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Sunday
Jul222012

The Power of Ego (or Getting What You Actually Want)

As someone who grew up confident in his own abilities, I'm happy I'm finally at the point where I no longer believe my own hype. I no longer think the trophy at the end of soccer season means I'm a winner.  I no longer think that having the most activities listed in back of my high school yearbook means I was the most popular. I no longer think that I was meant for greatness just because I got A's in college.  I no longer think of compliments as reinforcement. The human ego can sometimes hyper-extend itself to protect was is, in essence, an insecure state of being.  From my experience, people who eagerly and overly profess their talents and abilities are usually doing so because of their fear of inadequacy, at least that was always the case with me.  Somehow talking loudly and openly about how great they are will somehow make it true, compensating for some inner insecurity.  Hopefully, no one will actually put them on the spot and ask them to prove it, however, because that would be a disaster!

When it comes to getting what we want in life, we're sometimes forced to choose between our actual goal and the desires of the ego.  For example, when the car on the freeway cuts in front of you there are two ways you can react.  The first is to sigh and continue driving, achieving the ultimate goal of getting to your destination safely.  The second is to give in to the ego - who does this person think they are cutting in front of you?  "I'll show them," you might think as you floor the gas pedal to retaliate somehow vehicularly.  But what are you really going to show them?  Are you going to convince them they did something wrong?  Are they going to pull over and publicly apologize for their impertinence?  Worse, what if they're armed, locked and loaded, and ready to go much further than you were planning (remember, you don't want to get put on the spot!).  The right move is to think about what it is you really want.  Not to be dead, or injured, or responsible for an unintended fender bender.  You want to get to work, or home, or to see your loved one - so you let it go. The ego will be upset, but you'll achieve what you set out to do.

Retail experiences can also force us to think long and hard about what our goal really is.  If you get a defective product from the local store, what is it you then want to do about it?  Do you want a replacement and maybe an apology, or do you want the workers in the store to know how inconvenient the experience has been?  Do you want them to feel upset that you're upset?  Do you want them to honestly understand the pain you've been subjected to?  If you want the replacement, the right move is to enter calmly and politely, explain the situation, and then react accordingly to the employee's response.  If you want to succumb to the ego, that itch in the back of your mind that says, "They won't get the best of me!" then you go in hard, fuming and steaming, argumentative and implacable, letting the establishment know that, not only do you want a replacement, but that they'll be lucky to have your business ever again.  In reality, you'll be the lucky one if you don't get spit in your burger.  You're not going to convince anyone of anything with that attitude.  You're only letting the world know that they should probably avoid your presence from now on.

That exact same scenario can be reversed.  As a retailer, if someone tells you they're dissatisfied with the level of service they've received, you should probably listen to them.  That is, if your actual goal is running a business.  If what you ultimately want is to make money by offering a service, then you need to accept the fact that you won't always handle everything correctly.  Mistakes can be made and sometimes the customer has really done their homework.  However, if you choose to indulge your ego, then by all means tell the customer they're an idiot!  Be condesending and assert your authority as a professional in your field.  That'll show them to question your expertise!  In reality, however, what it will show this customer is that your business is one to be avoided.  Not only will this person never shop at your store again, they'll probably tell everyone they know not to either, which does not help you achieve your ultimate goal of making money by offering people a service.  If that wasn't your goal, however, then don't worry about it!

I've found that, over the past ten years of my life, there have been numerous situations where I've chosen my ego over my actual desire.  Sometimes, it's too tempting to stroke that little part of yourself that knows you're right (even when you're wrong).  However, what I've found to be true, perhaps more than anything else I've ever learned, is that those egotistical reactions have never actually helped my situation.  I've never really convinced anyone I was smarter, more talented, infallable, more logical, more informed, or more clever.  People don't respond well to ego, it's a complete and total turnoff, yet for some reason the ego believes otherwise.  Even if I am actually in the right, the other person is never, ever, ever, convinced.  Just like the driver who cut you off and needs to be taught a lesson.  He's not going to be taught anything.  If anyone is going to be taught a lesson, it will be you after your road rage results in mayhem and you wind up in jail.  The lesson is: let go of your ego's desire and get what it is that you actually want.  They're usually two different things.

-David Driscoll