Tame your ego

A truly savvy boss will not hire you if you have a big ego. If somehow you got the job, you’ll lose it eventually when your boss wakes up. Because, when your ego is in charge, you suck as an employee, teammate, job seeker, parent, friend, partner, lover or whatever it is you’re doing.

A big ego makes you defend, justify or rationalize when you shouldn’t. It makes you fight, manipulate or hide from challenges. It makes you arrogant and erratic. It prevents you from hearing and recognizing the truth — and from learning.

37 different symbols for the word

Bosses have been on the lookout for bad behavior ever since a Stanford professor wrote a popular essay for Harvard business review about The No Asshole Rule and followed it up with a book on the same topic. Other bosses set the bar higher with ‘the hallway test‘. We ask ourselves “Will I enjoy bumping into this person in the hallway or want to pretend I’m too busy to chat?”

A wise boss will know a big ego is a symptom of low self-esteem – that your real issue is fear. Fear that you will be discovered to be weak, incompetent, unlikeable, unreliable or anything else you were taught as a child. But, your parents are only partly to blame. They may have planted the seeds long ago, but it’s negative self-talk that perpetuates fear.

Taming your ego is difficult to do, but it can be done. You can start by talking to yourself in healthy ways – calming, supportive and loving ways (also called affirmations).  You can tell yourself things like:

  • I do my best and that’s good enough
  • I have what I need and I’m okay
  • I can handle this, I’ll figure it out
  • I accept what I can’t control and accept things as they are alreadywhich coworker would you like to fire?
  • I’ve always benefited from overcoming a challenge
  • I’ll learn something valuable from this
  • I love myself and take good care of myself
  • I’m proud of myself for _________

Sound corny? So be it! I’ll take corny any day over negative self-talk like this:

  • I’m such an idiot
  • he’s such an idiot
  • this is horrible, I can’t cope
  • I always screw up
  • I can’t believe this is happening to me
  • people don’t like me
  • I’ll never get better
  • I never get things right
  • I’m not bright enough

Talk like that and you sow the seeds of your eventual destruction (or just a dysfunctional life and career). So next time you hear one of those, tell yourself “STOP”, picture a big red stop sign, and replace it with something healthy and nurturing. Be good to yourself! Your boss will notice the difference.

For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.

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  • I have never really built up any sort of ego at any of my jobs (or at school). However, over time, I have learned to appreciate it more, as I have seen countless people who let their ego get in the way of their work. I have seen people in management positions lose their positions because their ego had made it impossible for them to take feedback. I have seem employees get reprimanded for actions they brought on themselves, and attack management because they saw no fault in their own actions. Ego, in my opinion, shows a true employee/student. People who are willing to cooperate and learn always have more potential to improve. Thanks to their actions, I know I will always welcome feedback, learn whenever possible, and accept my mistakes.

  • Although I have never considered myself to have a big ego I have definitely learned what it means by working with many people who do. You see, as a teenage (more like child) mother at the gentle age of 13 I had to grow up fast and keep up with adults much sooner than most of my peers…you pay to play, right? Well, considering that I wasn’t old enough to work until my child was three years old, I guess you could say I learned how to work for free for the sheer basics of life, you know, shelter, food, clothing. Yes, I attribute my success, today, to that of a large, loving Hispanic family, that guided and supported myself and my child and knew every shred of my business, and still do, for good reason!

    I guess you could say it’s very humbling when you are indebted to others for your own well-being as well as that of your own child. In essence, a family is now raising TWO children. You see, there were no alternative schools in my day, I had to go to a public school, as pregnant as ever, with all my peers. There also were no daycares within my school system; yes, my parents paid out of pocket for that. Oh, and you guessed it, my child was not covered under medical insurance, because, well, I couldn’t provide it, and yet, my parents had no legal right to insure her, so all of her medical bills–preventive or otherwise, were paid out of pocket. So, you see, I’ve had many years of, what do you call it, humble pie??

    So, you see, I’ve had my fair share of overbearing, egotistical and pompous leaders; none of which, I might add, showed me exactly what type of leader I’d like to be. To me, big egos get everyone nowhere real fast. As a high school student with a certification in nurse’s aide duties I learned all about nurses “eating their young” and the hierarchy of “who you know” chains of command. I guess, because of this, I can attribute my exact opposite style off leadership to those horrible examples of bosses, supervisors, or whatever they were called. All I know is they made a heck of a lot more money than I; yet, we all put our pants on the same way each morning!

    My summation of a big ego would be this: Treat others as you’d like to be treated and ALWAYS remember that we are all fighting a battle that no one else may know or understand; therefore, you’re words may make or break someone for years to come!

  • I believe the mindset is everything. I agree with all the things listed that you should say to yourself to tame your ego. I also agree that corny is better than negativity. I feel that people are sometimes negative cause they want people to feel bad for them and give them compliments. Everything works out better with a positive, confidents but not cocky attitude.

  • As a student interested in math and science who wanted only to expand his knowledge in classroom settings, I was highly misinformed as a young high school student. I started volunteering at a local state transportation department to do just this; as ignorant as it sounds, I volunteered with the hope of learning more about math and science but did not even think about learning a way to implement my knowledge to actually help people through volunteering rather than just confining the knowledge in my mind.

