One of my favorite memories of my son was when he was in the third grade and in class, they were reading a book…
“To be honest, mom,” my then-third-grader said, from the back seat of the car, “I’m not crazy about the book we’re reading aloud. It’s Davy Crockett. But I get to be Davy, so that’s cool. I play Davy and the Sun.”
“The Sun?” I said. “The Sun has lines?”
“Yep. There’s one page where it’s all Davy and the Sun, so I read the entire page! But mom…Davy…he’s got such a huge EGO!”
“What do you mean?” I asked, wondering how my little guy would define ego.
“Well” he explained, “when another character compliments him – which they do all the time – instead of saying ‘thank you’, he just says, ‘I know! And I’m good at THIS too! And THAT too! And THIS! And THAT!”
“So he brags a lot?”
“Well you know,” I said, “It’s good to have confidence, but there’s a big difference between confidence and ego. What do you think it is?”
I remember peeking at him through the rearview mirror, as he sat back there silently contemplating. Finally, he said thoughtfully,
“I think confidence is when you know you’re good, but you don’t feel like you have to tell everyone about it and make them feel bad.”
He was so wise when he was a little guy. Humility.
So later that night, I remember my kiddo and I cuddling up to watch Chopped before bed and there was an Executive Chef competing on the show who was….a piece of work. Throughout the show, he was like a rooster strutting about, bragging, and superior, and condescending, and putting the others down. He was a talented chef for sure, but he brought no humility. And while some of it was likely dramatization for ratings, he still managed to drive us crazy. Without being prompted, Jeremy pointed to the guy and said, “He’s like the Davy Crockett of chefs!” and we laughed.
For the rest of the show, we rooted against “Mr. Ego”.
One of the things I talk about in my work is the importance of owning your power. The word power gets a bad wrap, it can be very polarizing. For some reason, when we talk about power in the context of work it tends to bring up visions of top-down, command-and-control leaders who will do anything to make themselves look good to win. But when you think of the word empower – to give someone the power – then all of a sudden we’re seeing sunshine and roses and happiness. The problem isn’t the power – it’s in how we wield it.
For the definition of personal power I like the most is:
Influence over others, the source of which resides in the person instead of being vested by the position he or s/he holds.
Thus influence requires choice. It is different from force or coercion, as it assumes that people are choosing. To choose something – to want it – is a heart decision. While logic may play a role, logic will always be overturned by that “gut instinct”, by desire – by the heart. So someone, who may be very talented, and very aware of their talents (a la Davy Crockett) but turns everyone else around him off because of how he makes them feel, is not, in my definition, powerful at all. This person has no real influence.
I can’t help but laugh at the memory of my son and I sitting together, watching to see who would get “chopped” – both of us chanting, “Chop Mr. Ego! Chop Mr. Ego!” (hey, he started it!). Sure enough, when the big reveal was made, Mr. Ego’s dish was on the chopping block. I remember it was a strange mixture of vindication, relief, and sadness I felt, as Mr. Ego took his “walk of shame” down the corridor, making his snide remarks about the talented young chef who had beat him. For underneath the cloak of “I’m-better-than” I have to believe that there is someone who is not so sure he is as good as he claims to be. For if someone is truly powerful do they ever need to make someone else smaller?
While I can empathize with him, I have to admit, I was still glad he lost. I hope it’s a lesson my son will carry with him for a long time to come.
Adios, Mr. Ego!