Key Lessons and Takeaways From ‘Ego Is The Enemy’ by Ryan Holiday
The book Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday is filled with cautionary tales of those who let their egos run amok and were eventually undone by the resulting damage, as well as stories of those who practiced restraint and sobriety, and found success in their endeavors. In this WSJ bestseller book, Ryan Holiday gives advice on how people can combat their ego to achieve more in life. Here are keys lessons and takeaways from Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday.
When you remove ego, you’re left with humility and confidence.
To do that, you must practice seeing yourself with a little distance, cultivating the ability to get out of your own head, and learning how to see beneath an appearance. When you’re just starting out, attach yourself to successful people and organizations and subsume your identity into theirs and move both forward simultaneously. When you’re successful, you must stay humble, keep learning, and focus on your work and practice. When you fail, embrace it with appreciation and move on to start over again.
All of us, at every stage of life, are the victims of our own ego.
Our ego leads us to strive too far, expect too much, assume that we’re deserving — all before we’ve even done the work. If we achieve success our ego makes us do things that lead us to failure, if we fail our ego crushes our attempts to get up and try again. The aim of ‘Ego is The Enemy’ is simple: to help you suppress ego early before bad habits take hold, to replace the temptations of ego with humility and discipline, when we experience success, and cultivate strength when you go through failure.
Yes. Your ego is holding you back from realizing your full potential in life.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, your worst enemy already lives insides you: your ego. Precisely what makes us so promising as thinkers, doers, creative people, and entrepreneurs, what drives us to the top of those fields, makes us vulnerable to this darker side of the psyche. If ego is the voice that tells us we’re better than we really are, we can say ego inhibits true success by preventing a direct and honest connection to the world around us.
Putting reigns on your ego helps you in both good and bad times, because you’ll neither stress about failures, nor let success turn you into a diva.
Whether you are just setting out, sitting at the pinnacle of success, or reeling from a precipitous fall, you must subdue your ego if you wish to capitalize on your opportunities and gifts. In this ‘Ego is the Enemy’ book review, I’ll outline insights by Ryan Holiday on how we can master our ego to achieve what truly matters to us. Let’s find out!
Lesson #1: Live with Purpose Not Passion
If your purpose is something larger than you — to accomplish something, to prove something to yourself — then suddenly everything becomes both easier and more difficult. 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.
It is not “Who do I want to be in life?” but “What is it that I want to accomplish in life?”
You can’t learn if you think you already know. Ego gives us wicked feedback, disconnected from reality. It blocks us from improving by telling us that we don’t need to improve. What we need is purpose — passion with boundaries. Purpose is about pursuing something outside yourself as opposed to pleasuring yourself. Your passion may be the very thing holding you back from power or influence or accomplishment. Because just as often, we fail because of passion. Passion typically masks a weakness. Its breathlessness and impetuousness and franticness are poor substitutes for discipline, for mastery, for strength and purpose and perseverance. You need to be able to spot this in others and in yourself, because while the origins of passion may be earnest and good, its effects are comical and then monstrous.
Ryan Holiday argues that we must challenge the idea of passion and instead focus on purpose. Purpose removes the ego from our aspirations, as it focuses on something bigger than ourselves.
Ryan Holiday uses the example of John Wood, basketball coach for the all-time leading scorer in NBA history: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar described his highly successful coach as actively dispassionate. This characteristic is opposed to the frequently revered stereotype of coaches being overly passionate individuals. Instead, John Wood argued that passion and emotions get in the way of the job at hand. We must simply do our job to the best of our ability and not be a slave to passion. Passion distracts us from all the work that needs to be done to acquire the successes associated with passionate, inspirational ideas or speeches.
A lot of people don’t put a lot of sense in their actions.
They’re living on autopilot and they are used to doing things only because they are commonly accepted by society. They buy new gadgets to show off in front of their friends and boost their ego. They will watch a TV show just because someone else mentioned it in a conversation. If your answer to: “Why do you do what you do,” is “to keep up with the Joneses,” then stop what you’re doing. Learn to say No to things more often. Opt-out from the stupid race for more that doesn’t matter. Don’t read, watch, do, or buy stuff only because other people are buying them. Do them only if you really want or need them.
Find out why you’re doing the things you’re doing daily. Ignore everyone and everything that is messing with your pace.
Most people aren’t living on purpose. They wander around life distracted, looking for the next form of gratification, wondering why they aren’t happy and why they don’t get what they want. They drive to a job they hate to pay for a car that brings them to that job, which also pays for a house they abandon during the day to go to that job. The ego loves the comfort a “secure” job has, but purpose, as well as the best things, happen outside of your comfort zone. On the other hand, many harmonious and effective people have found that answering the following questions helped them live with purpose: Why do I do what I do? Who am I? What purpose am I serving?
Lesson #2: Always Be a Student
The greatest leaders and wisest thinkers have all been students of life. They possessed a unique curiosity about life and had the discipline to constantly be learning. Many people get overly confident in one area and forget that they know so little about everything else. The ego tries to build an identification with success, withholding you from learning more, but learning is a requirement, especially in the beginning. When you are just starting out you need to remember: You aren’t as good as you think you are, you probably need your attitude readjusted, and the things you learned in books or school are out of date or wrong.
To become the best you can be, and to maintain that greatness you need to have a student mindset.
