Strangers on the Internet often accuse me of being egotistical. I will stipulate that I say and do things that give people that impression. No argument there.

I had to look up the word "egotistical" to make sure I knew what it meant. Some of the definitions involve selfishness, and that's probably not what people have in mind with me. Then there's the part about talking too much about oneself, which, as it turns out, is about half of my job description, so that probably isn't the root problem. My best guess is that I fall into the part of the definition of egotistical behavior involving my "unduly high opinion" of myself.

That's where it gets interesting.

Just to put things in context, my new book is called How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. It's a full public confession of my incompetence across a broad range of human endeavors. I've failed at more things than most people have even tried. And that's not even counting my personal life. I'm also short, bald, and near-sighted. My Dilbert fame came well after my self-image had been hardened, so I perceive the minor celebrity part of my life much the way an observer would. I couldn't integrate that stuff with my self-image even if I tried.

But my question of the day is this: Is egotistical even a thing?

If we use the "unduly high opinion" of oneself as the base definition, how does a third party judge what is unduly and what is the right amount? Who among us is sufficiently perfect and wise as to pass judgment on the worthiness of another human?

Answer: No one

So the interesting thing is that you can only be accused of egotistical behavior by someone who has such an unduly high opinion of himself that he thinks he can stand in judgment of your value as a human while simultaneously knowing your private thoughts about your self-worth. You'd need to be enormously egotistical to label someone egotistical. There's no getting around it.

So, if you think I'm egotistical, I accept the invitation to join your club of judgmental egomaniacs. It sounds fun. And if it's not too much to ask, I'd like to be the only one who gets to talk.


Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +109
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 26, 2013
So sorry for the agony you went through. Thank you for sharing your so private pain- may it spur our nation on to changing the laws. And- may it spur some people into filling out their DNR, DNI forms.
Yes, you- you, who think you will never have these problems- sign the forms so your family doesn't have to chose for you.
Love- it's the only law worth following. Do it for the love of the ones who will watch you suffer.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 26, 2013
I feel your pain Scott. Literally and figuratively, I have been there. My mother finally died 2 years ago after a most debilitating Alzheimers trajectory. What made it hardest for me, was her implanted defibrillator that kept re-starting her heart again and again as I sat on her bedside. The palliative care she received was stellar except for the fact that they refused to discuss calling her Dr. to turn it off. He probably wouldn't have, in any case due to the fear of prosecution. So it goes.

As I sat there near the end, having watched her die in pieces over a 4-year period, I was convinced that her mind had long-since departed. I sang her a child's lullaby from her youth just in case, and she suddenly sat bolt upright in bed, looked at me with total understanding in her beautiful blue eyes and fell back into bed, dying minutes later. Would I trade that moment for a more dignified and shorter death? No, I don't think I would. Selfish maybe, but that's my choice.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 26, 2013
My comment is a simple one:

There is no such thing as "the government." The government is not a solid, easily defined, concretely bordered object that has absolute control of anything. The government is us. It is the people that we elected to put forth principles and beliefs that we believe (or, in the case that you might be of the minority party, that the winning/majority party believes in). The government is employees, people like you and me, who have a job to apply, fulfill, make work, the previously stated policies and procedures.

The government did not prevent your father from having a dignified death, you did, I did, your neighbors did, your mother/sister/brother did. You may not agree with the policies that are currently being adhered to, in a system that big I am sure that nobody will agree with everything. But you do have the option to try to change them, it is called politics and the election booth.

At a time where voting numbers continue to dwindle, there is no place for people to !$%*! about things that they are not trying to change. Change is slow on a personal timeline, but given how young our country is, fairly fast on a population-based timeline. There are now 16 states that allow same-sex marriage. Five years ago would you have predicted that? We have a black President. Ten years ago would you have predicted that? How about a significant reduction in imported oil dependency? How about a drone war overseas? Lots of things change. Channel your outrage (and possibly money) to organizations and outlets that can help persuade other people to see as you do and then some day "the government" will more fully represent what you believe in.
Nov 25, 2013
I completely agree with you and I am sorry for your lost. He is finally at peace now.
Nov 7, 2013
What they mean is that they are tired of hearing about it.
Nov 4, 2013
Me again. I thought about it a little more. It seems to me that your intention in writing the book was to make other people happy by giving them the set of tools they need to find happiness themselves. This tells me you are a nice guy with a generous heart. I like that you recognize the importance of keeping up with the basic maintenance of your own mind, body, and spirit so you can be of service to others. I took away some great insights into human nature and some solid practical advice. Again, thanks for that. I noticed that more than once you brought up the topic of being of service to others. It was almost as an afterthought, but it made me wonder if guiding people in that direction was your true intention. If so, I like that even more.

