I’ve Behaved Badly, But I’m Trying to Change

by Roger Reid

I was talking with a friend in the gym last week. We were discussing our “personal demons,” the things we know are bad for us, but still require a mile of mental barbed-wire to keep them away from corrupting the parts of our lives we value the most.

“Mine’s sugar,” he said. “That piece of Danish in the morning is just too hard to give up.”

I nodded, but didn’t say anything.

Not because I don’t have an equivalent weakness for something sweet, because I do. My once-a-week Snickers is definitely something I should do without. But in this case, a candy bar wasn’t what came to mind. I’d focused on a much different culprit, one far more serious than eating a couple hundred calories of sugar and fat. And the idea of revealing it made me feel so uncomfortable, I wanted to change the subject.

I finally mumbled something about a fondness for carbs and went back to my workout.

It’s something I’ve struggled with most of my life. And even after working on it for years, it continues to linger. Granted, I’ve made a lot of progress—it’s only a shadow of what it used to be. But I still have to watch it like a hawk, reminding myself how it’s waiting to sneak back in and wreak its special kind of havoc on the quality of my life.

Jumping over challenges with confidence

Every day, I leave my ego outside, in the cold . . . to die.

I’ll admit, that wasn’t always the case. For a long time, I told myself it came with the territory, that competing to be the best in your industry took a “healthy ego.”

But that was a lie. There’s nothing healthy about ego—especially when I tried to disguise it as confidence. Confidence is the quiet sense of knowing you can do something. Ego is the desperate need to be recognized for it.

I remember the first time I was given the opportunity to learn the difference.

I was twenty years old, listening to one of my college professors “warning the class about PhD candidates, and how the majority of those working on their doctorate often demonstrated a sense of superiority about themselves. “They believe they’re smarter, have more to contribute, and want to be recognized for the title that will soon be permanently attached to their name,” she said. Then she got this dreamy look on her face, turned her head upward, and said, “In fact, you can just feel it when you’re around them.”

Oh, and by the way, she was one of those PhD candidates. She made that clear every time she began one of her long-winded dissertations . . .  “You know, before I decided to enter the graduate program, my thinking on the subject was limited to blah, blah, blah. But now, I see it from a much higher plane of perspective.”

It didn’t take long before her students began reacting with a choreographed wave of not-too-subtle hand gestures that emphasized a preference to being gagged with a spoon if it would end the class any sooner.

What made this situation particularly sad is that most of us had known this woman for at least two years. She’d taught first and second year physics, then transferred to the engineering department to teach programing. She was intelligent, articulate, and when I’d met her as an entry level teaching assistant, she’d had a nice personality. On top of that, she was an attractive 28-year-old, close to the age of many of her students. But after entering the PhD program, her ego had grown so obese, she’d become difficult to be around. And her students—the ones who had always invited her to sit with them in the student union and made it a point to include her in their party invites—began to avoid her.

But here’s the surprising part: She didn’t seem to care.

As far as she was concerned, she was made of superior stuff. She didn’t want to be seen socializing with the less accomplished. She considered her soon-to-be-awarded credentials as a status buffer, separating her from the very people who had appreciated her most.

Mr. Know it all bragging about his exploits

I can tell you that letting your ego run wild will change your life—usually for the worse. Surrounding yourself with false bravado and superficial arrogance will get you snubs, middle fingers, and sneers the moment your back is turned. And anything you say is automatically discounted because people first consider the source before the message.

If you want to influence others, treat them as equals, even when you believe there is an obvious difference in education, income, or professional accomplishment.

And make no mistake. Others know when they’re around someone who’s smarter, more capable, or accomplished. And here’s what’s really interesting: When you treat everyone as equals, many of them will tell others how much smarter you are, or how successful you’ve become. In fact, they’ll become your biggest cheerleader—because you continued to let them in, and you didn’t make hero worship a requirement of your relationship.

Like I said, every morning I remind myself to leave my ego outside in the cold . . . to die.

But once in a while, it still manages to find its way back inside my brain, trying to redecorate, trying to get comfortable. And then I have to go through the eviction process all over again.