What does it mean to diversify your ego? Does that even make sense?

In the investment world, diversification is de rigueur. Anyone who works with an investment advisor has heard them talk about the benefits of holding a diversified portfolio. The reasons are pretty straightforward, asset classes typically move differently and when one class is underperforming, another is likely to outperform. The goal, therefore, of holding a diversified portfolio, is to achieve an overall positive return. And, even when a positive return isn’t feasible, e.g. in a significant downturn like we experienced in 2008, a diversified portfolio will still outperform a single asset class that experienced a significant loss, the S&P 500, in this example.

The concept of ego diversification is similar. If we are getting all of our identify, our ego satisfaction, from a single pursuit, what happens when something is not going well with that pursuit?

I recall a time early in my career, when I learned this lesson the hard way. I was in my first significant leadership position, and 2 of the divisions I was leading were having major issues. I was frustrated, feeling inadequate and convinced I was a failing. So, what did I do? I worked more. Convinced that if I cut everything else out and focused just on work, things would get better. Not so much. The issues were long term issues, they were there when I took over and it took a long time to sort them out. Meanwhile, my feelings about myself continued to focus on the negative. I was fortunate at the time to work for a manager, Jim was his name, that understood this concept of ego diversification. In fact, he was the one who first shared this idea with me. As I was telling him how badly I was feeling about the problems continuing to go unsolved, instead of trying to help me solve them, or trying to “make me feel better”, he simply said “what you need is ego diversification”. Find something else to spend time on that will make you feel successful.

While it seemed counterintuitive at the time, since I was already working so many hours, this led to my first charitable board position. This work was fun, I was able to have an impact and it gave me separation from my regular work. Eventually the work issues were resolved and since that time, every time I have felt myself sucked into 110% focus on just one thing, Jim’s words came back to me.

Here is what I learned from this. When we focus all of our attention on fixing a problem, when our initial instinct is to double down and laser focus on solving the problem:

  • What is the impact to our self-esteem when our gut tells us solving the problem is going to take a while?
  • What if instead of grinding away, heads down, for weeks or even months, we intentionally spread our attention toward positive situations, time with a happy customer, or time being in service to someone or something that matters to us?
  • How might the “performance” of our lives improve, if we endeavor to diversify our ego gratification all the time thereby creating a “portfolio” of pursuits that together provide satisfaction and joy?

On November 14, my Vistage CEO group is hosting one of our semi-annual guest days. If you or someone you know would like to learn more about Vistage, this is a low-key way to meet our members and hear a great speaker, Andrea Simon, who asks “Who will be your customers in three years?” Please contact me directly for an invite: Elisa K Spain.

For more about the members of the group click here

For more about the speaker on November 14, click here

You can read more of my blogs and leadership quotes here.

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