Five Ways Ego Can Hold You Back From Building An Impactful, Fulfilling, & Sustainable Creative Life

With my clients we talk a lot about ego and the ways it can hold us back in our big-hearted business along the way.

Ego shows up for us all - in the stories we tell about ourselves and others, in our expectations about how we want things to be, in the way we respond and react to highs and lows along the way, and in the way we show up to our business each day too. 

Today I want to share with you five of the ways ego can hold you back from building an impactful, fulfilling, and sustainable creative life, but before we jump in I also want to share that one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my own journey and walking with my clients in theirs is that we have to show ourselves grace when it comes to the ways ego shows up in our journey along the way. We’re only human after all, and every single one of us faces ego flare ups in this journey - it doesn’t serve us to beat ourselves up for it, or feel shame and guilt around it either. Instead, it’s an opportunity to grow, to be bigger than our ego, and to be more intentional in our creative work and life.

So just a little encouragement from me to you in case you recognise yourself in any of these next five steps - it’s absolutely a-okay if you do. I’ve never met a creative - myself included - who doesn’t experience some of these from time to time. But it’s when we recognise them and then do the work to be bigger than them that I truly believe we can build an impactful, fulfilling, and sustainable creative life along the way. 

1. Envy & comparison

Have you ever felt crushingly jealous of someone else’s success or business growth? Have you ever spent an entire afternoon just comparing yourself to others in your industry? Have you ever thought to yourself that someone doesn’t deserve their success and that you would? And does navigating envy and comparison ever leave you feeling super unproductive, fatigued, and unhappy in your own business and creativity? 

That’s all ego. Ego telling you that you’re not good enough. Ego telling you that you’re better than others. Ego telling you that you’re in competition with others, instead of running your own race. And it never serves us, not truly - even if you find motivation in the envy and comparison, it still can have really negative repercussions on our mindset, our relationship with ourselves and our work, and our relationships with others too.

Tasks for you:

  • Journal all of the things that are causing you jealousy right now. Dive even deeper into that envy and explore - what am I really jealous of? Do I even want what they have? What can this jealousy teach me about my core desires right now?
  • Be bigger than your envy - are there any friends and peers whose recent success you haven’t celebrated because jealousy got in the way? Be brave enough to reach out and cheer them on. Are there any projects you’ve been afraid to work on because you’ve compared yourself to others who are already doing something similar? Get started anyway and believe that there’s enough space for you all. 
  • Create mantras to help you be bigger than you ego, such as:

Someone else’s success never takes away from my own

I am not in competition with “insert the people you compare yourself with"

It is not my place to question someone else’s success or whether or not they deserved it

I have my own stories to share, work to do, and contribution to bring to the world - even if others are also doing something similar

2. Entitlement

I think entitlement is one of the biggest things that can crush a business from getting off the ground. If we feel entitled to having a successful business, if we believe we deserve all of the money, recognition, and success that we’re aching for, it can get in the way of us actually doing the work that it takes to achieve what we want to achieve.

More specifically in creative online business, we can waste so much time feeling like we’re entitled to Instagram followers and likes, email subscribers, clients and customers, and recognition and awards that we lose sight of the fact that although we are worthy of everything we dream of, none of us are guaranteed or entitled to our dreams coming true.

Again, this is all ego - telling us that we’re special, that we’re more worthy or talented than others, that all that we desire should be ours. Business is scrappy and hard work - it takes courage, dedication, commitment, and a little luck to turn an idea into a profitable and thriving business, and it never ever happens overnight. If we feel entitled, we don’t hold the space within us that we need to have that hunger and that energy behind our business that it needs to get off the ground and thrive. 

Tasks for you:

  • Get super honest with yourself about the areas and ways that you might be feeling entitled in your creative work and life right now. Explore how they may be holding you back from taking purposeful and intentional and consistent action moving forward.
  • Repeat to yourself the mantra “I am worthy of everything I desire, but I am not entitled to my dreams coming true. It’s up to me to show up for myself and make it happen"
  • Be super honest with yourself and ask: Am I willing to show up and do the work? Am I dedicated to this journey and committed to showing up for my creative work and life along the way? 
  • Outline the ways you’re going to show up for yourself and be committed to your creative work and life moving forward - get super specific for the next 3-6 months so you can hold yourself accountable along the way. 

3. Impatience

Building an impactful, fulfilling, and sustainable creative life takes time. No one built a game changing business overnight. There can be many stops and starts, highs and lows, ebbs and flows, and lessons to be learned along the way. A big part of business is being in it for the long haul - there are many seasons of just showing up and doing the work and being patient with yourself and your business along the way. 

