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Big Ideas

Get Over Yourself: How Your Ego Sabotages Your Creativity

An inflated ego can surface in the most subtle ways. Know the difference between confidence and arrogance so you can do your best creative work.

One of the most destructive of creative sins is an over-inflated ego. When many people hear the word “ego,” they immediately think of the know-it-all manager charging into the room and insisting that everyone bend their life and work around his every whim. This is certainly one exhibition of ego, but there are less obvious types that we must be careful to avoid if we want to do our best creative work consistently. 

Brilliant creative work requires a willingness to take risks, to experiment, and to venture into unproven territory in the pursuit of great ideas. When an inflated ego becomes the norm, you may become inflexible and unwilling to take the small personal risks necessary to break out of your comfort zone and pour yourself fully into your work. Others hover close to their safety zone, because they’d rather live with the perception of invulnerability than to take a risk and find that they have limits. This is obviously a recipe for underperformance, so be aware of these hidden ego-fueled dangers that can come with creative work:

Ego Trap #1: Playing the victim

I recall several instances as a child when playing a game with others that there was a disagreement over the rules. When the argument got heated, the disagreeable party would inevitably say something like “Fine! Then I’m taking my ball and going home!” They would rather opt-out of the game than be flexible enough to find a compromise and continue playing.  

While very few people would actually be so obvious about their protest in a work context, the results can be comparable. It plays out in a much more subtle, behind-the-scenes kind of way. When we’re playing the victim, our internal dialogue goes something like “if they won’t listen to my ideas, then I’m just not going to offer them any more” or “there’s no use in trying very hard on this project, because my efforts won’t be valued anyway.” At first, this may not seem like a form of ego, but it is. You are putting your own need for recognition ahead of the work and ahead of the mission of your team.  

Unfortunately, this kind of disengagement means that you are not putting yourself fully into the work in front of you, and thus are abdicating your contribution. You are allowing someone else to control your efforts rather than taking charge of your own engagement. You must stay alert to the “victim” voice inside your head and not allow it to cause you to withhold your best work.

Ego Trap #2: Aggressive defense of your “turf”

When you sense that someone else is encroaching on something you perceive as your area of influence, you feel a need to protect your standing or authority and refuse to allow others to become the leading voice. You may even take credit for the ideas of others, or refuse to allow them to stand in the spotlight. This can also play out as snark, cynicism, or extreme criticism of the work of others. You immediately call out things as “too obvious” or “amateurish” in the effort to make your own work look more valuable.  

There is a vast chasm between confidence in your abilities, and an over-inflated ego. Ego says “I can do no wrong”, whereas confidence says “I can get this right.” Confidence says “I’m valuable” while ego says “I’m invaluable.” This is a critical difference in mindset. Be aware when you are generally contributing and when you are simply trying to protect the status quo. Losing some of your “turf” may seem scary, but it’s really an opportunity to stay one step ahead.

Confidence says “I’m valuable” while ego says “I’m invaluable.”

Ego Trap #3: Being easily offended

Have you ever met “that person” who perceives everything as a personal attack? It doesn’t matter what you say to them or how nicely you say it, they will somehow twist it into an insult. Similarly, some people treat any disagreement as an indication that you are questioning their competence. Both of these are a subtle displays of inflated ego. 

When you put your self-perception ahead of the work, you are in danger of compromising your best efforts. Collaboration also becomes more challenging, because others grow tired of walking on eggshells. You must nix the tendency to be easily offended, and instead embrace the opportunity that disagreements or disconfirming information provide to sharpen your thoughts and skills.  

For sure, there is a right and a wrong way to deliver criticism. The correct response to poorly delivered criticism isn’t to get offended, it’s to offer a helpful suggestion on how you’d like to receive feedback in the future. 


Do not allow the subtle effects of an inflated ego to rob you of your contribution. Yes, be confident, but also be adaptable. Pour yourself fully into your work, but be willing to listen to disconfirming information and opinions. If you do, you will be far better positioned to unleash your best creative work every day.

More Posts by Todd Henry

Todd Henry is the author of the new book Louder Than Words: Harness The Power Of Your Authentic Voice. Learn more at, or follow him on Twitter at @toddhenry.

