I am a huge fan of Ryan Holiday. He has been an agent to some of the World’s biggest rock stars, marketing director for what was one of the globe’s leading clothing brands – American Apparel – and a New York Times’ best seller. He accomplished all of the above by his mid-twenties. But, as the title of Ego is the Enemy suggests, after accomplishing great things, he became a workaholic who thought he was invincible, and this eventually led to personal demons that created emptiness and stagnation in his self-development.
The book talks about how ego holds back people in all walks of life. And it is a great and humbling read!
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman
Ego Is The Enemy: What’s It All About
Ryan Holiday’s book is a collection of short chapters telling stories about how ego brought the downfall of business, military, political, sports and entertainment people. Within each chapter, there is also a story of how similar people overcame ego to succeed.
Ego Is The Enemy is split into three sections:
- Success, and
Basically, it discusses how ego holds you back and damages you before you succeed. There is no excuse for or positives to being led by ego. Regardless of what medals, fortune or accomplishments you have to show for it, it is a retardant for development.
Before we hop into the nuggets I got from it, I would highly recommend that you buy the book. The notes below are a little like giving you the moral without getting the context or pleasure of reading the really well-written stories. Without the context and personal accounts, it may seem preachy, but it isn’t at all when reading it in its fullest form.
Keys Lessons And Takeaways
Most of us are good at self-hype and talking. In reality, most of what we contribute is for our validation or personal gain. It takes real strength to keep yourself out of the conversation, and to listen actively. It does not mean you shouldn’t contribute at all, but bringing things back to personal stories, and getting your ‘twopence’ in is usually trying to prove something.
Strength lies in not trying to prove something, but actually having the confidence to not input unless you genuinely feel you can contribute.
On Impressing People
Many of us love the art of deception. Impressing people is not the same as being impressive. Having the right is not the same as being right. Having authority is not the same as being an authority. Getting a promotion does not necessarily mean you are good at your work or that you deserved it – sometimes you make a lucky break in a broken system.
Facing these tough realities means we can focus on being the best we can be. Not creating smoking mirrors that creates faux validation from others.
On Decision Making
Do you really need this, or is it actually about ego? For example, if you don’t take the promotion, does it help you focus on doing more of the best work of your life rather than managing politics, and clinging on for dear life a rung higher? Doing is always better than being. Doing the work and making realities happen, to a secure fulfilled person, are better than a title or glitter.
On Being a Student
Be a student forever. Find a mentor. No matter how successful you are. An “I’ve been around the block” or “In this industry for years” mentality is dangerous. There is always something to learn. There is always someone who is better than you at something, even if they have not got to the same level as you. Continually seek knowledge within your discipline and other disciplines and from others.
There are people who always want to share knowledge and help – but asking for a mentor requires the humility to do so.
On Being Passionate
Loving what you do and doing it with feverish enthusiasm is great. Sometimes though, we work hard chasing vague goals telling ourselves passion will get us there. That is not the right road. While passion is great, so is focus, realism, self-awareness, conscious planning and hard work.
Don’t tell yourself passion is enough. And don’t let it stop you from doing things you don’t want to do. Don’t let it excuse arguments, cloud judgment and a reason to refuse to learn new methods. There is a blurred line between passion and ego; know which one you are working with.
On Doing What No One Else Wants to Do
Some work we refuse to do. You’ll recognise the classics: “I am not being paid to do this” or “I didn’t go to college or train to do this.” In reality, many people succeed by simply having the humility to do the work others won’t do. It doesn’t mean you should be a busy fool running from small task to small task, but don’t let ego steer you into doing the stuff you want, versus what needs to be done. The hard yards are often the most valuable part of the journey.
People who have control over their pride and ego, realise that when someone publically or privately demeans you, they are not degrading you, but themselves. Ego is the enemy, and it tells you to revolt: “I am better than this,” “I will not be treated like this,” “I deserve better.”
Life is going to toss you some tough curve balls: being fired, being yelled at, being cheated on. Security in yourself tells you that it is not necessarily a personal reflection on you, but just that life can be unfair. Strength is reflected in taking it on the chin, not desperately responding to validate your insecurities. Winning is a thank you and a walk away.
