You might be thinking, “Use my ego? What does that mean? I don’t want to have a big ego.”
A large ego definitely isn’t always the best thing to have, but a large and healthy ego that’s in check can be most beneficial. We often hear the term “ego” get thrown around in association with negative connotations. “His ego is too big. He needs to get his ego in check. His ego will be his downfall.”
A good friend once told me, “Your ego is going to take you places.” That statement took me by surprise. I’ve actively worked to keep my ego in check and had never thought of using it to help myself grow. However, I understood exactly what she meant when I began taking risks.
Your ego isn’t as bad as it’s put out to be. It can be self-destructive, but it doesn’t have to be. When kept in check and used strategically, it can help you through tough times and propel you toward success and happiness. As long as it doesn’t get the best of you, your ego can be your greatest asset.
Ask yourself this question:
“If I’m capable of succeeding, why should I doubt myself?”
Let’s define “ego.” From Dictionary.com:
e·go [ee-goh, eg-oh]
noun, plural e·gos.
1. the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.
2. Psychoanalysis. the part of the psychic apparatus that experiences and reacts to the outside world and thus mediates between the primitive drives of the id and the demands of the social and physical environment.
3. egotism; conceit; self-importance: Her ego becomes more unbearable each day.
4. self-esteem or self-image; feelings: Your criticism wounded his ego.
In a nutshell, your ego is your perception of yourself. We will focus on ego in the sense of self-esteem and self-image.
The ego is shaped by a variety of factors including friendships, family life, work, religions, what we see, what we do, how we’re treated, internal and external expectations—it can be negatively and positively influenced by essentially everything. Therefore, the ego is something flexible, something that can be expanded and depleted.
External factors such as rejection, verbal discouragement, or disappointment may damage and deplete your ego—you don’t have any control over these variables.
On the other hand, how your ego grows and how it’s used is completely under your control.
This is contrary to common advice, but surround yourself with people and do things that build up your ego. It’s okay. We have a plan. Although it’s easy to lose control of your ego or be confused as arrogant, don’t let that turn you off. As you’ll see, the pay-off of learning to use your ego strategically is well worth the struggle.
The most successful and influential people have big egos. Ron Rolheiser uses Mother Theresa as an example of someone who had a large, but healthy ego. Few people would initially agree, but, as stated by Rolheiser, “clearly, she had a huge ego—a powerful self-image that allowed her to stand before the whole world convinced of her truth, convinced of her worth, and convinced of her importance.” To have a large ego does not imply arrogance, but demonstrates pride in our past and a confidence in our ability and our self-worth.
It’s important to build up your ego, but it’s even more important to keep it in check.
How to Keep Your Ego in Check
1. “Accept praise, but never believe it totally,” states John Baldino in an article from the Harvard Business Review. Praise naturally follows when you begin to go about life differently and experience success, but remember to humble yourself. Remember that there’s always more to learn, more to explore, and more to do.
You have to ask for help in order to continue growing. By asking for help, you demonstrate to yourself that you aren’t taking praise to heart. You demonstrate that you aren’t finished learning and you’ve accepted that others know things that you don’t. Baldoni also quotes:
“It’s okay if other people think you’re God, but you’re in trouble if you start believing it.”
2. Don’t compete with anyone but yourself. It’s easy to get caught up competing with your peers. Sometimes you may end up surpassing them, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that your work is done. There will always be someone else to surpass—yourself.
As soon as you make progress, your potential grows exponentially, and you’ll. once again, work to fill in that gap between who you are and who you want to be.
Make regular check-ins with your progress compared to a week ago, a month ago, a year ago. Celebrate your victories then think about how much further you have to go. Remain humble because you are not finished.
3. Pay attention to those you hold close. Don’t just take what they say with a grain of salt. Really consider what they have to say. Your close friends are the ones who aren’t scared to tell you the harsh truth. If your ego is growing too rapidly or getting out of hand, they’ll let you know.
Although your close friends may be the ones who will help build your ego reserve, they can cap it too. They will remind you to practice humility.
How and When to Use Your Ego
How do you use your ego? Think of your ego as a reserve. It is a reserve of your successes and the adversities you have conquered. You know what internal and external hardships you had to face to get to where you are today. You know how much you’ve accomplished. You have quite a lot under your belt and you have a story to tell. Your journey really is something to be proud of—and you should be proud of it. You’ve come a long way.
As mentioned before, you ego reserve can and should be used, replenished, and depleted. Think of it like rationing water for survival. If you’re stranded in the desert with one gallon of water, you shouldn’t drink it all at once. You should drink it when you need to. Likewise, use your ego when you need to.
1. Use your ego when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. There will be moments that will feel like a personal all time low. You’ll feel like giving up, like you’re wasting your time—you’ll feel useless. There will be times when no amount of comforting words or ice cream can pull you back up. You can’t be uplifted unless if you truly believe in yourself and realize your greatness.
Take your ego, your successes, your knowledge of your progress and improvement and remind yourself of the amazing things you are capable of.
Remind yourself that this is just another phase and you’ll get through it just like you got through everything else life has thrown at you. Remind yourself of how much you have left to do. Don’t let this momentary difficulty hold you down.
Your ego can get you back up when everyone and everything else is getting you down.
2. Use your ego to face your fears. This doesn’t necessarily mean to face your darkest fear (although you definitely could). However, you’ll have impulsive moments.
You’ll want to go somewhere new, you’ll want to join a new organization, to attempt a new hobby, to speak to a stranger, but you won’t. You probably experience those impulses on a daily basis, but you hesitate to act on them.
The next time you realize you’re hesitating, remind yourself that you may not have that opportunity again. Take action. You can totally do it. You’ve already done so many difficult things, what makes you think you can’t do this one thing?
If you aren’t sure you can achieve something, well, you can. Just take that first step.
3. Use your ego to stop doubting your capabilities. When we think of doing something amazing, something that will change the world, we subconsciously imply to ourselves that that “amazing” thing is out of our capabilities. Why? Because it’s safe to say “I can’t do that,” and not attempt it.
It’s safe to doubt ourselves because, that way, we avoid the possibility of failure. However, that’s how we limit ourselves to sub-par work and influence.
Use your ego to convince yourself that you are capable of doing amazing things, that you are capable of changing the world. Changing the world doesn’t happen overnight. It starts off small and it happens gradually, one person at a time. Take that first step to do what you believe in and use your ego to sweep aside any self-doubt and keep pushing forward despite any discouragement.
Grow your ego, use it, replenish, deplete it, get discouraged, succeed, humiliate yourself, fail, then learn more. Just remember to keep pushing on.
You can be your own worst enemy or you can be your own biggest supporter. You decide.
Humility, Ego, and Greatness by Ron Rolheiser
What is the Difference Between Ego and Pride?
How to Manage Your Ego so You Can Reach Your Full Potential by Srinivas Rao
Ways to Keep Your Ego In Check by John Daldoni
Ego and Competence by Joe Arrigo
Photo Source: David Ly Khim