Ego Fears What’s New

red carpetDo you recall the last time you were the new kid on the block? It wasn’t easy to be new, was it? Perhaps you were anxious to be accepted and to feel you belong? Worried about not knowing what you believe you should know and appearing incompetent? Concerned about being hemmed into expectations that might cram your style? Wondering if others might find your opinions—stemming from your sensibilities and personal values—agreeable?

When we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, we’re vulnerable to letting that part of us which is our ego to take control and drive behavior that may not be for our highest good or that of all involved. After all, ego is the part of us whose mission is to keep us safe in our comfort zone and out of anything new or unfamiliar. Being conscious of not allowing ego to take the driver seat is key to our ability to navigate the unfamiliar landscape and participate meaningfully from a grounded, centered place, tapping into our inner wisdom.

I love what Marianne Williamson has to say about ego (The Law of Divine Compensation, pg. 54-55):

The ego is that which both sets you up to do the wrong thing and then punishes you viciously for having done so. It lures you into doing something stupid, and then would have you believe that you’re the dumbest, most irresponsible human being alive for having made such a mistake!

Talk about a double whammy! Quite simply, ego truly doesn’t like what’s new and unfamiliar, and it sets us up to fail.

3 Strategies For Avoiding Ego-Driven Behavior

When we’re the new kid on the block, how do we keep ego-driven behavior in check? Here are 3 strategies:

Strategy #1: Watch and listen. Take some time to observe the new group/organization, its members and group dynamics, especially in meetings. Who are the vocal ones, and why are they vocal? Are they true movers and shakers or individuals who need to be in constant motion to feel valuable or productive—and need everyone else to be similarly busy? Who are the quieter ones, and why do they rarely speak up? Is it because they are introverted and only speak up when they really feel like they have something to contribute, or are they simply disengaged?

In a high-charging environment, it’s very easy to get sucked into busy action that may not ultimately be productive or for the collective good. If we took the time to observe who tends to stir action and for what purpose, and who thoughtfully sits back to ride out the high and low tides, we can choose consciously when and how to speak or act from a grounded, centered place. That’s instead of following ego reactions to either match the mindless busyness or let it shut down our innate wisdom to discern what’s best for us and everyone involved.

don't knowStrategy #2: It’s ok to not know. This may seem counter-intuitive, as we tend to believe that there’s power in knowledge. On the flip side, if we don’t know the answer to what we believe we should know, we risk being written off as useless and irrelevant. In some cases, that could translate into losing our job. Can you imagine how freaked out our ego gets with that threat?

Again, in a high-charging environment, that’s when we’re vulnerable to speaking or acting out of fear instead of genuine knowledge. However, we can cultivate our consciousness to recognize these moments of vulnerability and that we have a better alternative—to remain silent because we don’t know, and it’s ok. This has nothing to do with ensuring that we learn what we need to know to carry out the job we were hired to do. It’s about being aware of not appearing like a know-it-all because of fear-based ego reactions.

Strategy #3: Be mindful of projections. Most of the time, reality is nothing more than projections of our self-perceptions and beliefs onto others, including how we think or feel we’re being perceived as a new kid on the block. That is, our worries, concerns and discomfort with being out of our comfort zone can easily be projected onto others. Ego has us looking for proof points to confirm our fear-based projections. Whatever we feel insecure or uncomfortable about, we see evidence of it in others’ reactions to us. An innocent look may take on subtext that really isn’t there. A comment about a situation may be taken personally, when it isn’t directed at us.

If we aren’t aware of our ego projections, we can quickly feed a disempowering downward spiral. Conversely, if we’re honest about our insecurities with being the new kid on the block, we can be mindful of not projecting these fears onto others. Before allowing ego to convince us that others see us the way we fear we may be seen, ask: Is my perception really true? Is there truly negative subtext to that look? Is that comment really about me or about a situation under discussion of which I happen to be a stakeholder?

Being human and having an ego is a package deal. We can’t sign up for one part without the other. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to recognize ego for what it is—a part of us that wants us to be safe, even if it lacks sophistication in discerning between real threat and self-generated fear. What’s more, we can most definitely cultivate consciousness in not letting ego guide us in how we navigate being the new kid on the block.

Over to you: What are your strategies for keeping ego in check, particularly when you’re navigating unfamiliar territory? Would love for you to share your insights and wisdom below in the comment box.

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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6 comments
TerriKlass
TerriKlass

I really loved the honesty and authenticity in your post, Alice! As always, you share such important information about who we really are and what drives us. I know I have allowed my fears to project how I felt about a situation. Keeping our ego in check and recognizing when it is letting us down is such wise advice. Thank you so much for all your great insights!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@TerriKlassMany thanks for your kind words, Terri. It's a constant process for me to remind myself to keep ego in check and not let it run the show. Writing gives me a chance to process and remind myself of what's important. I'm happy to share it here, and glad that the message resonates with you. Thank you for stopping by to sharing your comments.

Hiten Vyas
Hiten Vyas

Hi Alice,

This was a wonderful post and it reached me at the right time. My ego has been experiencing everything you described in your post, particularly as I'm so new to the job I'm doing. Overall, I've been doing ok and am comfortable with not knowing how to do things. However, I have been a little concerned about how I might be perceived by others. I'm going to follow your tips and challenge these perceptions.

Thank you.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Hiten Vyas Thank you for your candid reflection, Hiten. As you know, I'm in a similar boat, and hence the reflections in this article. It's human to wonder about others' reactions. It's just a matter of being conscious of that human tendency. It's always nice to have you join the conversation here. Thank you!

AlliPolin
AlliPolin

As always, Alice, I feel the truth in your post.  Your perspectives and advice here not only apply to when we're the new kid on the scene but also when we're ready to take a step back where we're entrenched and make a change.  

Your writing about projections actually reminds me of the Four Questions of The Work.  I have never done The Work but I find value in the questions.  I'm reminded of: How can you absolutely know that it's true?  So important that we separate our ego and fear from all of the other truths that are present. 

Thanks, Alice! 

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@AlliPolin Many thanks for adding your insights, Alli. The book you mentioned is one among several resources I've heard about that basically ask us to question our projections. So much of our lives go on auto-pilot unconsciously. When we actually simply stop and bring consciousness to what we otherwise take as reality, we realize it isn't. Thank you for suggesting what sounds like a great book.

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