The Bigger You Are, the Harder You Fall

You’ve probably used this phrase to talk about the downfall of the big man on campus or the big boss of your company. This sports phrase was originally used for boxing—now it’s everywhere. The heavyweights might punch harder than the lightweights, but they also hit the mat harder when they go down.

Have you ever used the phrase ‘the bigger you are, the harder you fall’‘ to talk about the downfall of others? I certainly have. But it wasn’t until my Unbeatable Podcast interview with Michael Sugrue that I realized if this phrase is true of others, it must also be true of me if I’m not careful. This conversation prompted me to consider the dangers of thinking too highly of oneself, and I want to share these insights with you in this short article.

KO’ed by life

An inflated ego can blind us to our own flaws and limitations. It can make us overconfident, dismissive of others’ perspectives, and resistant to feedback or constructive criticism. This mindset hinders personal growth and damages relationships and professional opportunities. Michael Sugrue felt this way about his law enforcement career after being wildly successful in the USAF. However, Michael learned how painful falls are when you have an inflated ego.

When I was in the US Army, we had a similar saying about the dangers of an inflated ego. We described a warrior with an inflated ego as believing that they are “10 feet tall and bulletproof”. Of course, every warrior I know would love to be 10 feet tall and bulletproof in battle. The problem is that it’s not humanly possible. And the warriors whose egos are so big that they act as if they are 10 feet tall and bulletproof on the battlefield—are the first ones to end up dead. It’s lethal to go into combat with an inflated ego.

Blinded by ego

An inflated ego almost always leads to poor decision-making, personally and professionally. When you believe you are invincible, you may take unnecessary risks or ignore warning signs, setting yourself up for a hard fall. A healthy sense of humility and self-awareness is essential to protect you from a hard fall.

It’s dangerous for anyone to have a gap between who they perceive themselves to be and who they really are. It’s even more dangerous for leaders because the whole team is in danger of a hard fall when a leader’s character gap is exposed. Although Michael wasn’t a misguided leader, he was confronted with challenges as a police sergeant, making him reexamine his own opinion of himself. He was confronted with hard emotional challenges after killing an armed perpetrator while on patrol in December 2012.

Realizing you’re not bulletproof

If you don’t want to end up dead on a battlefield or destroyed by your own downfall, close the gap between your perceived abilities and reality. It was only after Michael’s career started to take a difficult turn and a great personal loss in his life that he was forced to admit for the first time that he didn’t have everything under control. He described the “bravest things he’s ever done” as reaching out for help before it was too late.

Take a lesson for Michael… Be on guard against the dangers of thinking too highly of yourself. Instead, strive for humility, openness, and a willingness to learn and grow. By keeping your egos in check, you can take life’s punches with greater resilience, empathy, and wisdom. Apply the wisdom in the age-old saying to your own life and strive to keep your egos in check. After all, the bigger you are, the harder you can fall.

Listen to my whole interview with Michael here.

Further reading

A modern Harriot Tubman

Quintina Sonnie helps rescue other women from sex trafficking and works with them over a long term to help heal their hearts and their bodies from...