But I already have a pretty good idea of what makes me happy. I don't struggle with that part at all. :-) I could carve out a life of pleasure for myself pretty easily, but the thing is, it would be at the expense of making the rest of my family pretty miserable. What I struggle with is making *other* people happy. What I would really be interested in hearing from you are your insights into how to do that. I think you could do it in another book pretty easily using your same observations and advice for maintaining yourself, but instead of answering the question "How do I make myself happy?" answer "How do I make others happy?" I know there's a belief floating around out there that financial success is what we should aim for first and the rest will follow, but I think aiming for successful relationships (with family, friends, and coworkers) turns out to be more rewarding in every way in the long run.
Nov 3, 2013
Hi, Scott! Just read your book. Thanks for taking the time to share you thoughts; I collected a pocketful of gems.

Since you're asking, yes, you do come across as egotistical in parts, but as I haven't met anyone yet who is 100% humble 100% of the time, I consider that normal behavior.

Nov 1, 2013
Everybody wants to be awesomer. That’s a part of the appeal of books by authors like Malcolm Gladwell: they offer research and fun stories that can also teach us tricks on how to be more awesome. Those things can translate into more money, sociability, and positive outlooks. Their focus, though, remains on the story, whether it’s personal experience or a massive idea. Books in the “Self-Help” category, on the other hand, try to offer you direct advice and paradigms you should believe, like a how-to manual. Self-Help Books tend to be poorly-written, over-simplistic, and lacking nuance.

Here's a proudly egotistical INTJ Dilbert-lover's thoughtfully mixed review of "How to Fail at Almost Everything":

Oct 31, 2013
I've met some phenomenally egotistical people in my life. They are absolutely horrible people. I've never met you, but I would love to chat on Skype. After I've met you and chatted about life, the Universe and Everything, I'll let you know if you're egotistical.
Oct 30, 2013
Or as Pope Francis recently said, "Who am I to judge?"
Oct 30, 2013
I just wanted to say to Scott that today's comic was much more funny than the version he posted here earlier.

Let that be a rule of thumb; Referential violence is generally much funnier than wordplay on expletives.
Oct 29, 2013
Scott, based on how you write your articles I suspect you fall into the INTJ "Mastermind" personality type (which is shared by such luminaries as Steve Jobs and Victor Von Frankenstein).

I suspect you may have already come across this, however in the event that you haven't, you aren't (insert synonym for crazy) you just think at right angles to ~98% of the population.

If you're interested in reading up on this, the most entertaining description I've found is here http://intjcentral.com/the-compleat-idiots-guide-to-the-intj/
Oct 29, 2013
I believe it was Mac Davis that said: "Some people say I'm egotistical. Hell, I don't even know what that means. It must have something to do with the way that I fill out my skin-tight blue jeans."

That seemed applicable when I typed it.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2013
I'm thinking we should get a spokesperson, like James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman, to narrate our group of egotisticals.
Oct 29, 2013
I think one of the most egotistical things you can do in life is write a book.

But it is more egotistical if you self-publish.
Oct 29, 2013
But my question of the day is this: Is egotistical even a thing?
Is a 2 dimensional surface a thing? Is blue, in the abstract, a thing?

Egotistical is a thing just as much as peace, anger, kindness are things.

I would put them in a category of procedural aspects of ongoing morphing events. Ppl's lives are works-in-progress. You can't hold blue in the palm of your hand, but it is part of reality. Its just a facet that does not avail itself thru the tactile medium.

To me egotistical means you dont properly respect others. If you take all points/elements you are aware of for a persons existence, and abstract that for others, then you respect them (imperfectly yes, but equally is the important part).

To me an egotistical person thinks of themselves as a cube and everyone else as a line segment, and then try to interact with others. It really doesnt matter how complex your abstraction is, it only matters that you model others on the same order as yourself. Thus intellectuals who dont fully grasp they have bodies could get along with jocks if they recognize we all share the same set of mental vertices. Where they get in trouble is when they abstract jocks to not have the same set, which is false. same set, just different developments.