On Early Pride
Pride comes before a fall. The less we know, the more esteemed and impressive our small victories can be to our ego. The problem is, this stifles our ability to develop ourselves, to seek new knowledge, and to build meaningful relationships. Ironically, the success we perceive to have can stop us from being better if they go to our heads.
Ask yourself after victories, ‘What am I missing right now that someone who is humble enough not to care would spot?’. It doesn’t mean that small wins are not important, but they are certainly not as important as growing as a person.
On Hard Work
Ego wants the Instagram quotes we post, selfies we take, titles we create and money we earn to be enough. That means we intend to succeed to achieve our goals. But intentions without blood, sweat, and tears mean nothing. Time spent telling the world what success looks like at the next conference is time wasted on creating meaningful work or being the best parent you can be, or whatever it is you are trying to achieve.
On the Comfort Zone
Ego, by its very nature, hates being outside of the comfort zone. It doesn’t want to ask for help. It doesn’t want to be in a room where everybody at the table is smarter than you. It doesn’t want you to take part in team exercises that require embarrassment or expose weaknesses. The single greatest test of humility comes from improvement. How willing are you to improve? To be a better person or whatever your goal is; not telling people you are great or wanting to be great. Instead, facing up to weaknesses and learning how you can work around them.
It’s fine to have no rags-to-riches story. No ‘A-ha!’ or Eureka moment. Perfectly fine. But don’t create a narrative. A story that pulls on the heartstrings tells you there was a turning point in the face of adversity. The truth sometimes is that you achieved a goal through a messy path, with humbling moments, and a fat dollop of luck. Don’t let ego write the script.
Let others eat first and understand that serving a mission is usually much more fulfilling than serving yourself. Soccer coach Tony Adams once said, “Play for the name on the front of the jersey, and we’ll remember the name on the back.” When ‘me’ is the priority, then you become the obstacle. Ironically, if you really want to serve yourself, push ego aside, find something fulfilling, and who knows what is at the end of that road.
On Life Being Fair
Ego loves the notion of fairness, known in psychology as ‘narcissistic injury.’ Sometimes, the response to a salary request is no. Sometimes, the investor or the bank won’t see the numbers. Sometimes, he just didn’t feel the same way about you. It stings, and it hurts, but seeking a sense of fairness is hinged in entitlement.
Ego betrays you when times get tough. It tells you that you are undervalued and that you should never have tried. It says others don’t understand you, or that you are better than him. Proceeding without ego means you will try and right wrongs, work harder to improve and give it a better shot. Or you may not try and realise you were chasing something shiny that just isn’t important.
On the Real Lows
Think back to when you were yelled at in public by a previous boss. Think about that time your friends humiliated you in school. Maybe, you have even been through some serious tough points, like bankruptcy. These are incredibly humbling types of moments in our lives. And there is almost always three consistent factors to them:
- They come at the hands of an outside force or person,
- They often involve things we knew about ourselves but were afraid to admit, and
- They provide an opportunity to reform, improve and progress (even if the opportunity wasn’t seized for ego or other reasons).
On ‘The Streisand Effect’
Barbra Streisand once tried to get photographs of her home removed from a website. The campaign, considering her fame, meant it was very public. Millions of people saw the photos – people who would never have seen them if she had left the issue alone in the first place.
When someone wrongs us, and we seek cold vengeance, it is ego telling us we must defend our image and stand up for ourselves. Often, this just highlights the issue, makes us look foolish and costs us time, money and friendships. Ego clouds what is important. Don’t let pride unravel self-discipline. Not letting go is ego embodied.
I loved Ego Is The Enemy, by Ryan Holiday. As I said, there are stories to go with every point above, which really bring it to life and hit home the points. I hope you enjoyed the summary, and I will leave you with this quote from basketball coach, John Wooden.
Are there any other books that you would like us to discuss on the Phorest Blog? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us @ThePhorestWord!
Thanks for reading,