What does "Ego is the Enemy" mean? Is ego actually an enemy of success or growth? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
I should clear up that I am not talking about the Ego. I am talking about ego.
Freud described the ego with a famous analogy--our ego was the rider on a horse, with our unconscious drives representing the animal while the ego tried to direct them. Modern psychologists, on the other hand, use the word "egotist" to refer to someone dangerously focused on themselves and with disregard for anyone else. All these definitions are true enough but of little value outside a clinical setting.
I'm referring to the colloquial definition of ego: an unhealthy belief in your own importance. It is, as Bill Walsh put it, "where confidence becomes arrogance." One of the early members of Alcoholics Anonymous defined ego as "a conscious separation from." From what? Everything.
The ways this separation manifests itself negatively are immense: We can't work with other people if we've put up walls. We can't improve the world if we don't understand it or ourselves. We can't take or receive feedback if we are incapable of or uninterested in hearing from outside sources.We can't recognize opportunities--or create them-- if instead of seeing what is in front of us, we live inside our own fantasy. Without an accurate accounting of our own abilities compared to others, what we have is not confidence but delusion. How are we supposed to reach, motivate, or lead other people if we can't relate to their needs--because we've lost touch with our own?
So when I say that "ego is the enemy," what I am not saying is: Don't have confidence in yourself. I am saying the a lack of self-awareness and unrealistic understanding of our own abilities will make a lot of things very difficult. Like mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Of repeating and retaining your success. It repulses advantages and opportunities. It's a magnet for enemies and errors.
When people say, "But a little bit of ego is a good thing," they've considered the matter only superficially. What they mean is that success requires a certain confidence, a faith in oneself--and in that they are correct. But it's critical that we make the distinction between confidence and ego.
The mixed martial arts pioneer and UFC champion Frank Shamrock has observed that of the two, only confidence can bear weight. "Confidence is important," he said, "But ego is something false. Humility is the way to build confidence, and ego is hugely dangerous in this sport, because if you're running on ego you aren't running on good clean emotions or cause and effect. You bypass it to support a false idea. It's all garbage, the ego is garbage."
Confidence is based on what is real--it is earned. Ego is based on delusion and wishful thinking--it is artifice. Confidence doesn't alienate us from others. On the contrary, it allows us to relate to others better--because it has removed insecurity and fear from the equation.
The second you believe in your greatness, the artist Marina Abramovic explains, that's the death of your creative career. If ego is the voice that tells us we're better than we really are, we can say ego inhibits true success by preventing a direct and honest connection to the world around us.
In that sense--and the way I'm defining it (as well as how other smarter people than I have)--no, I don't think there is any positive element in ego. Therefore, it's an enemy.