The Book in Three Sentences
Although we believe that external events prevent us from reaching our full potential, the problem is internal. Our ego holds us back in both success and failure. Ryan Holiday uses stories from real life to illustrate how figures from sports, literature, and philosophy have conquered their egos.
Ego Is the Enemy Summary
Regardless of who you are and where you live, you’re your own worst enemy. By ego, the author refers to the unhealthy belief that we’re important. It comes in the form of arrogance and ambition. We want to be better and recognized, but if we let our ego suck us down, it becomes the enemy. It pushes away opportunities and attracts errors.
Ego makes us delusional, but we keep it around because it’s comforting. Ego is a common problem because it’s easier than ever to have millions of followers on social media, we can interact with famous people, we can learn anything thanks to the internet, there are apps for everything, and we can easily start online ventures. Soon we try to imitate the attitude of those we admire and while ego might have worked for others, the truth is that there are far more failures than successes when it comes to ego.
In life, people find themselves in one of these stages: they aspire to do something, they are successful, or they have failed. Ego is the enemy in all of these stages. The solution is to remove your ego from the equation by replacing it with humility and confidence.
Part I: Aspire
Don’t let your ego run amok. Throughout history, different figures expressed this idea, including Socrates, Shakespeare, and William Sherman. Try to be self-contained and self-motivated, never the opposite. Don’t depend on other people’s validation and don’t let your emotions rule you. Be in touch with reality and never feel entitled to the prizes you receive along the way. Cultivate the ability to judge your own ability because this lets you improve. Ego impedes growth. Detachment is ego’s antidote.
Talk, Talk, Talk
It’s tempting to get ahead of yourself and talk about things you don’t know well, but action should replace talk. A weak part of us looks for other people’s attention and we want to get it without doing anything. We call that ego. Taking action can be painfully difficult, so we avoid it. Talking, on the other hand, is easy. But being silent isn’t a weakness, it’s an asset because it’s the trait of those who are confident and strong.
Talking exhausts us and gets us nowhere. If you’re going to be depleted of energy, at least do something to achieve progress. Don’t look for recognition before you do anything. Do great work instead, even if it’s a struggle.
To Be or to Do?
In life, there are two parts: you can be someone or you can get to do something. When doing becomes being, ego gets in the way. An image of success doesn’t mean real accomplishments. Your purpose can be you (being) or something larger than you (doing).
Become a Student
Be a good student. Not only does this give you more time to practice, but it puts your ego in charge of someone else. By being an apprentice, you naturally assume that you’re not better than your master. Also, you can’t fake learning or trick a teacher. Assuming the role of a student is difficult because you have to admit you have a lot to learn and that there’s someone who knows more than you.
Mixed martial artist Frank Shamrock developed a system called Plus, Minus, and Equal. Great fighters need someone better to learn from, someone lesser to mentor, and someone equal to challenge. By doing this, Shamrock gets continuous feedback about what he knows and what he doesn’t. Be in a student mindset and always learn. Take advantage of the times we live in: books are cheap, courses are free, and you can find TED talks covering every topic known to man. Get an education.
Don’t Be Passionate
Your passion might be holding you back. Be driven by reason rather than passion. Passion, the burning desire to achieve an ambitious goal, isn’t your most important asset. Passion can lead to mistakes because you have so much fervor to do something, that you ignore negative feedback. Determination should be your driving force, not excitement. The passion paradox says you’re busy, but you have nothing to show for it.
Follow the Canvas Strategy
Don’t start a new job looking forward to being the center of attention. Provide support and let others look good instead. Assuming a threatening or alienating attitude can cause problems at work, so master the canvas strategy. To be great, you have to be humble first and you have to be willing to do the work no one wants to do. Be less, but do more. Solve problems, become indispensable, and develop relationships. The canvas strategy allows you to help yourself by helping others.
Your ego shouldn’t prevent you from seeing the most important things. Don’t give in to anger because this is but one of the many forces trying to ruin you. We must keep our self-control no matter what. Do nothing, take it, ignore others, and don’t engage with these distracting emotions.
