The Merriam- Webster dictionary defines ego identify as “perception of continuity and coherence in one’s self-picture and in one’s social relations.”
In the 1950s and 1960s, famed psychoanalyst Erik Erikson proposed a theory of psychosocial development characterized by eight distinct stages of ego identity development over the course of a human being’s lifespan. Each stage is marked by a conflict- or really a psychosocial crisis that, depending upon how it is addressed, has a positive or negative outcome for personality development.
According to the theory, successful completion of each stage results in both a healthy personality and the acquisition of basic virtues. Basic virtues are characteristic strengths that the ego can use to resolve subsequent crises that arise in life. Failure to complete any stage can result in a reduced ability to complete further stages, leading to a less healthy personality and a weaker sense of self. Thankfully, the theory allows for resolution of any prior failure at another time in life. It’s never too late!
Per Erikson, as a 44-year old, I am currently in the Generativity v. Stagnation stage (OMG and YES!). Successful resolution results in the basic virtue of care. I’m only a few years into this stage, but my initial assessment: Dude was onto something.
So why am I mentioning all of this? Well- before I eviscerate “the ego,” I figured I should at least pay homage to well-documented evidence for its significance. At a basic level, I think it’s very important to develop a strong sense of self in life. We have to know who we are, what we think, what we stand for, what we care about, what matters to us, what our values are…
But there are some serious limitations inherent in an ego-centric existence. Because so much of relationships and goals and life is NOT ABOUT YOU. Well- it is and it isn’t. Ego can support you to understand what you want in key areas of life, and it also has a pesky habit of getting in the way of what you want in key areas of life. Egos= buzzkills and dream-killers.
How many times have you had a conversation with someone else that didn’t go the way you wanted it to go and made it mean 1) something about you and/or 2) something about the relationship. Don’t get me wrong- in relationships and in life, we all have to be responsible for what’s on our side of the street. If you say or do something that is out of integrity in the relationship, go in and clean it up. Apologize. Own your shit. A true relationship with a strong foundation will withstand the wave and may actually be stronger for it.
And? Everyone has “stuff.” So if a conversation goes awry, own yours, and hold space for the other person’s. Ego could easily have you suffering, hiding, licking your wounds, feeling righteously indignant, or a host of other unpleasant- and, at bottom, self-aggrandizing- experiences that get in the way of what you really want. If you take your ego out of the equation in this particular scenario, you have the opportunity to call forth the other person’s highest and best. At a higher level, you can generate connection, intimacy, vulnerability, authenticity and trust, which are likely what you want and what you need to be in relationship.
Maybe you have some professional aspiration, such as a promotion, expansion of responsibilities, or a new opportunity. If ego is driving, you could be over-confident or even arrogant. Or you might be paralyzed by fears of what people will think or whether you will succeed. These are all stops. They are powerful forms of self-sabotage that get in the way of focused, effective pursuit of your goals. If you quiet your ego, you can get clear about what you want and why you are going to get it, you can create a plan and you can set aside your thoughts about what others are thinking and what that may or may not mean about you.
Here’s a concrete example: I am building my coaching practice. I intend to have a thriving business, in which I work one-on-one with individuals and also with individuals and groups inside organizations. I aim to get to a place where my practice is full, and I maintain a waiting list. As part of my commitment, I have conversations daily with many people I know and some I don’t know about coaching- what it is and isn’t, whether they see value in coaching for themselves and who they know who might be interested (and I ask for connections to those people). If my ego were running the show, I would not make one freakin’ call or send one freakin’ email or text message. Because…what are they thinking of me? If an exchange is awkward or cold or even unpleasant, what did I do wrong? And what does it mean about me? Or maybe, I go here: Gosh that dude/ chick is an a-hole! Right??? Notice how easy it is to draw these conclusions and never once consider what is going on for the other person.
Sabotage! None of these ego-driven thoughts serve me at all. In fact, if I allowed the thoughts to dictate my actions, they would stop me dead in my tracks. So I don’t. I choose to remain present to my commitment and get supported when my ego starts to flex or when I feel myself getting attached to the outcome of these conversations.
Another example: I had received a referral for a prospective client. We had some back and forth over email and set up a mutually convenient block of time to do a sample coaching session. I showed up, and she did not. I remained in relationship with her, and we re-scheduled. Second time: I showed up, and she did not. My ego could’ve had a field day with this scenario. But THIS WAS NOT ABOUT ME. I knew that. How could it be about me? I chose to stand for her, to hold the space for her, to relate to her with empathy and compassion. I told myself that this woman wanted to talk to me for a reason- a reason that had to do with her life. We rescheduled yet again, had the sample session, and she hired me.
If I gave my ego the attention it wanted, there is no way this would’ve been the result.
Where does your ego get in the way of your dreams and goals?
What would it give you to intentionally set aside your ego?
Who would you be for yourself and others?
What will you accomplish this week if you take your ego out of the game?
Go Be and Do.Tags: Coaching, Commitment, Inspiration, Life Coach, Tips, Vision