Ego is the death of success, not the product

To start, this post is more of a therapeutic exercise for me than anything.

In the last 12 months I have:

1. Seen our company grow from 2 dudes (Jordan Kasteler and I) to 12 full time employees, with a bunch of awesome clients

2. Worked with some awesome people to create another company that is launching called Second Step Search

3. Traveled all over the country and world speaking (over 90 days of travel booked in 2009)

In that process I lost myself.

It’s funny that when you begin to have success in some areas of life, no matter how minimal, you lose focus on others. The culprit was an ego that began to develop. It clouded my judgment, it changed my focus, and almost cost me my family.

The difficulty is that our society, and especially the Internet world, puts success on the same plane as ego. It is as though the two concepts are not to be separated, and penance is allowed for one because of the other.

This has become exceedingly clear to me in my travels this year, as I saw people even putting ego before success, figuring perhaps that a sheer projection of their own value is all that is need to accomplish goals. The concept to me seems to be nothing more then “fake it till you make it.”

But still, in July, I stood completely lost, thinking the world, and everyone in it revolved around my greatness. My breaking point is something that is private, and not really fodder for this blog, but it was life changing for me. Several realizations occurred based on this event:

1. In the grand scheme of this universe, time, and space, my small business accomplishments mean nothing. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but as people our legacies are not often formed from our career based actions. Actions themselves can form a legacy, but often these are not self serving. In the end, we will all be gone, and what we will be remembered for is what we gave to this world, not what we took from it. For me personally, I see my family as my legacy, and the reason I started down this path was to improve life for them, and enrich the possibilities for my sons.

2. If you feel you are already the best at whatever it is you do, you will be hard pressed to learn anything that will help you grow. This is a firm reality. If you are the smartest person in a room, who do you have to learn from? The answer is, everyone else in the room. This is a concept I really began to understand when I was teaching. I learned more in my time as a teacher than I have at any other singular time period in my life. Those kids taught me about life, relationships, how to create community, and a myriad of other lessons I still hold dear. Ego, stops this entire process. You have nothing left to learn because you are the best. Everyone’s opinions and ideas are inferior, so why even take them into account?

3. I had, since my time as a teacher, prided myself on my kindness towards other people. I had completely lost this. I no longer cared about anyone but myself. Who should I care about? I was the most important person I knew. The funny thing is that much of the success Search & Social has, has been based on the reputation Jordan, Loren, and myself have for being kind, stand up guys, that people wanted to establish working relationships with.

4. I had always been fiercely individual, and now was allowing myself to be put into a role everyone expected of me.

In the months following these realizations, I have done a ton of soul searching. In the end I realized, ego almost destroyed me. It was not the reason for my minimal success, it was an ugly bi-product. This realization is hard to swallow, but it saved me, and it is something I stay conscious of now as I navigate through my personal and professional life.

This is not to say people shouldn’t be proud. Pride in ones accomplishments is natural, and deserved, but there is a clear difference.

Pride is defined as -

1. A sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; self-respect.
2. Pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement, possession, or association

Ego is defined as –

1. The self, especially as distinct from the world and other selves.
2. In psychoanalysis, the division of the psyche that is conscious, most immediately controls thought and behavior, and is most in touch with external reality.
3. An exaggerated sense of self-importance; conceit.

Ego, by definition, is not reality, based on external factors, and self involved.

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give to young entrepreneurs is to set aside time everyday to reflect on who you really are, and how that person has led to your successes or failures. By grounding yourself in that firm reality, you will find more success than you ever would falling into the trap of ego.

15 thoughts on “Ego is the death of success, not the product

  1. Thank you so much for sharing Dave. Business success is nothing if you leave your family/friends in the dust. I’ve seen this kill too many relationships and families. You are a great man for realizing this and changing the focus. This is a sign of a true business leader.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to post on the subject. Not jumping on the whole epiphany bandwagon but a few of your points really hit home. Don’t believe your own hype.

  3. A professor once told me, “success is measured by the amount of people you positively affect in your life.” A great example of this is in one of my favorite holiday movies called “The Family Man” starring Nick Cage. If you haven’t seen the movie, I think you would appreciate the message. Happy holidays to the family!

  4. “The name of the Devil is Success” Jamshid Gharajedaghi

    Sounds like you’ve sailed up next to the devil, and pulled back. Congrats on coming back to reality.

  5. Great post, Dave. In the para that starts with, “1. In the grand scheme of this universe…” the words expressed is very close to Hindu and Zen teachings, I’ve been used to reading. You have already acquired the wisdom that most people spend entire lifetimes seeking but don’t find.
    Congrags, you are one of the lucky few!!!

  6. Geez Dave,
    Nothing like holding a mirror up and taking a look. From your writing I had the sense that you were a force to be reckoned with. I applaud your willingness to share this, but I wouldn’t wish on anyone the type of “collision” it must have taken for you to stop and take stock.
    As much as I love and value your work, I’m going to go out on a limb and say (largely from my own experience) It is great to charge forward, to succeed but if we do it at the cost of family, it really boils down to failure.
    From one “Bull in a china shop” to another, nice job avoiding disaster.

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