3 min read

Letting go of ego

Letting go of ego
Photo by Joel Lee / Unsplash

One of the critical ways that we prevent ourselves from showing up fully is letting our egos get in the way. Scientists refer to this as the amygdala hijack. We get triggered by someone else's behavior, and have a surge of emotions that results in a fight-or-flight response. For me, letting my ego get in the way usually means taking a one-down position. I quickly retreat to a place of panic and look for all the things that I might have done wrong to cause the situation. Oftentimes, I'll assume that it was because of a lack of competence on my part.

Recently, I've been working on finding ways to take the high road. A mentor of mine calls this "eating shit," or "the emotional labor you have to pay to be a woman in tech." Lara Hogan calls this taking "the high road." Either way, we all agree that this kind of work is not fun in the moment when it needs to get done. As Lara writes:

The high road is about having empathy for others, even when they are unlovable, so that you can help enact change for the safety and betterment of everyone.

Another way to look at "eating shit" is that this is what influence is all about. Influence is understanding what is important to the other person, and helping them get it. You create your sphere of influence by bringing people along and creating the structure and the glue.

Getting your ego out of the way is hard. It requires us to really start paying attention to the stories we are telling ourselves and reset our energy when, in the moment, all we want to do is punch back or hide. Here are a few strategies that have helped me take the high road throughout my career:

Think about what might be going poorly for them

It is natural to think about all of the things that the other person should have done, but we are all human and make mistakes. There is probably stuff going on in their head that has nothing to do with you. For example, today, I got out of a 30-minute meeting where someone was actively upset at me the whole time. Afterwards, they pinged me to say that their anger was not directed at me, but at the situation they were in due to other leaders in our organization.

Often, asking the other person what is going on when you notice an outsized reaction, and if there are ways to help, makes it easier to understand what's at the root of their behavior. It also helps you build empathy and trust along the way.

Give direct feedback

Another strategy that has helped me has been to give direct feedback and set boundaries. People often don't realize they are doing something wrong, and it is easy to tell ourselves that they should know better. By providing clear and direct feedback, we can create an open channel for honest communication, which leads to better mutual understanding and respect.

Make them feel important

Lastly, sometimes it is easiest just to "eat shit" and do what they want. How much is it really going to cost you?

As Dale Carnegie writes in "How to Win Friends and Influence People":

“If some people are so hungry for a feeling of importance that they actually go insane to get it, imagine what miracle you and I can achieve by giving people honest appreciation this side of insanity.”

Letting go of our ego usually does not feel good in the moment. However, putting in this work is often the best way I've found to stop watching the world burn. Ultimately, this has allowed me to prioritize being successful over being right, making things better for myself, the other person, and everyone else around us.