Stop Letting Your Ego Get in the Way of Success

May 10, 2022

It's hard to not be a narcissist at work. After all, the whole world revolves around you and your awesome self. You're the one who always has the answers, and people are drawn to your charisma and power. But there's a downside to being a narcissist at work - it can make you unpopular, alienate colleagues, and sabotage your career success. So how did Micah wake up and stop letting their ego get in the way?

I was spilling my guts to a good friend about how I had f@#ked up at work and life was now over. I babbled on about how no one would give me a second chance, that everyone at the company must know what I did wrong, that I would never be able to walk down the hall without fingers pointing. It was a great big pity party. My friend cut me off and said, “No one is obsessing about you. Get over yourself, Micah.”

It stopped me cold. I gave new dimension to what narcissism is and how batshit it can make me. While I’m walking around thinking about me, me, me, everyone else is going about their business. My boss isn’t sitting at their desk wondering what I need that day. My peers aren’t buzzing about my fabulous presentation. The mountains are not alive with the Sound of Micah.  

As they say, the first step is knowing that you have a problem. I couldn’t find a 12-step group for obnoxiously self-centered people, so I opted for some serious self-reflection. I acknowledged that my narcissism was a feature and not a bug. Then I asked myself a bunch of questions. Am I too focused on what other people think of me? Does my obsession with myself alienate others? Where is this coming from? Does it interfere with creating meaningful relationships?

Here’s what I realized. My type of narcissism is rooted in a mix of perfectionism and insecurity. I worry about the big things and the stupid things. Did I say it just right? Should I have re-edited the deck for the fourth time? Was my shirt untucked? Was my work as good as my colleague’s? I have an incessant voice in my head that judges my every move. That causes me to believe that everyone around me is judging me too. I can’t separate out that inner voice from the outer cues, which are generally positive.

I think some of my interactions with others are embarrassing expressions of neediness. I need affirmation and adoration and I try to get it by showing off. See how clever I am? See how insightful I am? See how many points I’ve racked up on the board? (I’m puking as I write this!) So, duh, it effects my relationships. Or should I say, what relationships? I have alienated people and I finally notice that I’m rapidly becoming an “individual contributor” which is code for smart but impossible.

I need to fix this ASAP. I can hardly stand to be in the same room with myself. I guess I’ve hit my bottom. I started working with a leadership coach because I can’t do this myself. In the meantime, when I catch myself waiting for people to sing my praises or imagining that they all hate me, I hear my friend’s voice. “Get the f#@k over yourself.”

The more we focus solely on ourselves, the more we limit our ability to connect with others. Effective leadership depends on thinking more about others than we do about ourselves.

Micah had to make a conscious effort to change the way they thought about themselves and their work. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. If you feel like your ego is getting in the way of your success, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Our team at The Messy Truth About Leading People can provide you with the tools you need to become a more effective leader who puts others first. What strategies have you put into place to keep your ego from sabotaging your career?

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