We define ego as a person’s sense of self-importance. It’s an attribute that contributes to building up your identity and figuring out what you want in life.
But left unchecked, ego can lead to arrogance and ignorance.
Whether you are at work or at the gym, trying to pump up your ego is going to hurt you, maybe not immediately but eventually.
Most folks at the gym try to lift as much weight as possible so that they can brag to their friends. Do you know what happens when you do that? You cheat on your technique and don’t use the muscles you are meant to engage. This does not only hinder your growth, but also can lead to serious injuries.
I think that this issue is even more serious in your professional and personal life, when it influences your ability to grow and evolve.
You can’t always be right. In fact, most times you will be wrong!
I’ve seen countless people attach their ego and self-worth to being right and not making mistakes, and that is a very unproductive mindset to have.
Given that we can often experience the [Dunning-Krugger Effect], it would be reasonable to assume we might not necessarily be right or have the whole picture played out in our heads, even if our background would support it.
Otherwise, whenever someone challenges your viewpoint, you might default going into defensive mode, and there is a lot that happens when you do:
- When you are trying to defend yourself you stop listening what people are trying to convey to you, you are too focused on yourself.
- You will easily get irritated or triggered and at times will raise your voice. After all, when you feel threatened, you usually try to fight back.
It’s good to have strong opinions and be vocal about them. But at the same time, you should be open to changing them when you encounter facts that challenge your beliefs.
I always say I have “strong opinions, weakly held”. Meaning I’m going to have an opinion on many things, but if you can provide me counterarguments, I will be grateful to you for letting me learn, and will possibly change my opinions.
Try to think back on your past and ask yourself, how much have your views on things changed over the years. Usually, you’ll find numerous areas in which you entirely changed the way you think. This just means you grew and evolved — and it’s a good thing.
An example from my first team
At my first mobile gig, I was already a decent programmer because I was doing gamedev for 10 years prior. But I was a bad teammate because:
- I thought I was only responsible for my code.
- I felt a lot of ownership around it, and so I didn’t want other people to modify it.
- If there was something wrong with someone else’s code, I felt it was their responsibility to fix it. After all, my code was working fine!
- I really cared about taking credit for my accomplishments… but shied away from responsibility.
Nowadays, my mindset has changed entirely:
- I will always resolve issues in the code the moment I encounter them, regardless of who wrote it.
- I want everyone to know they can modify the code I wrote because it’s our code.
- Likewise, I really try to give a lot of credit to other people because I think in today's fast-paced world, it’s too easy to take support for granted.
- I will be the one to take responsibility for any mistakes and issues that arise in our projects.
What matters in the long term
We tend to associate too much value to our code. Most likely because it’s the tangible thing that we produce. But the code you wrote will usually be re-written many times over the span of a project lifetime, it will evolve just as you should.
What really will be remembered is how we worked with others, how we dealt with conflicts, whether we could raise above our ego and question our assumptions to make space for other people’s ideas.
Want to generate more value for your company or team?
No matter how great of an engineer you are going to become, there is only so much output one person can generate.
But if instead you focus on finding ways to empower others, whether that’s through mentoring, dev tools or other means, you’ll become a multiplier rather than just an individual contributor. If you believe in the idea of a 10x engineer, that would be that kind of person.
I don’t think you can do that when you are ego-driven, so learning how to deal with our animalistic instinct is a crucial skill to career progression.
A healthier mindset
Whenever you are faced with someone disagreeing with you or your opinion, assume good intentions rather than think that someone is trying to challenge you. Pause for a moment before your instinct will go into defensive mode, and try to think about what you can learn from that situation.
Switch into investigator mode, and ask questions:
- Why do they disagree?
- What are the arguments against your approach?
- Do they know better alternatives?
If you were wrong about something and someone has brought it to your attention, don’t feel bad about being wrong before. Consider that you are now smarter than you were yesterday, and that you grew. Be grateful to that person because they just helped you become a smarter person!
Life is an ongoing journey, we constantly get new inputs and evaluate our viewpoints. Everyone will make mistakes, and it’s up-to you how you deal with them. Will you learn from them and grow? Or will you try to find excuses for why something wasn’t your fault - and stay idle?