“Ego is the Enemy” – Book Review

“Ego is the Enemy”
By Ryan Holiday

Let me start by expressing some of my apprehensions I had as I picked this book up to begin reading:

“You need to have an ego before you can surrender it”
“What do we become if we don’t have an ego? Do we lose our self-concept?”
“If ego is the enemy, how the hell did Kobe Bryant experience so much success?”

So I did start making my way through this colourful piece of work with some hesitation.

Quite cleverly he has split the book up into three sections:

  • Aspire
  • Succeed
  • Fail

For each section Ryan provides a variety of examples, case studies and anecdotes explaining how our egos are often the reasons why we are unable to set the right goals, find purposeful success & meet our challenges with courage and resolve so that we might overcome them.

Do I think Ego is the Enemy? – In general no. But I can certainly see that ego can become an obstacle. When we aspire and set goals we might aim too high or too low. We might set the wrong goals and waste precious mental effort and willpower. Every person must conduct some honest introspection to determine what success means to them.

When we achieve success complacency can quickly sets in. The ego can fool you into thinking that you have made it, and you can foolishly shun the very people and principles that allowed you to succeed.

Finally when we fall short of our lofty goals and fail, ego can be there to discourage us from looking within, and instead seduce is into choosing to blame others, hence blocking learning.

Some key takeaways from the book

  • Action & Education are two powerful points to focus on. Always be learning. Always be taking impactful action towards the fulfillment of your goals and dreams.
  • When we are met with setbacks and obstacles we need to take responsibility and look for the lesson. It is much more tempting to blame others. Avoid this tendency and you will at least learn something.
  • Sometimes you need to be humiliated to be humble. Take your losses, lick your wounds and get back in the fight.
  • Being able to accurately determine your competence (knowledge, abilities, skills etc.) is crucial. It enables you to pick the right projects, and avoid the temptation to overreach, overextend then crash and burn. This has happened to most of us once or twice.
  • You are constantly aspiring, succeeding or failing in life. In one area you might be experiencing success, while at the same time you fail horribly at another. Ego is there at every step of the journey – blocking honest self-reflection, encouraging the chasing of hollow goals. Be aware at every stage.
  • Ego can hurt you the most when you are succeeding. It is easy to become arrogant, or feel that you are an expert at something. As soon as this happens learning stops and regression begins. Be humble.

I do remember being young and thinking about my ego. Like most it was a little fragile. With the insights applied from this book I would have done a few things differently. Perhaps I would have changed the following.

I was the best basketball player in my local competition and it felt good. I liked dropping 40 points a game, accumulating trophies and awards. Some of the friends I played with left my team to play in a different area where the competition was better.

I didn’t see the point of consciously making a change that would produce worse results for me. That would be foolish. Why would I want to put myself in a position to play harder, and probably score fewer points, and no longer be the top gun?

I do wonder how good I could have become if I had been a little less guarded with this precious “success” I had experienced. Even if I had only become  1% better as a result – the change would have been worth it.

Something else I consider is that I should have been more ambitious (I know this doesn’t sound very ego-less but…). When I was young I had a strong desire to become a lawyer. I did some research and found that lawyers worked very long hours and performed difficult tasks. I did not want the hard work. I liked the image of being a lawyer – successful, powerful, intelligent and held in high regard.

Even though I really felt pulled by this vision, I did not believe that I had the work ethic to perform well in this role. I was straight up lazy. Cruised through school with minimal effort and did not see a reason to exert myself when life could be so much more chilled.

With that work ethic I would have sucked as a lawyer – actually I would have sucked at any job that required significant effort. Over the years though I have developed a good work ethic. So if I had enrolled in law, my work ethic would likely have developed and thus I believe the following to be true:

I would not have failed at being a lawyer due to not working hard enough. I might have failed because I sucked at the job – but this would be a different cause.

The lesson from this for me then is that humans are ‘under construction’ and it’s important to not set early limits on yourself because you will grow over time. You will develop new skills and find new resources along the way that will change you. You will be different. And if you work hard and put the time in, you will be better.

I would recommend reading this book in unison with something specific to goal setting. Then as you set your new goals you can carefully consider the ego in your plans.

Do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of this excellent book.