Get Out of Your Own Head
Don’t live in fiction, regardless of how appealing it is. This will prevent you from realizing your full potential. Ego isn’t the same as confidence, but the opposite. Drop the self-importance and you’re more likely to be successful. Don’t let your imagination run wild because this asset will turn into a liability. Live in reality, even if it’s uncomfortable.
The Danger of Early Pride
Pride is a distraction and it doesn’t let us learn, adapt, or be flexible. Pride is a fraud and it leads to arrogance, an unrealistic obsession that twists reality.
Work, Work, Work
Having ideas isn’t enough, you have to turn those ideas into tangible work and work is hard and never-ending. Cultivate humbleness, patience, and fortitude. You can lie to yourself and say that you’re working, but you’ll be tested eventually. The idea of “fake it ‘till you make it” is a lie and we only tell ourselves that because faking it is easier than making it.
For Everything That Comes Next, Ego Is the Enemy
We want success, importance, wealth, recognition, and reputation. We don’t think humility will get us there because when we start, we have to assume that our work isn’t that great.
Part II: Success
Once we achieve success, we’ll face new problems and ego will make everything worse. If we’re not careful, ego can ruin our life. Without virtue, you can have all the riches in the world and be miserable. Without values, success won’t last.
Always Stay a Student
One way to be successful is by absorbing the best ideas, concepts, and mindsets you encounter. The good thing about this is that you don’t have to be a genius. Having a persistent cycle of learning can make you great, you only need discipline and focus. For each victory or step towards success, you’ll run into problems. Accept you don’t know everything. Practice humility and learn from everyone and everything. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, or read books about topics you don’t know about.
Don’t Tell Yourself a Story
Focus on the trivial details, not on the larger picture. Demand excellence in the little things because this will lead to great results. You don’t have to set out to achieve great things. You can’t look back at your path and tell that you knew the outcomes from the very beginning. This is what writing your own stories means, but it leads to arrogance. Don’t give yourself credit for the things you can’t control. You can’t afford your ego when you’re at the top because there’s no room for error there. Once you’re successful, you have to listen, get feedback, and improve. Don’t pretend your success unfolded according to your plan.
What’s important to You?
Define what’s important to you as soon as you can. Otherwise, you won’t be happy with what we have and you’ll want more. Never forget your priorities. Competitiveness is important, but we must know who we’re competing against and why. If you let your ego run the race, the race will only have meaning if you’re better or have more. But let your reason run the race instead because you’re the only one who can determine what’s important. Live a life that’s true to your values. Similarly, determine how much money you need. Otherwise, the default amount you need will be more. Ego doesn’t allow compromises, it wants everything, even when it’s impossible. Try to stay true to your purpose. Don’t desire what others have and you’ll be free.
Entitlement, Control, and Paranoia
Successful and powerful people are more susceptible to delusions such as entitlement, control, and paranoia. By overestimating your power, you lose perspective. Ego is your own enemy, but it can hurt those around you if you’re not careful.
Set priorities, see the big picture, and trust those around you to do their jobs. In other words, get organized.
Beware the Disease of Me
Pat Riley, the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, said that great teams follow a trajectory. They start “the innocent climb” which is when the team is innocent and members cooperate with each other. Then, the “Disease of Me” appears: egos clash, everyone’s frustrated, and individuals feel important. This can lead to disaster. To squad the ego, we mustn’t look for external validation, we must focus on the task at hand. Don’t be greedy or egotistical once you’ve made it because you haven’t earned that right, no one does. If you’re not careful, success can turn you into someone you never wanted to be. We shouldn’t let the “Disease of Me” corrupt us.
Meditate on the Immensity
You can achieve a sense of belonging to something bigger than you. This is the idea that humans are small in comparison to the enormity of the universe. When that happens, it’s inevitable to think of important questions, such as what does it all mean? Or what’s my role in it? But material success can distract you. Wealth makes you think you’re powerful and important. Ego blocks you from that connection which explains why we find success empty. No amount of power or talent makes you special.
Maintain Your Sobriety
Be sober in a world where everyone is intoxicated with ego. Energy and enthusiasm aren’t necessary to make it, so use reason instead. It’s more sustainable and smarter.
