After having “Ego is the Enemy” on my to-read list for more than a year, I finally finished it last week. I’m a huge fan of Ryan Holiday for many years and have read many of his articles, so my expectations for the book were high, and I wasn’t surprised: It’s as great as I expected.
While the key message of the book is pretty clear just by reading the title, the lessons shared dig deep beneath the surface. Through a broad portfolio of stories, ranging from ancient philosophers to modern leaders, Ryan Holiday collected priceless wisdom on how and why our ego sometimes becomes our own biggest enemy and how we can defeat it with ease instead of capitulating.
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I sincerely believe the power of this book lies in the fact that we all find ourselves being egoists from time to time and that we all can relate to the dangers that might arise from egoistic behavior.
Beating your ego and cultivating a down-to-earth, growth mentality will help you to grow further, build deep relationships, and, most importantly: To live a life with fewer regrets.
Here are the most powerful lessons I took from Ego is the Enemy:
Your Ego Can Cost You Everything
We all know that our ego can sometimes take control of our minds and let us do and say things that we actually don’t mean. Most of the daily arguments in our relationships arise from such an abundance of ego.
However, according to Ryan Holiday, our ego can destroy way more than just a pleasant evening or a relationship:
“Ego has cost the people I admire hundreds of millions of dollars, and like Sisyphus, rolled them back from their goals just as they’ve achieved them.”
Don’t Confuse Ego with Confidence
We often mix up terms such as confidence, self-worth, and self-awareness with ego.
While some powerful leaders tend to preach having a little ego to win in life, Ryan Holiday has a different definition for what being egoistic actually means: An unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition.
With that definition in mind, it’s easier to agree that being egoistic is not really cool and has nothing to do with being confident or appreciating yourself.
Strengthen Your Ability to Evaluate Yourself
According to Ryan Holiday, we should continuously practice seeing ourselves with a little distance and cultivate the ability to get out of our own head. He describes how being aware of our strengths is essential, but that making the most out of it is what really matters. Talent without effort is worthless.
Without evaluating yourself from time to time, you won’t be able to improve further. And while our ego often leads us to focus on our talents and strengths, the work on our weaknesses is what truly matters.
Talking Is Always Easy, Be Still Instead
While most people think that silence is a sign of weakness and fear being ignored, Ryan Holiday describes silence as strength, particularly during your early days on a journey.
“In fact, many valuable endeavors we undertake are painfully difficult, whether it’s coding a new startup or mastering a craft. But talking, talking is always easy.”
While everyone can talk, being silent is what’s difficult and valuable.
Holiday describes that while being silent might seem challenging, talking is what often depletes us:
“After spending so much time thinking, explaining, and talking about a task, we start to feel that we’ve gotten closer to achieving it. Or worse, when things get tough, we feel we can toss the whole project aside because we’ve given it our best try, although of course we haven’t.”
Holiday states that most people choose talking over doing just because it’s easier. The truth, however, is that talking barely leads to results. At the end of the day, it doesn’t count how much you talked about something. The only thing that matters is whether you did it or not.
Be A Student
Holiday beautifully describes how most of us don’t want to be learning but quickly be masters of our craft instead:
“We don’t like thinking that someone is better than us. Or that we have a lot left to learn. We want to be done. We want to be ready.”
Sometimes, we even feel too busy to be learning and improving. The reality, however, is that we must be learning if we want to keep going. According to Holiday, one must know what came before, what is going on now, and what comes next in order to be and stay great.
“A student is self-critical and self-motivated, always trying to improve his understanding so that he can move on to the next topic, the next challenge. A real student is also his own teacher and his own critic. There is no room for ego there.”
Learn to Take Feedback
According to Holiday, the art of taking feedback, particularly harsh and critical feedback, is a vital skill to move forward in life.
He describes how one shouldn’t only be appreciating but actively soliciting it. Particularly when everybody (and our ego) is telling us that we’re doing great, we should be seeking feedback at all costs. Instead of resting on our oars, we should be exploring ways to become even better.
Your ego will always manipulate you by telling you’re already good enough and don’t need improvement. The truth, however, is that there’s always room for growth. Particularly, when you think that you’re good enough, there’s more work to do than ever before.
“Today, books are cheaper than ever. Courses are free. Access to teachers is no longer a barrier — technology has done away with that. There is no excuse for not getting your education, and because the information we have before us is so vast, there is no excuse for ever ending that process either.”
Stop Being Passionate
While most people are desperately looking for their passion, Ryan Holiday states that our passions are often the reason why we fail in life. He even describes passion as a form of mental retardation and the reason why people end up wasting their best years.
“Passion is seen in those who can tell you in great detail who they intend to become and what their success will be like — they might even be able to tell you specifically when they intend to achieve it or describe to you legitimate and sincere worries they have about the burdens of such accomplishments. They can tell you all the things they’re going to do, or have even begun, but they cannot show you their progress. Because there rarely is any. How can someone be busy and not accomplish anything? Well, that’s the passion paradox.”
According to Holiday, it’s a purpose that truly matters in life, not passion.
While passion is about something (I’m passionate about xyz), purpose is to and for (I must do xyz. I was put here to accomplish xyz.) While passion is all about you, purpose is the opposite, it’s about serving.
Attach Yourself to People and Organizations Who Are Already Successful
“Clear the path for the people above you and you will eventually create a path for yourself.”
While most people want to walk a glorious path on their own, the more effective way to the top, according to Holiday, is by keeping your head down and serving people from whom you can learn.
By helping others to succeed, you can pave your own way to the top. Holiday’s approach is: Be lesser, do more.
One idea he shares is thinking of a way to help everyone you meet. He says this would help to deal with various problems, let you build deep relationships, and, most importantly: You’d have a bank of favors to call upon down the road.
Get Rid of Anger
“It doesn’t degrade you when others treat you poorly; it degrades them.”
Too often, we get caught up in negative emotions because of how someone treats us. And whenever someone treats us poorly, we wish to educate them on who we are and of our importance. Why? Because our ego is screaming loudly from the inside out.
But here’s how Holiday recommends dealing with such emotions:
“Take it. Eat it until you’re sick. Endure it. Quietly brush it off and work harder. Play the game. Ignore the noise; for the love of God, do not let it distract you. Restraint is a difficult skill but a critical one.”
Work, Work, Work
While everyone these days wants to succeed in one way or the other, only very few are genuinely putting in the work.
Yet, Holiday describes hard work as the only relevant part of any journey to mastering a craft and becoming great at what you’re doing:
“Is it ten thousand hours or twenty thousand hours to mastery? The answer is that it doesn’t matter. There is no end zone. To think of a number is to live in a conditional future. We’re simply talking about a lot of hours — that to get where we want to go isn’t about brilliance, but continual effort.”
Where you put your energy ultimately decides what you get out of the game, and if you desire big things, you need to take big action.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
The more we succeed in life, the more we compare ourselves to people who are even better than us. We behave as if we’re on a race against others instead of enjoying our own journey. And during that competition, we often don’t even know why we’re sprinting.
While competitiveness is a vital force in life, knowing your surroundings and who you’re competing with is essential.
And, what’s even more important is asking yourself why you’re even in that race at all.
“In other words, it’s not about beating the other guy. It’s not about having more than the others. It’s about being what you are, and being as good as possible at it, without succumbing to all the things that draw you away from it. It’s about going where you set out to go. About accomplishing the most that you’re capable of in what you choose.”
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