Thoughts of Geoff

Some writing by Geoff Petrie

Some Thoughts on Ego

To categorically define Ego is out of the scope of this writing. In order to make things easier on myself, and hopefully you, I will attempt to elucidate my meaning through example. But so that we’re all starting on the same foot, when I say ego I am referring to the informal and negative connotation of the word.

Why am I talking about ego?

For months now I have been trying to write about my journey as a newbie in the Ruby programming language. I have more than half a dozen starts to what should be a simple short piece of writing. All I wanted to do was provide some preamble so that I could then post the video I used as an entry into the Ruby Nuby contest that the Ruby Rogues podcast put together in October of last year. For some reason every time I attempted to write this article it came out feeling wrong. I’m going to try a different take on this subject now.

Several months ago I decided that I needed to broaden my professional horizons. I had been singularly focused on a few programming languages for far too long. I knew I needed to break out of that sedentary place and that there was a fundamental element I was missing. The problem: I didn’t know what that element was.

Now I say that several months ago I decided to do something, but the reality is that I have known for years that I could be doing more. This is where ego comes into play.

Ego may be the single biggest impediment to improvement.

Ego prevents us from asking questions. It prevents us from seeking out help. It stops us from acting in an empathetic way. Ego encourages us to be know-it-alls.

The astounding thing about ego is how difficult it is to counteract it. If you call someone out on their ego, what is driving that? There is likely a healthy dose of ego fueling the accusation that someone is filled with hubris. “This person is interfering with my greatness, I need to tell them to drop their ego!” At least that’s what I’ve tended to hear when someone has talked about another’s ego with me.

But for me, I believe ego has significantly impaired my ability to level up or move forward. I never wanted to accept that I was the least informed, or educated, person in the room. Often times I was being paid to be the most knowledgable person only to realize that I was maybe just slightly more experienced in the subject. Often I was either on even footing or worse! In these situations it wasn’t unusual if I found personal security in grabbing my ego tight and running with it. An opportunity for learning? I think not! I would have been more comfortable either attempting to look contemplative, while really just being confused, or, even worse, I would have attempted to derail conversations to a place where I was more familiar.

Was this always the case for me? No. Of course not. But in hindsight it happen more than it should have.

So why am I writing about this?

Ultimately breaking the ego chain was what I needed to write about when I have been trying to talk about starting fresh with Ruby. Yes, embracing newbiness requires a dismissal of ego. But the direction doesn’t go newbie to ego. It is the other way around! Ego must go before you can consider being a newbie of anything.

I wish I could say that dumping your ego was easy and that it felt good. Sometimes it does. It certainly depends on the people around you. Having a supportive group does make things simpler.

As a programmer it is tough to dismiss the ego outright. We pride ourselves on reviewing someone’s code and finding a bug, or figuring out a more elegant way to write the same method or class. Our ego is what drives us to solve problems! If I didn’t think I couldn’t do something I hadn’t done before I would never have made it in this profession at all. This is a time that ego is a benefit. Ego that pushes us, that drives us to become more than we are, that’s something we can embrace. Looking at it in this sense, it isn’t incorrect to say that ego is what is driving me to dismiss my ego now. How odd!

So in an effort to move past my typical embarrassment of asking questions that clearly show I don’t understand a subject with any sort of depth, or to try something, with varying degrees of success, just so that I can work on that particular skill, I am making a concerted effort to dismiss my ego. I made the video I’m embedding below with this in mind as well.

I want to continue to live a fulfilling life. In order for me to do that I need to know that I won’t allow something as insignificant as my ego get in the way of asking a question that could lead to a path of new experiences.

At the end of the day this is all about being a happier person.

Thanks for reading.

And here’s the video that I’ve been wanting to post here for months:

As a side note, I’ll be a guest on the Ruby Rogues next week and the show will air probably at the end of the month.