Like many of you, my ego is fed when I’m acknowledged for my achievements and accomplishments. My confidence is given a boost and I’m ready to tackle the next project. As with many things in life, balance and moderation is key. Too much ego can be detrimental to success when it becomes self-centered.
People often react in two different ways when success lands at their feet. They can either gain confidence in their abilities and their contribution to the world, or they can let their ego spiral out of control so it seeks more and more approval.
Confidence and ego are two very different things, and in the workplace, these differences can make or break your career. Confidence is faith in yourself and your abilities. Ego operates out of self-interest and demands to be seen as “right” so it resists feedback and criticism.
Confidence requires hard work, a sincere passion for what we do, and a sense of accomplishment. Ego is self-righteous, selfish, and judgmental of others. If we can’t control ego, bad behavior will follow. All sense of teamwork is thrown out the window, a closed mind is blind to innovation and new ideas, and the “me first” attitude alienates those around us.
Here are 4 ways to encourage confidence, and at the same time, control ego:
1. Look For Ways To Be Humble
Muhammad Ali once said, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” This is the attitude we foster when ego takes control. We become so self-absorbed with our own greatness that we isolate ourselves from the real world.
When we remove ego, we uncover our humility. While some may define humility as low self-esteem, it’s actually emotional neutrality. It’s an attitude where we don’t need to put ourselves above others, but we don’t put ourselves below them, either. We have confidence in ourselves yet recognize that everyone makes a contribution. Humility allows us to behave and react from a sense of purpose, not our emotions.
I don’t need to live up to your expectations, and you don’t need to live up to mine. When I value my own sense of self-worth, it’s easier to have confidence in myself and appreciate others.
In his book, “The Obstacle Is The Way,” Ryan Holiday writes that when we remove ego, we’re left with what’s real—a humble sense of who and what we are. Ego is always fragile and artificial, but earned confidence will endure because it has heft and value.
How To Make It Work For You: When you’re tempted to offer unsolicited advice to others, offer a better solution, or feel compelled to demonstrate how smart you are, take a moment to be humble. Remind yourself that humility is a matter of self-esteem. The greater your sense of self-worth, the easier it is to encourage others.
2. Connect With A Higher Purpose (than just yourself)
Often it’s our ego that gets us out the door and into our first job. We want to save the world, or at least our piece of it. It’s all we need at first, but if our mission is not connected to things that produce value and meaning for us, we’ll run out of gas somewhere in middle age. That’s when the cycle repeats itself as young, hungry, and ambitious whipper-snappers start to nip at our heels. We can only stay on the merry-go-round for so long if ego is all that sustains us.
Our ego takes a hit if we’re not tethered to something that connects us to a purpose higher than ourselves. It’s no wonder we find success to be cold and empty; no wonder we lose the energy that once propelled us.
Steve Jobs told the graduating class at Stanford in 2004:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going? What is my role in the world?
We find it difficult to answer these questions because success and ego pull our attention in other directions. Ego tells us that meaning comes from our accomplishments and power over others, and that material things will bring us fulfillment. Confidence springs from a clear understanding that we use our talents, skills, and abilities in ways that truly do bring us satisfaction.
How To Make It Work For You: If you love what you do, and it gives you a sense of value and meaning, stick with it! If, however, you experience moments of uncertainty, take the time to reflect on what you would do if money were no object. As other great leaders and thinkers have done, spend time in the wilderness so you can gain perspective. The wilderness is a place where you can quiet the noise around you, and the noise in your head, to hear what you need to hear. Everything you need can be found inside if you just listen for it.
3. Give Up Your Need To Always Win
Our ego can drive us to accomplish great things if it is fed with the right motivation. A healthy ego will give you the confidence to always be your best. Psychiatrist Michael MacCoby provided an insightful analysis of people who are driven by a confident ego in his book, “The Gamesman.” Here is an excerpt:
“They are cooperative but competitive; detached and playful but compulsively driven to succeed. Their main goal is to be known as a winner and their deepest fear is to be labeled a loser.”
Most successful people are motivated by their need to win. We tend to measure our success by what others say about us, and how we perceive our own performance. When the ego is in control, our self-worth is defined by what others say, and we’ll always be insecure. On the other hand, we can be our own worst critic. Often, we would never speak to other people in the same harsh manner in which we talk to ourselves.
How To Make It Work For You: Reflect back on both your wins and losses. What motivated you to win? What emotions did you experience over your losses? Dig down until you uncover what motivates you and what produces your negative emotions. For example: in my case, my need to win is tied to a deep belief that I need to perform in order to feel worthy of love.
4. Remember Your Manners
When we are stressed or overwhelmed, our frail and artificial ego feels threatened. In order to deal with conflicts and problems in life, our ego deploys a range of defense mechanisms so we feel better about ourselves. Many of these defense mechanism are healthy, but others are considered to be immature; and when the ego gets out of control, it will use brute force to stay on top.
One sign that we are not in control of our ego is when we start to feel superior to our colleagues and friends. It’s never OK to talk down to someone or act as though we’re better than them. Our pathetic ego feels threatened and wants to level the playing field to ensure we get back on top.
How To Make It Work For You: When you find your ego out of control, remember your manners. Don’t succumb to an egotistic response; instead, be polite. When you use good manners, you put the brakes on a tendency to care only about yourself. Politeness is an effective mindfulness trigger that helps your ego feel concern for the other person.