Our work ego: the good, the bad, the ugly

Ego’s are a funny thing when we’re working for ourselves and launching our own products. They can be the catalyst to proceed, as in, “screw this company, I can do this better on my own” or “none of these products on the market are a good fit for their audience, I can make something better.”

But sometimes, that same ego that led us down a road of starting something for ourselves can lead us astray.

PSST: Stop guessing when I publish new posts and get articles like this in your inbox every Sunday.

Last week I had someone from my freelancing course ask me for my feedback on his landing page that was selling a product he had created.

After reading it over, I told him that I didn’t get what he was selling, so I went on to explain where I thought improvements could be made. For one, I didn’t understand the copy (a common problem with sales pages written by the creator of the project, who’s too close to it see it from their audience’s perspective) – so I detailed ways to tweak it to be more audience-friendly, how to run A/B tests on headlines and buttons, and how to poll his audience for cues on what kind of language to use.

An hour later I got an angry (and very belligerent) email from him saying that he wanted a refund for the course because I had deeply insulted him, and furthermore, that I had no right to tell him what he should do (even though he explicitly asked).

I’m not telling this story to single this person out. I’ve been there too. I’ve made something that took all of my time and effort, and then felt insulted when someone else didn’t understand it. I put so much work into it, how dare you think it isn’t good enough!

When our business doesn’t feed our ego, it hurts. Deeply. We get mad, stomp around, or even lash out. Working for ourselves is so personal that sometimes it feels like it’s our ideas against the world’s.

We can get so caught up in our work that we forget about a key point: our businesses exist to serve others. Sure, they also serve us financially, emotionally and otherwise, but they couldn’t and wouldn’t be a “business” if they existed solely to feed our ego. It’s only when they serve an audience that the audience in turn, serves us, like a wheel of reciprocity.

As such, our greatest enemy in working for ourselves can be… ourselves. Or rather, our ego. It’s a wily adversary as well because it sneaks up on us. We don’t need to be cocky for it to rear its head either—we can be full of self-doubt or internal criticism and still fall prey to its wrath. We need ego to venture out on our own and have the gall to start something in the first place, but then it can become a liability. Left unchecked, it can cause you to lose relationships, potential clients, business partners, or even free advice.

So how do you avoid letting your ego take over?

  1. Listen + Learn. In any and every situation, try and remember that you don’t know everything (which is in fact true). There’s always something to learn. If someone is saying something you don’t want to hear, then use that as an opportunity to learn (as in, why don’t you want to listen to them, why do you disagree with what they’re saying, etc?)
  2. Give up control. Control is mostly an illusion any way. The less you try to control and the more you accept that what others think and how they feel (about your products or even your character) is beyond your control. Your idea or product or even job could bear no fruits. It sucks, yes, but it’s not the end of the world (and doesn’t mean you can’t then try something new).
  3. If you ask someone for help or feedback, circle back to #1 and #2. Too often we ask questions of others we think we already know the answers to. If you’re asking something, there’s a reason for it.

I honoured that guy’s request for a refund immediately (even though he was FAR outside the refund window), because that’s how I run my business. I also mentioned that it wasn’t my intent to offend, but instead, to help (since he asked). I even offered to go into more detail about the changes I suggested (with links to how to’s on running A/B tests). He never replied, and that’s ok.

We have to step back from our egos and understand that if something isn’t working, maybe we should try something else.

Besides, there’s no use taking it personally if someone disagrees with or doesn’t understand something you’ve made, because it’ll happen. Instead of letting the beast take over, ask yourself: what can I learn here?