Most of us know how important it is to have passion for our work and how critical it is to make time for it. For those of us who have been around the block a few times, we also know how important it is to trust our gut. But how does ego fit into things?

My own personal story as a professional musician helped me figure out how to balance the heart, the gut, and the ego in ways I apply today in my business.

Years ago, I led a double life. By day, I was a businessman. By night, I was a musician. Music had started off as a moonlighting gig but had evolved quickly. I was an electric violinist who had decided it was my calling to invoke my inner Jimi Hendrix, plug my violin into a Marshall amp, crank up the distortion, and revolutionize the instrument.

It was working. I had received critical acclaim. I had released two albums, had been picked up by an indie label as well as hired for studio recording gigs with some well-known musicians.

Then I was contacted by a representative from Steve Vai (the same legend who had graced the cover of Guitar Magazine more times than most) to be one of a select few to audition with him for a tour

I wasn’t a Steve Vai fan, but he was a big name. I became enamored with the opportunity because of what I could tell people it meant about my music career. I agreed to audition.

I walked in with confidence ready to blow his mind. Then I blew the audition by playing as badly as I had ever played in my life. There was a terrible smell in the room, and it was emanating from my violin. I had been playing this instrument for over 30 years but sounded like a 4th grader from the local elementary school who had been yanked randomly out of P.E. class.

The audition lasted nine minutes. I didn’t get the gig. I packed my things quickly, got in my car, and drove the three hours back to my house. I replayed the humiliating audition over and over again in my mind.

What had happened? I concluded that I had choked under pressure.

Lessons learned: ask your heart, trust your gut, and put your ego aside

Almost a year later, a strange thing happened. The audition experience randomly entered my mind. Enough time had passed where the visceral emotions were mostly gone and I was able to think about it with objectivity. I realized one critical thing:

If I had been totally honest about the prospect of going on tour with Steve Vai, I would have realized that my ego had told me to do it but my heart had never really been in it. And my gut had gnawed at me for the entire two weeks of preparation trying to tell me that something wasn’t quite right. 

I had known all along that it wasn’t the right opportunity, but I only listened to my ego.

About seven years ago, I started my own business consulting practice. I’ve had many colleagues ask me what their next career moves should be.

When they do, I almost always tell them my Steve Vai story and why the heart, gut, and ego all need equal air play in the decision making process.

In our business careers, we often find ourselves looking for roles that we feel good about because of what it tells others about our success. That’s the ego talking, but do the heart and gut agree? Many times they don’t, but we don’t listen.

If you can get all three to agree, you can feel that the opportunity you are pursuing is absolutely the right one.

The power of a good story is a better teacher than any advice

I had sworn I would never tell anyone about my Steve Vai debacle because it was just too embarrassing. Ironically, in many ways it has become one of my favorite stories to tell people. It always resonates more than standard advice schlock and does so in a way that helps them contemplate whether their heart and gut are aligned with their egos.

And what better way to keep my own ego in check than by telling an embarrassing story about how I totally bombed a music audition with a legend?

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