“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

 

 

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