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“If Benjamin Franklin had picked someone to teach the lessons in self-mastery that he used in his life, he would have picked Bob Burg.”

~ Vic Johnson, Founder AsAManThinketh.net

The Ego. Good? Bad? Both? Neither?

May 5th, 2010 by Bob Burg

After several articles dealing with issues such as emotions and ego, and where ego was seen as the cause for many of life’s negative results or situations, we ended with the question:

Is the human ego, in and of itself, a bad thing?

Well, we didn’t exactly end it that way, since I answered, “not at all.”

But, is what I wrote true? After all, so much of today’s pop teaching (some of that teaching being, in my opinion,  otherwise excellent) totally dismisses the ego as being of no positive use but instead relegating it to that which should be – at the very least, ignored and – at best, obliterated and forever after a non-issue.

Yet, if we look at the word, “ego” we see that, as is usually the case in these types of discussions, the thing itself simply is. How it is utilized is what manifests positively or negatively.

And, as you’ve heard me say “once or twice”, before we can expect the logic we provide to result in a correct conclusion, we must know that it is based on a correct premise. So what actually is the ego?

Ego (Dictionary.com): the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.

That’s it. Your ego is that part of you that is aware of you being you and that part of me that is conscious of being me. Or, is that “I”? 🙂

This doesn’t sound like a bad thing at all. In fact, without the ego, it would seem that nothing exceptional could ever happen. After all, if the individual human being is not aware of their existence and, even if he or she is but doesn’t care; in other words,  has no energy of feeling about it and/or a desire to improve their lot, what motivates him or her to increase the good in their lives? And, if they are not increasing the good in their lives, they can’t increase the good in anyone else’s, either.

Yes, inventions are invented, businesses are built, cures for diseases are discovered, houses providing warmth and comfort for families, and every modern convenience that makes our lives easier have come about because a whole lot of people had and have egos.

The trouble appears when that part of ourselves that has all these deep and energetic feelings controls the rest of ourselves. And, what is far more difficult, both to ourselves and others, and what makes us far less effectively than what we could potentially be is when we are not aware that (or when) that part of ourselves is controlling the rest of ourselves.

More often than not, this is how “ego” is used in our conversations; as that negative form of the thing. That’s actually how it was used over the last couple of articles. And, that’s why I felt it important to clarify.

Growing up and for far too long into my adulthood, I held burning grudges against those I felt had intentionally harmed me. It was absolutely ego-based. And, I had no idea it was my ego controlling my feelings. Because of that lack of consciousness on my part, it went unchecked and was often out of control.

As I worked on myself and began to understand the workings of the (and, when I say “the” I mean “my”) 🙂 ego, I came to realize how harmful this character trait of mine was. At times harmful to others but, mainly to myself. I’m sure you can understand how and why.

This inclination to hold grudges is still a part of my nature and inclinations. However, I’m now aware (and I’d say 100 percent of the time) that it is an “ego-thing.” Because of that – and through other work on myself, this manifests itself very, very rarely. At this point in my life, unless someone does something egregious, I’m pretty difficult to even offend. But, it does happen. And, even that is “Bob’s ego.”

The ego is powerful indeed. When left unchecked; when out of control (i.e., when we are not controlling it) it can cause all sorts of problems, for us and for those we deal with.

On the other hand, when healthy and functioning for our higher good it can be a benevolent force for the good of others, in certain cases, much of the rest of humankind, as well.

23 Responses to “The Ego. Good? Bad? Both? Neither?”
  1. […] SPEAKING/TRAINING WHO'S BOB? SUCCESS TOOLS BLOG « Pleasure, Pain and Ego, Part One The Ego. Good? Bad? Both? Neither? […]

  2. Steve Aune said at 12:40 pm on

    Kind of like confidence and arrogence. Confidence is arrogence under control.

    Nice work Bob.


  3. Bob Burg said at 5:48 pm on

    Thank you, Steve. Great thought!

  4. John Soares said at 6:23 pm on

    Our ego helps keep us alive and interested in the world. That’s good.

    It can also get too big and cause us to hurt others and ourselves. That’s bad.

  5. Gerry Schroeder said at 5:36 am on


    Excellent stuff.

    People must check ego’s at the door. For most this is a difficult thing to do and it’s an excellent skill to learn.

    You are awesome.


  6. Bob – Thanks for inviting the visit to your site with the series on EGO. My thoughts below:

    The ego needs a CEO that is mindful and working to achieve something beyond itself. We have role models in the likes of Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln who develop a C.E.O capable of transcending and commanding E.G.O.

    aka @bizshrink

  7. Wendy Naarup said at 12:14 pm on

    A little bit of “self”ish is self preserving, however, too much doesn’t allow us to see the world from anything but our own shoes. On the bright side, without ego there would be no market for the “Go-Giver” now would there?

  8. Bob Burg said at 8:17 pm on

    Thank you all for sharing your thoughts. Very appreciated!!

  9. Claire Boyles said at 6:10 pm on

    I totally agree with your opening (this blog) / closing statement “Is the human ego, in and of itself, a bad thing? Not at all”

    Like you I admire many of the modern teaching, most of which are very positive, however I disagree with the idea that having ego is a detrimental thing.

    Ego, or sense of self is extremely healthy when it is the sense of true self. True self, at the core of who we are, our spirit is the same in each and every one of us as human beings. When we truly connect and are in touch with our ego in an appropriate manner it is the healthiest attitude for ourselves, and for cultivating healthy loving relationships with others.

