Is Your Ego Ruining Your Career?

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I had a coffee date with two smart, accomplished women this week. In addition to discussing what we had going on in our respective professional lives, we had a fascinating conversation about ego and to what extent it had driven our career decisions — what had we done or failed to do simply because we let our egos dictate our choices. It was an illuminating chat and the more I reflect on it, the more I realize how much being beholden to ego can short-circuit both your working life and your sense of self. Here are three things that happen when you give your ego the keys to the castle.

 

It makes you vulnerable.

Transparently ego-driven people are ripe for exploitation. Everyone who has ever feigned rapt interest in their boss’s 42nd retelling of the time he jammed with Springsteen knows it’s true. Others can very quickly sense if you’re susceptible to flattery (and of which type) or can be goaded into rash decisions. Canny operators then use this knowledge to push your buttons or pull your strings. They know that your ego is hungry and that by feeding it or starving it, they can manage you to their own ends.

It leads you to stay when you should go and go when you should stay.

The ship is sinking, but you’re entertaining fantasies of being the one who can right it and sail your whole company to the shores of unprecedented success. Or you have a good thing going now, but someone dangles a better title in front of you or a few more dollars and suddenly all thoughts of work-life balance and great colleagues fly out of your head in favor of visualizing your leap up the corporate ladder. You are a Sally Field Oscar acceptance speech on repeat.  You stay in untenable job circumstances because you want to prove you can hang through the tough times or you leap from role to role, hoping to finally feel the slippery chill of the brass ring between your outstretched fingers. Your ego makes for a lousy career coach, but you listen anyway.

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It distracts you from your priorities.

When your ego is in the driver’s seat, you make decisions based on appeasing it vs. meeting your long-term best interests. And what your ego wants is to feel good right now. It doesn’t care about the hard, thankless work needed to achieve big goals. You want to run a marathon. Your ego will settle for Instagram comments telling you how hot you look in your new swimsuit. Your ego also wants to beat all the other egos, so listening to it often brings petty drama and competition with peers and colleagues, pulling focus away from your own desires or obscuring them entirely. When you’re controlled by your ego, you don’t take the risks that will help you grow because maybe you’ll fail, look stupid or you realize that you aren’t who you’ve been telling yourself you are. Your ego has convinced you it cannot withstand such a blow, so it’s better not to chance it. Instead, you get stuck chasing immediate gratification or focusing on only the low-hanging fruit of opportunities that feel safe.

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Written by Loknath Das