    Though it took me almost a year to realize, my coworkers (who were double my age on average) had spent most of their lives working rather than in school. This was a sharp contrast to myself as I have not have had the chance to graduate yet and have been in schooling my whole life. When I first started volunteering, I thought I was a lot smarter than my coworkers (which is very arrogant to think, as I had not even volunteered for a year and most of my coworkers had been working in transportation longer than I have been living). I thought this because when confronted with academic knowledge, my coworkers were a bit slower to solve things than me. I failed to realize, however, that this was only because they had not been in school for so long while I would go to class right after volunteering.

    I also failed to realize that what they lacked in academic knowledge, they made up for many times in their practical knowledge. Though I knew the formula for the braking distance of a car, my coworkers knew how to best determine how many cars can drive safely on a freeway. After I controlled my ego and realized this, however, I felt like I changed from being a student to being someone who dedicates their lives to helping people get where they need to be. I now look at my volunteering as a way to use classroom knowledge to do my future job as best as I will be able to.

  • I can see why the author was eager to talk about this, in a way I too have a giant ego, only problem is I don’t show it in front of others. I try to keep my mouth shut in front of people, but if I’m ever at home, I always confront what I would say to my folks, my siblings, and so on, it was something to get out of my chest, and at the end of the day my family would cry out that my ego was bad and that it was only to grow. This lesson seems very useful, and I’ll put the effort to use throughout life.

  • I tend to have a ego from time to time and I honestly didn’t know how to control it. But after reading this I think i finally understand how to tame it.

  • This article is very provocative because taming your ego is a balancing act and I can argue for or against having an ego.

    As a sports fan, I believe the truly great players like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Bill Russell had huge egos. It is what made them believe they should take the last shot, defy racism, or believe it was their time to win the championship. While I believe these men all had egos, I also believe they were able to tame them so it came across as being self-confident rather than egotistical.

    The difference between having an ego and being self-confident is approach. People that are egotistical approach situations to the detriment of others opinions and experience while self-confident people approach situations in ways that encourage and support.

  • It took me a very long time to realize that the only thing that was holding me back in life was indeed my ego. For a long time, I had no clue that I even had a major ego problem. I grew up in urban San Francisco in a low-income community and was thus always use to working hard for everything especially when it came to academics. When I was accepted to a UC for college, I thought my battle in life to succeed had finally come to an end and I would finally have a chance to be successful. But after graduating college, my bubble in life popped. I was unable to find a job. Rejection after rejection, I realized that where I went to school had nothing to do with the skills I had to offer to a company. For a very long time I struggled and could not get myself to apply to any jobs. However, I soon began to question why I was not putting myself out there anymore and quickly realized that my ego was indeed a clear indicator of my fear to put myself in uncomfortable situations. I would tell myself that I am too overqualified for certain positions and thus did not see a point in even applying. However in reality, I was so afraid of the interview process or of seeming incompetent that I just avoided the whole process all together. I was always doubting my abilities and skills, whether it came to conversation with friends or a potential employer. I was always afraid of making a mistake or saying something stupid. One day, after years of being upset with myself I realized that I feel the way I feel because of how negative I am. So what if I’m not the CEO of some company and all of my friends are succeeding quickly up the ladder. I need to start somewhere and go from there. This realization led me to all types of jobs and learned that each job taught me something valuable. Whether it was being a college graduate working at a retail store or a lead teacher for a summer school program, every interaction and experience has shaped who I am and how the only way to move forward is to look past your ego and to believe in yourself and your abilities. Although it is much easier said then done, it is possible.

  • I work in a restaurant that has several internal problems. From the outside, people think that it is run smoothly and without any problems. But, from the inside, it is full of people with big egos, short tempers, and bad attitudes. I walked in with my “teamwork attitude” and was thrown in to a world that I had never experienced before. How could the kitchen staff be so willing to stab each other in the back? Why would the servers be so “high and mighty” that they can’t just do things the right way instead of their way? I just didn’t understand. But, I just kept up my good attitude and went around encouraging everyone. The more I encouraged others, the more their ego deflated. We still have problems, but they are a whole lot less noticeable now that everyone is learning to hear the truth, learn from it, and work as a team.

  • Ever since I was little I
    always knew I wanted to be an actress. So from a young age I started taking
    acting classes on things like: “How to nail an audition!” One of the
    very first lessons I remember being taught is to “walk into the room like
    you are better than everyone else.” This proved to be a very damning

    I remember going into an
    audition where I knew no one. I was nervous. My palms were sweating and I
    couldn’t remember the words to my monologue. But then I began reassuring
    myself-as I was taught in preteen acting classes-that I was the best, most
    talented, most beautiful girl in the room, and that I would, of course, get the
    part. Not only did this behavior make me cold and unapproachable, it also
    inspired a lot of rejection.

    I was never getting parts because I was constantly pretending to be a overconfident version of myself, in
    order to make up for my lack of confidence. It wasn’t really until my freshman
    year of college that I realized that theatre (and any social situation really)
    didn’t have to operate that way. The actor-training program that I am in
    fosters a sense of community that requires a supportive atmosphere. There is no
    room or desire to think that anyone is better than anyone else as every member
    of our team serves a unique strength and purpose.

    This directly relates to
    the workplace. In the business world where it is so important to work as a
    group and get along in the work place, if everyone had a “I’m better than
    you mentality” then nothing would ever be accomplished or created.

    There is a fine line
    between uplifting yourself to make sure you’re not being a Debby Downer, and
    placing yourself on a pedestal to prove to yourself that you are worthy. And
    this is a balance that needs to be found in order to properly interact with
    others in a healthy and productive way.

    So now, whenever I walk
    into an audition I repeat cheesy mantras like “You’ve got this!” or “Just be
    you.” And allow myself to have good thoughts about the “competition.”

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