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Ego Is the Enemy of Learning

Fight it, so you can learn more

Your ego is your sense of your own value and importance and it’s your worst enemy in lifeIt’s your worst enemy when you’re learning English too.

I say this because I’ve experienced its negative influence first-hand.

My ego became a barrier to my learning  

I was a motivated learner of English for many years. I was so motivated that in the summer of 2015, I passed the Cambridge English Proficiency, the highest-level English language test a learner of English could do.

When I got the certificate, I thought, I’m a master now, I have the highest level of English. And I can prove it because I have a piece of paper that says so. I’m done!

My ego pumped up my chest and made me taller. It also made my learning slow down considerably.

I had been learning, practicing, and improving my English with great passion until that day. But now my ego was telling me, “Look at that certificate you have in your hands, Fabio. You’re great. You’re the best.”

And I arrogantly believed that.

I didn’t realize how arrogant I was at that moment. I only realized it 6 years later, when I read Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.

Cover of Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

 On page 105, Holiday says, 

“The second we let ego tell us we have graduated, learning grinds to a halt.”

That’s exactly what happened to me. 

I felt I had arrived. I didn’t need to learn English anymore — or at least not as passionately as I used to.

But your ego doesn’t get in the way of learning just when you have achieved a high level of proficiency. It can do that at any level. The enemy is there when you are a beginner or intermediate learner, too.

Ego is the enemy at lower levels too

If you’re a low-level speaker of English, do you ever feel embarrassed or inadequate when speaking English? Are you ever afraid of making grammar mistakes? 

If so, where do you think these negative feelings come from?

I’ve never studied psychology and have no scientific evidence for what I’m about to say. But I suspect there’s a connection between these negative emotions and your ego.

Your ego has always told you that you’re intelligent, experienced, and skilled. Sometimes it even tells you you’re better than other people because you might have accomplished the most amazing things in your life. Maybe you’re an engineer or a doctor who performs open heart surgery. But now you’re trying to speak a foreign language and you suddenly sound like a 3-year-old child.

Your ego can’t accept this. Your ego can’t accept reality. It diverts you from it.

It makes you think, I will look stupid if I make mistakes. But in reality, no one cares about your mistakes. Only you and your ego do. 

This makes you feel embarrassed, insecure, and anxious. You get overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy because you can’t string sentences together or don’t have enough words to express your ideas.

You’ve been duped by your ego and learning, again, slows down. 

So what’s the solution to this? 

How to control your ego when learning English

A sign that says, "Curb your ego"
Photo by Orkun Azap on Unsplash

I don’t have a solution for deflating your ego — I am still in the process of dealing with mine and it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever decided to do.

But I can give you my advice.

If you are a low-level learner, be realistic about what you can actually do with the language. Don’t think you can magically speak as well as you speak in your first language. Stay attached to reality and shamelessly see yourself as who you really are: an inexperienced child who still needs to discover, learn and practice many things. 

A child who hasn’t made enough mistakes yet.

If you are a high-level learner who thinks there’s nothing more to learn, keep challenging yourself. Do something that would scare you. Start a podcast in English, write on Medium, teach English to others. Whatever makes you feel uncomfortable, go do it so you can get used to it.

In a BBC interview, Bruce Dickinson,  the lead vocalist of Iron Maiden — one of the most successful heavy metal bands ever — said this, 

“As you start off in small clubs and things like that, it seems intimidating. And then you get to theaters and that seems intimidating. And then you get to basketball arenas and that seems intimidating. And you get used to it.”

Intimidate yourself, so you can grow.

Learning will be right there waiting for you.

Bruce Dickinson
Bruce Dickinson on stage —

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