The Ego Echo Chamber

Well, happy new year to y’all.

Are we having fun yet?

I was kinda hoping my first blog post of this brand-spankin’ new year would be a positive one, full of good tidings and all that.

But I waited too long. One week into aught-seven, and the fur is flying already.

So my first post is on… ego.

This’ll be quick.

We caught the first episode of Trump’s Apprentice shenanagins last night, and it looks like I’m hooked again. Damn. What a fabulous bunch of ego-maniacs, ripe for humiliation and merciless reality checks.

I won’t bore you with a long synopsis. They had a task, the producers cruelly set up someone to go down in flames, and Trump got to ride his High Horse a lot.

He wuvs his High Horse, yes he does.

In previous editions of The Apprentice, there were actual marketing lessons to be learned. But that part of the show has been down-graded… confused too many Nielson families… and what’s left is an interpersonal grudge match of twenty-something Type A overachievers.

Gosh, it’s fun to watch.

And lo, there arrived a lesson, after all, at the climax of the show. When Trump lowered the boom on the loser, the guy was shocked beyond belief. Actually beyond his capacity to absorb.

This couldn’t be happening. His ego couldn’t handle it.

And he said: “This is unheard of.” Sort of a non-sequitor, given that he must have been clear enough on the rules to know that someone was getting the boot each episode.

What he meant, of course was: “My ego does not accept this.”

It’s the equivalent of stamping your foot and demanding the world bend to your will.

Man, ego will kill you. When Mr. Evil Ego is in charge, your head is trapped in an echo chamber, where all input is muffled, and the only thing to drink is your own fetid Kool-Aid.

When the wise dude said “Pride goeth before a fall”, he was talking about ego. That annoying “me first, me always” attitude of people who have trouble playing well with others.

I find people with big egos hilarious. One of the first cool, useable things you learn in Psychology 101 is that, whenever someone goes overboard on attitude, it’s a sure bet they’re hiding a frightened inner child deep inside. Their arrogance is a shield for the fraility of their sense of self-worth.

(Humans are rife with contradictions like this. Have you ever hung out with professional comedians? They are NOT funny in private. Glum, yes. Depressed, often. But almost never funny. Their sharp wit was honed as protection, not entertainment.)

I’ve been accused once or twice of having an oversized ego, but only by people whose own ego feels threatened. If you think I’m full of myself, you’re not paying attention. I’m the butt of my own favorite jokes, and I know I have too much to learn yet in life to be smug about anything. I’ll happily listen to any fool with a good idea, and I’m always open to new ways to skin cats. If I have a stake in anything, it’s truth… not being right.

But I DO know an awful lot of stuff about advertising and life, because I struggled so hard for so long to dig myself out of the slacker rut I was in. I figured some things out, lucked out with a few good mentors, and kept after the goal of getting really good.

Not talking a good game. Actually getting good in my chosen career.

Do not confuse pro-level confidence with ego problems. Confidence means “Yeah, I know how to do that” with the juice to back it up. Without “guessing” that you maybe possibly could sorta pull it off to some extent, if nobody looked too close.

Ego is “Of course I know how to do that”, minus the skill, knowledge and experience to actually DO it.

And this disparity is what makes this new edition of The Apprentice so promising.

What is the sound of two egos clashing? Lots of crying, ranting and sputtered blame for someone else.

In my seminars, I start each session by asking attendees to write “My Ego” on a piece of paper… wad it up… and throw it across the room at the trash can. Symbolic, sure. But effective.

It’s hard to learn anything when your ego’s in the way.

This is why Army recruits are reduced to exhausted obedience in boot camp — so they can learn how to follow orders without ego. And it’s why law schools and medical schools deprive students of sleep — to reduce the influence of ego.

Almost every problem I’ve ever had with a client or partner (or lover, for that matter) has been the result of ego. It’s the bugaboo of Western business culture, and it’s tiring.

Don’t tell me what you’re gonna do. Just do it, instead… and leave the attitude at home. Let’s see what kind of actual chops you’re packing.

If you suspect you’re burdened with too much ego — and that’s what it is, a burden — experiment with deflating it yourself for a while. Enjoy a little shock-to-the-system reality check, and try playing well with others. Just try it.

Ego is dark energy, based in fear.

And it’s not making your life better. It’s hurting you. You’re possessed.

Oh, I do enjoy a good ego-slaughter… and Trump’s got a fine limo-load of them primed for the kill…

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

Note: For hard-core psych sticklers, the word “ego” actually refers to the part of your mind that recognizes your own existence. It’s what supposedly separates us from other animals. The other parts — and this gets into Freud and Jung and Maslow and James too much for easy clarity — include the Id (your base animal nature, which pretty much only wants to eat, screw, sleep and stay warm) and the Super-ego (which is, essentially, that shaming voice of Puritanical authority inside your head, always wanting to ruin the party). I’m using the colloquial version of the word “ego” in this post — meaning the very common “it’s all about me” attitude we all know and love.