Comments (137)
  • Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Todd,

    I have worked long and hard on #3.

    Still got work to do but getting better.

    After leaving behind some self esteem issues….

    ….and surrendering a bit – ego-wise….

    I am doing much much better in this department.

    Be open guys.


    • Todd Henry

      It’s a fine line, because the worst response to this would be to become a walking doormat, letting everyone walk all over you. That’s why it’s critical to be confident, but adaptable. Someone who is confident isn’t afraid of disconfirming information or divergent viewpoints, but someone who is protecting an ego will see anything disconfirming as a threat.

      • Ejaz Karim

        But sometimes we must not forget our values and I think sometimes ego helps us to improve our life style and reputation.

  • Stefano Di Lollo

    A thought-provoking read. Thank you.

  • Graham Troup

    When I think of someone that has mastered these rules very well, I imagine interviews with Leonard Cohen.

    There’s an amazing video from not long after he’d lost a large chunk of his money, yet he still seemed free of bitterness, respectful, and ego.

  • Sarah Peterson

    Great article. I know #1 is the hardest for me… I just get discouraged when my ideas hit the bureaucratic wall, and think it’s just a waste of time to keep flinging them. Thanks for the encouragement that you should always keep trying to stay atop!

  • Chelle Cordero

    Wow, all I can really say is terrific article. I plan to use “Ego says “I can do no wrong”, whereas confidence says “I can get this right.””as part of a credo in my own life.

  • Judy Caroll

    Do not let ego win your mind all the time, it can put you into trouble, that was the lesson I’ve learned. Yes we are the captain of our ship but it pays to listen to someone’s idea sometimes and stepped down that character. Who knows their ideas will deliver goodness. I guess you will not be a great leader if you have that kind of thinking and character. Thanks for sharing Todd. I’ve learned a lot from these.

  • Prudence Jones

    Hi Todd,
    Not all managers are male!
    Thanks for the article. Very thought provoking.

    • Todd Henry

      Agreed about the male issue, of course. It was a judgment call while writing the article. Could’ve easily tipped the other way.

      • Prudence Jones

        Or you could change ‘his’ to ‘their’ and it would cover both 🙂

      • Fabuloso

        “Their” doesn’t work if you’re talking about a singular manager.

      • ronnie

        whoa, drop the ego

  • Andy Mort

    Spot on, Todd. Like usual! It’s the line between responsibility and blame. Ego-living (I’m guilty of it) sees through a lens of blame, outwardly pointing out other peoples’ flaws, external reasons for issues. Blame creates an inferiority complex, where you enjoy playing the victim, feeling like everything is against you, like no one gets it like you etc. Responsibility is seeing the problem and taking on the challenge of turning it into a positive opportunity.

    Responsibility asks ‘what can I do to make this better?’, rather than ‘who did this, when are they going to do something about it?’

  • John Daniel Castillo

    Awesome, Todd. This article exposes the traps hiding inside each and every creatives (me included, and yeah, guilty).

  • Sean Heritage

    I especially enjoyed these words of yours…”Ego says “I can do no wrong”, whereas confidence says “I can get this right.” Confidence says “I’m valuable” while ego says “I’m invaluable.” This is a critical difference in mindset.”

    In the military, I continue to deal with overinflated ego. I choose to lead with those who are confident, and have trouble following those who are egocentric. Thanks for this post, and rest assured that you continue to inspire many of us to “Die Empty”.

  • Darlene Cary

    It seems that these attributes can also be part of a low self-esteem. Our way of propping up a fragile self-image.

    Thanks for the unvarnished Truth!

    • Todd Henry

      This is true, Darlene. It’s often a fine, murky line between these things.

      • James R.

        I think the over inflated ego goes hand in hand with the under inflated ego. You just need to have a healthy idea of your self… a healthy ego. All in good measure they say.

  • Web Outsourcing Gateway

    These things are so true, whether you are creating a good design or writing an article. Your ego just keep on telling you “there’s something wrong about it..” then soon you’ll try to look at other works just to make you feel dissatisfied and end up doing nothing. Negative ego tries to hold you back. What you need to do is to focus and believe that every output is creative in anyway. Thanks for sharing this article.

