Have a smaller ego if you want big career moves

Resilience at the workplace is a common theme in this blog. Occasionally our own ego is the main obstacle to our progress. A huge ego can definitely make us do things we do not like and increase the amount of stress upon us. You can read more here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

How many people hate their jobs

Around 70% of people do not find their jobs fulfilling. In some jobs, less than 15% of employees see a purpose in their job. Meaningless jobs can be very hard for us to handle. We will probably spend a large amount of money on consumption. We may try to generate a sense of fulfillment in our lives and not save enough money for the old age. This is a common situation in many countries, and especially in America.

Job satisfaction by profession

Job satisfaction depends on specific positions, with salesmen and bureaucrats often suffering the most. While the work of a doctor may be more stressful, it offers a clear purpose and a sense of mission. The job of a person building things has a large degree of personal integrity and one can take pride in the products he produces. The creative jobs tend to have a lot of excitement. Curiously, chief executives are less satisfied than coaches and veterinarians.

Working as a programmer or a hardware engineer pays quite well, offers a chance to create something real and is not too stressful. However, its job satisfaction is somewhere in the middle of the range. Maybe, this is because many of us feel like a small part of a much bigger machine. Working in large companies on an abstract layer of huge products makes us detached.

Ego traps

When we give up our ego and serve other people, quite often we feel more satisfied. This position is self-sustaining, as long as the payment is not too bad.

When we become managers and start feeding our ego, there is a constant hunger for more. The opposite side of the career progress is less time to spend at home with our loved ones or doing the things we truly enjoy. As we take more challenges and progress at work, we may start loosing where it really matters.

Excitement and safety

Striving for safety can make us unhappy, as we will not take the risks that are associated with creative and ambitious projects. Working in startup companies, we may earn less than in a big corporation. On the other hand, we may have a deeper sense of satisfaction due to a wider range of responsibilities.  And we should never ignore the small chance of being a part of something great.

Having a very risky and exciting job can be a different sort of ego trip. We may feel our ego inflated due to the courage and coolness of what we do. Interestingly, the very risky jobs have a very high rate of satisfaction. Probably the riskiest jobs in the world are the jobs of astronauts and US presidents. These are the jobs that people will do anything to get.

Regular career path

There is no such thing as a normal career path, yet there is some stereotypical career. A young intern starts to learn about his subject, with no status and little salary, long hours and huge enthusiasm. Eventually, the intern becomes a young specialist in a strong team and starts to do the “heavy lifting” jobs associated with large productivity. With time, the specialist gathers experience and becomes an expert, who prefers quality tasks over the quantity. Eventually, a team leader job opens up, and our hero starts to spend half of his time in meetings and presentations. As the management skills improve and professional expertise lags, the person becomes a project manager or a head of a department. Then there is some downturn in the industry, and our hero gets an entry-level job, maybe with a different profession. He gravitates towards a very stable company and slowly rises back in ranks to the mentor status till his pension. With the pension, the job is forgotten and the time simply flies by.

Handling rejection

Probably the best way to deflate the ego is handling rejections. People who are rejected multiple times actually become more attractive. They understand that many rejections often come together and being rejected does not mean we are not good for the job. Not everyone can be a winner, and if we can find other ways to feel good about ourselves. Rejection can be constructive and can force us to become more creative and entrepreneurial. After rejection, we understand our strengths and weaknesses, have a plan of how to become better and have enough motivation to persevere on our chosen path.

Alternative career path

Having a smaller ego, we can probably generate several potentially better although riskier career moves.

  • Longer internship. Learning at a Ph.D. level, taking post-doctoral positions, participating pro-bono in high profile jobs is very much like a longer internship. Some smart people prefer to study longer and get a deeper understanding of their subject without being paid. They translate that expertise into practical achievements that allow them to get a better entry position.
  • Stay junior in several positions. Instead of becoming a senior expert in one field, a young person can spend some time having several junior positions and gaining interdisciplinary experience. It helps to have perspectives of several different professions, especially in complex projects.
  • Rejecting managing roles.  Management requires a lot of time and effort, which eventually reduces the time we can spend doing the things we excel at. Eventually, we need to decide if we want to be great experts or great managers since we can no longer be both. Not everybody has what it takes to be a great manager. Maybe it is best to stay away from management roles and focus on what truly excites us.

Alternative career choice

If we are not afraid to fail now and then, we have additional career options.

  • Opening your own business. This is a huge gamble. Being a part of a corporation, we have social support, financial safety and we get projects to work on. Moreover, after working for yourself you may easily become overqualified for the technical jobs and not sufficiently experienced and steady for the management jobs. So the risk is high. However, it is very satisfying and if successful, the benefits are equally high.
  • Spending more time at home. If we prioritize home over the job, we will probably not get promoted. But, we will spend time with people we love and have fewer regrets when we die.
  • Have a second job. This is the sort of things singers, actors, and entrepreneurs often do. Their main job is meaningless and takes a small part of their sole, while their true passion is waiting for the right opportunity.  If the right opportunity comes, the payoff may be huge. Otherwise, the main job may eventually get meaningful.

Greater benefits of smaller egos

Doing the right thing, not because we benefit from it, but because it needs to be done can be very rewarding. People with huge egos often are distracted by successes and failures, they can get into bitter political power struggles, and perform unethical or even illegal steps. This is very stressful, it generates bad karma and self-talk that can be destructive. Micromanagement, unrealistic deadlines, lack of communication and increasing mistakes are common signs of inflated egos. They are very stressful and bad for the team morale. A stressed team cannot handle complex tasks, and the results are disappointing.

The sense of mission and self-actualization often follow from selfless activity, not for the fruits of the activity but for the joy of doing something we learn to do very well.

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