How to Keep Your Ego in Check

July 29, 2019
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“My ego is getting too big”.

A friend of mine made this revelation recently, having developed a respectable profile and social media following in his domain over the past couple of years.

“Any tips on how to reduce feeling like my ego is getting too big?”, he asked. “All this growth and popularity is really messing with me and making me come across as cocky, and I hate it.”

Having been on both sides of the superiority and inferiority complex fence myself — thanks to numerous successes and failures respectively, this was a question I had spent considerable time reflecting on.

As such, my response was prompt and specific.

A man’s worth is based on not one, but across all dimensions”, I told him.

Just some of the dimensions I’m talking about include:

  1. Career
  2. Mental health
  3. Physical health
  4. Self-awareness
  5. Finance
  6. Family
  7. Friendship
  8. Community
  9. Creative pursuits
  10. Skills and hobbies
  11. Discipline
  12. Reputation
  13. Courage
  14. Cleanliness
  15. Wisdom

These could be broken down into further dimensions (such as your online reputation versus that in your local neighbourhood, or even your reputation across different online platforms), but for simplicity’s sake, let’s keep the list somewhat brief.

A Surrogate for Self-Worth

I had the pleasure of chatting with Brittany Hennesy, author of Influencer: Building Your Brand in the Age of Social Media, and Senior Director of Influencer Strategy for Hearst Magazine’s Digital Media.

Despite her line of work, she didn’t hesitate in saying that much of what influencers do online is fake, requiring countless takes, perfect lighting, airbrushing and so on, and that one should never compare themselves to what they see on social media.

You might have 100,000 followers, but does that make you a good person?

Do your followers actually make you more money than a J.O.B would?

96.5 percent of YouTubers don’t make enough annual ad revenue to reach the U.S. federal poverty line. As High Snobiety noted, for every Zoella, there are around 27.57 other vloggers who don’t reach $12,140 a year from ads’. You’d make $5,000 more per year flipping burgers at McDonalds.

Do your followers make you physically and mentally healthy, do they make you a good lover or parent, and are they a substitute for genuine human connection?

Does your following mean you engage in meaningful conversations, contribute to your local community and don’t have your head buried in your smartphone for five hours a day, unable to focus on anything for more than five minutes before the dopamine-inducing tug of social media lures you back in?

As Naval Ravikant puts it, “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”.

Social media should never be used as a surrogate for self-worth, because it might have just the opposite effect.

What You Don’t See

On the flipside, there are countless people who either (a) don’t bother with social media, or (b) don’t prioritize or put much energy into it.

They might not have massive social media followings, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t kicking ass at life, that they’re not awesome parents, they’re not making lots of money, that they’re not maintaining a tight and rewarding social circle, and that they’re not totally content with who they are and where they’re going. People who are truly content with who they are don’t feel the need to check their smartphone every five minutes to see how many likes their latest post got to allay them of any insecurities they have.

Paradoxically, it‘s probably because don’t spend copious amounts of time playing stupid games that they have the time to invest in more rewarding pursuits — like building a business that actually makes money, exploring truly conscious-altering experiences like surfing or rock-climbing, and developing authentic romantic and interpersonal relationships.

What you’re not seeing on social media is how someone really stacks up across all of these other dimensions.

And that is why one should never compare themselves to others based solely on something as arbitrary as a follower-count.

Everyone You Meet is Better Than You at Something

Unless your name is Michael Jordan, Elon Musk or Larry King, then there are probably people in your field that are better than you.

If you are at the very top of your domain — congratulations — you excel at one dimension. Oftentimes, excelling at one dimension requires sacrifice across other dimensions.

Larry King is perhaps the most prolific and accomplished interviewer of all time, having interviewed more than 30,000 people in his decorated career. He is truly at the top of his domain. However, he has also been married eight times, twice to the same woman. Is he multi-dimensionally successful? Hardly. Are you more successful than Larry at various domains? Most probably.

Michael Jordan is arguably not only the greatest basketballer, but greatest athlete of all time, insofar as his performance on the court and ongoing influence is concerned. But he sucked at baseball. Lining up for the Birmingham Barons in 1994, he maintained a batting average of just .202, and after just one season returned to the NBA. Not only that, but much has been said and written about his less than scrupulous personal life, characterized by cheating and gambling.

As one Bleacher Report article put it, don’t confuse greatness with class.

I am often humbled by people I meet who might not earn as much as I do, or might not be as educated or traveled as I am, but who kick my ass when it comes to, say, building something with their bare hands.

Ego is the Enemy

When Ryan Holiday wrote that ego is the enemy, he suggested that our ego can get between us and the things we most need to do to move forward. We essentially shy away from putting our ego on the line, and suffer as a result.

Not only is this true, but when your ego is too big, you can become complacent.

Having won the UFC championship belt, Georges St Pierre (GSP), aimed to defend the belt against Matt Serra in 2007. Serra was a highly unfancied opponent who was walking into the championship fight with +850 betting odds (in other words, a huge underdog). St Pierre admitted to not being mentally nor physically prepared the way he should have been for the fight and it wasn’t until he was being summoned to the octagon with a knock on his door and a call to action of “GSP, are you ready?!” that he realized he wasn’t.

St Pierre promptly ended up losing that fight to Matt Serra by knockout in the very first round, shocking the martial arts world. To this very day, that fight holds the title for ‘biggest upset of all time’ on mixed martial arts website, Tapology.

Serra celebrating an unlikely victory

As founder of Behance, Scott Belsky, puts it, “in order to fight complacency, be optimistic about the future but paranoid about the present”.

Don’t Compare Yourself

Comparison is the thief of joy.

If you compare yourself to others, it can lead to your ego being inflated, or deflated — depending on who you’re comparing yourself to.

It’s well documented that spending too much time on social can lead to feelings of inferiority and depression.

Instead of comparing yourself to others, compare yourself to who you were yesterday — and try to get a little better each day. Don’t compare yourself along just one dimension — compare yourself against all, and try to become a better person, and not just a person with a larger social following, or just a person with more zeros in your bank account, or just a person with a new max deadlift. Be an entire person.

As podcaster Joe Rogan puts it, we are all just kids who got old and nobody knows what the f*ck is going on.

And we are all just striving and trying to make sense of it all in our own way.

That includes you.

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