5 Tips on Ditching the Ego, Eating Some Humble Pie and Learning to Love the Process
“I know that fear is an obstacle for some people, but for me, it is just an illusion….. Failure always makes me try harder on the next opportunity.”- Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan has missed the game-winning shot 26 times. 26. That’s a lot of failures. So how does someone so successful come to accept failure time and time again?
When you hit a certain level, regardless of your progress, failure becomes scary. That could be missing the game-winning shot or that could be driving a car below your pay grade. However you define failure, it becomes harder to swallow the further you climb.
‘The sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.’
That’s how Ryan Holiday defines ego. This unhelpful, expecting and hindering pain inside your head makes you feel like you can’t step outside of your comfort zone. As if your little toe stepping outside the lines is a sure-fire way for you to fall down into failure. But there’s a problem with that.
The Problem With Constantly Living Up to Your Ego
Facing up to the fact you have an ego is one thing. It’s another thing entirely to challenge it. Your ego is the thing that says ‘hey are you sure you want to do that?’
And often the answer is yes and then no. You want to, you really want to but the fact that you’ve just questioned yourself pulls you back. You start to think:
“Oh yeah, I have a reputation to live up to.”
And so you retract. You don’t write that article online because you’re scared of what you're colleagues think. You don’t release that YouTube video because you’re worried you’ll get 2 views and people will laugh at you.
But here’s the deal.
People will laugh, people will think what you write about is self-help garbage that has been done 2000x over. And in the beginning, your work will suck.
But every single successful person on this planet started somewhere. They started with a crappy article, a poorly edited video, they started and failed and that’s because that’s what it takes. They missed before they sunk the game-winning shot.
If you want to succeed you have to face the fact that people will laugh at you.
1. Get Things Wrong By Practising in the Open
We are human. We learn by doing and we often get things wrong. In fact, our very success as a species is built on failure. We fail, we learn, we succeed.
Successful people get things wrong all the time. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a life thing. Yet, we’ve got this image in our heads that successful people are flawless.
So, we think we need to be.
This leads to mistakes being covered up. If you pretend it never happened then you don’t have to own up to it and then you don’t have the embarrassment of people thinking you’re a bit of a plonker.
Truth is, 9/10 times people will respect you more if you own up to things. It’s your ego not letting you own up to it. We don’t need to be perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist. People mess things up, get things wrong, the sooner you realise that the better.
Saying things like “I got that wrong” or “my bad, I didn’t speak to that person about this” is cathartic. It’s about speaking your truth. You don’t need to hide anything, we humans get things wrong all the time.
And You Think You Make Stupid Mistakes (No Offence Howells)
Back in 2009, James Howells bought 7,500 Bitcoins. Back then they were worth basically nothing. However, in 2013, one Bitcoin was worth a whopping £613. Which then made James a multi-millionaire. He’d sat on the Bitcoins for 4 years and had made a cool £4.5 million. Not bad for doing practically nothing.
The trouble was the hard drive on which he’d stored his Bitcoin he’d chucked away.
Years before he’d not really give it any thought and binned the hard drive. Which meant that now £4.5 million was sat in a landfill somewhere — poor bloke.
Or What About This Guy
Or imagine you were George Bell.
In 1999 Larry Page and Sergey Brin approach the Excite CEO George Bell. The pair wanted to sell their search engine, Google. At the time they went into negotiations starting at $1 million and went down to $750,000 in order to tempt Bell.
Today, Google, that search engine that they tried to sell back in 1999 for $1 million, has 75,000 queries per second, it yields 2 trillion searches per year. Oh yeah, and it’s valued at $927 Billion. No, that’s not a spelling mistake, it’s meant to say billion.
The point is, we get things wrong. Maybe not as catastrophically as Howells and Bell but we do. We misjudge, we underestimate, we overestimate. That’s life.
The sooner you realise that it’s okay to make mistakes the better.
2. Find Some Humility to Keep You Grounded
We all have a sense of ourselves. We can feel how important we are and how much weight we carry when we talk to people. Or at least so we tell ourselves. We think we are the most important person in the world. But we all need some humble pie from time to time
A good way to do this is to contextualise.
There are 8 billion people on this planet. Which means you probably aren’t the best at anything. It’s not meant to be a kick in the teeth it’s meant to help your ego not get the better of you.
- You can think you’re a great writer but you’re never going to be the best.
- You can think you’re great at running but you’ll never become no.1 in the world.
- You can think you the best business person on the planet but you’re not.
Be quietly confident about your abilities but don’t let your ego get the better of you. You don’t need everybody telling you how great you are to be confident.
Eating humble pie is good for the soul.
Some people might think you are great and you may well be great but being humble is a very admirable trait. It also means you don’t get tripped up by complacency.
3. Let Go of the Grand Narrative
This isn’t a movie, you’re not going to get woken up by Hagrid banging down your door and telling you that you’ve been chosen to go to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
I’m sorry and I know it’s crap — I want to be a wizard too but we aren’t. The sooner we realise that the better.
