Adios Mr. Ego!

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?”

“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!

©OnStage Leadership


Kimberly Davis
Kimberly Davis
An expert on authentic leadership, Kimberly Davis shares her inspirational message of personal power, responsibility, and impact with organizations across the country and teaches leadership programs world-wide; most notably, her program “OnStage Leadership” which runs in NYC and Dallas, TX. Additionally, Kimberly teaches for Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Cox School of Business’s Executive Education Program's Transformational Leadership Program and their Latino Leadership Initiative. She is also privileged to teach for the Bush Institute’s WE Lead Program (empowering female leaders from the Middle East). Kimberly is a TEDx speaker and her book, Brave Leadership: Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need, is the 2019 winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for Business and Career; an Amazon Bestseller in Business Leadership, Business Motivation, and Self-Improvement, and Motivational Business Management; and was named as the number one book to read in Inc. Magazine’s “The 12 Most Impactful Books to Read in 2018,” with a cover-endorsement by best-selling author Daniel Pink.

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  1. I love this story, Kimberly! Thanks so much for sharing it. I do believe that there is a difference between ego and confidence. Much of it has to do with how the person chooses to carry it. Like you so aptly point out, you can be confident and also have humility. It’s okay to be proud of our accomplishments, achievements, and where we are in life. But it doesn’t mean we should make someone feel bad because their definition of success may be different.

    I think we find this a lot with social media, and I know I’ve often walked away from a site feeling less than adequate; until I remind myself that I’m not that person. I’m me.

    Excellent food for thought you share here, Kimberly. So glad I got to read this today!

  2. Your essay has me reflecting once again on these ideas of ego, of influence, Kimberly. While one could say the Mr Chop had a huge ego, I would actually observe that he projected huge insecurities out into the space. He wasn’t aligned with the values of humility, compassion, or courage-he was in fear mode. And many people “influence” from a place of terrifying others because the have not done the deep work of healing from the inside out. We see this in a lot of places right now-and some people are being deeply influenced by this type of energy.

    When a human being does the rigorous work of deep self-reflection, healing past hurts and afflictions, and cultivating an ability to own the hurt they’ve spewed out into the world, this human can better come from a soulful place of compassion, empowerment, and take brave actions aligned hopefully with the values of love and peace—of also having an ability to respect the worth and dignity of every human being. The courage to stand in front of the tanks, to endure the indignities of an oppressive government, to be aligned in non-violence and the strength of the human spirit..that’s empowerment…that’s love…that’s courage. Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Dr. King Jr., and all the ordinary people who align with their hearts to stand for their right to exist, to live in peace– all have done a certain amount of work to walk with their values, their humanity, and their faith for something far more important than their own individual lives.

    Sometimes the quiet dignity of a human being’s loving presence can inspire many. That human being may not speak a word. These individuals have connected powerfully to a place beyond insecurities, shame, failures, swagger, or bragging. That unshakeable place inside of them cannot be broken.

    Holding great compassion for the braggart, the swaggering ones, the insecurities that rise up in other human beings indicate that we’ve come to terms with our own inner swagger, hurts, and insecurities. Rather than resist, make fun of, or cheer when they are defeated and humiliated, we can send them great love and much compassion. Mr. Ego needed the mirror of compassion the most.

    • Laura, I absolutely agree. It is those who are most in pain that tend to hurt and most insecure that feel like they have to prove to the world that they matter. If we only could all truly believe in our own worth, then I suspect we wouldn’t have to prove a darn thing. Thank you for your beautiful insight and sharing your heart. I wish the world could see through your lens!

  3. Wow, Kimberly. Hat’s off to you and your husband for raising such a perceptive young man. Aside from his precocious insight, I get a huge boot out of the fact that he watched Chopped with you. 😁

    I tried to start another business before O’Brien Communications Group. I had my ego firmly strapped to it. When it crashed and burned, so did I. That’s when I kicked my ego to the curb with strict instructions to stay there. I love the fact that your son was smarter than me, even as a third-grader. BRAVO!

    Thank you for serving us this perfect slice of wisdom.

  4. What a great story and message, Kimberly. It’s the second one I read this weekend about listening to your 3rd grader! I don’t have kids, but as I sit here reflecting on your piece, I’m thinking, “What do you think?” is not a bad question to ask your 3rd grade self. Kids seemingly have this unsullied instinct to know what is right. Or am I romanticizing this too much?

  5. Kimberly, thank you for sharing your article. We all have an ego of some kind. Having an ego is not necessarily a bad thing unless it gets to the point where it overtakes you. You need to have confidence in yourself and your ability to do certain things. If your ego is front and center to the point where you are constantly thumping your chest proclaiming your greatness it is time to take yourself down several notches.

    • I’d argue that the chest-thumping is likely someone trying to overcome insecurity more than it is too much confidence. I’ve never met a truly confident person who feels the need to do that. It’s an interesting thing to ponder, Joel, where the ego fits in with all of that, isn’t it? Thank you for giving me something to marinate on!

    • Chest-thumping may very well be a sign of somebody who is covering up for their insecurity. A confident person does not need to engage in the above behavior.