How your ego will sabotage your career before it really begins

Posted on Posted in 2016 Business Opportunities For You, What's Trending Now

 

When we’re young and just setting out in our careers, we tend to assume that the greatest impediments to our progress and success are external to us. We blame our bosses and “the system” but we rarely think that we might be our own worst enemies, sabotaging ourselves right when we are beginning on our path.

Too often, the obstacle that impedes our progress is internal — our own ego. Yes, all of us, with all our talent and promise and potential, if we don’t control our ego, we risk blowing up before we start.

Early on in our careers we are setting out to do something. We have a goal, a calling, a new beginning. Every great journey begins here — yet far too many of us never reach our intended destination. Ego more often than not is the culprit.

We build ourselves up with fantastical stories and talk, we pretend we have it all figured out, we let our star burn bright and hot only to fizzle out, and we have no idea why. These are symptoms of ego, for which humility and reality are the cure.

Talent, as Irving Berlin put it, is only the starting point. What we also need is self-management, self-control and humility.

Here are three ways that ego is the enemy of those important traits.

 

1. Talk, talk, talk
At the beginning of any path, we’re excited and nervous. So we seek to comfort ourselves externally instead of inwardly. There’s a weak side to each of us, that — like a trade union — isn’t exactly malicious, but at the end of the day, still wants to get as much public credit and attention as it can for doing the least. That side we call ego.

Many valuable endeavors we undertake are painfully difficult, whether it’s coding a new startup or mastering a craft. But talking and talking is always easy. So we do that instead.

It’s a temptation that exists for everyone — for talk and hype to replace action.

Doing great work is a struggle. It’s draining, it’s demoralizing, it’s frightening — not always, but it can feel that way when we’re deep in the middle of it. We talk to fill the void and the uncertainty.

The question is, when faced with your particular challenge — ­whether it is researching in a new field, starting a business, producing a film, securing a mentor, advancing an important cause — do you seek the respite of talk or do you face the struggle head­-on?

 

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2. Early pride
At 18, a rather triumphant Benjamin Franklin returned to visit Boston, the city he’d run away from. Full of pride, he had a new suit, a watch and a pocketful of coins that he showed to everyone he ran into. All posturing by a boy who was not much more than an employee in a print shop in Philadelphia.

In a meeting with Cotton Mather, one of the town’s most respected figures, Franklin quickly illustrated just how ridiculously inflated his young ego had become. As they walked down a hallway, Mather suddenly admonished him, “Stoop! Stoop!” Too caught up in his performance, Franklin walked right into a low ceiling beam.

Mather’s response was perfect: “Let this be a caution to you not always to hold your head so high,” he said wryly. “Stoop, young man, stoop — as you go through this world — ­and you’ll miss many hard thumps.”

The problem with pride is that it blunts the instrument we need to succeed — our mind. Our ability to learn, to adapt, to be flexible, to build relationships, all of this is dulled by pride. Most dangerously, this tends to happen either early in life or in the process — ­when we’re flushed with beginner’s conceit. Only later do you realize that that bump on the head was the least of what was risked.

The question to ask, when you feel pride, then, is this: What am I missing right now that a more humble person might see? What am I avoiding, or running from, with my bluster, franticness, and embellishments?

It is far better to ask and answer these questions now, with the stakes still low, than it will be later.

 

3. Don’t be passionate
Early on in her ascendant political career, a visitor once spoke of Eleanor Roosevelt’s “passionate interest” in a piece of social legislation. The person had meant it as a compliment. But Eleanor’s response is illustrative. “Yes,” she did support the cause, she said. “But I hardly think the word ‘passionate’ applies to me.” As a respectable, accomplished, and patient woman born while the embers of the quiet Victorian virtues were still warm, Roosevelt was above passion. She had purpose and direction.

Today it’s all about passion. Find your passion. Live passionately. Inspire the world with your passion.

People go to Burning Man to find passion, to be around passion, to rekindle their passion. Same goes for TED and the now enormous SXSW and a thousand other events, retreats and summits, all fueled by what they claim to be life’s most important force.

Here’s what those same people haven’t told you: your passion may be the very thing holding you back from power or influence or accomplishment. Because just as often, we fail because of passion. To be clear, this is not about caring. This is passion of a different sort — unbridled enthusiasm, our willingness to pounce on what’s in front of us with the full measure of our zeal, the “bundle of energy” that our teachers and gurus have assured us is our most important asset.

Instead, what we require in our ascent is purpose. Purpose, you could say, is like passion with boundar­ies. Passion is form over function. Purpose is function, function, function. The critical work that you want to do will require your deliberation and consideration. Not passion.

 

 

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