In 1805 Napoleon hatched a cunning plan to invade Britain.
Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson took his British Navy fleet to the Cape of Trafalgar on the south coast of Spain in an audacious bid to kick Napoleon’s derrière.
Admiral Villeneuve was the commander of the Franco-Spanish fleet.
Truth be told, he was a bit of a dick. An arrogant man who twice defied direct orders by delaying the departure of his fleet.
Nelson anticipated this.
You see, arrogance makes opponents predictable.
Nelson’s fleet intercepted and flanked the Franco-Spanish ships splitting the fleet into three and thus isolating them.
Despite having a smaller fleet the ensuing battle saw 22 allied ships captured or destroyed, while the British lost none.
It was a Franco-Spanish clusterfuck. A series of fucks so clustered that it changed the course of history.
Villeneuve was captured and deported back to France. He tried reapplying to the French Navy but his letters went unanswered.
In his deep shame and crushed ego, he committed suicide by stabbing himself 7 times.
Good Ego vs Bad Ego
If you want to be successful at, well, pretty much anything, you’re going to need a certain amount of ego. Without self-esteem, it’s difficult to withstand the punches that life will inevitably throw at you.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face” — Mike Tyson
This is especially true for rebels looking to stand out, stick two fingers up at the status quo and make a difference.
If your self-esteem is so low you’re afraid to say ‘boo’ to the proverbial goose, you’re going to struggle I’m afraid.
(There are solutions to this but that’s for another article 👆)
Conversely, if your self-esteem is so high that you think you are always right, you are going to make critical errors that will likely fuck everything up.
Ego, like life, is all about balance.
The key, IMO, is subtle. If you’re making decisions that benefit your status and make you look good: bad ego.
If you’re making decisions that make your customers/ clients look good: good ego.
Some examples below 👇
Born into vast wealth, hugely inflated egotistical man child reared to be a misogynistic, narcissist, racist with a Messiah complex —and somewhat tiny hands!
Ego status: Bad ego (deluded and dangerous)
Happiest: when whipping up gun-toting supporters into a frenzy on Twitter
Least likely to be seen: Taco Bell/ adult glove store
The Bumbling Buffoon:
Born into vast wealth. A complete moon unit of a British Prime Minister.
Reared to think money + power = intelligence. Disappointingly virile. Only needs to sneeze to impregnate some god-forsaken poor woman in the vicinity.
Refuses to admit to how many children he has sired.
Ego status: Bad ego (A buffoon who thinks he’s a genius)
Happiest: when compulsively bullshitting the nation
Least likely to be seen: Heaven/ Paternity testing center
A nerd. Bullied at school. Got into coding. Loves disrupting bloated industries with dinosaur thinking CEOs.
Wants to change the world/ move to Mars. Makes his innovations open source.
Ego status: Big but with good intentions
Happiest: when innovating and disrupting shit
Least likely to be seen: in a pimped out Toyota Prius
The Hippy CEO:
A dope-smoking dyslexic rebel who loves crazy outlandish challenges. Loves starting businesses that challenge the status quo.
Always good to his staff and has a desire for his companies to provide more value.
Ego status: Good
Happiest: on his Island
Least likely to be seen: on a British Airways flight
The Conscious Capitalist:
Driven by purpose. Strongly believes businesses are there to make the world a better place. 👍
Ego status: The absolute sweet spot
Happiest: when saving the planet
Least likely to be seen: munching on a happy meal at McDonald’s
Ego is the Enemy
John DeLorean was a big cheese in the American motor industry. He was essentially the Elon Musk of the 1980s.
DeLorean was a charismatic multi-millionaire. Good looking to boot. He hung out with celebrities, was regularly invited onto TV chat shows, and married supermodels.
Basically, he was a car designing mofo rockstar.
DeLorean was forced out of General Motors when he criticised the corporate structure.
DeLorean didn’t care though. He would show them.
He set up his own company to build the DMC DeLorean sports car. The car was immortalised by the Back to the Future movie franchise.
