grant: Quote Source

I hope both privately and publicly that you are always compassionate to yourself. Despite the winds of change and emotion, it’s imperative to find time to be kind to yourself. This is where surrounding yourself with people who love and empathize with you matters so much.

Always stay true to yourself. Privately, I know you have pride and an ego. So do I. (So does every person on the planet!) Don’t ever let your perception of how people see you on the outside, change the way you carry yourself (character) on the inside. Over the long haul, you’ll find life will be so much better if you live with integrity.

Putting your ego to the side leads to a more fulfilling, optimistic and happy way of life. These things have direct impact on your career success and help you improve your mindset.

This article first appeared on Medium.

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