Ego check: A smack in the face by reality can be a good thing

  • Published
  • By Capt. Heather Wooten
  • 366th Maintenance Operations Squadron
I majored in psychology in college, so Sigmund Freud was a fixture in many of my studies. I was constantly quizzed on Freud's theories of the id, ego and superego. Freud's theory of the ego stated that the ego developed later in childhood after needs were met and the child began to experience life.

The ego was based on the reality principle; meaning our egos had to balance our needs with the reality of the situation at hand. I'm guessing this is where the term "ego check" came from.

I've had more ego checks in my career than I can count. I don't think this is a bad thing. In fact, I would say a healthy dose of reality will teach you important lessons in life, just when you think you know it all.

My first ego check happened when I was an assistant aircraft maintenance unit officer in charge at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. I had been in charge of the unit for five months, waiting on my new boss to arrive. By the time she did, I was pretty confident -- OK, cocky. I thought it was easy to lead the unit and was convinced if I left, it would fall apart. Before going on leave, I was doing an exhaustive turn-over with the new captain and chief.

Mid-sentence, the chief stopped me and said, "With all due respect LT, this unit will be just fine when you leave. In fact, this unit was generating aircraft long before you came and will long after you leave. Enjoy your time off."

Ego check: You ARE a very important asset to the Air Force, but, you can be replaced at anytime, and the Air Force will continue to operate as it has for the past 62 years.

My latest ego check occurred about seven months ago on my first deployment to Afghanistan. After a couple of freezing days in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, I boarded a crowded C-17 Globemaster. Excited, I squished down into the center seats. I was going to war. My job: to generate bomb-laden aircraft to destroy our enemies. 

Looking around, I was surrounded by joint tactical air controllers, rangers and Marines. I was heading for Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The Soldiers and Marines had no idea which forward operating base they were reporting to. They were quiet, joking nervously, many no older than 18 years old.

Ego check: I was going to war to generate bomb-laden aircraft to support the fine young men and women surrounding me on that C-17. I wasn't the "tip of the spear;" they were.

Too many times we get caught up in the day-to-day grind, focused on "my needs and requirements" to make "my job" happen now. We often lose sight of the needs and requirements of those around us, trying to make their jobs happen. 

I fully believe the job you are currently in, is YOUR most important job. And if you treat it that way, you will be successful. However, if you don't pause from time to time to see if your teammates have what they need to be successful, the Air Force as a whole suffers.

When was the last time you had an ego check? 

I highly recommend one.