How I learnt to understand ego

written by Sarah Colgate

Business Tips for 2024 | Self Awareness

October 1, 2023

Back in 2020, I decided to build this website with the aim of sharing insights and information. It was more than 3 years ago and I still feel uncomfortable having my own website, even though these days it’s my business website. I know this is attached to ego. I want to avoid an ego wherever I can, Mine yours or anyone else’s for that matter.

The shop window analogy

My mentor Anne shared a metaphor with me about how people behave out in the world. 

We are all a small business, a standalone retail business. 

  • Everyone has a shop window. It’s what we show to the world and is largely attached to our ego and desire for recognition. 
  • Everyone has a shop with products and services to sell. This is what we give to ourselves and we give to the world.  
  • Everyone has a back room where all the work happens. This is our internal dialogue, the why and how we do things. How we treat ourselves and how we manage ourselves. 
  • Location – some of us are on the high street, central to all the goings on and some of us are tucked away down a side alley or in the back streets of an industrial area. Nevertheless we all have our chosen location.

Our authentic selves are the combination of all three areas; the shop window, the shop and the back room. We are being authentic when the journey through these areas is seamless and connected, when shop window through to the back room, it’s consistently and connectedly presented. That may mean some days our business or retail shop looks sensational and works well,  other days it looks hideous, there are boxes everywhere and nobody shows up for work. 

As we work through this idea of putting ourselves out there I will use the shop as an analogy, so you can easily see what I am talking about.  And in this blog we are just going to focus on the shop window!

Ego – not mine, yours!

Probably the first reason I am so uncomfortable is related to ego. 

Ego is something I have struggled with a lot throughout my life, not my ego. The ego of others. For me I have always felt having an ego was a negative. I come to that conclusion based on the experiences I have had mostly in business. 

These experiences were all about me being sucked in by those with an ego. Usually these ego masters have been males in their 40s and 50s who talk a big talk and deliver nothing. You know the type, we all do. They can talk their way out of a vault. They have a great big fancy shop window but there is nothing inside the shop worth buying and no one is managing the stop, it’s empty!

By talking big and ensuring the front window of their shop was looking good, these ego masters were able to attract the right people to do the work for them in the shop while they went off and played. 

I was clearly attracted to these types of characters in my work environment for about 15 years as I ended up working for multiple ego driven men. One of them I worked for TWICE! Their all talk and no action is usually filled by loads of promises, what ifs and “we can” kind of talk followed by a disappearing act, lack of response to communications and zero work being done.

I am a pleaser

I am the YES man, I want to please everyone.  I want to make people feel good, I want to feel like I am of service and I am making a positive contribution. 

In my career, each time I worked with or for an ego master I willingly filled the gap that was left wide open by the ego master. I would go out of my way to ensure I did everything we had talked about, promised and not delivered. I was the one drowning in work to ensure whatever had been promised to the customer was delivered. Despite the fact that the business wasn’t mine or the responsibility wasn’t mine. I just hated the fact that people were being let down. 

To a certain degree, I became obsessed with ensuring every single thing that was promised to a customer was delivered. I felt a personal responsibility to everyone to ensure this happened and when I just physically couldn’t deliver the product or service because the promise had been too big, I would leave that role or leave that company. Moving on for a

fresh start, telling myself the next place would be different, they would deliver what they promised. 

I repeated this pattern over and over again.

Recognition for being the Fixer

This constant delivery of everyone else’s promises ensured I was recognised for being the team player. I was a deliverer of service and the master of business relations. 

I was the person who ended up with roles that had multiple responsibilities or more than one job in the business. I continued to sacrifice myself to fill the gaps left by those with a huge fancy shop window and no stock to sell to the customers. 

I must admit, I liked the recognition and I thrived on the added responsibility. I felt important and I felt like I was contributing. I loved achieving and feeling successful. All positives for a pleaser like me.  

Long term, I became a fixer. I am a master troubleshooter, I can see things unraveling before they happen. I can preempt an empty promise a mile away. As a business owner I put structures and scaffolds in place to ensure the customer is never let down and that anyone working with me or for me delivers on their promises 

Conclusion: What does life look like today?

Nowadays, I distance myself from the endless promises of ego masters. I am super conscious of anyone who looks like they have a fancy shop window or talks a big talk. 

From a customer perspective,  I double down on confirming and re confirming what we can deliver. Ensuring the shop is filled with stock for purchasing. I always underpromise and over deliver in every situation.

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