“Ego is the enemy.”
That’s actually the title of a book I like and generally agree with, about Stoic philosophy.
But it’s also a terrible and misleading statement.
Because your ego is your friend. And having a bigger, stronger, healthier ego is actually the answer.
Bear with me a moment, because we have to go through what the heck the word “ego” actually means (versus how it’s commonly misused).
And then we’ll get to how having a bigger, stronger ego makes you a better marketer, copywriter, and persuader.
First, the definition…
That doesn’t mean what you think it means…
Ego is actually the Latin word for I. As in, me, myself, and I.
By the year 1707, it had been brought into the English language as a way to describe the self concept, in the study of metaphysics.
The definition was, “The self; that which feels, acts, or thinks.”
Then Freud, as he is wont to do, screwed it up. By 1891, Freudian psychologists had moved its usage to encompass the sense of arrogance and conceit. In short, having excessive pride — one of the seven deadly sins!
And so suddenly ego meant both your self, and conceitedness.
Which causes a little trouble.
Because being conceited might be something you want to correct.
But trying to correct the fact that you have a sense of self and simply feel, act, and think is a recipe for unrelenting shame.
It’s okay to be someone. It’s even okay to be someone who does great things in the world.
It’s not necessarily okay to be someone who thinks they’re great when really they’re human garbage. (Biting my tongue on some easy targets I could use as examples here.)
And since subtlety is a lost art, the two very different meanings of the word ego have gotten rolled into one.
So when I say ego, you probably think of it as “a conceited sense of self.”
And in that regard, it may be the enemy.
The solution to bad ego is good ego…
You don’t fix conceit by tearing yourself down.
You actually fix it by building yourself up. By forcing yourself to go through situations where your sense of self is challenged — and has to rise and grow to meet the obstacles.
Maybe you’ve heard the statement, “It’s not bragging if you’ve done it.”
Said in a matter-of-fact way, that’s a reflection of an extremely strong ego, without a hint of conceit.
If you create a marketing campaign that generates $1 million, or $10 million, or whatever… And you tell someone that it happened… Are you being conceited? No, you’re simply stating a fact.
On the other hand, if you read about some copywriter creating that campaign and you turn around and say you can do it, too, that’s conceit. That’s your enemy.
Now you have two choices for how to overcome conceit.
One it to simply not show up and play the game. To say, “I haven’t done it, so I’m not going to try.”
The other is to get in the game, and play, and play, and play, until you accomplish what you want to. To shut up and get going until you can actually talk about your accomplishments, instead of your aspirations.
The first option is painful because it will lead to a life of regret. And it really won’t make you any happier or more capable — you will have simply avoided conflict and lived a life without meaning.
The second option is painful because you will lose. You will be challenged. You will be shot down. You will experience failure upon failure upon failure. But if you’re learning, you’ll also start to add some tallies in the win column. And you’ll know how hard it was to earn each of those tallies — and what that means you’re capable of.
A BIG ego is one that can survive any challenge…
There are many arrogant people in this world who respond to negative situations with passivity or aggression.
When they’re passive, they shut down. The moment an obstacle gets in their way, they give up. This is the mark of a small ego.
But there’s another type of small ego that will be familiar. It’s the person who responds to obstacles with aggression, with blame and tearing others down. This is often mistaken for a big ego, because the person is often brash and boisterous. But behind all that noise is a little tiny ego that is afraid of the world finding out just how insecure they are.
A big, strong ego deals with an obstacle with assertiveness. They recognize their own shortcomings. They try to understand the situation. And they handle it. Sometimes that means they have to make personal changes, or admit they were wrong. Other times, they must force the world to change for the better. Either way, their personal sense of self is never threatened or made to feel insecure. They are internally immovable, even in a chaotic world.
A big, healthy ego can take anything the world throws at it, and handle it with grace.
So what the heck does this all have to do with marketing, copywriting, and persuasion?
The market will chew you up and spit you out. Your favorite idea will fail. Your sure-thing marketing message will flop. If you have a small, weak ego, that will lead to your failure. If you have a strong ego, you’ll simply get up, dust yourself off, and try again.
The same thing goes for copywriters, and copy reviews, when working with clients. A good copy chief will find everything you could do better with a piece of copy. Some will have the grace or forethought or gentleness to talk about what they like as part of that, but sometimes the copy review will feel like a scathing rejection. If you can’t stomach that, you can’t improve your first draft, and the best potential copy for the campaign is often a few drafts in.
And any time you’re persuading, it’s not about what you think. It’s not about what’s important to you. It’s about what matters to your market, and to the individual prospect who is consuming your message. This requires a strong ego to accept. If you can’t set aside your preferences, you won’t be able to connect with your prospects’ in a meaningful way. If you have a weak ego, it’s almost always “my way or the highway.” A strong ego is vast and can contain multitudes.
How to develop a strong ego…
The #1 thing you need to learn to do is to accept perspectives and opinions that are not your own as containing some amount of value or truth.
Even if you think someone is an idiot on a particular topic, their perspective is true based on their story and situation. Their total life experience brought them to this moment, carrying that truth as their own.
Do this once, and you’re simply putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Do it a thousand times — as a constant practice — and you can’t help but grow and expand.
Traveling, talking to strangers, reading outside of your comfort zone, and meditating can all also accelerate your progress.
And as you do more of all of this, you’ll find it easier to set aside your own personal need to inject your ego into every little situation. Which actually means your ego is getting bigger and healthier, able to be sustained without constant reassurance.
It’s a lifelong journey. But rewarding every step of the way…
Because the next campaign that fails, you’ll handle it better. The next tough copy review you face, you’ll be able to use to improve your work. The next persuasive message you compose, the easier it will be to connect with prospects.
And on, and on, and on.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,