• Eve Arnold

5 Ways Your Ego is Getting in the Way of Your Career Change

Ego. Who we are or rather, who we think we are. Our ego is essentially how we identify ourselves.

Your ego is what you consider to be you. It’s your self image. Who you believe you are. It sits both consciously i.e. “I am ambitious” and also at a subconscious level i.e. the reason why you pursue that promotion.

It helps you decipher what you are and what you are not. It’s your identity.

A very interesting concept. It’s interesting because whilst it makes us feel good (it gives us a sense of who we are and what we stand for), it can be damaging when we let it get in the way of what we truly want to do.

Our Ego

Our ego can hinder us. The most cited example of this is in our careers.

We know if we like something or not. If we don’t know, there are ways to figure out how we want to spend our life and what we want to do. Let’s say for example we see ourselves as smart, conscientious and hard working. We see ourselves as ambitious and on the path to success. We’ve just graduated school and we know the next logical step is to get a corporate job and work 9–5.

Then can save up enough money to get a mortgage and if we work hard enough we can get a nice car that we can show off to all our friends. Our ego dictates those choices. We are smart, conscientious, hardworking and on the path to success thus to prove that we need to have to the material things that showcase that. I.e. the fancy car and the big house.

The Juxtaposition

The problem is when you know you want to do something else but you can’t see how that immediately lines up to your ego. Let’s say for example during your time in your corporate job, you stumble across writing. You find that you absolutely love writing. You love it so much that you find yourself writing often and consistently. More consistently than you’ve done anything in your life. You like it so much you realise that you probably don’t like your job all that much.

However, you can’t bring yourself to publish it anywhere because well, what if your work colleagues think your writing is a bag of rubbish. What if they see your writing and it dispels the image of you being this together, successful person?

That would be bad. That, my friend, is your ego talking. Your ego will stop you from ‘looking silly’ in front of people. It’ll make it hard to take feedback and you certainly will be more risk-adverse if your ego has anything to do with it. So how do we stop our ego determining what we do?

Well there are a few things…

1. Get things wrong — practice 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. I really hate this idea that pride could get in the way, so much so, that you wouldn’t tell your boss if you accidentally did something wrong. Even if it could be solved if you just owned up to it.

Perfection

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.

If you want some reassurance that your mistakes aren’t that bad, think yourself lucky you’re not James Howells. Howells back in 2009 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.

Some Big Mistakes

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. Bell refused.

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.

And for goodness sake, don’t cover up your mistakes at work. Own up to them, you’ll find you will soon get a reputation for being honest and forth coming which is better than secretive.

2. Find Some Humility, No Ego

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. However, having a decent amount of humility is only ever a good thing in my opinion. You might be a great presenter in some people’s eyes, you might be a good communicator or whatever it may be but you don’t need to inflate your own ego. You don’t need to live up to any hype.

A good way to do this is too contextualise. If you work in a company of say 2,000 people and people rate your presenting skills, that’s fine. However, how many people are you really testing yourself against, maybe a couple of hundred who have the confidence to present.

This is not meant to be a kick in the teeth it’s meant to help your ego not get the better of you. You can be a great presenter and think you are however, nobody likes the plonker who’s walking around like they are the best thing since sliced bread. 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 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.

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.

“Special”

It’s a problem when you whole-heartedly believe that you are better than everyone else and you are indeed, special. 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 the 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 Beginners Mindset – Let Go of the Ego

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 practiced 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:

  1. Read about Neuroscience

  2. Research Bioinformatics

  3. Learn to ride a bike or to swim

  4. Play chess

  5. Try to write a song

By starting over at something completely new it gives you one glorious thing. Perspective. It gives you the 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 the flip you like. Nobody is really watching and you have nothing to live up too. 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 pains 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.

Pride and Fear

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 to 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.

No one’s Thinking About You

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. Which essentially means, us 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 spread their wings and do something else? We don’t. We’re too busy thinking about ourselves.

So if you want to change career, change 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 roof tops. 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.

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