Every day we are all telling ourselves a story about our lives. The dangerous stories to tell ourselves are the ones that involve the words “but I’m special” and “I’m different, I know I’m going to be great”.
Now, telling ourselves those things before an exam or just as we do a presentation can be helpful — also telling ourselves those things when we are feeling a little bit down and sorry for ourselves — not a bad idea. The bad comes when it’s the story you’ve told yourself for years.
It’s a problem when you wholeheartedly believe that you are better than everyone else. This is not a nice thing to say but you aren’t special — not really. The is a game of physics. If you put the work in, you get the rewards.
If you don’t, you won’t.
Now you might have gotten lucky at some point but that’s not through any gift you possess that’s just sheer randomness. We are all special in our own way, by definition then means, none of us are. We can’t all be something that means ‘differing from being usual’. That is the definition of special. Differing from the norm. The sheer amount of humans on this planet means that we are, by existent, usual.
Sorry to burst the bubble but the quicker we realise that we aren’t Harry Potter and this isn’t a movie, the better.
You don’t have special powers, your success isn’t because you are magical and you’ve got some gifts. It’s because you’ve put the work in and got to where you are.
The story is a hard thing to let go of. It’s nice to believe we are special, it makes us feel warm inside but you don’t need that. Focus on the present moment and not the story.
4. Adopt a Beginner’s Mindset
If you’ve never played golf before and you picked up a club tomorrow my guess is you’d be pretty bad. We all are pretty rubbish at the things we don’t practice often. Picking up a book on a subject you know nothing about or taking up a sport that you’ve never practised before is a good way to let go of your ego.
Don’t get me wrong, I think we should double down on our strengths to find success in life, we need mastery. That is only done by concentrating hard on a singular thing. However, every now and then I think it’s a good idea to be totally rubbish at something.
Here are some ideas:
- Read about Neuroscience
- Research Bioinformatics
- Learn to ride a bike or to swim
- Play chess
- Try to write a song
By starting over at something completely new it gives you one glorious thing.
It gives you a perspective of how vast the world is. And more importantly, how small we are. It opens your eyes to the amount of information in the world. It helps you understand how little you know and how small your part is to play.
This isn’t meant to discourage you from doing the stuff you want to do though, it’s to encourage you to do exactly that. As soon as you realise you are a tiny piece of this planet and your only job is to have as much joy as you can, while you can, everything else pails in comparison. It helps you realise that you aren’t that grand and important. No one is really going to care if you change career, don’t marry that person, have a small house or drive a crappy car.
This should, in theory, be quite thrilling. It means you are free to do whatever flip you like. Nobody is really watching and you have nothing to live up to. Do whatever you want to do.
5. Ditch the Pride
‘crown of the virtues.’ as Aristotle described it.
It’s really quite a travesty of this world that people are held back from doing things because they have too much pride. One of the things that pain me more than most is that people won’t move careers into something they’d enjoy more because it pays less and they’ll have to get a smaller house or a crappier car. It actually hearts my heart that could be the case for some people.
So instead, people sit at a job they hate, for 40 hours a week, miserable. You can see it in their eyes, they don’t like being there, they don’t enjoy what they are doing but they continue on because they think that’s what they should be doing.
Having too much pride to do the things you really want to do for fear of what other people might think is quite sad.
The first part of this is recognising the role pride is playing in your life. If you’ve identified you don’t like what you’re doing, why haven’t you taken the next step? There is loads of guidance out there for the types of careers you could switch into… what is holding you back?
If it’s because you have too much pride i.e. this job you are in gives you status, a good wage and the job title is fancy enough to look cool on LinkedIn, then you need to let go of that. You can start by realising no one is really looking at you. On the surface they might be, they might like your posts or think you have a cool job however, they really won’t care if you switch jobs.
A paper published in 2013 by D.Tamir and J.Mitchell presented a profound suggestion that we, as people, use our own mental states to understand those of others. In other words, what I am thinking I use to understand you. So, if we’re talking about careers for example and we get chatting about a meeting, if I hate meetings I will infer that you are talking about meetings as a negative, despite the fact you might love meetings. My initial go-to is that you are talking negatively. This essentially means, we humans, think more about ourselves than each other. We use our own experiences to understand others.
In other words, you shouldn’t give a hoot what people think of you because the chances are, they are thinking about themselves.
Think about it, how many times a day do you deeply think about others. How many times have you thought about whether whoever from work is truly happy or if they want to spread their wings and do something else? We don’t. We’re too busy thinking about ourselves.
So if you want to change your career, change your career. Let go of the pride and do whatever you want to do.
The Conclusion on Your Ego
I want to jump out of the screen and shout this from the rooftops. If you are unhappy at work you have a duty to yourself to change. There are so many careers out there you have your pick. Now, you don’t need to jump into the deep end straight the way, if you’ve got an idea of the type of job you’d like, you can try it on for size. There is no pressure to move quickly but there is pressure to find joy in work.
Your ego could be the reason you are holding back and hopefully, those tips might help you out a tad.