Ego Is the Enemy

by Ryan Holiday

Read:  2017-02-15, Rating:  8/10.

Everyone should read this book because, for everything that comes next, Ego Is the Enemy. A really quick read full of anecdotes from Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, John DeLorean, Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson, Marcus Aurelius, Richard Nixon and Genghis Khan.

My Takeaways

  1. Stay Humble
  2. Stay a Student
  3. Don’t Tell Yourself a Story

My Notes

An unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centred ambition.

“Not me,” you think.

For people with ambitions, talents, drives, and potential to fulfill, ego comes with the territory. Precisely what makes us so promising as thinkers, doers, creatives, and entrepreneurs, what drives us to the top of those fields, makes us vulnerable to this darker side of the psyche.

Pursuing great work is often terrifying. Ego soothes that fear. Replacing the rational and aware parts of our psyche with bluster and self-absorption, ego tells us what we want to

Replacing the rational and aware parts of our psyche with bluster and self-absorption, ego tells us what we want to hear, when we want to hear it.

We’re told to think big, live big, to be memorable and “dare greatly.”

But what about Steve Jobs? What about Kanye West?

“Be natural and yourself and this glittering flattery will be as the passing breeze of the sea on a warm summer day.” William T. Sherman

It is poise, not pose.

What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence and self-awareness.

Those who know do not speak.
Those who speak do not know.
– Lao Tzu

It’s a temptation that exists for everyone – for talk and hype to replace action.

In actuality, silence is strength.

“Never give reasons for what you think or do until you must. Maybe, after a while, a better reason will pop into your head.” William T. Sherman

Talk depletes us. Talking and doing fight for the same resources.

Let the others slap each other on the back while you’re back in the lab or gym or pounding the pavement. Plug that hole that can drain you of your vital life force. Watch what happens. Watch how much better you get.

– John Boyd

It is not “Who do I want to be in life?” but “What is it that I want to accomplish in life?”


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.

Ego rushes to the end, rationalizes that patience is for losers, and assumes that we’re good enough to give our talents a go in the world.

Ego makes us so hardheaded and hostile to feedback that it drives them away or puts them beyond our reach.

Too often, we proceed like this… A flash of inspiration: I want to do the best and biggest ____ ever. Be the youngest ____. The only one to ____. The “firstest with the mostest.”

We hear what we want to hear.

Because we only seem to hear about the passion of successful people, we forget that failures shared the same trait.

Passion is about. (I am so passionate about ____.)
Purpose is to and for. (I must do ____. I was put here to accomplish ____. I am willing to endure ____ for the sake of this.)

Passion is form over function.
Purpose is function function function.

Anteambulo – one who clears the path

Make other people look good and you will do well. Keep your head down, they say, and serve your boss.

The question to ask, when you feel pride, is this: What am I missing right now that a more humble person might see?

Every time you sit down to work, remind yourself: I am delaying gratification by doing this. I am passing the marshmallow test. I am earning what my ambition burns for. I am making an investment in myself instead of in my ego.

Craziness can pass for audaciousness. Delusions can pass for confidence, ignorance for courage.

Who wants to look at themselves and their work and find that it does not measure up?

Success is intoxicating, yet to sustain it requires sobriety.

“As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.” John Wheeler

Consistently observe and listen, the humble improve.

Learn from everyone and everything. From the people you beat, and the people who beat you, from the people you dislike, even from your supposed enemies.

We must not let ego block us from hearing it again.

We must shun the false crown and continue working on what got us here. Because that’s the only thing that will keep us here.

Ego needs honors in order to be validated. Confidence, on the other hand, is able to wait and focus on the task at hand regardless of external recognition.

Once we’ve “made it,” the tendency is to switch to the mind-set of “getting what’s mine.”

You’re not as good as you think. You don’t have it all figured out. Stay focused. Do better.

Vain men never hear anything but praise.

Think of the times that you’ve excused your own with “no one will know.” This is the moral gray area that our ego loves to exploit.

“We begin to love our enemies and love those persons that hate us whether in collective life or in individual life by looking at ourselves.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Love is right there. Egoless, open, positive, vulnerable, peaceful, and productive.

Aspiration leads to success (and adversity). Success creates its own adversity (and, hopefully, new ambitions). And adversity leads to aspiration and more success. It’s an endless loop.

For everything that comes next, ego is the enemy . . . 

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