Coaching Podcast: How to Check Your Ego
The Catalyst Life Coaching Podcast, featuring JRNI Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. This transcript of Episode 41 of the Catalyst Life Coaching Podcast is full of tips on how to check your ego.
John: Hey guys, what’s up? Welcome to another episode of the Catalyst Life Coaching podcast. Today we’re going to talk about how to check your ego. Right Noelle?
Noelle: Yep, when you get called out.
John: When you get called out, I mean I have zero ego so I’m just gonna let you talk about what ego is, because I have no idea—I know yours is huge.
Noelle: Bullshit John, bullshit.
John: Okay, so what exactly is ego, what’s the difference between ego and healthy ego or your stance, and then we’ll talk about getting called out and checking it, which I do think is very important.
Noelle: Yeah so ego can be a lot of different things, right? Ego is the part of you that finds worth, value, currency in who you are, what you have to offer, and how you conduct yourself in the world. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but—
John: So how do we know when it’s healthy and how do we know when it’s bad?
Noelle: I think that’s pretty complex, right? One of the really important things to remember about ego is that ego, at its core, represents something about life that’s transactional. And we all walk around with ego, we all contend with ego, we might project ego, we might try to get more of it, we might feel like our ego is bruised sometimes. We talk so much about authenticity and honesty and being who you are, and being yourself out there in the world, but—and the big but is—that it comes with a sidecar of having to actually show up, and actually do the work when you’re engaging in a relationship with other humans, and sometimes they call you out. Then your own map of the world is disrupted, because it’s so easy to float through life when everyone thinks you’re great, and you think you’re great and everything is wonderful. So, how do you deal with it when that piece gets disrupted?
John: Yeah, I think with ego comes pride—unhealthy or exaggerated ego also could get in the way. There’s also fear that I think fuels ego. I like this idea of knowing the difference between ego and your stance, so I think when it comes to a stance—and a lot of people don’t have one because of what they’ve been through, and lopsided relationships, and self-esteem, and all that—when you start to create a stance, I think that’s kind of healthy, because you start to believe that you deserve something, or you want something different, you believe that you are worth something, all of that. I went through my process, but I think when you just pull from ego, that’s more of a false stance, right? It’s not about what you deserve, it’s now almost delusional, it’s almost grandiose.
Noelle: It’s almost grandiose, right. And it’s so common, but it’s also protective.
John: Right, right.
Noelle: It’s also protective—you have this idea of yourself and this idea of yourself as a perfect human, and as forming a stance, and doing right in the world. You and I happen to have a unique experience in life in which we are public people, and we both have a lot of people telling us how great we are on a regular basis.
John: I have very few of that, but yes.
Noelle: Oh, come on.
John: Is that my ego speaking? Is that my ego saying, “yes, tell me more”?
Noelle: I’m talking about from an external perspective, right? So like I’ll write a blog post—
John: Oh so you’re talking about social media, you’re talking about followers, all of that?
Noelle: Yeah, so you’ll write a blog post or a social media post and bam, you’ll get 500 people telling you “wow, that’s great, that was really useful, that was really helpful”. I get the same kind of shit, so for both of us, I would posit that we probably have abnormally inflated egos, right? But those are mostly from a lot of people who don’t actually know us well, or live with us, or deal with us.
John: Yeah, they only see our words, which are very crafted.
Noelle: Yeah, so what happens, and I think that we’re on a high-level, but I think that almost every single human that participates in social media deals with this. They’ll write posts, they’ll get some likes, they’ll get some feedback, and they’ll walk around and say “I’m helpful, I’m great, I do this thing out there in the world”, and then bam that intersects with reality of people who are actually trying to have a relationship with you, and then what happens?
John: Right. I think something that’s happening even more, is people on social media are getting a lot of validation, and likes, and all of that just on their physical appearance and how that affects their ego. And I think that backfires because if you create an identity on social media, especially Instagram, where you’re projecting yourself in a way with a lot of filters, where you’re getting a lot of approval because people think you’re beautiful, and then in real life you’re not getting the same thing—that’s very confusing to someone. Then you suddenly live in a way that’s actually not honest—it’s almost like what’s happening is there’s a whole new dimension of life happening that is called social media.
Noelle: Exactly, exactly. And if someone were in that situation where they’re getting a lot of likes on social media but it’s not translating into their everyday life—and I’m looking at it from a coaching perspective—I’d be afraid that that client, or that person, is going to retreat from physical engagement, from outside human contact, and just go on to live in this virtual sphere, where it’s safe.
John: Yeah, you're basically creating your own prison.
Noelle: Yes, so I had an experience—and that is the reason I brought up this topic—because I had somebody, who I like and respect very much, come back into my life after 20 years. And I have a really healthy self-confidence, I like myself, I have a great life, I have a great family, and I’m told a lot, by a lot of people, how great I am, especially intellectually. And this person, very correctly and expertly, called me out on some bullshit and called me out on some ways in which I was being a misandrist, where I was actually being prejudiced towards men. And it really shook me.
