Elisa Spain: How Ego Diversification Can Be The Key To Satisfaction And Joy

From Guest Blogger Elisa Spain

Ego Diversification

What does it mean to diversify your ego? Does that even make sense?

In the investment world, diversification is de rigueur. Anyone who works with an investment advisor has heard them talk about the benefits of holding a diversified portfolio. The reasons are pretty straightforward, asset classes typically move differently and when one class is underperforming, another is likely to outperform. The goal, therefore, of holding a diversified portfolio, is to achieve an overall positive return. And, even when a positive return isn’t feasible, e.g. in a significant downturn like we experienced in 2008, a diversified portfolio will still outperform a single asset class that experienced a significant loss, the S&P 500, in this example.

The concept of ego diversification is similar. If we are getting all of our identify, our ego satisfaction, from a single pursuit, what happens when something is not going well with that pursuit?

I recall a time early in my career, when I learned this lesson the hard way. I was in my first significant leadership position, and 2 of the divisions I was leading were having major issues. I was frustrated, feeling inadequate and convinced I was a failing. So, what did I do? I worked more. Convinced that if I cut everything else out and focused just on work, things would get better. Not so much. The issues were long term issues, they were there when I took over and it took a long time to sort them out. Meanwhile, my feelings about myself continued to focus on the negative. I was fortunate at the time to work for a manager, Jim was his name, that understood this concept of ego diversification. In fact, he was the one who first shared this idea with me. As I was telling him how badly I was feeling about the problems continuing to go unsolved, instead of trying to help me solve them, or trying to “make me feel better”, he simply said “what you need is ego diversification”. Find something else to spend time on that will make you feel successful.

While it seemed counterintuitive at the time, since I was already working so many hours, this led to my first charitable board position. This work was fun, I was able to have an impact and it gave me separation from my regular work. Eventually the work issues were resolved and since that time, every time I have felt myself sucked into 110% focus on just one thing, Jim’s words came back to me.

Here is what I learned from this. When we focus all of our attention on fixing a problem, when our initial instinct is to double down and laser focus on solving the problem:

  • What is the impact to our self-esteem when our gut tells us solving the problem is going to take a while?
  • What if instead of grinding away, heads down, for weeks or even months, we intentionally spread our attention toward positive situations, time with a happy customer, or time being in service to someone or something that matters to us?
  • How might the “performance” of our lives improve, if we endeavor to diversify our ego gratification all the time thereby creating a “portfolio” of pursuits that together provide satisfaction and joy?

About Elisa Spain

Elisa SpainElisa is a leadership coach, blogger, executive peer group facilitator, Vistage Master Chair and founder of her own leadership coaching practice, EKS Ltd. She also leads a Vistage CEO advisory board whose members include INC 5000 and Crain’s Fast Fifty winners, Chicago Tribune’s Top 100 Workplaces and Crain’s Largest Privately Held. Her dual experience as both executive and entrepreneur has given rise to a unique perspective, enabling her to find new ways to leverage her communication and team building skills to develop high-caliber leaders who achieve transformational results.

Enjoy this podcast on the subject

To add my two cents to the theme of leadership that Elisa touches on so well in her blog, I’d like to ask our readers, what makes a great leader? As a corporate anthropologist, what I’ve observed over many years is that the main attribute of a great leader is resilience. A manager just manages a problem but a leader has the ability to build resilience in his/her team when things get rough, inspiring them to reach higher. To think about what could be, not what is. If you can be resilient and lead by example, your folks will surely follow. This is the strength that leaders bring to a situation, something I talk about at length in this Ask Andi podcast, How to Learn Resilience.

SAMC Guest Bloggers  

We have a select number of guest bloggers whom we have invited to share their insights with our readers. They bring different perspectives on the challenges of change, innovation and opening new market space. Please enjoy their viewpoints and share them with others.


From Observation to Innovation,


Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | President
Simon Associates Management Consultants

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