The British government invested over $120 million dollars into the project. Despite initial success and profitability, it turned out the car was a bit shit and DeLorean needed more investment to make it less shit.
He didn’t get it.
So he became an international drug smuggler…as you do.
DeLorean was arrested in an FBI sting trying to sell $60 million dollars worth of cocaine in a futile attempt to prevent his business from failing.
DeLorean’s ego refused to give up. Despite enthusiastically waving kilos of cocaine on camera, he was miraculously acquitted of drug trafficking but lost everything and became personally bankrupt.
His wife took his children and left him a few days after the trial.
DeLorean was forced to sell his 600-acre estate to live in a small one-bedroomed condominium in Jersey, where he died broke four years later.
John Delorean is an extreme example but our egos impact our lives and careers one way or another.
- Ego is very subtle but powerful. We rarely see the damage until it’s too late.
- Ego prevents us from learning. It holds us back. It gets in our way.
The essence of Ryan Holiday’s best-seller, Ego is the enemy, is the inner battle we all face.
Ryan lays out his book in three different phases. The ego manifests itself differently in each phase.
Phase 1: Aspiration
On the way up, ego gets in our way by telling us we’re smarty pants. It stops us from seeking help from others who are more knowledgeable.
We don’t take opportunities because we believe we deserve better.
This is all the bullshit of ego. We blame our lack of success on others or market forces.
And while there is some truth in that ultimately we are all responsible for where we are and how we are feeling.
We can’t control outcomes. We can only control our reactions to them.
Ego stops us from publishing our work. It makes us dilute our work, stop taking risks and blend in. Ego stops us from being successful.
Perfectionism, people pleasing, proving people wrong and protecting ourselves from failure are all ego based thoughts that hamstring us.
Phase 2: Success
But let’s say we deal with all that malarkey. We’re talented. We get a bit of luck and we become successful. This is where the ego really blasts into life, especially over sustained periods of success.
We start to think our shit smells of roses. We start believing that we’re invincible. It makes us complacent. We become entitled and believe the world owes us.
Phase 3: Failure
This is where the shit really hits the fan. Sooner or later everyone experiences failure. Like John DeLorean, many of us are the architects of our own downfall.
This is the most common problem. We experience success, think we’ve got it sussed — and then boom — we realise we’re the same as everyone else.
There’s nothing special about us. We had some unfair advantages and a bit of luck which we successfully leveraged with whatever talent we developed.
Real talent comes from humility and constantly improving and mastering our skills. It’s not thinking we know everything.
I’ve seen this countless times in the music industry. I see it now in business. People attach their success to their identities so when they suffer an inevitable defeat it crushes them.
Nothing lasts forever. Success comes and goes.
I worked with one penniless socially conscious artist who became wealthy and successful. He turned into the very person he once despised. Tragic.
I was never that bad fortunately but I’ve been a bit of a dick at times in the past.
I went through all of these phases and came out the other side with my fair share of pain and heartache.
But on reflection, it was worth it. We only truly learn from our fucks ups. We learn the lessons and do our best to make amends.
We learn to serve others. Not to manipulate them but to help them. We eventually learn that the only way to be truly successful (and happy) is to solve other people’s problems.
It makes us feel good to make others feel good. So simple, really.
We still fall into the ego traps cos it’s a sneaky bugger which is why you should consistently check your intentions and thinking.
Hard Strategy Vs Soft Strategy
Whatever your goal is you need both hard and soft strategies. Hard strategies are your plans, tactics, branding, etc.
Soft strategies are managing your ego, coping with stress and anxiety. It’s the mental toughness to do the shit that needs to get done when you’d rather curl up in front of Netflix. And the resilience to keep on doing it time and time again.
How can you avoid the pitfalls of ego?
Personally, I schedule an hour meeting with myself every week and question my thinking. I’ve talked about it before. Google metacognition.
Other people use journaling. You have to deal with your inner thoughts.
There’s no escaping ego. It’s in our heads. We all have one and it is holding us back one way or another.
Ego is not who we are. It’s who we believe we are. It’s our identity.
It’s healthy to question our identity compare it next to our values. Regularly.