Every time I gear up for a speaking gig, my phenomenal coach Lanie Presswood and I follow the same process:
Discuss the idea. Build the outline. Shape the flow. Practice, practice, practice.
We laugh. We tweak. I learn not just the script, but the concepts by heart. And as a result, my talks have earned me accolades, influencer attention, and opportunities all over the country.
Sounds straightforward, right? Nowadays, it is.
But when we were just getting started last year, our sessions would sound more like this:
Lanie: Ok I read over your outline and this part is confusing. Why don’t we try something else?
Me *out loud*: Oh! Huh. You think?
Me *in my head*: UM, EXCUSE ME LADY.
Do you know who I am? I’m a professional writer and I am NOT new to this speaking game.
By golly audiences have loved and gained a lot from my stuff, so if you’re thinking this is confusing or bad you are obviously wrongwrongwrongwrongwrongwrong and also possibly a a meanie-head I AM NO LONGER LISTENING LALALALALAA.
Ah, my learning ego. She’s such a fragile beast.
In those moments, despite the fact I was working with an expert I’d deliberately sought out (and paid) to help me…
Despite the fact she has a PhD in Rhetoric and shelves upon shelves of forensics trophies earned by herself and her students…
Despite the fact I have absolutely none of the above qualifications…
… My pride eclipsed all logic.
So fiercely protective was I of my reputation as a Relatively Smart Visible Person in a niche corner of the internet, that suddenly a constructive critique became a teardown — an attack on my tiny throne.
And as a result, my ego swelled up like a pufferfish.
Your learning ego (we’ve all got one) is that resistant voice that shouts out in moments when you, an expert on something, are suddenly thrown back into the student’s seat.
In a perfect world we’d all settle in and listen.
How wonderful! I get to learn something today…
But the reality is far different.
Uh, ya, I’ve already learned that lesson. I read that book 4 years ago. I googled that thing once, I’m good. Next!
While we may not consider ourselves ineffable 99.9% of the time… when we’re used to being the authority and someone tells us we might be wrong?
Even if they’re smarter than we are, or know more than we do?
Shwoop. That ego wall goes up, up, up.
We forget, sometimes, that learning requires more modesty and flexibility when we’re experienced than it does when we’re new.
This is especially true for entrepreneurs and creative pros.
Think about it.
In the early days of our work, we’re bright eyed and bushy-tailed with un-chewed pencils and clean white notebooks at the ready. We want the gold star. We’re open vessels waiting to be poured into, and we’ll soak up anything we’re given.
But as we fill our cups with not just knowledge, but hard-won experience, we also gain assumptions and rigid beliefs alongside our success.
Eventually, consciously or otherwise, we leave less and less room for outside contributions. And, in some moments, we may decide we like it that way.
Hardest of all, these self-imposed constructs become further cemented by the rewards we reap by doing things “our way” (applause, happy clients, admiring students, etc.), and the failures borne of bad advice, too (projects that tanked, strategies that didn’t work, tips we shouldn’t have tried).
So when a fellow expert does dare to question us?
Some teenage iteration of our intellect slouches forward to declare dismissively: “Nuh-uh.”
It’s something I work through with my coaching clients too.
The whole goal for the Statement Piece Sessions is to think outside the box of their business from a bird’s eye view.
They come to me to be challenged. They come to me to be seen. They come to me get a new perspective.
And yet? Some still insist:
“Oh I already tried that, it didn’t work for me.”
“Yeah I don’t wanna do that.”
“That makes sense for everyone else, but not my business.”
As the teacher, all you can do when the student’s wall shwoops up is to keep rapping your knuckles on the outside, and listening in between the lines for what’s really going on.
Knock knock. “Ok, walk me through that happened…” They tried it, but not for very long.
Knock knock. “Is there any reason you may feel resistance?” They’re afraid of being embarrassed, or awkward, or visible.
Knock knock. “Why do you say it wouldn’t make sense?” They know it’s a move that could propel them forward faster than is comfy for them.
Imagine what would happen we took the time to listen to ourselves that way, too?
The good news is: When you learn to spot your learning ego and question your own refusal, you give yourself back the power of choice.
Turns out, the wall you send up can be lowered just as quickly.
All you have to do is take a deep breath and… be humble enough to open yourself back up again.
It’s as simple as thinking: “Wait. No. They have a point. Let me listen.”
Because your ego can only run the show for as long as you believe you have nothing to learn.
Which — unless you genuinely believe yourself to be omnipotent — will never be true.
We must constantly re-acquaint ourselves with the idea that taking on new information does not erase our own knowledge or standing as an expert but genuinely serves to enhance it further.
This willingness to be coached, guided, and taught, even when one is more often teacher than student, is as rare a trait as it is precious.
However: This is not to say you should suddenly begin absorbing all suggestions and advice willy nilly, regardless of source.
But if you continue to develop this mental flexibility, and to lower your learning ego wall around experts, mentors, and people you trust?
There’s no limit to the progress or connections you can make.
Just watch the smartest people you know.
They’ve almost always got a book in their hand, or a teacher or coach they’re working with, or some new thing they’re practicing and studying.
No longer caged by their egos, they’re free to explore. Experiment. Absorb.
This flexibility and openness is the root of the strength it takes to level up, and stay a cut above, in any playing field.
While your output may win you accolades today, your ability to welcome new input will separate your “good” from your “great” tomorrow.
At worst, a willingness to bring the walls down to welcome the possibility of newer and better ideas forces you to think.
At best, it makes you and your mind more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
Lanie recently sighed on our recent wrap-up session:
“Ahh, thank you. You’re so coachable.”
I smiled. I thanked her.
If only she knew. ;)
But the good news now is: Now you do.
Brilliance is rarely born within the brittle prison of the rigid mind.
Let the door swing open. Let a little new light in.
Watch what happens to flow in next.
Photo by Antonis Spiridakis on Unsplash