Working With Ego

Posted on 2017-10-7

I have my own thoughts about how I well I do my job, but self-assessment can be misleading. When asked, I say I do my work well. I have some reference in mind while saying that, meaning that I’m comparing myself to others. If I’m not the worst, then I am better than someone; there is an order in all measures. When asked, I can say how well others do. I could list my colleagues from least to most valuable and place myself along that line. But the thought of doing this feels bad. Something, be it nature or nurture, tells me I shouldn’t be comparing myself to others. Yet I still want to know. If only I could rid myself of the desire for approval. Then I wouldn't envy people that seem to give no fucks. Some days I wish to be one of them. Yet another list of people I’m comparing myself to.

Sometimes I do not take great pride in the product I’m helping to make, but I can always take pride in the quality of my own contribution. I look for things to be proud of, because pride motivates me. I get satisfaction from different sources, but I cannot deny that validation is one of them. I want to be thought of highly by my peers. Pride makes me want to do better. It makes me care more. So, pride can be good.

However, pride can turn colleagues into competitors. Pride divides people into groups. When you share a source of pride you are part of the team, the nation, the pride. The thing we’re proud of must be worth something. And if it’s worth anything, then it’s worth more than something else; there is an order in all measures. You can try to be proud in isolation, but it is difficult to avoid comparison forever. Pride also leads to shame. Even by way of association. If someone in my group does something terrible, I feel shame. If I could just keep pride out of my work completely, I wouldn’t have to compare myself to others and divide the group. Nor would I feel insecure about failures.

Pride is a double-edged sword, but we cannot simply throw it out. Even if it were possible, we shouldn’t want to. The person who does not seek validation is someone whose self-esteem is not determined by what others think of them. Those people are dangerous to the group. We can appeal to someone’s pride in order to manipulate them into socially acceptable behavior. The threat of shame alone, can be enough. Shaming people into acceptable behavior is not inherently good or bad. Shaming someone for their sexuality, or shaming a greedy banker are not the same. Shame is a tool groups use to control the radicals. Without pride, we would be unfeeling of shame and it would eat away at our social fabric. Anonymous web-forums give us insights into what such a world would look like.

I like programming, but I cannot separate my enjoyment from my pride. Nor would I want to. If my work was purely a way for me to enjoy myself, then I would take the easy road and make what is fun. I would finish fast and move on to the next thing, leaving a legacy of tangled unmaintainable garbage. There is no doubt I would have fun trying all the new shiny things. I see this behavior and I call it shameless. I say that word with both contempt as well as jealousy. Shamelessness is free of consequence and free of modesty. I look at it like I do a bird. It would be great to fly, free to go and be wherever the wind takes you. But the downside is living outside in the rain and barely surviving winter. I understand the initial appeal, but I don’t want to work with that person, and I don’t want to be that person. The shameless programmer is like a majestic eagle that is beautiful to admire from far away. But I don’t want it near me, eating my chickens and shitting all over my code.