Is Ego necessary for success?

by Kayla Perrin

Is having an ego necessary in order to be successful?

This is a question I've been thinking about a lot lately. Perhaps it's because Simon Cowell so often tells the American Idol contestants that they need to be more "confident" and even "cocky" if they're going to make it in the music world. He seems to have little patience for the nice person, and is vocal about saying that the nice ones don't seem to have what it takes to succeed.

Is this true? And if so, does that explain why it's easier for people to see "beautiful" people in the role as successful, as opposed to the Susan Boyles of the world? We almost expect beautiful people to be cocky (and IMO, superficial); there's a false sense of superiority in our culture that seems to permeate from a person's looks.

On a recent Dr. Phil show, a mother wanted her 17-year-old to have plastic surgery to become more beautiful. She felt that larger breasts and a thinner nose would "open doors" for her daughter in the future. The daughter, thank goodness, was levelheaded enough and strong enough to believe that she was beautiful already. Talk about a mother doing damage to a child's psyche!

I've been noticing the demeanor of successful people lately, and it does seem true to me that many have what I would call 'an edge'. Simon Cowell, for one. I am personally more attracted to the ones who are nicer, like the Matt Damons of the world, but "ego" has made me wonder if, for me as an author to truly get to that next level, I have to put on some sort of "air" when I meet people, instead of being accessible the way I normally am. That perhaps people respect you more when you act like you're a little above them. Some authors were discussing this on a loop recently, and one commented that "familiarity breeds contempt." That if you're too nice to fans, they see you as "one of them"--and that for them to continue to respect and admire you, they need to see you as above them.

That mentality is certainly evident in some of the biggest personalities we see on television, and this past season's CELEBRITY APPRENTICE was no exception. Though Donald Trump is incredibly successful and has been filthy rich for a while, it seems he wasn't content with just money. He wanted celebrity. On an episode of this season's show when Dennis Rodman mentions being the biggest celebrity in a given task, Trump arrogantly tells him, "I'm the biggest celebrity here." To me, it was a ridiculous statement...I think Rodman is the bigger celebrity in the true sense of the word, but Trump wasn't kidding.

As the season finale of the CELEBRITY APPRENTICE began, Trump entered the theater with the live audience and walked onto the stage as if he were royalty. For me--it was a 'gag me' moment. But you could see he lapped it up, that for him, being considered a celebrity is something he really needs. It feeds his ego.

Or does ego feed celebrity?

It's an interesting debate. We all can point to an actor or musician who seemed nicer at the begining of his career, but with success and celebrity, they've succumbed to ego. They're not as nice. They're more stuck up.

I always hate when I see the nice ones succumb to ego. I guess I believe that people can be nice and down to earth and still respected as celebrities. But am I wrong? Because I also see something in the culture of celebrity that seems to almost require people like Kris Allen on American Idol to become somewhat stuck up in order to survive in a cutthroat business.

I sure as hell hope I'm wrong. What are your thoughts?



  1. THANK YOU Kayla!

    What a greatly insightful piece, and a thought-provoking one at that!

    Hum... I have been struggling lately with my own inner debate about this issue. My natural demeanor is easygoing and approachable. It has been incredibly helpful in my career as a writer, when I have to approach a possible interview or try and get an exclusive with someone a bit reclusive. But as far as selling myself, as my own best creation, well, lets see how that continues to grow.

    I am a firm believer that the votes - the successes and failures - in life are tallied at the very end, so an attitude throughout our time on earth is just that, a sensation almost. We won't know the whole story until the very last moments.

    But perhaps, you said it best when you wrote that part about being accessible. It's not about putting on extra airs, but perhaps more about removing some of the ease of contact that people may feel with you. So that you seem more precious when you do share of yourself... I know it's a small experiment I am conducting in my own life... Indeed, in every situation, "Familiarity breeds contempt".

    Wonderful post!!! Hugs, Nina

  2. Intriguing post, Kayla. I wonder if a certain bit of ego is necessary to maintain that star "presence." Many people find confidence sexy and buy into the image that person projects, whether it's who s/he really is or not (so many stars claim to be shy, but love the spotlight. Interesting paradox!). I imagine, too, that being in a jaded business can tarnish even the nicest of people. Power - even star power - has the ability to corrupt, if the person succumbs. Some never do. Hugh Jackman, for instance, seems to be a very spiritual person focused on his craft rather than fame.
    On the other extreme, some people are stars in their own eyes only, and their egos are huge despite having no fans at all!
    To me, dedication and perseverance is more important than ego. A bit of talent helps too!

  3. Great post, Kayla. I've always thought that the arts requires an elevated ego of its practitioners. Who else would assume that they have something to say that others want to hear/read/look at? Who else would put themselves on the line for ridicule when not everything works out well?

    The person with an elevated ego can take the punches. Sure, they may cry, feel idiotic, worry and fret - but they will always dust themselves off and get back up again. A regular-size ego says no to more of the same.

    Does having an elevated ego = an annoying personality? I say no.

    Truly feeling equal to the mega-egos of peers is absolutely necessary to make it. But turning into a poor excuse for decent behavior is not required in the least.

  4. Thought-provoking post, Kayla! While I'll agree that confidence and assertiveness are important to achieving success, there is still a lot to be said for integrity and graciousness. Some of the most successful authors are completely down-to-earth and amazingly generous. Maybe that's what sets the romance industry apart.

  5. Hi, y'all,
    Sorry to be so late to chime in my own comment. Interesting, Nina--and maybe I should do the same experiment you are.

    I think you all make great comments. Yes, I guess artists need a greater level of confidence. But confidence--and success--do not equal an excuse for bad behaviour. Allison, you're right about the romance industry standing apart because of its down-to-earth successful people. It was one thing I came away with from my first RWA conference--how some of the biggest names were so incredibly down-to-earth and inspiring. I loved that.


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