A healthy ego can be an entrepreneur’s best friend. But when vanity intrudes, all the puzzle pieces start to come apart.
The terms “ego” and “vanity” tend to be misunderstood. The ego represents your sense of self. The ego is concerned about what you think of you. (That’s not a typo.) Vanity brings the outside world into the mix. When you ask, “What do other people think of me?” — that’s your vanity talking.
It’s perfectly reasonable for entrepreneurs to lead with ego. The ego sets up your expectations for yourself, after all. When you’re pursuing dreams and self-actualization, you’re leveraging your ego. However, when you’re only motivated by inauthentic external goals like prestige, status and influence, your attention is diverted from what really matters.
I once worked with a founder who became distracted by vanity. He was a member of our organization and involved in the sales training industry. Specifically, he focused on social selling, a niche that relies on social media platforms to reach prospects and win new sales.
When LinkedIn first hit the scene, he became somewhat of a celebrity and garnered thousands of followers. His posts were liked, shared and commented on. He was popular, as quantified by LinkedIn, and the so-called “vanity metrics” gave him a false sense of accomplishment. Why false? Though he appeared successful to everyone else, a deep dive into his profit and loss sheet revealed he was barely making ends meet.
Did he become discouraged when he realized his vanity had let him down? Of course. Yet, this entrepreneur was one of those rare people who could face his failings. He said to himself, “I’m not happy. I’m working very hard, but I’m not making real money. Who cares if the mob thinks I’m cool? I need to build a real business and support my family.” Essentially, his ego rescued him — and he’s now more centered and intentional with his time.
Harnessing Your Ego: Living an Authentic Life in an Inauthentic World
If you find it challenging to keep your vanity at bay, you’re not alone. We live in a world where inauthenticity reigns. This doesn’t mean you can’t strengthen your ego, though. I recommend three steps to harness your ego power and let go of your vanity.
- See yourself as a missionary and not a mercenary. When you create and follow a personal mission, you’re building upon your ego in a fruitful way. My mission statement is “to live a fulfilling life by taking risks and competing for extraordinary accomplishments.” My mission statement is entirely driven by me, not by anyone else. Only I can define what it means to be fulfilled. The statement includes no external vanity measures such as dollar amount, job title, or client list.
- Design a personal vision to lay atop your mission statement. Once again, I’ll share my vision statement: “To be healthy and wealthy. Health is defined as a tough mind, deep soul, and fit body. Wealth is defined as an abundance of time and relationships.” The vision guides how I set up my schedule. I devote hours, days, weeks, months, and years to educating my mind, enriching my soul, eating well, exercising, and sleeping. No one else knows or sees my progress. It’s completely invisible to them and can only be analyzed and meaningful to me (courtesy of my ego).
- Establish your core values. Values define how you will behave and hold yourself accountable. One of my eight core values is to be a loyal community member, helping others get the most out of their lives. This value led me to launch a community for professional service firm founders. Without the ego-driven personal values I live by, my venture wouldn’t exist.
Too many entrepreneurs feed their vanity and wind up holding themselves accountable to everyone else. Don’t let your vanity get in the way of your ego. Your ego will make you successful — and keep you that way.
Contributed to EO by Greg Alexander, the founder of Collective 54, the first mastermind community dedicated to helping professional services firms grow, scale and exit. Prior to founding Collective 54, Greg started, scaled and sold a consulting firm for nine figures. In addition, he is the author of the best-selling book, “The Boutique: How To Start, Scale, And Sell A Professional Service Firm,” and hosts the number one podcast of the same name. Greg received his undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts and his MBA from Georgia Tech.