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We all have an ego, and contrary to popular perception, your ego is beneficial to your success, both personally and professionally. Your ego is part of your neuro-physiological system. It helps protect your self-image and self-worth, and it helps create your self-concept. Sometimes, though, your ego can get in the way, and when that happens, the concern you have for yourself overrides what actually may be happening in reality.
Whenever you feel threatened (“Bob is trying to take my job”), blame (“Mary said the customer didn’t buy because of me”), shame (“The boss knows I fudged the report”), or embarrassment (“The entire company heard that I lost the big sale”), your ego kicks in and keeps you from clearly understanding reality. In other words, the ego makes up its own reality in response to the “ego arrows” people shoot your way. This false “ego reality” closes you off to the true situation and causes you to go into a defensive mode, ultimately hindering your success.
Realize that whenever the ego is in charge, it’s only telling half the story – the story as you currently view it – not the whole story that takes into account other people’s perceptions and the facts behind the matter. Because life is complex and people are constantly shooting ego arrows at you, your job is to realize when your ego defense is in play. Acknowledge that your ego is simply trying to protect you, but that at the same time it’s blocking off reality. And when that happens, you’re figuratively crippled because you’re unable to understand how you fit into the world.
So the concept of “not letting your ego get in the way” is not about eliminating the ego; rather, it’s about honoring and valuing the ego position, because ultimately the ego is there to help you and guide you. The key, however, is not letting your ego stand in the way of your success simply because you feel fear, threat, or embarrassment. Take into consideration that such feelings are appropriate, but they’re not the whole story.
When you become aware of your ego response, you can immediately change your reaction to the situation and keep your ego from halting your success. In other words, the moment you can say to yourself, “Yes, I feel overwhelmed. I feel afraid. I feel threatened. I feel embarrassed,” is when you become open to the whole story and can react according to the true reality, not according to your ego’s reality.
So, how can you keep your ego in check at all times? When you first notice that you feel fear, threat, or embarrassment, ask yourself the following three questions.
Is this the way it really is, or is this my response to it?
Check in with yourself. Take a time-out to assess whether what you perceive is true, or if you’re simply reacting to someone who “pushed one of your buttons.” Failure to check in with yourself could ultimately interfere with your career, your relationships, your team members, and your success.
Realize that the ego response can get in the way of that big promotion or that dream job you’ve been striving for. When those who make the promotion or hiring decisions see that you don’t have a hold on your ego and that you let others push your buttons, they assume you’re not mature enough to hold a position that’s going to create more fear, threat, and embarrassment. As a result, you could get stymied in your career because of your ego. Therefore, check in with yourself often.
Why does this affect me so much?
Check outside of yourself. Be as objective as possible and forget about your own feelings for a moment so you can uncover why the current situation is triggering an ego response. If possible, completely remove yourself from the situation so you can have some quiet time to think things through. This is critical, because the brain has two roads, so to speak-the low road and the high road. It takes 15 microseconds to access the low road and 100 microseconds to access the high road. That may not seem like a lot of time, but it’s long enough for you to catch yourself before you respond. The goal is that rather than your reaction being completely unconscious and going straight to the low road, which triggers defensiveness, that you can catch yourself and send your response to the high road, which triggers emotional intelligence and enables you to have a chance of overcoming the situation in a productive manner.
If I feel this way, do others feel this way?
Check around to make sure you’re not the only one caught up in the situation. If others are feeling the same as you, then you need to talk about the situation so no one overreacts. You could simply say to someone involved in the situation, “This is very embarrassing (or threatening or scary) to me. Are you feeling the same way?” While it’s normal for you to want to feel whole and protected (which is the ego’s job), don’t let the ego write the entire story. The ego’s role is to keep you safe and motivated to do certain things, but when you’re working with others, it’s not okay to pretend that your current way of feeling is the only emotional state possible. That’s why you need to check around, and if appropriate, change the reference from self to others. Confirm what’s going on inside of you by looking outside.
Take Control Today
Keeping your ego from getting in your way is essentially a process of becoming more aware of what triggers you. As with any process, it takes time to master; therefore, you might find it beneficial to work with a coach who is trained in adult development. Rest assured, though, that you can make great strides on your own by simply asking yourself the three key questions discussed whenever you feel fear, threat, or embarrassment coming on. The more you can control your ego rather than have it control you, the more successful you’ll be in all areas of your life.