“Never let your ego get so close to your position,
so that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.”
– General Colin Powell
The other valuable lesson to find in General Powell’s statement is how ego should relate to future jobs and career goals we seek.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to compete for a highly-competitive position on a team that holds unmatched regard in the military. It was the kind of job that, if chosen, would give me instant credibility and esteem in my professional community.
As you might imagine, this opportunity draws the most motivated and talented Soldiers from across the military. Unfortunately for most, the opportunity is also highly and dispassionately selective. Incredibly capable Soldiers prepare for years, only to find out they don’t meet the narrow bandwidth of acceptable talent and are sent home.
Which is what happened to me. During the process, however, I saw peers become obsessed with being selected, making it the ultimate validation of their military career…the definitive stamp of individual self-worth and achievement. They clearly aligned their egos with the position…and many took an emotional hit when they weren’t accepted.
Powell’s advice is clear wisdom for those seeking competitive career goals. It’s wise to remain stoic about the outcome, particularly if the goal is highly-selective. Becoming psychologically-tied to a career outcome can easily cause one to:
- Miss other opportunities during the process.
- Make poor decisions because of the emotional investment and fear of failure.
- Fail to see the positive aspects of the resulting situation.
- Set a poor example for peers and subordinates who are striving for their own goals.
- Place an emotional toll on peers and family who will provide support in any outcome.
No organization, job title, or status can invalidate the commitment, talent, and influence one achieves during an entire career. Separate who you are from what you do and be selective about where you place your self-worth.
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