Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday - Review and Quick Summary
Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle is the Way, has just published his treatise on ego, sure to be another cult classic.
Holiday uses examples of historical figures—both successful and unsuccessful—to examine the destructive properties of ego. Through these stories we gain a better understanding of how dangerous ego can be, and how its’ suppression leads to a better life. The writing is clear and engaging. I wish the author had provided more concrete ways to fight the ego. It’s a quick read but full of great ideas.
If you want to challenge yourself to be better, read this book. Highly recommend.
The following are rough notes I took while reading. These are mostly paraphrased or quoted directly from the book.
Part 1: Aspire
Ego: The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility
Ego is at the root of almost every problem and obstacle
We don’t usually see this, we think something else is to blame for our problems
Pursuing great work is terrifying. ego soothes that fear (and prevents us from doing the work)
We are all aspiring, succeeding, or failing and ego is the enemy at every step
Your ego can be managed and directed
Two types of people who rise to fame:
- those born with a belief in themselves
- those who grow slowly based on actual achievement (more satisfying and more resilient)
Our cultural values make us dependent on validation, entitled, and ruled by our emotions. This makes us weak.
"Talent is only the starting point” -Irving Berlin. Will you make the most of it?
Practice seeing yourself with detachment, as an outside observer
It is easier to talk about your work than to commit the act itself
Too much goal visualization can be confused in your mind with actual progress
Success requires 100% of our effort and talk flitters part of that away
The only relationship between work and chatter (talking yourself up) is that one kills the other
"To be or to do? Which way will you go?” - John Boyd
Impressing people is different from being impressive
The ego replaces what matters with what doesn’t
If your purpose is larger than you - everything becomes easier and more difficult. Easier because you know what you need to do. Harder because every opportunity must be evaluated: does this help me do what I have set out to do?
Not “who do I want to be?” but “What do I want to accomplish?"
Become a Student, it places ego and ambition in someone else’s hands. The master becomes an ego ceiling
Evaluate your own talents downward. Pretense of knowledge prevents you from getting better
To become great and stay great, one must know what came before, what is going on now, and what comes next
A true student is self-critical and self-motivataed, always improving his understanding
You can’t learn if you think you already know
You must solicit harsh feedback
With information so readily available, there is no excuse for not getting your education.
Don’t be passionate. Have purpose and reason.
Unbridled enthusiasm and passion will lead you down the wrong path
Purpose is passion with bounaries. Realism is detatchment and perspective
Passion is about. Purpose is to and for
Passion is form over function. Purpose is function function function
"I’m better than (unpaid/low-paid position which is ’beneath’ you)!” — if you’re going to be the big deal you think you are going to be, isn’t this a rather trivial temporary imposition?
It’s not about kissing ass, it’s about providing support so others can be good.
Clear the path for people above you and you will eventually create a path for yourself
When you are starting out: * you aren’t as good as you think * you have an attitude that needs to be readjusted * most of what you know is wrong
Reduce your ego at the beginning of your career and absorb everything you can
Imagine if for every person you met, you thought of some way to help them
Help yourself by helping others
The person who clears the path ultimately controls it’s direction
Jackie Robinson (first black major league player)- knowing what he wanted to do in baseball, it was clear what he would have to tolerate to do it. He shouldn’t have had to, but he did.
Our humiliations with be hard. It will be tough to keep our self-control.
Who can afford to be jerked around by impulses?
It doesn’t degrade you when others treat you poorly; it degrades them
You can’t change the system until after you’ve made it
We tend to think ego equals confidence. in fact it can be the opposite.
Ego can paralyze us or become a wall to information we need
General George Marshall refused to keep a diary during WWII to avoid turning reflection into a grand show about himself, into self-deception
Live with the tangible and real especially if it’s uncomfortable
Pride - even in real accomplishments - is a distraction and deluder
Our mind is blunted by pride
When you feel pride, ask: what am I missing or avoiding that a humble person might see?
Privately thinking you are better than others is still pride
We are still striving and strivers should be our peers, not the proud and accomplished
An idea is not enough. you must do the work
It’s not 10,000 hours or 20,000 hours, its a lot of continual effort
Where we put our energy decides what we’ll accomplish
Bill Clinton kept track of everyone he met and would keep in touch - he had over 10,000 contacts
Fac, si facis
Make it so you don’t have to fake it
Everytime you sit down to work, remind yourself: I am making an investment in myself instead of my ego
Ira Glass’s Taste/Talent gap
Don’t let ego comfort you in this gap and prevent you from doing the work
Part 2: Success
Without virtue and training, it is hard to bear the results of good fortune suitably - Aristotle
Ego has the same roots as alcoholism—insecurity, fear, dislike for objectivity
Success is intoxicating, yet to sustain it requires sobriety
Genghis Khan was the greatest conqueror ever because he was more open to learning than any other conqueror
It takes humility to grasp that you know less as you know more and more
No matter what you’ve done, always stay a student
The professional finds learning (and being shown up) enjoyable
Don’t tell yourself a story
Set a high standard of performance for yourself, the winning will take care of itself
Humans love to retroactively build a story about past events, but it’s dangerous and untrue.
