I run my own business. I employ myself – and no one else. I want my business to reflect my personality and values. To me, it’s important I connect emotionally with my clients. But I don’t want my sense of self to be intrinsically linked to my business. My happiness and the health of my business require that I balance my ego.
This is what I’ve been thinking about lately.
And so I was drawn to a book I’d had on my Kindle for over a year: Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. The author defines ego as ‘an unhealthy belief in our own importance’.
Left unchecked, ego can negatively impact your business – especially if you are at the heart of your business. I’m not talking simply about arrogance here, but how identity intermingles with work.
Here are some lessons about ego and business that this book taught me.
Talking is easy; doing is hard
Many people feel silence is a sign of weakness – that it means we have nothing to say. But it’s easy to talk about half-formed ideas or things we’re meaning to do. It’s harder, but brings about more meaningful results, to keep out of the conversation until your thoughts have fully formed or you’ve acted on your intentions.
Talk depletes us. Talking and doing fight for the same resources. Research shows that while goal visualization is important, after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress.
Conversation invites validation, and we can feel a sense of achievement by just voicing our ideas. I know I do this too much. Instead, I’m going to try to cultivate the habit of talking less about my plans.
External validation feeds the ego; internal validation feeds the soul.
Identifying your purpose helps you take the right action
What’s your purpose? What are you here to do? If you value your reputation, your inclusion and your personal ease of life over all else, your path is clear, writes Holiday:
Tell people what they want to hear. Seek attention over the quiet but important work. Say yes to promotions and generally follow the track that talented people take in the industry or field you’ve chosen. Pay your dues, check the boxes, put in your time, and leave things essentially as they are. Chase your fame, your salary, your title, and enjoy them as they come.
Once you identify the most important parts of your work, it’s easier to assess what it is that will help you get closer to your goal and what will simply inflate your ego.
All of us waste precious life doing things we don’t like, to prove ourselves to people we don’t respect, and to get things we don’t want.
Yikes. That’s the last thing I want.
Don’t reverse-engineer success from other people’s stories
The same circumstances that led to one person’s success may not have led to the same success for someone else. Our experiences differ, our bodies differ, our personalities differ – and all of this together creates a reality that’s impossible to replicate.
When successful people talk about their path to success, they can’t possibly factor in the messiness of ideas, the almost imperceptible instances of chance, and how their particular circumstances affected the outcome.
It’s easy to compare ourselves to others and feel as though we fall short, but we simply shouldn’t do this – it’s not a fair way to treat ourselves. And we should be careful about making other people feel this way, too.
Success is rooted in work, creativity, persistence and luck. And it’s unique to us all.
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The biggest lesson I took from this book is probably how important it is to identify the purpose of my business. For me, I simply want to do the best I can for my clients while also making enough money to support myself. I’m not looking to change the world. At least, not through my business.
Keeping this in mind should help me focus more on what brings me closer to these goals – and keep unfounded anxieties at bay.
I could have written so much more about the ideas in this book. If you suffer with an anxiety that you suspect is linked to the entanglement of your business and sense of self, I highly recommend giving it a read.
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