Of all the terrible traits that have the potential to damage your career or prevent you from earning respect from your peers, a giant ego is at the top of the list. To be clear, I’m not talking about confidence; I’m talking about an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Confidence is healthy; an out of control ego is not.
Confidence says, “I’m valuable,” while ego says, “I’m invaluable.” Big difference. Doing creative work often involves a certain amount of risk and vulnerability. Having an over-inflated sense of self can be extremely limiting to that process because ego feeds off of your fear. And when you’re operating from a place a fear, you won’t be very effective. Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the last thirteen years studying vulnerability said this, “Vulnerability is not weakness. That myth is profoundly dangerous. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”
If you’re unwilling to be viewed as vulnerable – which can be an essential component if you hope to do serious, groundbreaking, and fulfilling work, just as failure and success are linked, so is vulnerability and strength. People with amplified egos are not comfortable asking for help or admitting they don’t possess specific skills. Their egos take over, and they tend to judge everyone and everything based on appearance, possessions and other superficial aspects.
Ego is dangerous because it rejects the truth. There’s an excellent scene in the film ‘Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade’ when Harrison Ford, playing Indiana Jones, must choose the right Grail to save his dying father, played by Sean Connery. The villain picks first and chooses a cup adorned with rubies and emeralds, beautifully shaped and what he thought would be representative of the cup of a King. “He chose poorly,” says the Templar Knight standing guard as the villain dies a hideous death. Harrison Ford then remembers that Jesus was a carpenter. He looks for an old, deformed, dirty cup that looks worn and used. It turns out to be the one that saves his father’s life. He chose wisely. I think people can be like those cups.
Don’t be the one that represents ego, pride, greed, or narcissism. Be the one that represents humility, gratitude, and vulnerability. It will make a huge difference in how you approach people and your work. My strategy has always been to work with those who are better than me. I’m at peace with the fact that I will never know everything there is to about my craft, but I’m smart enough to know that strength comes from humility and gratitude towards my co-workers and the work we collaborate on.
I’ve had the pleasure over the years of working with some of the most talented artists, designers, copywriters, videographers, photographers, actors and directors and I learned something from all of them. Those of you who do creative work need a certain level of confidence to help propel you forward into the uncharted waters where the best ideas can be found. Early in my career, I sometimes struggled to keep my ego at bay. These days, I keep it in check by having an attitude of gratitude. I surrender my need for control. I work on being a better me and less on trying to be better than everyone else around me, and I’m open to constructive criticism. Plus, I’m wise enough to know that if I’m the smartest person in the room, I’m in the wrong room. While these might sound like simple tactics to employ, they’re effective at keeping my ego in check. Besides, we should all strive to do the type of work that feeds our soul, not our ego.
THE AUTHOR: WILLIAM CHILDS | Creative Director | Brand Storyteller | Columnist | Optimist
Bill is an accomplished creative leader with a history of delivering award-winning campaigns for a variety of businesses. Relentlessly dedicated to the skillful and creative translation of strategic business objectives, he’s known as a collaborative mentor and champion of fearless creativity. With a career spanning three decades, Childs knows how to take an acceptable idea and turn it into an exceptional one. His reputation of setting high creative standards while helping to create a culture of genuine collaboration and engagement is one of things he’s most proud of across his career. Recognizing and mentoring talent, and building high-performing, cohesive teams is one of his passions. Email. Website. Twitter. LinkedIn.