  • mikebawden

    Great post. A perfect thought-starter for a first cup of coffee on a Monday morning. Thanks!

  • Jay Acunzo

    Todd, I think you touch on a larger point here too (maybe this is another post?): when you feel your entire WORTH to the team is the ideas you present, ego can flare up to push that through and feel valued or even serve to protect your confidence. (It’s okay they shot you down – they were wrong, you’re still valuable.)

    IMHO, it’s almost better to say “I’d like to submit this idea for improvement and discussion” (more collaboration) than “Here’s an idea that will help us solve a problem” (more binary, yay/nay).

    It just seems like this ego idea is solid, unless your organization judges a person’s value on the ideas they bring to the table. Then ego is the natural reaction. Your thoughts?

  • graphic_design_forum

    One of the best articles I’ve read in a long time.

  • xmartinj

    Could be entitled: “Get over yourself: How your ego sabotages creativity and many other important things in life.”

  • Lisa E

    I followed the link in from twitter which headed this story, “Confident and conceited are closer than you think. Get over yourself: How your ego sabotages your creativity,” and although the opinions herein aren’t necessarily disagreeable, I was definitely expecting a story on the relationship between confidence and conceit where the ego is involved and likewise maybe a quote or two from a researcher or similar authority on the subject. I’d love to read future articles (as opposed to blog posts) which add or contribute to the conversation, possibly even presenting new research, rather than read common sense in the casual op ed style herein, though there may be people who find this information unequivocally useful and for them I’m glad it’s here

  • dennis baker

    An over-inflated ego balances the over-inflated negative responses!
    I can not speak for others but my original thoughts are an accumulation of my experiences and exposures!
    Separately these are not so unique. Collectively, hay. I’m a one of a kind!

  • anon

    Several lightbulbs went on over my head while reading this article. I’m on an in-house creative team and the interpersonal dynamics lately have become almost unbearable… For each of the three categories of ego trap you listed I was able to immediately attribute them to characters from my work environment and the thick soup of egos running against each other is getting more caustic by the day. We have so much potential to be truly great, but we need a serious intervention.

    It’s getting so stressful that some people aren’t even showing up to work on a regular basis (“working from home” is all fine and good if you’re actually working – not using it as an excuse for a mental health day. Let’s be real) and the endless talking behind each others backs and being continually forced to choose sides is exhausting. The analogy of the childish disagreement is more accurate than anybody around here would be comfortable admitting – I never knew just how dangerous ego could become. And it’s certainly not helping anybody be creative.

    • Sasha

      I used to work in an office just like that! That’s a hard situation become one ego coming out can often cause the rest to flare up, and also difficult to fix if no one is willing to take personal responsibility. It’ll take one uncomfortable, well-lead meeting where maybe you all sit together and work it out, but it’s not unsolvable!

      • anon

        “one ego coming out can often cause the rest to flare up” is Absolutely Correct. I’ve even found myself getting caught up in it momentarily, before I was jerked back into the reality of this-is-not-about-me. But it’s so easy to fall into. For me it was the turf issue, where somebody felt I was encroaching on her turf and essentially tried to pull it out from under me, and suddenly I had something to defend. While that one instance was resolved behind closed doors, it’s just one thread of a tangle that’s not going away on it’s own. I certainly hope we can find a solution! Thank you for the encouragement!

  • s r dhain

    An excellent article, which was a thoroughly concise and enjoyable read.

  • Skweekah

    “Losing some of your “turf” may seem scary, but it’s really an opportunity to stay one step ahead.”

    What does this mean? Is this meant to be a kind of “kick in the bum” source of motivation? If so, very true.

  • William Scott

    I hope this article strikes a chord with an NSA watchdog to the point that it is “anonymously” forwarded to Obama’s inbox.

  • Julian

    I was offended by this article.

    • txtist

      Poor baby — maybe you should stay under the covers, and never take risks, never challenge yourself, never say “yes” to individuality?

  • santhoshhh yuvan

    Really a Nice post… But You missed to say workouts reduces your pressure and makes you so soft(mentally… LOL)… you can get all workouts here.

  • Camila

    It was so revealing and motivating! This week i’d see this TED conference, it touches similar points 🙂

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