My ego HATES taking my own advice. To be more accurate, my ego hates taking any advice!

Let me start by telling you about my ego. My ego is about 12 feet tall, 12 feet wide, and looks like a very content dragon with small wings and large feet. When it feels threatened, it comes out and can take up almost all of the space in a room. I am more aware of my ego in these situations than any other. When I make mistakes my ego feels it like a town-folk’s 3-pronged hay fork jabbing into its belly. 

My ego doesn’t like to be alone when feeling pain. It tries to make me feel it as well. I had this experience a few weeks ago after I presented a Lunch and Learn session on Intention vs Impact. In the presentation I set the stage for the topic by reviewing a basic communication model. This showed how easy it is for our intention to get lost and for the impact we have on another person to be far from what we hoped for or planned. If you want to learn more about intention vs impact, please view the video and/or revisit a past post about it. I am using this post to give an example of how to care for the impact more than your intention – and how you might need to reign in your ego dragon (or whatever creature yours shows up as) to do so. 

Shortly after the presentation concluded, I received an email from a viewer. They highlighted the image I used for the communication model and the impact that image had for them. This image was a stick figure of a person – one that you would usually see as the symbol noting a men’s restroom. The viewer pointed out that this figure was used exclusively in the presentation and led to an interpretation that I was excluding women. 

Having just presented on what to do and what not to do when you think the impact you had on someone is different from the intention you had, I used my own tips in my response. 

I thanked this viewer and said I would look for alternative figures to use moving forward. I also asked if they had any images they preferred. *I want to note – it is important to not rely on the other person to tell you what you need to do differently. This is work we all need to do for ourselves. Depending on the situation, it is also OK to ask for ideas if they have them – just be sure you aren’t relying on them fully for this. 

What did I not do? I did not explain my intention. I did not share why I picked those figures or my thought process. This was not asked of me, and frankly, it doesn’t matter. The impact is what mattered. Hearing the impact and taking steps to make a change is what mattered. 

In order to do this – I had to keep my ego in check. I could see my ego, being stabbed and uncomfortable, just wanting me to save face in order to make the discomfort go away so it could feel confident and big and powerful and good again. It wanted me to explain my intention,  explain why I chose those images. It wanted me to find a way for me to be right and the viewer to be wrong. It was so incredibly hard not to lead with my intent, not to defend myself, but I didn’t. And my ego was left very bruised. 

The good news, I’ve noticed that with ego bruises like this, they heal faster when we put them aside, learn, and make changes than if we defend ourselves and dig our feet into our position. Putting our egos aside is not easy. It doesn’t feel right or natural – especially in our society that values image and violence and sass and domination and being the best. 

What has helped me navigate when to take the ego bruises and let them heal on their own is to create the image of my ego that I described to you. This way, when it is threatened, it comes out and I can almost see it. This creates a separation between me and my ego. We are two entities and I do not have to act out of that entity’s needs or discomforts. It can suffer and heal on its own. I can make decisions without my ego involved. And if really necessary, I can distract my ego a bit by finding another way to feed it while not harming anyone else (e.g. posting something “cool” on instagram).

It’s good for egos to feel uncomfortable sometimes. To feel sad sometimes. To feel bruised. It builds character to let those feelings simmer while you address the situation without your ego. It also lets them know they are not in charge of you or your reactions. The ego’s job is to help you when you need it (like right before a big presentation in front of a bunch of people) and to get out of the way when you don’t (like when you hurt someone’s feelings). The problem is, the ego doesn’t know the difference. It needs you to tell it when to get out of the way.

So… I’m curious… What does your ego look like? How does it act? What does it want you to do that ends up making the situation worse? How do you wrangle your ego so it can sit in the discomfort until the bruise heals? 

By Teresa Ralicki, Ombuds,
University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus Ombuds Office