“That is Pride Fucking With You” is the only scene I can quote from any movie. It’s a powerful scene, and the advice is timeless. Two thousand years ago when a Roman emperor had a victory parade, he was required to have a slave standing behind him holding his helmet high in the air and whispering continuously: “You are mortal. You are mortal”. Pride and ego are serious foes that must be kept in check.
Step 1: Watch the scene from pulp fiction, it’s fantastic cinematography and a critical message:
Step 2: Imagine being the Roman emperor, focus on what that slave is telling you - “You are mortal, you are mortal”
Hopefully all this talk about pride prepared you for the thing I want you to know:
Decisions are hard “period” Add pride to the mix, and the odds that you’ll make the right decision drops to near zero. If you’re mixing pride and decisions read decisive.
To help me remember places where pride has fucked with me, I’ll write out some of my experiences. The names below are changed to protect the innocent.
- Judging my career relative to my peers.
- Feeling cheated because I was treated unfairly, and not appreciated.
- Wanting to be right more then being effective
- Feeling life isn’t fair because something shitty happened to me
- Other examples
Judging my career relative to my peers.
Antidote: Don’t compare yourself to others, compare to what you want.
I was an intern at Microsoft in 2001. I started my career at Microsoft with Sally (not her real name), a fellow intern and one of my best friends. Our careers tracked closely till she became a principal development manager, and then went to Amazon. Sally and I went for beers every few months, and as my career grew linearly, hers grew exponentially. A few years back at our January beer she added a QA team to her development team, and by March she had taken over teams in India and Ireland, and by September, she had an organization of 50, and got to travel to every continent quarterly.
Meanwhile, my team was still only 10 people, and I felt like a failure. Having failure rubbed in your face sucks, so I avoided our monthly beers with lame excuses. One day, while talking to my mentor, it clicked. I shouldn’t evaluate myself relative to Sally’s life. I should evaluate myself based on me. Sally and I had a good laugh over this when we resumed our beer series in October.
Feeling cheated because I was treated unfairly, and not appreciated.
Antidote: Don’t let your friend/boss/society’s assessment of you outweigh your own. Take their judgment in stride. Decide if you need to find a new friend/boss/society, correct them, or live with and act appropriately.
Here I was lucky, I was able to learn from a mentor. My management mentor, Beth, was someone who I respected so much I joined her team to get “my PhD in management”. Beth was my goal standard for a great manager, but she was essentially pushed out of her organization. I remember asking her: Wait if you’re so good at managing why did your boss push you out. Her answer is burned into my mind, and has served me well:
Everyone will judge you, and that’s OK, but the judgment you need to apply is your own principles. In this case, if I were to burn in hell for my actions, I’d have been happy with that. I looked deep into my soul and know I did the right thing.
Important Side Bar: It’s easy to be wrong on A) your principles, and B) your assessment of said principles. Be sure to test them with multiple trusted advisors and folks you respect who have gone through a similar situation
Wanting to be right more then being effective
Antidote: Ask yourself if your pride about being right exceeds your need to be effective. Don’t lie, don’t compromise your ethics or responsibilities, but be flexible in what you accept. You’ll often find there’s a solution where you can be effective and right.
Important Side Bar: Being effective often requires negotiation. The bible for negotiation is Getting to Yes which I highly recommend
Feeling life isn’t fair because something shitty happened to me
Antidote: Remember, the only fair thing in life is that it is completely unfair. Compare your “life is unfair” narrative to folks with bigger problems. Getting a fast acting random cancer, beating it, and getting it again (founder of apple), freak accidents ( Super Man Actor ) and crippling diseases (Smartest guy on earth). Even better - if you’re a parent imagine any of those things happening to your kids. Yeah, maybe be glad something worse didn’t happen.
Important Side Bar: Don’t let “life being unfair” be an excuse to avoid learning or skirt responsibility. Each challenge we get is a precious learning opportunity - make this most of it
I’ll continue to add examples to this post over time (likely when I need to remind myself or someone else of the perils of pride). Here are other examples where pride has fucked me up:
- Not willing to apologize
- Promotion being more important then pay or responsibility
- Need to be acknowledged/praised by others
- Not accepting the reality of the situation/laws of physics.
- Cognitive Distortions - Someone cares about what happens to you.
- Not taking a “better” job for a pay cut