What to Do If Your Ego Is Out of Hand
My high school History teacher, who was also the football coach, was so full of himself that one graduate bequeathed him Elton John’s record, Ego.
And honestly, that’s all I remember about him.
At one point, everyone in my class hated the guy. I can’t remember why, but my guess is he was a bit too impersonal and heavy-handed trying to control the class.
Then one day he disappeared.
The rumor was another school offered him more money to take a job there. I’m not sure why they lured him away. Most likely he went after them because he was tired of us.
I didn’t spend a second missing him.
Ego isn’t all bad
If you’ve ever known an egomaniac, you don’t wish them well. You wish they’d leave.
But if you’re shy and reserved, you might wish you had a bit of that fire in your belly.
Of course, you’d use it for good. You wouldn’t want the world to bow down and worship you. You’d just use that ego power to be yourself and enjoy life.
So what is ego, really?
Here’s what the American Heritage Dictionary says:
In psychoanalysis, the division of the psyche that is conscious, most immediately controls thought and behavior, and is most in touch with external reality
In other words, it’s the part of you that you’re most aware of. It’s the you that lives in the world, goes to work, goes to parties, surfs the internet, and pays the bills. It’s what motivates you to dominate others or let them have their way with you.
Sounds pretty complex, huh?
Let’s call it confidence for a moment.
You need confidence to write that daring article. It helps you weather criticism, both good and bad. Confidence is God’s gift to help you handle life’s pressures.
We call it ego when you’re so full of yourself that you’re all that matters (to yourself).
That’s why Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote the song Ego. It was a poke at how rock stars act when they get famous. Here is the first stanza:
Take a look at me now
And take a taste of the money
I’m not in it for the bread
I’m in it for the gravy honey
A more precise definition of ego is self-awareness. It’s your conscious self. You know, the one with all the anxiety, fear, and self-criticism.
Taming your ego means dealing with all the stuff that keeps you from being your best.
Andy Andrews said for courage to exist there has to be fear.
Since I’m a word nerd who believes words mean things, here’s how the Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary defines it:
the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
Let’s unpack that.
In this case courage is a noun, a state of being. It’s the quality you must have to face the hardships in your life. Since this quality is behaviorally based, that means you and I can cultivate it.
Okay, how do we do that?
Face your problems head-on
Lest you think I’ve lost my way, stick with me for a second.
Your ego won’t let you face the hard stuff. It’s out to protect you from what scares you, bothers you, and keeps you up at night. Out of sight, out of mind. Personal growth to your ego means more comfort, more luxury, and less grunt work.
It also means less growth.
My daughter hates snakes. They’re scary when they’re out in the wild and you don’t know what they might do. We live in the country and some of the snakes we might see are poisonous — like the copperhead that bit our dog. Then there are the garter snakes that slither through the yard and keep the place free from rats.
One Sunday afternoon we visited the local zoo. That day one of the young ladies who works there brought out a snake and asked us if we wanted to touch it.
After a slight pause, I said, “Sure.”
The snake’s skin felt nothing like I imagined it would. It was soft, pliable, and dry, not the scaly, slimy fish skin I thought I’d feel. My daughter touched it, too, and was amazed by the smooth texture.
We’d have never known that if we hadn’t confronted our fear. If we’d listened to our egos, we might have replied, “Uh, no thanks. I’m good.”
I probably won’t start picking up snakes when I see them in the yard now. But I won’t necessarily run, either.
You grow by facing what scares you. You stretch yourself by doing something you’re not good at. The door to mastery opens when you throw your preconceived (and often wrong) notions out the window and exchange them for time-tested realities.
Stop lying to yourself
Most of what you’ve heard about affirmations is wrong.
You can’t tell yourself stuff like:
- I am a powerhouse; I am indestructible.
- I am at peace with all that has happened, is happening, and will happen.
- My thoughts are filled with positivity and my life is plentiful with prosperity.
What if it’s not true?
Then your ego will tell you, “Now come on. You know you don’t mean that.”
Let me offer a small tweak that will make a world of difference.
Talk to yourself in terms of what you’re becoming. It’s harder for your ego to argue with what you’re doing because that leaves room for growth and adjustment. Sure, it can say, “No, you aren’t growing.” But you can reply, “Yes, I am. It may not look like it, but I’m taking tiny steps toward my ultimate reality.”
Tiny steps still move you, don’t they?
If babies were worried that tiny steps didn’t matter, they’d spend their lives lying on their backs.
Stretch yourself. Look foolish. Don’t worry about what anybody thinks. You’re responsible for your own life. If it’s worth having, it’s worth crawling on your way to walking confidently into it.
Be honest with yourself. Your lies aren’t doing you any favors. They’re keeping you trapped.
Here’s an example from my own life.
The fear I finally faced
You can read all about my surgery in another post I wrote.
I put it off because I told myself, “I can live with this.”
Thinking a problem will go away is no guarantee it will. In fact, it will probably get worse. If nothing else, it will become more entrenched in your thinking.
I finally had surgery because I told myself the truth:
- This isn’t going away on its own.
- Worrying about what it will cost is foolish,
- What I have to gain by dealing with my problem is worth far more than the cost of ignoring it.
Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. But now that I’m on the other side, I’m constantly amazed at what I can do now that I forgot I couldn’t do before. Though I suffered some pain, it was short compared to the constant discomfort I felt before. And now that I’ve done it, I feel a freedom I haven’t felt in years.
Please don’t let your ego keep you trapped.
Your courage, your freedom, and your joy depend on it.
Generosity doesn’t mean you give everything away for free.
We all need to make a living. Don’t devalue your art. It has value. Charge what it’s worth. You can’t pay your bills with charity.
So am I asking you to be selfish?
No, I’m asking you to be sensible. Earn more than you need to live so you can give some away. Honestly. When you can take care of yourself, you’ll be happier to take care of others. And when you charge, you can be generous by delivering more than people expect.
Did that mess with your ego?
You might worry about giving because people will take advantage of it.
Sure, some will. You can’t stop that. You can control your heart, though. Do it because you believe it’s the right thing to do — not because of what anyone thinks about it.
Quit worrying what anyone thinks
This was one of the hardest lessons I ever learned.
I spent the first 23 years of my life worrying that the people around me thought I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or strong enough to do anything. So rather than testing it, I hid.
I didn’t change until I was hit in the chest by what Zig Ziglar wrote in See You at the Top:
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Eleanor Roosevelt said it first, but I wasn’t alive to hear it when she did. As I thought about those words and took them to heart, it changed literally everything.
The next morning I walked into life with courage I never realized I had. As I greeted people by name, I saw smiles. I saw jaws drop. I made friends with people I’d never said a word to before.
I quit listening to my ego tell me I was small. I quit playing it safe. I embraced life as it was. I saw myself for who I was. And I strode confidently into the day, knowing that whatever happened, I could handle it.
See yourself as you are — and as you can be — and your ego won’t be able to stand in your way. You’ll fight fear with truth. The fog will lift and you’ll see the road ahead more clearly than ever.
One more thing.
Don’t just do this for yourself. Help someone else overcome their own ego traps. It’s not only generous, but it’s also courageous. And when you do, you’ll find that by lifting someone else you lift yourself.
Now go make a difference that matters.