Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday – A Short Summary

Ryan Holiday is one of the world’s foremost thinkers and writers on ancient philosophy and its place in everyday life. He is a sought-after speaker, strategist, and the author of many bestselling books. Let’s see what he is teaching in this masterpiece.

What is Ego?

Ego can be defined as the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent. It’s when the notion of ourselves and the world grows so inflated that it begins to distort the reality that surrounds us.

Very Short Summary in 3 points

#1 – Learn to Learn

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

#2 – Talk less, do more

“Talk depletes us. Talking and doing fight for the same resources. Research shows that while goal visualization is important, after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress. The same goes for verbalization”

#3 – Learn, Teach, Challenge

“The mixed martial arts pioneer and multi-title champion Frank Shamrock has a system he trains fighters in that he calls plus, minus, and equal. Each fighter, to become great, he said, needs to have someone better that they can learn from, someone lesser who they can teach, and someone equal that they can challenge themselves against”

Understanding Ego in Different Stages of Life

At any given time in life, people find themselves at one of three stages.

  • We are aspiring to something – trying to make a dent in the universe.
  • We have achieved success – perhaps a little, perhaps a lot.
  • Or we have failed – recently or continually.

Ego is the enemy every step along this way.

Talk and Hype to Replace Action

When we are striving for something it’s a temptation that exists for everyone – for talk and hype to replace action. At the beginning of any path, we are excited and nervous. So, we seek to comfort ourselves externally instead of inwardly. This side we call ego.

Misconception Regarding Silence

We seem to think that silence is a sign of weakness. That being ignored is tantamount to death and for ego, this is true. Research shows that while goal visualization is important, after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress.

To Be or To Do

If your purpose is something larger than you – to accomplish something, to prove something to yourself – then suddenly everything becomes both easier and harder. Easier in the sense that you know now what it is you need to do and what is important to you. Harder because each opportunity – no matter how gratifying or rewarding – must be evaluated along strict guidelines: Does this help me do what I have set out to do?

Become a student

We don’t like thinking that someone is better than us or that we have a lot left to learn. For this reason, updating your appraisal of your talents in a downward direction is one of the most difficult things to do in life – it is always the component of mastery.

The pretense of knowledge is our most dangerous vice, because it prevents us from getting any better. Studious self-assessment is the antidote. -Ryan Holiday

Think of yourself as an eternal student to stay humble

Think of yourself like many of the ancient Stoics did: An eternal student of life, dedicated to learning as long as you live. This keeps you humble and encourages you to learn from the best in your field.

However, it pays to look both up and down the chain: take some time to mentor and teach others. Going back to beginners and helping them exposes you to the full spectrum of skill levels and is another way to restrain your ego.

It is impossible for a man to learn that, which he thinks he already knows.  -Epictetus

Taste/Talent Gap

Ira Glass states that all of us do creative work. We got into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you are making stuff, what you are making isn’t so good. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good; it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste – the thing that got you into the game – your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you are making is kind of a disappointment to you.

Ego in Taste/Talent Gap Situation

In this taste/talent gap situation, ego can seem comforting. Who wants to look at themselves and their work and find it does not measure up? And so here we might bluster our way through. Or, we can face our shortcomings honestly and put the time in. We can let this humble us, see clearly where we are talented and where we need to improve, and then put in the work to bridge that gap.

Ego in Success

Success is intoxicating, yet to sustain it requires sobriety. We can’t keep learning if we think we already know everything. We can’t buy into myths we make ourselves, or the noise and chatter of the outside world.

Ego Driven Resistance

Too often convinced of our own intelligence, we stay in a comfort zone where we never feel stupid and are never challenged to learn or reconsider what we know. It obscures from view various weaknesses in our understanding, until eventually it’s too late to change course.

Ego Driven Distractions

We start out knowing what is important to us, but once we have achieved it, we lose sight of our priorities. All of us regularly say yes unthinkingly, or out of vague attraction, or out of greed or vanity. We think “yes” will let us accomplish more, when in reality it prevents exactly what we seek. Ego rejects tradeoffs. Why? Ego wants it all.

Seneca’s Euthymia

According to Seneca, the Greek word euthymia meaning tranquility is one we should think of often: it is the sense of own path and how to stay on it without getting distracted by all the others that intersect it.

Remove the Hat of Entitlement

One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.

Maintain Sobriety

In most cases, we think that people become successful through sheer energy and enthusiasm. We almost excuse ego because we think it’s part and parcel of the personality required to “make it big”. Maybe a bit of over-powering-ness is what got you where you are. But let’s ask: Is it really sustainable for the next several decades? Can you really outwork and outrun everyone forever?

Ego in Failure

No one is permanently successful, and not everyone finds success on the first attempt. We all deal with setbacks along the way. The ego not only leaves us unprepared for these circumstances, it often contributed to their occurrence in the first place. If success is ego intoxication, then failure can be a devastating blow.

Failure is Part of the Process

The way through, the way to rise again, requires reorientation and increased self-awareness. We don’t need pity – our own or anyone else’s – we need purpose, poise and patience. It’s far better when doing good work is sufficient. In other words, the less attached we are to outcome is better.

What matters to an active man is to do the right thing; whether the right thing comes to pass should not bother him. -Goethe

Use unexpected results as inflection points to keep improving

When you do a bad job, your ego will tell you it’s not your fault and blame anything and anyone but you. Do a great job and it’ll say you deserve every single ounce of credit, giving you a lot more than you probably deserve. Instead of letting these get to your head, you can use them as inflection points to keep improving.

  • Have a high? Congratulate yourself, turn right back around and get back to work.
  • Have a low? Take responsibility, learn something and start moving up again.

Delegate tasks to learn to trust in others

Trust increases the speed of everything in a business, the more employees trust one another, the faster things get done. Delegating some of your work to others forces you to do two things:

  1. Respect other people’s work.
  2. Trust that they can get a job done.

These aren’t just ways to win against your ego, but can also be the difference between a thriving company and one that goes bust.

From the book:-
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

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