I think what gets a lot of higher order persons into trouble is when they recognize and perceive a dimension of themselves that others cannot conceive in themselves. Doesnt even matter if the first person can respect that dimension in others, he will be viewed as egotistical by secondary observers.

IMO this is how you get so many jokes about CEOs asking bums why are you bothering me on the street? Go play on your yacht. Everyone has a yacht right?

The possibility to improve our condition does exist, but its a dimension some wont/cant acknowledge. Combine that with a rich persons POV, and you get class warfare fodder. In reality, that hypothetical could be a rich guy seeing and honoring the bums 'self improvement' dimension. A vertex they share in common. An exercise in honoring someone is then flattened into rich's tone deafness for smaller observers.

Then the bum, since he doesnt believe in the selfimprovement dimension at all, sees the rich guy as thinking he is better than him since the rich guy believes in that aspect for himself. At this point the bum ceases to model the rich guy on the same order as himself, and starts attributing tone deafness and lack of depth across a different aspect. collapsing his concept of the rich guy into a dehumanized other. At this point its perfectly justified to abuse the rich guy. They are just a line segment after all, and you are cube!

This is one of the things i find so nonsensical about american civilization. we talk about equality so much but there are vast numbers of ppl who completely fail the concept. The black woman from the View saying blacks can use N word but others cant. That is not believing we share a common experience. That is believing 1 group is on an existentially higher order. Higher order of sentience (comprehension), liberty (vocabulary/speech options), depth of soul/suffering. Hearing the 'whys' is even more enlightening and damning. Your race hasnt suffered 400 years of slavery. Apparently the human experience is not universal and there is an existential element of reality beyond the ken of those who arent decended from slaves.

Its bassackwards hearing them say things like that with the word equality and freedom mingled in. Yet its the prevailing belief/attitude for many persons. Many ppl feel specific identity entitles ppl to different standards. That is not common vertices. Are we equal or not?
Oct 29, 2013

You could very well be talking about wife's sister and her husband. Although in his case I think its a defense mechanism in that his parents (and his wife) continually tell him he is worthless.
Oct 29, 2013
Here's the thing: we are ALL egotistical. Overconfidence is, in the long term, a winning strategy; some of the people who go up against long odds will succeed, and those people become the leaders and the breeders. A lot don't make it, of course, but they are forgotten and/or dead, so counterexamples either don't exist or are disregarded.

The result: humans have evolved to believe that they are more competent than they really are.

A computer model developed a few years ago by a pair of social scientists bears this out. Over thousands of generations, the virtual people who had an unduly high opinion of themselves became more numerous. This shouldn't be too surprising; there are reasons why we have jokes like "90% of drivers think they are above average." Actually, that's probably not a joke. Most people, given the chance, will rate themselves a cut above average on most things, and significantly above on a few traits they consider important.

In a hunter-gatherer, small-group context, egotism was good for our species as the whole even if it caused trouble for some individual groups. The problem is that we no longer live in the world where our brains evolved. In our modern society, some people have the potential to adversely affect millions of others if they make bad decisions based on their over-estimation of their own ability. And the people who are most likely to BE in those situations are, you guessed it, those who have the highest level of egotism.
Oct 29, 2013
I would generally reserve the word "egotistical" for someone who rejects someone else. And I usually perceive it as a relationship thing.

e.g. I have a jerk of a cousin. He has a doctorate in physics. But his career prospects are pretty dismal, since his social skills are horrible, he has bad hygiene, and he's a bookish academic -- not someone likely to invent or engineer or inspire. Through his Mormon religion, he was somehow set up with a beautiful, sweet, witty, girl with a PhD in biology (a science!) who was anxious to get married. He kept saying that he could do better. I can't imagine that betters even exists, personally. And he never had a girlfriend before, because his faults were so obvious to everyone.

That exemplifies egotism to me.
Oct 29, 2013
First, let me state that I wouldn't say you seem egotistical. Intentionally provacative sometimes, but not egotistical.
But I totally disagree with the statement "So the interesting thing is that you can only be accused of egotistical behavior by someone who has such an unduly high opinion of himself." There is a difference between judging a BEHAVIOR as egotistical, and being able to confirm a person's inner thoughts. Donald Trump referring to himself in the third person or "The Donald" is egotistical behavior. Kanye West jumping up on stage to announce that in his opionion Taylor Swift didn't deserve an award is egotistical behavior. Both may be naturally timid and insecure for all I know, but they're behavior wasn't. You don't need an unduly high opinion of yourself to recognize bad behavior and call it out.
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog