In my mid twenties, when I was a banker, a top executive in the company offered me a job as his personal gopher. I declined because I already had a good job managing a small group of people. Being a gopher seemed like a step backwards. There wasn’t even a raise involved.
The executive went ballistic. He told me I was making the stupidest decision of my career. I laughed to myself, wondering if anyone was dumb enough to think a gopher job was a stepping stone toward becoming a captain of industry.
Another young guy in the division took the gopher job. A year later he was promoted to Assistant Vice President. In three years he made Vice President, thanks to his mentor. Now he probably owns his own bank.
What I didn’t understand at the time, and the executive in my story didn’t mention, was that the gopher job was his way of getting to know me better, and introducing me to the other executives before propelling me up the ranks. My ego clouded my judgment. I wasn’t willing to go from boss to gopher. That’s all I saw in this decision, even though the reality is obvious in retrospect.
Years later, I got a chance to fix that mistake. When Dilbert launched in newspapers, the response was underwhelming. In the early years, it wasn’t a workplace strip. It was about Dilbert’s life in general. He just happened to have a job. I was surprised to learn, via my e-mail, that readers loved the relatively rare comics featuring Dilbert in the office. Personally, I didn’t think those were my best work. My ego told me to do it my way. My readers told me I was wrong.
What the hell do readers know? After all, they aren’t syndicated cartoonists, and I was, albeit in only a few dozen newspapers. But this time, fortunately, I ignored my ego, changed the focus of the strip to workplace humor, and it took off.
Recently I was reminded of this as I watched two young people allow their egos to drive them over career cliffs. I know they feel good about their decisions, just as I did when I turned down the gopher job.
I’ve come to call this ego-driven behavior the “loser decision.” I don’t mean it as an insult. It’s an objective fact that life often presents us with choices where the comfortable decision leads nowhere and one that threatens your ego has all the potential in the world.
You need a healthy ego to endure the abuse that comes with any sort of success. The trick is to think of your ego as your goofy best friend who lends moral support but doesn’t know shit.
Has your ego ever driven you off a cliff?