Ego Is the Enemy

Ego Is the Enemy

by Ryan Holiday

Your ego is your biggest enemy at every stage of your life. When you are just starting out your career, it will stop you from learning more and cultivating skills. When you’ve begun to achieve success, it will blind you to your faults and keep you from becoming better. When you experience failure, it will make each blow feel a lot worse than it actually is and make your recovery much harder. 

In Ego Is The Enemy, Ryan Holiday uses plenty of real-life stories and examples from literature, philosophy, and history to demonstrate how your ego can destroy you. On the other hand, he also illustrates how letting go of your ego will help you achieve lasting success.

Summary Notes

Part I: Aspire

“To whatever you aspire, ego is the enemy.”

There are two types of people, those who are born believing in themselves and those who base this self-confidence on their actual achievements. The first attitude is the one touted by most people. When parents and teachers work on building up children’s self esteems, this results in them growing up into adults who are ruled by emotions and who seek validation from others. In the long run, this way of thinking can be quite detrimental to actual success.

The second attitude, that where belief in yourself is measured by what you actually achieve, has moderation and humility as its foundation. After all, raw talent is simply the first step; there is still a long way to go before you can achieve success. Those who let go of their ego can accurately evaluate their skills and identify what they need to improve. Arrogance and self-absorption inhibit growth, while humility, diligence, and self-awareness encourage it.

There are a few ways in which one can cultivate the habit of seeing yourself with a little distance so that you can prevent your ego from taking over. They will involve letting go of your need for validation, focus on doing things that make a difference rather than being someone who achieves fame, accept that you can always learn to do better, and more.

Actions to take

Don’t Be Passionate

“Just as often, we fail with - no, because of - passion.”

Passion is often considered one of the most important characteristics of a successful person. However, many of the most successful people in this world are not driven by passion. Instead, they follow reason. Passion tends to blind you to the reality of a situation - while you may think your idea is novel and groundbreaking, those around you could be more concerned about its implementation, utility, cost-effectiveness, etc. When being passionate is your biggest driving force, it’s very easy to overlook or dismiss these concerns. Passion makes it difficult to gain perspective on a situation and do the grunt work necessary to achieve your goals.

When you focus less on your passion and more on concrete actions, you will get closer to achieving success. The key to this is being humble. Remember, you are the least important person in the room - until you change that with results.

You will also need to exercise restraint. No matter who you are, when you try to do something big, important, and meaningful, you will experience all sorts of negative treatment. Whether it is as mild as indifference or as serious as outright sabotage, it is unavoidable. You will be tempted to fight back, however, that is your ego talking. The only way to achieve success is to constantly work towards it - and that includes not allowing yourself to get distracted by your impulses.

Actions to take

Part II: Success

“Whether you built your empire from nothing or inherited it, entropy is seeking to destroy it as you read this.”

Achieving success means nothing if you cannot hold onto it. It is easy to become egotistical once you have achieved success, however, this will be your downfall. Remember that the same characteristics and practices which led you to success will enable you to hold onto it. 

Most of us begin with a clear idea of what we want to achieve. As time goes on and our success increases, we lose sight of that original idea and get distracted by what other people have achieved. If they have achieved less, we stroke our egos. If they have achieved more, we get competitive. This competitive spirit is only a good thing when we know who we are competing with and why. When you are competing for the sake of it, when your ego tells you that you need to be better than, have more than everyone, everywhere, you will end up with nothing.

When you let go of your ego, you are receptive to the world around you, and this will stimulate creativity. Many of the greatest leaders and thinkers throughout history have stressed the importance of acknowledging how each person is but a speck in this universe. Truly accepting this fact cannot happen if you think the world revolves around you - but you will need to accept it in order to gain perspective, stay humble, and achieve success.

Actions to take

Part III: Failure

“At any given moment, there is the chance of failure or setbacks.”

Whenever we face difficulties in life, our ego will show its true colors - this is especially true for when the difficulty is public. More often than not, it will tell you that your struggle isn’t worth it, that this was inevitable and you should just wash your hands of the whole situation. However, perseverance pays off. Achieving success is one step, holding onto it is another, but how you act in the face of adversity is what matters the most. The only way out is through, and being resilient will ensure your success lasts.

There are two types of time in our lives - dead time and alive time. Dead time is when you are passive and waiting, and alive time is when you are learning and utilizing every second. No matter how difficult life gets, it is up to you to choose which time you want to be in. Choose dead time and to put it simply, you’re wasting your time away. Choose alive time and you keep from making a bad situation worse.

Actions to take

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