For What Often Comes Next, Ego Is the Enemy
To maintain Success, you must manage yourself. Avoid extremes because they’re dangerous. We must protect our sobriety and stay humble.
Part III: Failure
Failure is part of the journey. Sometimes we fail or sometimes our goal is harder than we thought, but success isn’t permanent and no one succeeds the first time they try something. Ego gets in the way of success, but it also contributes to failure. To rise again, we need purpose and patience.
Success intoxicates the ego and failure blows our ego to pieces. Failure is a trial everyone has to endure at some point. When we fail, we must understand what happened and why so that we can learn from it and move on. Stay humble and strong, don’t complain, be resilient, and stay away from pity. It isn’t about success, it’s about how we react to life’s events and how we endure the situation.
Alive Time or Dead Time?
Author Robert Greene believes that there are two types of time: dead time, when we passively wait, and alive time, when we act and use every second at our disposal. Failure challenges us to choose one or the other. So when something awful happens, it’s easy to be angry or depressed, but use this as a chance to thrive. When something terrible happens, don’t fall into the same patterns of behavior that took you there. Examine yourself instead.
The Effort Is Enough
Sometimes we do things right, but we get a negative outcome. Ego would only accept appreciation, but life might give us disrespect, jealousy, failure, or even indifference. Only focus on what you can control. We must work hard even if the rewards might be taken away from us. We must invest time and energy even if we don’t get the results we want. Don’t get attached to the outcomes. Realize your own standards. The effort, not the results, should be enough. Regardless of what you do, humility will be indifferent to your achievements. We mustn’t let other people’s recognition motivate us.
Eventually, we will be underappreciated and sabotaged. We will lose and we will fail. To move on, we must change our definition of success. Success should be about being comfortable knowing that you did your best. So work, do it well, and then let go. Everything else (such as recognition and rewards) is a bonus. Don’t want or need anything. Doing the work should be enough.
Fight Club Moments
People must go down before they can achieve success. To be humble, we must endure humiliation. To be rebuilt again and turned into better people, we must be broken down completely. The author calls this “Fight Club Moments”, named after Fight Club, a novel where the main character’s apartment and possessions are blown up. Soon, he realizes that he blew everything up himself as a way to wake up from the sad existence he was leading.
“Fight Club Moments” lead to a transformative change that we were scared to make. Sometimes we see the truth and we can’t hide or pretend. Events like this have three main characteristics:
- They come from an outside force
- We knew the truth, but we were scared to admit it.
- They give us a chance to improve
Be willing to change and listen, even if people say mean, angry, or hurtful words. Hitting the bottom is brutal, but when we face uncomfortable truths, we feel liberated.
Draw the Line
When we make mistakes, we must stop and ask ourselves if that’s the kind of person we want to be. We should answer this before moving on because we might make mistakes we won’t be able to recover from. When we make a mistake, as humiliating as it may be, we have a chance to stop, see the big picture, and evaluate our next move. If we let ego take over, we’ll make more mistakes and we risk losing everything. But instead of making everything worse, we can emerge from the other end with dignity and character. We just have to remember what we’re capable of and take actions that prove it. Recovery is possible, but we have to progress carefully. Don’t fear failure because you’ll be worthy of it. We’ll fail when we abandon our principles”.
Maintain Your Own Scorecard
We like to think that we’re better than we are, but that’s never the case. Don’t focus on what others think, meet your own standards and be happy with that. Focus on getting better which can be torturous at times, but it ensures that we improve constantly. Our standards should be the metric we use to measure ourselves. This is important because not everyone can be the best they’re capable of being. Take the ego out of the equation.
Never attempt to destroy something out of ego because it might backfire. Don’t spend too much time and energy protecting your image or legacy. Your reason will be forgotten, but what you’re trying to hide won’t. Respond to an attack with love. Hate is a weakness and it can kill you if you’re not careful. Hate is a distraction that gets you far away from your goals. Love gets you closer.
For Everything That Comes Next, Ego Is the Enemy
Difficulties are part of life, but you can learn from them. It’s easier to learn from failure than from success. Avoid ego because it makes everything more difficult.