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  • Ramon Thomas says:

    John you are starting to sound like a Zen Buddhist 😉

  • Yeah, but they are only hilarious to watch from a safe distance. Up close and personal there is nothing less funny and more dangerous that a deep-down-inside frightened egotist who is determined to make it to the top and willing to lie, cheat and steal from anyone and everyone to get what they want.

  • Great blog! I’ve been working with doctors for over 20 years now and if medical schools deprive med students of sleep to reduce the influence of ego, then it’s a stratgey that has failed miserably. Some of the biggest prima donnas have the letters MD after their names.

    Anybody with half a brain and the motivation to get well and stay well can use the massive amount of information at their disposal through the Internet to become more knowledgeable about their health and treatment options than most of the doctors they meet. And it’s making a lot of doctors very nervous and resentful of their patients. It’s fun to watch!


  • Andrew says:

    Once again you’re speaking to me and my “Ego” says, “Yes, you are right, but that has nothing to do with me, I’m different.” And there-in lies the rub. It is a tough situation to liberate yourself from. That dastardly ego-thing always seems to want to raise it’s ugly head and take control. It is a bear to wrestle into submission.

    If only it were so easy to get around, the world would surely be a more boring place to live in. Safe, yes, but really, really boring.

    So many egos, so little time.

    And to think I used to be adored for my big ego. (Yeah, I’m dreamin’.) But seriously folks, I have a real problem with an ego that just seems to love to get in my way of over-the-top success.

    I think that once I get it under control, John, your teachings will come shinging through and the mother-lode will arrive.

    At least, I can hope.

    As my wife used to love to say, “Baby, hope is the last to die.”

    Battling on, Andrew

  • John,

    You are really loving this “wise old teacher” thing aren’t you? 😉

    Ego can destroy a business just as fast as it can build them…

    I was working with another copywriter on a project (novel concept huh?). The other copywriter had a great contribution to the project, and since I was meeting face to face with the client…I have that copywriter total credit and made him come to the meeting with me (I know you hate meetings, but this one was at least partially necessary).

    That copywriter got a good start in this industry because of that. Referred me a couple of projects as a result, go figure.

    Dropping your ego at the door does have its advantages.

    Do leave home without it.


    Joseph Ratliff
    Professional Copywriter

  • Bernie Malonson says:

    John, yet another solid post. Along with my morning cup of joe, a fresh Rebel Rant on the Big Damn Blog is what I need to get pumped and started on my day.

    Loads of emails get dumped into my box everyday, and as you and others (G. Halbertson comes to mind) often say, be sure you are adding tons of value first and foremost.

    Your Blog is always valuable.


  • Great observations, John!

    Happy New Year! CR

  • Buddy says:

    I LOVED it when the petulant little bastard said that! I laughed right out loud. And Trump is, of course, the king of the big E. But he’s the gelt to back it all up. Still like the show, as guilty pleasure. But the ratings hit the skids, particularly compared to The F-ing View with that walrus-faced skank, Rosie O’Doughnut. Keep em coing JC!

  • Christopher says:

    First, when reading this:
    >>The other parts ? and this gets into Freud and Jung and Maslow and James too much for easy clarity ? include the Id (your base…

    I though, yeah but here he is like “look, I’ ve read all these I am so dam smart”. But a minute later I realized how my ego catched me here and how this is a copywriting lesson about tempo and direction.

    Great blog!

  • BrettFromTibet says:


    not to tempt or flare up your ego, but this is a sizzling blog post!

    Your style is always engaging, always eminently readable, always exciting.

    Great stuff!

  • I miss the business lessons. While I’m not the kinda guy who would probably enjoy being around Trump long-term, he has been up and down and up and down and up again and has a lot to teach.

    Unfortunately, the show has turned into a showcase for why I went out on my own in the first place. Clashing egos, backstabbing idiots, and fiery flameouts aren’t particularly fun for me to watch.

    Unless it’s happening to my competitors…


  • bec says:

    i think the D’s hair shows he doesn’t refer to popular culture in any way to craft his image.

    As I’ve heard a couple of entertainment folks say ” If he’s got that much money, why not a decent haircut?!”

    Re the show, great example of the carelessness of ego John – use the prima donna energy to just do the work right and get a good result.

  • Stan says:

    Hi, John —

    I too am hooked on “The Apprentice.” It reminds me of some of the people I met in business school at Cornell (although most of them were actually NICE overachievers).

    Now that I’m a stay-at-home dad and freelance writer, long gone from the MBA career track, it’s fun to watch the feeding frenzy for The Donald’s favors….


  • ZimZum says:

    Trump has a ego the size of China. So does Gary Halbert.

    I guess when they fall, they crash and burn????

  • A Zen mind is a beginners mind. Speaking of Trump…you’d think people would know a scandal but he got his name from blowing his own horn loud… so full price for admission.

  • Evaine says:

    Good post. You make some great points that most people do not fully understand.

    “I find people with big egos hilarious. One of the first cool, useable things you learn in Psychology 101 is that, whenever someone goes overboard on attitude, it’s a sure bet they’re hiding a frightened inner child deep inside. Their arrogance is a shield for the fraility of their sense of self-worth.”

    I like how you explained that. Very helpful. Thanks.

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