My sense of self has always been tied to my work. People say this is dangerous and I know it is. I was so proud of my first agency job, and who I’d finally become, that when I was made redundant nine months later, I stopped thinking like a sane human. I jumped into the first shitty job I could get, and stayed in the corporate wilderness for four years hiding.
It hurts my ego when the person I want to be doesn’t match the reality.
Back then, it was probably my ego that finally called time on a job that made me feel like a nobody for a company that meant nothing to me. If so, I thank it.
My sense of self is tied to what others think of me. When I started out in branding, I was in awe of the industry. I thought everyone in it was so cool. I used to work just to impress those people whose talent I admired. And I remember every one of the times when my writing just flat out failed to impress them. When they said “I thought you were better than this.” Conflating me and my work. Just like I do.
At the bar after work, everyone will tell you these people are just Big Egos. But I’m not so sure. I think that what’s often called ego is just passion or fear. “I want the work to be good.” “I’m scared that I might fail.” It’s strong emotion expressed with no empathy and no filter. It’s the bluntness that seems to go hand in hand with a creative culture. In this context, having a big ego just means acting like a bit of an asshole.
Besides, pegging my worth on another person’s opinion says more about my ego than theirs.
My sense of self is no longer so fragile. I can see that I used to take work far too seriously and far too personally. And while that isn’t healthy, neither is the opposite. I tried having a job that paid well, and finished on time, and meant nothing to me. I hated it. It felt like throwing half my life down the toilet, and only living before nine and after five.
Sorry, this piece somehow got really dark. But it gets brighter from here.
Right now, I have a pretty high opinion of my work/myself. I think you need to if you want to lead a team, and still stay friends. But I’m always conscious that my drive is never an excuse to treat others without respect. In other words, I have a huge ego, but I hide it well.