John: Let me ask you this—because you respect this person and this person said this to you, what was your first reaction? Was it defense?
Noelle: I got angry. I got angry, and then I got pissed, and then I got defensive, and then I sat with it and I was like the reason that I feel uncomfortable right now is because very few people challenge me in life, and I’m so used to having people tell me how great I am versus challenge me, and so I need to do some inner work here so that I can take this feedback not as a punch, but as feedback, and actually change so that I can be better in a relationship with people who are actually in my life.
John: So, that’s the important piece. I think the defense, the anger, all that is just being human, and most people from there make a left and they punch back, or they try to say something that’s gonna hurt the other person. But you sitting with it, I think that’s where you start to dissolve your ego, that’s where you check your ego, that’s where I think you can turn your ego healthy—is when you actually see it and look inward and then you become a student, don’t think that you know everything.
Noelle: I actually processed it with a good friend because I realize I was incapable of seeing it through my own lens.
John: Oh wow, that’s really taking it next level.
John: That’s really taking some ownership there.
Noelle: Straight ownership. And I had to, because it was such an unsettling experience for me, that I needed to examine the way ego was really overtaking my life, and I was fucking cocky. And I was like “oh this person is really trying to actually have a relationship with me”, and I’m used to surface relationships where people tell me I’m great, and that’s not what’s happening here.
John: Wow, and you know what’s interesting is when you’re a life coach this is actually a real thing, where if you’re life coaching, and you’re getting a lot of positive regard, a lot of accolades—you know you’re helping so much with my life and relationships—if that’s all you’re getting, it’s very easy for your ego to get inflated, because you’re not having your clients tell you “hey you know what, this is okay, but you really didn’t help me that much”.
Noelle: Well, I’ve had that actually happened in session with clients too, which is one of the reasons I thought it was so important to talk about, because how do you get in front of it, and how do you deal with it, and knowing that we all have automatic negative responses. My first response is anger, and I did not like that about myself at all, I was like “whoa, nobody needs me angry and popping off right now”. I had once a client, and she was really right, she was talking about her own eating disorder past—I have my own eating disorder past—she was talking about her daughter—I was thinking about my mother—and she said “are you judging me right now, as a mom?”. And I was like “ohhh”.
John: Was there a part of me that felt like you were? And there’s a part of you that was like I’m not?
Noelle: I was. I was judging her as a mom. I was projecting my own experience, which is something that you do naturally as a coach, and something that you have to do a lot of inner work to check yourself on, and so I was directly called out by a client. So I had to be honest with her and I said “You know what, I might have been. Let’s start again. Tell me again from your perspective, you know let’s have a go”. And that’s fucking hard, to eat humble pie that way.
John: Also, it hurts more if what they’re calling out is something that you are known to be good at. So if you’re a model and someone’s like I don’t think you’re attractive, that hurts, or if you’re someone that is known to be super smart or intellectual or whatever, and then they call you out on that, that hurts. So it hurts more if someone is questioning what you believe are your gifts.
Noelle: Yes, and it also depends on the relationship dynamic too. This is a person who I wanted to continue to give me money, right? So when the ego is transactional, I needed to both protect my ego and deflect in the situation to set myself up in a way that I could continue to have this client.
John: Yeah, and I think with life coaching we actually have a responsibility, as life coaches, to check our ego.
John: Especially these days when life coaching isn’t just about one-on-one sessions, but with social media, and if you’re speaking, or writing books, and you’re getting in front of audiences, there’s more of a chance that your ego is going to be amplified, than if you’re just doing one-on-one sessions, right?
Noelle: And more of a chance that you’re going to get feedback from people that is unpleasant.
John: Yes, I always believe that if everyone likes you, no one likes you.
John: So, you are going to get people that don’t like you, that disagree with you. So this actually just happened to me—so I was recently on Dax Shepard’s podcast and he said “hey listen, I saw a video you made about going through breakups”, and he’s like “there’s some of it I liked, like how you define breakups with this term of expired relationship, because it allows you to let go and all that, but there’s some stuff that I didn’t like”. And when he said that, I shrank, and I was like oh shit, now he’s calling me out, he’s having me on as an expert, but he’s also deconstructing my expertness.
John: And I was terrified, and I was defensive, and we ended up not talking about it because we started talking about other other things like sex and stuff, but I remember, in that moment, it was like he just chopped my legs off.
Noelle: Yes, exactly. And that’s the exact point that I wanted to put the flashlight on with this. Because it’s like that’s smart discourse, right? I respect the hell out of that—calling somebody in and saying “I actually took the time to look at your work, here’s what I liked, here’s what I didn’t like, let’s have a critical conversation about it”.
John: Well it takes courage to have a guest on and actually say that to them, which I do applaud.
Noelle: Yeah, 100%, and I think in coaching relationships, on the part of the client, we tell clients if I ever do or say anything that makes you uncomfortable, please tell me. But the bravery it actually takes for the client to call the coach out on that, or to say that is tremendous.
