As I watch the daily news, I am constantly reminded that an oversized ego can be the biggest obstacle to long-term success. Of course, everyone has an ego, so it’s pointless to delude yourself into believing that you’re an exception. It’s far better to acknowledge the existence of your ego and work on trying to keep it under control.
A hungry ego is like a dinosaur lying on your front lawn. If you don’t continually feed it, it might just decide to get up and step on your house. At its extreme, a bloated ego can even result in Egoruptcy, a form of bankruptcy caused by the investment of too much time and capital in one’s ego.
It’s also wise to avoid becoming involved with others who appear to be afflicted with this life-threatening condition. Feeding the ego is habitforming and can lead the addict to commit dishonest acts in his desperation to feed his habit. That’s why you have to make sure that when he goes down for the count, he doesn’t take you with him.
Following are some telltale signs of an individual suffering from Egoruptcy.
- Trying to impress others with how well he’s doing. (The more someone volunteers to tell you about his accomplishments, the less likely it is that he’s accomplished much of anything.)
- Constantly mouthing off about the deals he’s working on.
- Lavishly refurbishing his offices.
- Talking incessantly about what he owns.
- Incessantly name dropping.
When most or all of the above signs are evident, Egoruptcy clearly is in its advanced stages and the patient’s condition has probably deteriorated beyond hope. Best you shield your face when passing him to avoid becoming infected.
How can you tell if you are developing Early Onset Egoruptcy? The most common symptom is perpetual movement of the mouth and tongue, especially when triggered by the desire to tell others about your plans.
Some years ago, I developed what I believe to be the perfect antidote to this neurosis. I refer to it as the Zip-the-Lip Theory, which simply states: If you’ve got something good going, shut up!
Put more gently: Learn to be both quiet and patient. The safest way to operate is behind the scenes with a low profile. There’s seldom anything to be gained by giving the world advance notice of your objectives. How many times have you jumped the gun and talked about your plans, only to be embarrassed when they fell through?
If you manage to achieve your desired end, people will know about it soon enough. You may even gain a reputation for being humble as a result of not shooting off your mouth about what you’re working on. Always remember Ringer Rule No. 384: People love humility and hate arrogance.
The next time you’re tempted to make a premature announcement to the world, remember that Old Man Murphy (of Murphy’s Law fame) is out there somewhere, lying in wait to trip you up. It’s simply not worth the risk of having a bunch of neurotics jealously gnashing their teeth and doing everything possible to see to it that you end up dining on your own words some fine evening.
The best way to let others know what you’re going to do is to actually do it. The more confident you are about what you intend to accomplish, the less reason you have to risk putting your foot in your mouth. Your ego will be more than sufficiently assuaged, massaged, and patted after you have succeeded.
And the more you succeed, the more reason you’ll have to feel secure, which should result in your having less of an urge to talk about your plans and more of a desire to produce results. Getting your ego out of the way clears your mind for focusing on the things that need to be done to actually succeed.
Granted, it can be difficult to suppress the instant-gratification urge to try to impress others. But there’s a big difference between difficult and impossible. No one can force you to do the wrong thing. Remember, the choice is always yours. A lot of things are difficult — but not impossible. You always have a choice.
As retired Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade (played by Al Pacino) put it in the film classic Scent of a Woman, “I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard.” Translation: People always have a choice, but most of them choose to take the easy way out.
What is your choice when it comes to the temptation to mouth off prematurely versus being cool and playing your cards close to the vest?