Letting Go of Ego and Letting Our Ideas Flourish

Three weeks ago I was working on an idea for a fun side-project – research-backed insights for young professionals on how to break into social enterprises. I could barely sleep thinking about the different questions I could answer and the different ways the information could be packaged. I even indulged in dreaming up how this idea could become its own business.

After letting the idea grow in my mind, I mentioned it at lunch with my supervisor at work. How could I not? It was all I was thinking about! I spilled all my plans and aspirations. I told him everything. And he loved it. In fact, he loved it so much that he told me I should make it a project at work. I was heart-broken.

Heart-broken? Why not validated or appreciative? By taking this project on at work, I’d have greater support, access to a larger network and get paid(!) to do it. But instead of enthusiastically accepting, I started making excuses. I said, “well I would do this either way.” My supervisor said, “yeah, I know so let’s build a proposal and pitch it to the Executive Director.”

All of the sudden I felt protective and defensive. This idea was going to be how I made a name for myself in social enterprise. This was my chance to be the entrepreneur. This was mine. This was my ego.

As soon as that hit me, I cooled off and graciously accepted his offer. There were still (read: are still) lingering voices – you’re whole life is becoming your job. You’re giving up control of your idea. But ultimately this is an incredible opportunity to test my assumptions and prototype my ideas while advancing the mission of an organization I believe in. For me to take advantage of that, my ego needs to be set aside.

What’s funny to me is that I used to get so frustrated with the college students I used to work with over this exact reaction. They wanted start their own things even if it already existed on campus. I used to tout that if everyone would just stop trying to be the founder, they might actually get something accomplished. And now, of course, I’m living it. I don’t want to let my snowflake of an idea go.

When we find ourselves in a place where our ego is threatened, we need to ask ourselves whether we’re truly passionate about the opportunity, or just passionate about getting credit for it. People often ask, “what would you work on even if you didn’t get paid?” I’d amend that to, “what would you work on even if you couldn’t claim it?”

More important than money is our desire to be recognized and appreciated. So maybe the things we should really be working on are the things we want to see happen even if nobody knows we did it. As for me, curiosity trumps credit. The opportunity to explore how young professionals break into social enterprise is worth the potential blow to my ego.. and sleep schedule. At Least for now!