Yesterday I had a chance to meet with a senior executive from my company. He was giving us advices and such; one thing really stood out for me was when he emphasized the importance to "not have an inflated ego, especially at your young age".
I couldn't agree more to what he said, and I consistently try to remind myself that 一山还有一山高. At the same time, I can't help but realize the often contradicting "statements of truth" in life. There're plenty of examples regarding this yin and yang of life philosophies. Here's one that I always struggle with: "Jack of all trade, master of none" vs "You can't do sketches enough, Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh" (a case of depth of knowledge vs breadth of knowledge). But here I want to talk about this thing about "not having an ego" or I guess more aptly, "脚踏实地" vs " having a big dream".
This senior executive is not the first "mentors" of mine who has advised me, out of good intentions, the importance of having your feet firmly on the ground. Yet, I often feel that true greatness, the kind that really changes the world, comes about because of certain men's willingness to ignore the conventional wisdom or in Google CEO Eric Schmidt words "have a healthy disregard of the impossible".
I always find it an inherently contradicting to be 脚踏实地 while at the same time trying to chase that big dream. It becomes even harder when you try to achieve your ambition without appearing egoistic. The very fact that you have got a big dream would mean you have to be ambitious, which in some context (probably more so in asian mentality) may mean that you "don't know your place".
I try to rationalize this contradiction using what Peter Senge described in his book Fifth Displine (and I thought he explained it very well). He coined the term "creative tension", that driving force that propels you to your dream from where you are now. He envisaged the concept like a rubber band between the dream and current reality. The greater the gap between the 2, the greater the "creative tension". You can have lofty dreams, but without a realistic check of one's current standing, an "inflated ego" would easily close that gap and reduce this "rubber band tension". Hence I always give myself out-sized goals, the kind that I think some people may frown upon as being "over-ambitious"; but at the same time I try to consciously remind myself everyday that I'm still miles and miles away from what I want to achieve in life.
So yes, it's good advice to always keep one's ego in check. But never surrender to conventional wisdom or what others may say "you'd have to wait for your time". Once again, I find that Steve Jobs sums it up much better and with much more authority than me:
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."