You’re Not Special: Puncturing Egos for the Greater Good

Guest: Victorio Milian HR (& Life!) Advice, Performance

My partner and I have been together for a looong time. Like many couples we started dating casually at first, then eventually things got serious and we decided to make a life together. One of the many stand out memories I have of our dating period was a time we were hanging out together. We were having a semi-serious argument about our developing relationship. I was young, foolish, and most definitely full of myself. I don’t exactly recall what I said; it was something to the effect that of course she was with me, because I was special.

I remember my partner smiling at me in that way I now recognize quite well. It’s a look that says, to quote Bill Duke from Menace II Society, “You know you done f!@#$d up, right?

She then proceeded to whittle my ego down to a more respectable size.

Her: “You’re not.”

Me: “Not what?”

Her: “Special.”

Me: “….”

Her: “You’re unique. There’s only one of you, thank God. But you’re not special. So don’t get so full of yourself. You have to do the work if you want this (relationship) to work.”

Oh snap!

I was crushed. The person that I thought the world of didn’t think I was special. My boyish charm and good looks weren’t enough for her. I had to make more than a passing effort to succeed in creating a strong, sustainable relationship.

I can admit now, many years later, that my partner was right. I’m not special, not in a magical I-deserve-everything-because-I’m-me way. Talented, charming, good looking, and humble (perhaps), yet it didn’t (and still doesn’t) mean much of anything if not used in a meaningful way.

In the talent management arena, ego can be a good thing. If it’s born of confidence and can be demonstrated consistently through one’s actions, then that’s great. We want people who believe in themselves and what they can bring to the proverbial table. Demonstrate your ego through the value you add.

Yet those that have to manage colleagues like this need to be skilled in handling them, so an over-inflated sense of self doesn’t get in the way of the work. Nobody wants to have a Charlie Sheen episode on their hands if they can help it. My partner showed the intelligence and poise needed to handle my ego. In essence, she showed me how foolish I was.

Here’s how:

  • She didn’t beat me down in anger. We weren’t having a fight. She wasn’t trying to hurt me. All my partner was attempting to do was open up my eyes. She did it because she cared.
  • She was direct and unequivocal. She was clear with her words and didn’t try to walk them back or soften them. There was no room for misinterpretation.
  • I was offered a choice. Get over yourself and let’s build something good together. Or if not, this relationship won’t last.

Dealing with talented performers that have large egos can be tricky. How you decide to do so is a judgment call, but don’t fool yourself. It takes skill, an awareness of the person in question, and the ability to make tough choices. You have a lot to lose but if it works you have much to gain.