I’ll admit it: I have an ego. I like to be praised when I do something well (and maybe even when I didn’t do so well). Though, I’m quite certain that I’m not alone.
It’s probably a safe bet to say that most of us have an ego – even if we don’t necessarily show outward signs of one. After all, who doesn’t want to feel good about their own abilities?
An ego, in and of itself, isn’t an evil thing. In fact, it can be quite beneficial to your design career and your life. But there’s a fine line between using it in a healthy way and letting it get in your way.
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The Good Side
A little bit of ego can indeed be a good thing. For one, it can bring a needed level of confidence as you approach your work. Instead of fretting that something’s impossible, you may simply look at a task and know that you can take it on with abandon. Challenges become fun, rather than something to be scared of.
Having confidence and the right perspective can also keep you humble to a certain degree. Knowing that you have talent and a good reputation sets a level of expectation from both you and those you work with. It can lead you to staying focused and working hard – all in the name of living up to expectations. The more you rise up to meet the challenge, the more this all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’ll continue to stay hungry while achieving your goals.
Moving forward, a healthy ego can lead you to make sound decisions when it comes to business. Overconfidence leads to biting off more than you can chew. However, a balance of confidence and awareness will help you decide which projects to jump on and which to let go. You won’t feel desperate to grab hold of every opportunity that comes along. Instead, you’ll wait for the right one.
How to Get There
Developing that ‘good’ ego takes time. In fact, you may have to go through several ups and downs before you start to achieve a balanced view of yourself and your abilities. You have to find a level of confidence from within. For some, it comes naturally. Others have to work a bit harder at it.
To start, realize that you are human and that you’re going to make mistakes. And, when you make a mistake, do everything you can to correct it. Don’t let any negative thoughts linger. Try to learn from what happened and then move on.
Confidence can be a fragile thing. It helps to remember why you became a designer in the first place. Think about when you first became interested in design and your inspirations for doing so. Remember a time when you discovered you had the talent and willpower to make it your career. Perhaps someone encouraged you along the way. Recalling the passion you have for your work can be a great confidence builder.
For example, I recall some of the first websites I created. While they wouldn’t be very impressive by today’s standards, I felt a sense of pride in just seeing my work up there on a screen. I also look back at some mentors who helped me learn everything from Photoshop techniques to some basic principles of good design.
Even after a full day’s work, I’d race home and spend hours practicing and creating things. Back then, it made me feel good. Now, it helps me to remember where this all started and the passion it stirred within me. It’s something I can turn to when confidence is low.
The Dark Side
You don’t have to look too far in this world to find instances of egos gone mad. Whether you’re reading a history book or watching the news – the signs are all around us.
With those of us in the design industry, a bad case of ego can take shape in several ways:
You Stop Listening
Sure, clients sometimes make suggestions that are fraught with problems or make little sense. When you hear enough of these types of ideas, it’s easy to start tuning people out. That’s a big mistake.
When you reach the point where you simply know better and refuse to take other people’s opinions seriously, you start creating things only to please yourself. Listening to others and working to understand their point of view is critical to a successful project. It’s perfectly fine to make your own case and (gently) argue for what you believe is best. Just remember that it’s also okay to compromise when necessary.
You Stop Learning
I’ve fallen into this trap over the course of my career. Once you get to a high level of proficiency with a skill (HTML, CSS, graphics, etc.) you get the idea that somehow you don’t need to keep up with the times. You feel that you know everything you need to and that those with less experience couldn’t possibly surpass you.
Web design is one of those careers where the failure to evolve will just lead to failure overall. While complacency isn’t always tied to ego (it could be rooted in fear), your future depends on your ability to adapt.
There was a point in time when I felt that I was simply smart enough to get by, regardless of what my actual skill level was. Discovering WordPress, oddly enough, made me realize how wrong I was. It was way different than the old static HTML sites I had been producing and forced me to get off my high horse and start learning.
You Operate on Instinct Alone
Newsflash: Your ‘gut’ feeling only means so much. When making decisions on the future of your career or even just writing a piece of code, having as much information as possible will help you make the right choice.
Ego becomes a problem when you simply make a decision without bothering to put in the required effort to ensure it’s the right one. That doesn’t mean you have to toil for hours on end doing research – not every choice is that consequential. It just means that you need to have a healthy understanding that there are things you don’t know. Again, it comes down to a willingness to learn.
Choose Your Path Wisely, Designer
The overall point is that, if we’re not careful, ego can creep up and bite any one of us. I dare say that most of us aren’t egomaniacal and don’t conduct our work like some autocratic regime. For most, we can keep our worst impulses in check (most of the time).
But ego can play a big role in both our successes and failures. So it’s important that we ask ourselves when, if ever, any delusions of grandeur have gotten in our way. If they have, then, as a wise man once said, you need to “Check Yourself”.