Once you win, everyone is gunning for you. At the top is where you can afford ego the least
Resist the impulse to reverse engineer success from other people’s stories
When you succeed, don’t pretend that everything unfolded as we planned
Remain focused on executing with excellence
All of us waste precious life doing things we don’t like because of ego
The more you accomplish the more you meet other more successful people
Each one of us has unique potential and purpose
Be what you are, and be as good as possible at it.
Think about whats truly important to you and forsake the rest
Ego rejects compromise - ego wants it all
Why do you do what you do? You need to answer this question
Illusion: I’d be happy if only I had that
With success comes dangerous delusions: entitlement, control, and paranoia
Ambition left unchecked can become hubris
Regularly remind yourself of the limits of your power and reach
Control can become paralyzing perfectionism or millions of micromanagment points
Paranoia thinks, I can’t trust anyone
"He who indulges empty fears earns himself real fears” - Seneca
Urgent and important are not synonyms
The systems that got you to success won’t necessarily keep you there
As you become successful, days become less about doing and more about making decisions
Responsibility requires a readjustment and then increased clarity and purpose
An innocent climb is often follow by the ’disease of Me’
Ego needs honors to be validated. confidence will focus on the task at hand regardless of external recognition.
We never earn the right to be greedy at the expense of everyone else
"Never did [General] Marshall think about himself” - President Truman
Who has time to look at a picture of himself? What’s the point?
Meditate on the immensity
sympatheia— a connectedness with the cosmos
Realize you are an infinitesimal point in the immensity
In these moments we are free and drawn toward important questions: “Who am I? What am I doing? What is my role in this world?"
Nothing draws us away from those questions like material success
Creativity is a matter of receptiveness and recognition. This cannot happen if you’re convinced the world revolves around you.
Remind yourself how pointless it is to rage and fight and try to one-up those around you
Fear is a bad advisor
Be willing to compromise on everything except the principle at stake
If you want to live happy, live hidden (unfortunately that means the rest of us are deprived of good examples)
Instead of letting power make us delusional, prepare for inevitable shifts of life
Part 3: Failure
Life takes our plans and dashes them to pieces
If ego is often a nasty side effect of success, it can be fatal during failure
Life isn’t fair
Whether what you’re going through is your fault or your problem doesn’t matter, it’s yours to deal with right now.
Seek stoic resiliance
Dead time: when people are passive and waiting Alive time: when people are learning and acting and utilizing every second
Think of what you have been putting off
When we fail, what if we said: This is an oppourtunity for me
Make use of what’s around you
Do your duty, that is enough
If ego holds sway, we’ll accept nothing less than full appreciation
Many great people have not been rewarded for their work. Should they not have done it?
The less attached we are to outcomes the better.
You will be unappreciated. You will be sabotaged. You will experience surprising failures. Your expectations will not be met. You will lose. You will fail.
Doing the work is enough.
We all go through hell
In these moments we are forced to make eye contact with the truth
Ego often causes the crash and then blocks us from improving
The world can show you the truth but no one can force you to accept it.
Rising from the bottom is one of the most powerful perspectives in the world
Don’t get your identity tied up in your work
Ego kills what we love
If you are failing have the courage to make a full stop
Say you’ve failed, are you going to make it worse?
The only real failure is abandoning your principles
Don’t care what others think, care whether you meet you own very high standards
Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.
Evaluate yourself as an ’indifferent spectator’
Best response to an attack? Love
What do you dislike? Whose name fills you with rage? Have these strong feelings really helped you accomplish anything?
Are we going to be miserable just because other people are?
Obsession with the past, something that someone did, how things should have been, is ego embodied
It’s so easy to hate. Hate defers blame. Does it get us any closer to where we want to be? No.
We will experience failure
whatever happens, avoid ego
Not to aspire or seek out of ego.
To have success without ego.
To push through failure with strength, not ego.
Perfecting the personal regularly leads to success as a professional, but not the other way around
You must sweep the floor every minute of every day. And then sweep again.