The Big Ego Problem: 4 Ways It Sabotages You

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Ego Is the Enemy" by Ryan Holiday. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the big ego problem and why is it an issue? How can an inflated ego compromise your ability to succeed in life?

Ego is an unhealthy belief in one’s own importance—a sense of superiority that goes beyond mere confidence. Having a big ego problem means you distort your perception of the world so that you’re seen as the central figure and you see everyone else as either subservient or oppositional.  

Here are four reasons why the big ego problem can sabotage your success.

Why Is Having Big Ego a Problem?

Many successful people are famously egotistical, and therefore, society tends to think ego leads to success. Unfortunately, big ego problems leads far more often to failure; people find success only when they’re able to control their egotistical impulses. Here are four ways having a big ego can sabotage your success.

1. Ego Can Make You Chase the Wrong Goals

Ego can stop you from achieving your goals when it leads you to try to be somebody rather than to do something. At some point in your career, you’ll have the choice of prioritizing either recognition or accomplishment. If you choose recognition, you’ll end up with a forgettable career in which you check the right boxes, earn the socially approved markers (such as fame or money), but don’t end up achieving anything that affects the world in a lasting, significant way.

2. Ego Can Make You Miss out on Opportunities

Ego is not humble, and often your ego prevents you from accepting a humble job, such as an unpaid internship, in which your tasks are primarily designed to help another person while you yourself get little or no compensation or credit. This unwillingness to take a helper role is unfortunate, because when you are at the beginning of your career or when you are embarking on a new project, you most likely hold unrealistic expectations about the level of success you can achieve based on your current talents.

3. Ego Can Sabotage Your Career

Ego can destroy your burgeoning career if you allow yourself to lose your temper. Sometimes you will be tempted to—you will work for humiliating bosses, work beside vindictive colleagues, or interact with rude customers. When you’re insulted or demeaned, your ego will want you to tell someone off or demand respect. Instead, do nothing. Endure the temporary insult to your pride, reminding yourself to keep your eye on the long game. You can’t succeed if you get kicked out of the game.

4. Ego Can Make You Complacent

Another common ego problem is that it can discourage you from doing the hard work necessary to accomplish them. Your ego loves you just as you are now: It thinks you’re amazing and your ideas are brilliant. Often, a person who enjoys these thoughts will go no further than to have brilliant ideas—the thoughts alone are satisfying enough and she won’t bother working to bring those brilliant ideas to life.

The Big Ego Problem: 4 Ways It Sabotages You

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  • How to resist your emotions so you can keep thinking clearly
  • Why your passion may be preventing you from achieving your goals
  • How to apply the philosophy of Stoicism for success as a leader

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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