American Hustle,” while one of the year’s best movies, also teaches us a powerful business lesson. Bradley Cooper plays a fumbling FBI neophyte who wants to make a quick name for himself. He entices Christian Bale and Amy Adams, whom he catches on a con, to help him learn the con game. His goal is to catch white-collar criminals, and he wants to use the principle of the con to bring them to justice.
However, Cooper’s character’s greed for glory gets the best of him, and his plans continually change. His ego gets in the way as he wants to impress others with his newfound skills. He wants to catch bigger and bigger fish for his trophy case. He is never satisfied, which leads to his demise
Bradley Cooper’s character is following what motivational psychologists called an ego-driven orientation. These types of individuals view success in a social comparative standard. They are happiest when they are the top dog in their chosen profession. Their drive comes from being better than everyone else. Climbing the social ladder is the ultimate reward.
Do you have an ego-driven orientation at work? In life?
On the flip side of Bradly Cooper’s persona is the mastery-driven orientation. According to motivational psychologists, their success is self-referenced instead of based on a social comparison framework. They view success when they are improving and getting better. Others do not matter in their success schemata, but rather the ultimate goal is to be the best that they can be in their profession.
Most importantly, psychologists have found that individuals who are mastery-driven, as compared to ego-driven, have the highest level of enjoyment, have less anxiety and stress, and are more productive. The main reason for this difference is their ability to control their destiny. You can always get better — you can’t always be the best.
If you have an ego-driven persona, like Bradley Cooper’s character, then you may need to readjust. Being competitive is important in today’s business arena and can be the spark that stokes your inner fire. But you must temper and balance that burning desire with mastery objectives. Otherwise, it just may lead to burnout and your demise when you discover that being the best was not within your reach — or worse, once you get to the top, you may discover there are no more mountains to climb.
Dr. Gregg Steinberg is a professor of human performance at Austin Peay State University and author of the best-selling business book “Full Throttle.” He speaks to businesses throughout the country about mental toughness and overcoming adversity. See more about him at www.drgreggsteinberg.com.