Ego is a curious beast. It drives our motivations and makes us 'feel' a certain way when it's fed a positive or negative interaction. Today though, I've had an epiphany and now realise what my ego truly seeks!
I love to help others and inspire them to be creative, take on interesting challenges and overcome things getting in their way. I do this in the form of my consultancy solving technical challenges, or in the form of mentorship to help others find the path to what they want—usually based around entrepreneurial goals as well as career and mindset.
One thing that I've always strived for is to gain new skills and use those in the work that I do. Examples of these skills are around programming, design, user experience, leadership and even content marketing.
As a former CTO for a startup, I would bring my skills of video to help communicate, or my skills of design and user experience to help prototype. As an e-commerce specialist I've applied my skills of programming to solve interesting user experience challenges.
All these skills are a utility to allow me to provide a benefit to others.
My skills and my ego
How does this relate to my ego? It turns out, that one of my driving motivators is getting a positive feedback loop of knowing that my skills can be desirable for others to help them. It's that simple.
As a programmer, I enjoy knowing that my skills have allows my clients to do some innovative things in cool ways.
As a designer, I enjoy knowing that I can communicate and motivate others to fall in love with the solution and say 'yes' to going for interesting challenges and doing something different.
As a YouTuber, I enjoy mentoring and inspiring others to deploy the learnings I've had in their own content strategy.
When my ego gets upset
It turns out, that when I make an offer to help, I'm setting up an opportunity to get the positive feedback loop to validate the skills that I've acquired. This may be to help mentor someone, to be a guest in a podcast and share the interesting learnings I've found or to propose an innovative solution to a problem.
My ego gets upset when my offer to share my skills has been rejected
I'm pitching my skills to benefit others, both with a selfless intent, but also a selfish intent of making my ego happy. When the pitch fails to motivate or inspire, my ego disengages. It cuts off that avenue of self validation and starts to seek it elsewhere. In some cases, when I'm particularly passionate about what I'm pitching, it can cause me to get upset.
Fortunately though, I'm a proponent of a growth mindset and while I can be temporarily upset, I never attribute that to my self worth. I appreciate that is a privilege that many don't have and makes me lucky. I may take some time to process it, but it just means I come back with a new strategy.
What my ego doesn't seek
While I don't know for sure, I don't believe my ego seeks fame or money. These are important, I see them as utilities which can be deployed elsewhere. There is an element of feeling rewarded when you hit milestones, such as YouTube subscribers and Twitter followers, but I feel these are to be celebrated of the work that achieved it.
For example, aside from having fun conversations with virtual friends on Twitter, the main motivation for gaining lots of followers is to expand my reach from an organic marketing perspective. Simply put, more followers means more potential customers—not—more followers means I'm great. I'm defining a customer as someone who benefits from the skills I have (thus feeding my ego) which doesn't necessarily have to be a paying customer.
I like to think I keep my motivations in check and that I'm doing it for the greater good and not the self worth. I want to be someone who does something and plays a role in society. I don't want to be someone who receives attention just because of who I am.
How my ego has impacted my career
I've often felt that I'm a great 'number 2' where I perform best when I'm relied upon by someone else who makes all the decisions. I get to be the dependable person who can solve problems.
I'm at the point where I'm transitioning to being the 'number 1' by running my own company. This is where I make the decisions and I'm responsible for the outcome of the performance.
But, by choosing roles where I've been a strong 'number 2' (CTO to the CEO for example) makes complete sense with this ego motivation in mind. I get to use my skills to do interesting challenges which gets a positive feedback from the person in charge and the team around.
In some way, it's kept me risk adverse to doing my own thing. I love side projects and exploring new things, but this is my way of gaining new skills which I can then use on interesting challenges to get a positive feedback loop.
Is it good or bad?
Knowing what's going on is good as I can then question whether the decisions I make to feed my ego are in my long term goals or not.
As for whether it has been good or bad, I would say it's been good to a point—having a great career, but bad to the point of running my own business. I've been depended on in the roles I've had which has put my own longer term plans on hold.
Seeing my ego through this lens has been enlightening. It matches the times I've felt strongly motivated—because the payoff to feed the ego was great; but also the times I've felt dejected—because the payoff failed. This is relieving. It is what it is. By coming to this realisation puts me back in control. That can only be a good thing.
Do you know what drives your ego?