Lost Among Europeans

Ego, the yoyo

What a funny, paradoxical thing, ego. I start to recognize it in places where I had not expected to see it.

A few months ago, talking with a friend about my new job, I commented how surprised I was that people very high up the company responded promptly to my emails, attended my presentations, agreed to calls or meetings. My friend asked if these signs of my high responsibility were intimidating me. I replied that they were not, which was and still is true.

Am I getting a bigger head with age? Well, maybe. But being OK with my big job title has less to do with self-confidence, and more to do with lessening my own burden. My thinking these days is that I was hired and given high responsibility by people who knew what they were doing (maybe). I’m taking the power and the freedom afforded me, and I’m doing what I think should be done. If that turns out not to meet expectations, we will know soon, and then, no worries, we can address the situation, and that could entail ending my job. So what?

I often think of a passage in Terrence Malick’s superb The Thin Red Line:

Does our ruin benefit the Earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine?

With age, I manage to look at more and more situations from a distance. When thinking about the risks involved, I ask myself if failure would stop the sun from shining.

I know many people who become completely blocked, even panicky, when faced with a challenge, be it a job interview, a race, an exam, a career move. They become panicky enough that they will drop out, cancel, self-sabotage. The typical response these people get from friends and family is a pep talk about self-confidence, a reminder of all they’ve accomplished, of how well prepared and wonderful and smart they are.

But I’ve started to suspect that those pep talks are awfully mis-directed, and that the problem with these people is excess of ego. So what if you fail that exam? So what if you don’t finish that race? So what if you crash and burn in your new job role? People go through those things all the time, but you can’t? Perhaps you have outsized expectations of yourself. Or perhaps, even more presumptuously, you think other people have outsized expectations of you.

More often than I like, I am one of these people sabotaged by ego. I need to remind myself, again and again, that I need to be humble in order to be bold.

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