John: Yeah, what a great reminder.
Noelle: In relationships, have you ever had an experience where you’re pissed at your partner, but you’re afraid to tell them?
John: Mhmm, yeah, and vice versa, absolutely. And I’ve had partners who have been mad at me but are afraid to tell me. What do you think happens if you don’t express that fear or have that conversation? What do you think happens to our ego?
Noelle: From which side? From the experiential side of somebody just called you out?
Noelle: I think that you internalize your reaction, and that your reaction—I’ll give you a neurological breakdown—so I responded to being called out for something I actually believe is true with anger. So that anger, for me, is a feeling, not a fact, it’s not representative of the actual relationship, it’s not representative of what actually happened, and it’s not representative of who I want to be frankly. So, if you don’t sit with the discomfort, and examine it, and look for a way out, and then take a minute to respond instead of react you end up internalizing that response and maybe taking on or embodying all of the negative traits that you have.
John: Yeah, that’s really interesting, and I think it’s important—not only for life coaches, but just everyone in general—to question, to check, as you say “put a flashlight on their ego”. So then the question is how do we do that? What are some steps we can do when we have that—whether it’s anger, or sometimes ego is what ruins relationships, it’s not just someone getting angry, but someone saying I’m out, someone quitting because they’ve been checked—what are some steps we can do to check our ego in a healthy way?
Noelle: Yeah, I think feedback is super important—having somebody that you can talk to you about this kind of thing. So, if you called me and you were like “Noelle, I was just on Dax Shepard and he had some criticisms about my work and I felt terrified”, I would say “Okay, let’s get into it”.
John: So, vulnerability—actually being open.
Noelle: Actually being open, and I think quality of the relationship is important. You know I love you, and you know that I have your back, and I have your best interests at heart, so you know there’s a chance that I might’ve told you some things in the context of that debriefing that might’ve ruffled your feathers a little bit, but ultimately you know I love you. I did the same thing, I took this scenario to a friend who I trusted, who I know loves me, and was able to debrief it in a way that, like yeah my ego continued to take some hits and some bruises, and I really examined my own behavior, but I was like wow this was helpful.
John: Yeah, so it means that we’re less defensive when we’re having conversations with people that we actually trust and respect. So the person that you had check your ego—because you respected and trusted him—after the emotion, you returned, and I don’t know if you actually returned to conversation with him, but that kind of hit for you, but it wasn’t destructive.
Noelle: It wasn’t—well he actually asked me, because I responded and I was really honest and I was like I have some pushed fucking buttons right now, I need to take a step back, and he said are we still friends, and I was like yeah, we are, and here’s all the reasons that I was able to see your perspective.
John: I love that. Let me ask you this—did that conversation—do you actually feel closer to him because of it?
John: Yeah, that’s the other thing—I think the value of these conversations when we’re checking ego and stuff—if you allow that and lean into it it, it actually produces glue and it actually brings people closer together, because you just went through something.
John: In a way you just went through this micro journey together, this roller coaster, this looking inward, discovery, revelations, all of that, and because of that you now feel closer to the person. Also, there’s courage behind someone checking you, in a nice healthy way, in a kind way.
Noelle: There is, but that’s intimacy, right? It’s taking the mask off.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Noelle: It’s being willing, on my end, to take the mask off and be seen by another human as imperfect. And it’s another human being willing to put their own neck out there in a scenario that could’ve gone either way—there’s a chance I could’ve said “you know what, I don’t wanna talk anymore”. So you know that’s what builds intimacy, the unmasking.
John: And I love that word unmasking, and I think this is a great place to end it—if you’re a life coach or if you’re one of our coaches—unmasking yourself, which takes courage, is a really powerful thing that’s going to build trust with your clients.
Noelle: Yes. Yes, showing your own imperfections.
Noelle: Admitting weakness.
John: Yes, and unmasking doesn’t need to put your shit on your clients, unmasking means to just humanize yourself and show yourself, and to—as we’re talking about this episode—to check your ego.
Noelle: And to process your shit. I have the luxury of processing through this podcast.
John: Which I love. Here’s the thing—that takes this from a performance to actually us being ourselves and talking truth. My favorite podcasts are the kind that are like this—where it’s like you and I, we don’t even rehearse, we just start talking, and we’re very honest. I love our episodes because I love the conversation, there’s no outline, there’s no like “hey we need to hit certain points”—it’s like let’s just turn the mic on and really kind of process and that’s what we’re doing.
Noelle: Exactly, and it’s good to model the behavior, because the skills you can teach somebody from a bullet point checklist, but I feel like when you give the case study, when you give the experiential, when you turn that flashlight inward and you’re like “alright people here’s the guidebook for being a human 2018”, you know it’s valuable.
John: Well Noelle, thank you for being my friend and for continuing to check me. And guys, if you’re listening—what a great reminder, trust the people who love you, and don’t be defensive, and allow them to check your ego, and also you check the ego of the people you love and care about.
Noelle: Absolutely, talk to you soon, bye.
John: Alright, be well.