I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite quotes:

“You should be humble in your aspirations, gracious in your successes & resilient in your failures” (edited) – Page 6

“When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes – but rock-hard humility and confidence” – Page 8

“Arrogance & Self Absorption limit growth” – Page 21

“Success requires a full 100 percent of our effort, and talk dilutes part of that effort before we can use it” – (edited) Page 27

“If you’re not still learning, you’re dying” – Page 104

“If you want to live happy – live hidden” – Page 148

“Recovery is not grand, it is one step in front of the other” Page 192

“Wisdom or ignorance – ego is the swing vote” – Page 209

 

 

Motion Sickness

We are all just the hopeless victims of motion sickness.
Lacking focused stillness we diffuse our hope with potent illness.
Then when it’s time to move forward we feel fatigued,
In disbelief, that our dreams are unwilling to give reprieve;
Instead they shift and leave, never to return to you:
Got you questioning God like in some way he deserted you.
Did it occur to you that purpose could diverge from you?
You ignored the true cost of split focus, and it murdered you.
So you try to claw back to get on track but your fall back;
Is uninspiring and your times expiring so you fall flat.
You got all that? Life will cost and every action has a price,
In spite, inaction is more costly; decide.
Either you seek a vice, seek advice, or seek respite,
Deep insight can be gleamed if you peep inside.

 

We are all Sisyphus

“It’s too much” “Not again” “F**king hell” “This always happens to me”

Do you feel that like you are on an infinite do loop.

Action – outcome – action – outcome….

Why does it feel like we are on a running wheel?

I wander if our perception of our experiences is flawed.

Maybe we are not stuck on a loop doing the same sh*t forever. Working. Sleeping. Eating. Paying bills. Maybe the universe is giving us an opportunity to do it again until we get it right.

My Martial arts instructor used to tell me that he wasn’t impressed with my speed when I tried to show him a technique I had learned and practiced.

He wanted to see that I could do it flawlessly, slow. We often get bored because we think we have gotten good enough at something and stop trying to improve. At this stage it’s boring. At this stage we are disengaged and at this stage we are not at our best.

Sisyphus believed that he was smarter than Zeus (and did a whole lot of other dumb sh*t) – and Zeus devised a very innovative punishment. Sisyphus was made to push a heavy boulder to the top of a hill only to helplessly watch it roll back to the bottom – for eternity. Sounds pretty horrible right?

I think a lot of us feel like this in our every day lives.

But maybe, just maybe, Sisyphus wasn’t being punished. Perhaps he was presented with an opportunity to perfect this one skill. How good can you get at driving to work – changing lanes smoothly, and driving in a state of calm.

What about listening to your parents tell the same story for the fifth time? Can you listen more fully and appreciate new details and subtleties. Perhaps it’s your boss giving you the same shitty work to do – can you accept it more gratefully and then find a way to perform the task more effectively.

My only caution for this line of thinking is to not lose the simplicity and over complicate matters. If your process has three steps, and they are the best steps – just keep perfecting those.

Keep it simple, strive for excellence. Push that Boulder. Enjoy the loop. You’re ‘stuck’ on it whether you like it or not – may as well enjoy and get better at pushing it each day.

Things Fall Apart – Part 1

I have held onto my last memory of her forever,
Hoping it held the clue that would bring us back together,
I now realise I could never feed her hunger;
But beneath her eyelids,
Were the rocks that I chose to die under.

I have a tendency towards co-dependency
So now we live our lives together through memory.
I often press rewind and take a glimpse through time,
I can smell her sweet skin, sublime,
As she enters the doorway to my mind,

My pulse starts to race, as I see the outline of her face,
All I needed was a peek at the image,
The rest I can retrace,
But when did sin distort this purity?
Lost in thoughts, the cost of insecurity.

This girl now  drinks to feel empty,
The voices in her head – unfriendly,
Holding me accountable for plenty;
Of the emotions that consumed her,
And turned us to enemies.

She sits, greeting the rain through tear stained eyes
Dilated pupils, burnt crystals,
Entreating her demise.

Bitter from the years, sweat and tears dripped,
Pen dipped in ink, in an attempt to exorcise some fears,
She wrote me, and told me of how her world had collapsed
Once intact, now no way to get her confidence back, scarred,
Mental state attracts dark, and tract marks are proof of her trapped heart.

 

An ode to the Cross Trainer

I observe the smooth way your feet and arms glide,
In motion to the beat of my heart, to my art, you comply,
Once I step inside your body, you handle the destination,
Assuring that my vision and I, will one day stand adjacent,

I program you, in the way that I desire you to speak to me,
So you beep at me, to remind me to not give up too easily,
A sweaty face; I feel your steel hands and get set to race,
With your electric brain by my side, my dreams cannot escape.

You stand in line with your colleagues,
Waiting for someone to share his dreams with you,
I make the first move, and encase myself in your cocoon,
It’s a joy to be with you,

I see the way that you mold your skin to fit another’s,
Shape full of form; a purpose defined by a shudder,
My lover thinks you’re just a machine,
She’s cross with me, because I train with you,

But she has never measured my heartbeat,
And I didn’t program her to, so who gave her the right to speak?
I turn up the intensity level and keep the beat,
The gym is closing soon; and you need your beauty sleep.