    I’ve done a bit of work on myself, like you. When I first started working on myself though it was after discovering that I’d lived my whole life, every decision I’d ever made with other people as a priority. I made decisions on what I thought other people wanted me to do/think/behave like.

    It took a long while for me to find my sense of self. Having confidence & desire to please my ego has been & is an extremely healthy approach.

    I was once told about a story of a dying man in Africa who had 5 children-he had one banana and he wanted to give it to his children, but the aid worker stopped him. “If you feed that banana to your children you will die and who then will feed them until they’re adults?”

    We MUST feed ourselves, our ego so that we are nourished enough, strong enough to be able to help & feed others.

    Strong, powerful, positive leaders all have a well defined, healthy ego & this is what serves them well as leaders. This is one of the foundations which makes them great leaders & thus able to have a positive effect on many, many people’s lives.

    Thank you Bob for writing this, and inspiring me to write down my thoughts on the matter. It’s been a while since I wrote or blogged. Time to get back to it I guess & get my 15 mins of fame
    Hey I gotta feed my ego 😉

  10. Bob Burg said at 7:02 pm on

    Enjoyed your thoughts, Claire. Thank you for sharing. And, yes, I think you have a blog post of your own in the making regarding this topic. 🙂

  11. @reallyjeannie said at 7:23 pm on

    Hello Bob, great post. I agree with what you wrote: ‘I disagree with the idea that having ego is a detrimental thing.’ After all, that was ‘included’ when God made us. It really is our dignity, that’s the way I see it. When we lord it over others, that’s when our ego is out of control. So, i totally accept my ego (who ever named it that anyway) and make sure it is in its right place. There is only one person, why was it divided into ego and other self in the first place?


  12. Bob Burg said at 8:30 am on

    Thank you, Jeannie. Yes, it really comes down to – not whether ego is “good or bad” (it just is what it is), but whether we are in control of our ego or our ego is in control of us.

  13. Monica Diaz said at 1:15 pm on

    It is in fact when the ego gets entangled with the concept of others and the “objects of your thought” that you get in trouble. When the ego is well distinguished, you see yourself for who you are and have no need for arrogance. When you believe you are the holder of the truth and do not understand that things (and people) exist beyond you is when you get into trouble. I loved your take on this! Thanks.

  14. Deborah Stewart said at 10:00 am on

    Bob, when I saw the article title I was worried. I thought you may take the stand, like so many, that ego is a “bad” thing, as it seems to be the trending sentiment. Delighted to read otherwise in your inspired post.

    It saddens me when I see the ego / spirit debate positioned as yet another “false dilemma”, ie that one must choose between ego and spirit as we pursue self-acutalization and attainment of our higher selves. When the truth of the matter is that both are a necessary part of the human experience.

    Who “I” am includes my personality, my values, my beliefs, my thoughts, my emotions, my intelligence, my body, my talents, my passions – it is a powerful and unique combination. In fact there is noone else in this world of 7 billion people with my “ego” bundle. Same is true of each of us. That is significant! Why (why?!) would anyone want to suppress such beauty and deny the world our contribution?

    Life is for fuller expansion / expression- that includes the ego. I for one fully intend to explore / exploit the fullness of who I am and what I can offer the world, AND… at the same time, grow my spiritual capacity on this important journey in life.

    And Bob, for the record, I just love the way your ego thinks!

  15. Bob Burg said at 10:42 am on

    Thank you, Monica. I love YOUR take on it, as well. 🙂

    Deb, thank you. You have a terrific way of expressing your thoughts. I love the way YOUR ego thinks, as well. 🙂

  16. Mike Dunalewicz said at 2:10 pm on

    The ego is just like everything in our lives that influence us as we are all a collection of our experiences. A “successful life” requires us to know and understand what influences all of our decisions so that we can rationally decide whether those influences are positive or negative. Then we have a starting point to make changes that need to be made.

  17. […] we’ve discussed in prior articles, our ego is a motivating factor for much of what we do. This affects every relationship and every aspect of […]

  18. […] so long as you keep the human ego in mind and realize the key is […]

  19. […] Why would I – or anyone – have the need to do so when the matter is trivial? (I’d say “ego” but that’s another blog […]

  20. […] that you know that. By letting her save face, however, you are showing your class, protecting her ego, and giving her good reason to work harder to help you from that point […]

  21. Is there such a thing as a person with no
    EGO, as it is defined? I don’t believe so. The next question is: Are we born with an EGO or do we acquire it after birth. I can only conclude that we are born with it. Therefore I can only conclude that EGO is a necessary “thing”, a tool help us survive and navigate thru our lives. If EGO was not necessary, it would have been eliminated, by the process of Natural Selection. EGO has to be a good thing.

  22. Jon said at 1:35 am on

    In the words of the famous singer Shirley Strachan (who fronted the 1970s Aussie rock band “Skyhooks”),
    Ego Is Not A Dirty Word………(youtube it 😉

    Or is it?
    At the risk of sounding naive, i see our ego as a “false self” created to serve and protect a delicate “real, or true, or needy self”. The stronger our true self becomes, the weaker our ego becomes. The stronger our values, beliefs, and sense of self measured against the larger social or world environment, the less need for ego. However, our beliefs, values, etc must be congruent with our actions to nurture and strengthen our “true self” and diminish our “egoic, or false self”. ???

  23. Jon said at 1:49 am on

    @Claire Boyles…..
    Could it be that it was your ego causing you to serve and please others because of inadequecies in your true self?
    Could it be that your self work has brought to you some clarity that has enabled you to strengthen your true self and lessened the need of your ego? (NB, well done :-))

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