In my senior year of college, I had a coach that would say to us often, "Let's check our ego at the door." In all honesty, at the time I didn't have the best grasp on what that meant. I understood the words as they are defined in the dictionary, but early on there was no search for deeper meaning by me. Looking back now, I can identify somewhere over 50 examples from my adult life that serve as a learning opportunity for 'Checking it at the door.'
Ask five people what ego is and you may get five different answers. Maybe it's the perception of oneself; maybe it's another word for confidence; maybe it's being cocky; perhaps it's a song by Beyonce... What I will say about my perspective is that ego is something that we all have decision over. Several coaches out there will tell you that some 'ego' is necessary to be at the top of the game. It is what separates great from good and the best from one of the best. Several Fortune 500 CEO's will tell you the same. I tend to agree in most scenarios. Where does this apply in life though and can you relate it beyond just athletics and Corporate America?
In late 2012 I was starting my final collegiate volleyball season. My team was coming off of a successful season and we wanted to compound the success. I had not lost sight of how much work it takes to be number one in anything. However, maybe I did temporarily lose sight of my influence on others. We trained and played tournaments in the winter that would affect seeding in the spring. For me there was a school, sport, and work balance; and while I was driven, priority started to blur. We played a tournament in Santa Barbara, CA and I had a work event the same weekend. We played two matches day one, I drove and arrived in Anaheim, CA at 2am, worked from 6am to 1pm and drove back to Santa Barbara to start in the tournament finals at 5pm. My coaching staff was gracious and I attempted to make both work. The burning feeling in my eyes and the absence of feeling in my legs served as a mental reminder that priority is necessary. We snuck out with a 3-2 win and the title; but no thanks to my poor performance and game four exit. Winning was awesome for the team and our seeding, but that day winning was unhealthy for me because it left the lesson unlearned.
Three weeks later on January 18th, we had an away match in Provo, UT. My team and I weren't scheduled to leave until the night of January 19th. In advance, I requested a plane flight home that 18th night after the match so that I could make a work event the morning of January 19th. My personal lesson was unlearned from three weeks prior. My coach must have known better. I am not sure if I thought my team was just that good or if I was just that good to be putting rifts in team activities but 'ego' blinded me. I was forced to stayed home from Provo (where I had never played) and I remember turning to the "Why me?" train of thought. That spring on Thursday, April 25th, 2013 I was back in the starting role and I felt we could not be beaten at that point in time. To shorten up the story... in that same Provo gym where months earlier on television I had watched my team get beaten, we got beat that night in a series of unfortunate and unexpected events. 'Ego' was in the way, but winning that tournament in January put us in the NCAA Final Four and took away a learning opportunity.
There was a young man that I trained from a young age. He had (and still has) the necessary tools to become great. He had the physical skills, the mental comprehension, and the support system. I was fortunate to have a part in his development of what he would decide was important in volleyball, and in life. In the summer of 2014 I had a job relocation and he made the difficult decision to stay where he was and finish his journey there. Luckily for us, he was in a familiar place and I had another guy that wanted to max out his potential and could get us to the desired endpoint. Time passed and we were both successful in our endeavors, but curiosity loomed in whether we could have been even more so with each other. Midseason, his maturity and bravery presented the opportunity for us to collaborate and I allowed 'ego' to come into the picture. Wanting to avoid my players, and myself, appearing desperate or small I allowed an opportunity to pass for my players, myself, and a special kid to become better than we already were.
There was another young man that I trained and he was from a less fortunate neighborhood and did not have a dependable support system. What he had going for him was his athletic potential and his desire to be the best regardless of other people's opinions. With him I also had the pleasure of having an affect on what became important to him. He worked and worked and finally got his call. He was committed to a Division I college after being from a place where kids don't go DI and few go to college. Not long after, tragedy struck and his commit was pulled for ineligible grades. He called me one night bawling his eyes out. Maybe 'ego' got in the way of him finishing what he started. He got back on his grind and is taking the long way to that same goal of his now.
These stories serve a moral and finally made clear what Coach Kniffin used to say. "Let's check our egos at the door." It is a thought that can aid us in any scenario: sports, business, family, friends, adventure, etc. Should we accept it in, humbling experiences will mold us into a more attractive picture than we were before. It should be fine to be who you want to be. It should be encouraged to create high expectation. But perhaps it's foolish to ask for people to judge us on what we achieve and not what we think and say. Can we allow people to be comfortable in their own skin? Yes, but we should be mindful of what character is being expelled from that skin of ours. Can we get rid of the social norms that say what is cool and how achievement is defined? Yes, but prepare yourself to have some sort of definition of what success is to you and work toward it every day.
Whether your comparison is a Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant, Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs, or your local art gallery's best painters... my advice is to observe the way they carry themselves, equipped with your definition of 'ego'. However, not to imitate or duplicate; but to take traits that you desire and trash the ones you do not. I don't see 'ego' as a yes or no. I see it having levels that are determined by your situation. You sit down with yourself or with your group and you decide what your definition of success is and what kind of 'ego' will be necessary to achieve it.
I would be interested to hear what you think of 'ego'. Anything questions, comments, or concerns for me can be dropped in the comment section below. Appreciate you reading #SaturdayMorningCoffee.
- Young Lion