The Map

The maps coordinates help me to coordinate my feet,
Allowing me to sense two worlds,
                    One that I can see                           ,
And the other represented by lines on a sheet,
It is balance, in between these lines that I seek.

With map in hand, I have my own personal tour guide,
To help me direct my thoughts, during my short life.
Without the map, my minds eye would be blinded,
In search for the crown of Osiris, so I can live forever;
Minus the guidance of my map – how could I possibly find it?

Despite this, some maps are best kept undiscovered, left alone,
Or simply used as a stepping stone, or to get to home.
When confused with the territory, the map becomes infectious
The virus disconnects humans from their essence,
Feeling splendid at the thought of the sun, then numb in its presence.

The surgeon’s map of the body cannot account for the variations,
He must trust his eyes and hands to decode the reality that he is facing.
As well, the captain, of a ship can follow the lines on the page,
Then fail to react, when thought is required, to escape the wrath of the waves,
The problem with maps is they often become a substitute for the terrain.

A wise voice once spoke to me, “I wish to confide in you;
Your plans are only as reliable as the map that is guiding you.
Only by using the map and reality together, will you find your truth.”
I took this grand advice, and updated my GPS device,
My Great Powerful Soul became my map for devising my life,

I used its power to ignite the motor inside my heart,
Powerful paths, given birth by the curiosity to ask,
Two questions:
“How do I want it to end?”
And “where do I start?”.

The razors edge

Sometime ago I sat in dialogue with a wise man called Leonard. A deeply spiritual man, sixty-three years of age. He would be retiring from the profession soon and I hoped to pick his mind some more before he departed on his caravan tour around Australia.

I asked him how he measured his contribution to society and the world, based on the good work he had done. He had led, inspired and mentored thousands of young men and woman. He had been a leader and pioneer in several industries.

He told me that he measured his success in life based on how kind he had been to others. I kept probing – “But what about when you did x?”. He looked at me with gentleness while he explained his approach again.

He was more interested in the quality of everyday interactions he had with others, rather than any fame or wealth he had created. He exposed the reasons why he never sought recognition for the work that he did; he did it because it would help those in his community.

Prior to this conversation I had a shaky belief that my life would be for naught if  I did not accomplish something magnificent with it. That if I wasn’t remembered for anything other than being great, I would be less than my potential. This begged the question of what large contribution would I make that would appease my enormous ego and give me the self-validation I yearned.

This conversation with Leonard cased a subtle shift in my thinking. Only subjective at first, regrettably. Now inside my mind I felt like this:

“I took aim at a dream;
Rejected a mediocre existence,
Then settled on something in between.”

Probably not how my mentor would have wished to have his advice applied.
To integrate a concept like “above all be kind“, you have to first be kind to yourself. It takes time and practice to become good and new things.

And so today I offer a rewrite:

The beauty is immense
When you apply skill,
To be kind, above all else.

 

Straight and Narrow

In movies they tell us that a character on the Straight and Narrow is making an incredibly hard choice to select the good over the bad. We see the character tested time and time again – not wanting to revert to their life of crime or violence but often being forced to do so out of some sort of necessity or implausible script writing.

Does the same apply for us? How many people really have enough power over you to make you choose self-limiting behaviours over positive ones

If you consider this carefully you will likely conclude like I have that it is one. It is you. And so I contemplate the following:

What if I spent every moment awake; shifting fate?

Connected to my dreams in a way, that calls me to innovate;

Calls me to integrate my inner faith, and live as great?

The path is straight and narrow,

Waste no time.

My way home

Some thoughts trapped in moments,
I wonder if I had dropped to one knee instead;
Would I feel at peace with my emotions?
Or still wish my life would end?


I promised to love her forever,
Rightfully she claims I misled.
Convinced we would grow together,
The razor edge became a fork in the road instead.


First 3 years full of love, safe in the gift,
In time and space I melted, embraced by this bliss;
But even then I knew that something was missing,
Something about the way that we experienced love was different. 


When we talked about this, you promised to open up in time,
Patient to a fault, I stayed loyal by your side,
Nurture was part of our nature but information corroded,
When you told me that he forced you, I mentally exploded.


I pulled myself away, unsure how to act,
Finally came to understand why you could never love me back.
I took your hand and tried to pull you out of the abyss,
To free your mind, free your soul, but I was unable to do this.


So we stayed together in a hopeless place,
Holding onto hope that we could outrun our fate.
In this race, we have arrived at the line marked “finish”
In tears, holding each other close for one final minute.


This minute turned to hours, we grieved so deeply,
Free to love and trust again, perhaps now completely.