At times our ego can flare up and we can be overwhelmed with impatience - we want what we want right away, and we can feel frustrated that we don’t have it yet. We can become unmotivated because all of our big dreams may be many years and a whole lot of work away, and we can feel bored with the day-to-day because it can feel repetitive and unexciting at times. But if we spend too much time allowing impatience to take over, we can become distracted and start to drop too many balls in our business - and lose the clarity, focus, and motivation we need to keep on moving forward too.

Tasks for you:

  • Embrace the season you’re in - bear witness to all of the experiences, opportunities, and moments available to you right now, and remember that in seasons past this was exactly what you were aching for
  • Find joy in the here and now - choose to wake up each day and show up wholeheartedly to your business, because every purposeful step you take is pushing your forward towards your bigger goals and dreams
  • Explore the stories you’re telling yourself - why are you feeling so impatient? What stories are you telling yourself about what you should have achieved by now? Who are you comparing yourself to? 
  • Let your desire and excitement for the future fuel your momentum and energy in the here and now - don’t let it overwhelm you into a state of frustration and inaction

4. Craving external validation

Have you ever created something you’re crazy proud of, maybe it’s a podcast series, or an e-book, or an album, or a beautiful piece of jewellery, and then fallen out of love with it because it didn’t receive the response you were hoping for?

Have you ever held yourself back from writing what you want to on your blog, or saying what you want to on your podcast, or sharing what you want to on Instagram, because you’re afraid that you might ruffle some feathers, repel some people, and maybe even attract some disagreement or criticism?

Our ego craves external validation and admiration. It desires all of those Instagram likes, adoring emails, and nominations for awards and invites to prestigious events. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things - people interacting with our work is key if we want to build a sustainable thriving business along the way, but when we crave external validation above all else that’s when we can lose sight of the work that truly matters. 

Tasks for you:

  • Ask yourself: what external validation am I craving right now? And will that external validation actually serve me in my pursuit of an impactful, fulfilling, and sustainable creative life?
  • What external opinions truly matter to me? My clients? My customers? My core family? What external opinions don’t? Extended family? Other people in my industry? People who don’t like my work? Get super specific on what opinions matter to you and what don’t
  • Make your own opinion number one - your enjoyment of, connection to, and vision of a project is the most important thing above all else, don’t surrender that clarity and joy to the opinions and validation of others
  • Ask yourself: am I wholeheartedly showing up as my full self? Or am I showing up as the version of myself that I think will get the most approval of others? Be brave enough to explore how you can wholeheartedly show up as yourself along the way

5. Perfectionism 

We all know the dangers of perfectionism. It can hold us back from putting any work out there into the world. It’s that voice in our head that tells us we will never be good enough. It’s the part of us that is afraid to try in case we fail. We can even wear perfectionism as a badge of honour sometimes - it means we care more, or that we work harder, or that our work is of a higher quality.

I think that a lot of perfectionism can be rooted in ego - our desire to be perfect, our fear of making mistakes, the stories we tell ourselves about what being a perfectionist says about who we are and our work ethic. How perfectionism gives us an excuse to stand still and not move forward in our creative work and life - because our website, or our new course, or our podcast, or our new product line, or our new book just isn’t ready yet. And we all know that nothing is ever perfect - but we can still waste so much time in the pursuit of it anyway.

Tasks for you:

  • What are the stories you are telling yourself around being a perfectionist? How you can start to rewrite them?
  • What projects are you stalling on because you want them to be “perfect” or because you’re afraid that they might fail? How can you start to move forward with them instead of standing still?
  • Ask yourself: what parts of my perfectionist tendencies can I use to help me thrive? (Always doing a good job, giving excellent customer service, having a high quality of work) And what parts do not serve me that I need to let go of? (Crippling fear of failure, using being a perfectionist as an excuse). 
  • Take action, any action - the more you do the things that scare you, the more you build that muscle memory of being okay with putting work out there into the world even when it might fail, the more you realise that no matter what happens you will survive, but that action always feels better than inaction

To finish...

There are no quick-fix solutions to being bigger than the ways our ego can hold us back in this journey along the way. These are deep-rooted behaviour and belief systems that we have experienced throughout our entire lives - but once we see the ways our ego may be controlling us and holding us back, that’s when we can start to do the work of being bigger than it along the way. We may need some support in the form of loved ones, a coach, or a therapist, but I really believe that we’re all oh so capable of going on the journey and being bigger than our ego in our creative work and lives. I see it everyday in my clients - the stories they rewrite, the courage they find to have tough conversations, and the strength they find within themselves to take the harder but much more meaningful path.

If the topic of ego is something you’re interested in I wholeheartedly recommend reading Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday - it’s one of my favourite books and holds so much space for us to explore the ways ego can be our biggest enemy in our pursuit of meaningful work along the way. 

As always, I'm rooting for you!

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