You need to always be learning. Everything in life has something to teach you, but ego gets in the way of opportunities you have had or will have. The ego tells you that you shouldn’t do an internship because you are overqualified for it. The ego doesn’t want to do the grunt work because it thinks it’s too good for that. People living with purpose look past this, and they focus on what is important, believing in what they need to do. Appreciate the opportunity. Take the internship. Put in the time and effort, and learn.
No matter what you’ve done up to this point, you better still be a student. If you’re not still learning, you’re already dying.
It is not enough only to be a student at the beginning. It is a position that one has to assume for life. An amateur is defensive. The professional finds learning to be enjoyable. They like being challenged and humbled, and engage in education as an ongoing and endless process. Crafting stories out of past events is dangerous and untrue. Writing our own narrative leads to arrogance. These narratives don’t change the past, but they do have the power to negatively impact our future. Instead of pretending that we are living some great story, we must remain focused on the execution — and on executing with excellence.
The higher we rise, the more we see and realize how much we don’t know.
Yet, ego pushes us to pretend to know, or to confine ourselves to a niche where we won’t be challenged. Genghis Khan was one of the greatest conquerors and military minds in history because he was a lifelong student. With each culture he conquered, he broadened his knowledge of warfare and learned ideas and technologies from smart people like astrologers, doctors, and scribes. Learn from everyone and everything. Read up on a totally new subject, learn from both your friends and foes, and sharpen how you learn. No matter how much you’ve achieved, stay anchored in your purpose, values and principles, and remain humble and disciplined.
A student must be able to take harsh and critical feedback to learn where they can improve.
The ego, however, avoids such feedback at all costs. This stops us from improving by convincing us that we don’t need to improve. Then, when we don’t get the results we were expecting, we wonder what happened. Today, books are available in stores and online. Ivy league college courses can be found online. Smartphones give us 24/7 access to the internet. There is more information than ever before. One must remain a student throughout their lives to achieve true success. Through this process of always seeking out opportunities to be a student, you are challenging the idea you are all-knowing in any domain. This will help you learn more and ground yourself in your current understanding and the actions required to reach the next goal.
Lesson #3: Talk Less; Do more
When you begin to live with purpose instead of passion your ego will begin to lessen, and you will gain the quiet confidence the philosopher Seneca referred to as Euthymia: having a sense of your own path and not getting distracted by externals. As you talk less and act more you will begin to gain this tranquility when working, helping you maintain your purposeful work.
Big talk is no substitute for action and only hinders results. You can’t chatter and think deeply at the same time.
Talking exhausts valuable time and energy which could’ve been better spent on brainstorming, planning, learning, or problem-solving. People also use talk to escape from the difficult tasks at hand — they spend so much time talking about something that they think they’ve done the work or put in their best effort when they haven’t done anything of value. Social media only encourages us to “talk” more. It’s easier to post and tweet about how well we’re doing rather than actually do the work. We end up looking great but not getting any real results.
Ryan Holiday recommends you stop talking and start doing. You need to stop telling people that you are going to do something good.
Those who are successful throughout history are those who delay gratification. These individuals receive gratification when they have done something right. Before starting a task, you should always ask yourself: Am I doing this to be somebody or do something? If you are only doing something to be somebody, then you are merely feeding your ego. You are behaving in a way that will provide you with affirmation. The alternative is to want to do something for the action itself. More often than not, this type of action will be making a difference in the world.
It’s easier to talk about things than to actually do them. Talking depletes us.
Talking and doing fight for the same resources. Research shows that while goal visualization is important, but after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it will actual progress. The same goes for verbalization — talking aloud to ourselves or others while we work through difficult problems has been shown to significantly decrease insight and breakthroughs. After spending so much time thinking / explaining / talking about a task, we start to feel that we’ve gotten closer to achieving it. Or worse, when things get tough, we feel we can toss the whole project aside because we’ve given it our best try, although of course we haven’t.
The achievers are the ones working quietly in the corner.
They ignore the impulse to seek recognition before they act. They don’t talk much. They’re too busy working to do anything else – and when they do talk, they’ve earned it. Let others slap each other on the back while you’re at the lab or in the gym or pounding the keyboard. Talking and thinking too much drain the energy you could be using to put into your work. At times we definitely need to be thinking, such as when envisioning goals, but if you spend too much time thinking and talking about what you are going to do, you are less likely to actually do it. Where are the results? Stay focused on execution. Think when you need to and then get to work.
Lesson #4: Exploit Your Downtime
At any given time in the circle of life, we may be aspiring, succeeding, or failing—though right now we’re failing. With wisdom, we understand that these positions are transitory, not statements about your value as a human being. When success begins to slip from your fingers for whatever reason, the response isn’t to grip and claw so hard that you shatter it to pieces. It’s to understand that you must work yourself back to the aspirational phase. You must get back to first principles and best practices.
Failure always arrives uninvited, but through our ego, far too many of us allow it to stick around.
What matters is that we can respond to what life throws at us. And how we make it through. The less attached we are to outcomes the better. When fulfilling our own standards is what fills us with pride and self-respect. When the effort — not the results, good or bad — is enough. Do your work. Do it well. Then “let go and let God.” Recognition and rewards — those are extra. The world is to what we want. If we persist in wanting, we are simply setting ourselves up for resentment or worse. Doing the work is enough. Hitting bottom is as brutal as it sounds. But the feeling after — it is one of the most powerful perspectives in the world.
Failure can disrupt our lives and bring things to a standstill. You can use your downtime to wallow in self-pity or to improve yourself.
After landing in prison at 21 years old, Malcolm X decided to use this time to self-study. His time in prison ended up paving the foundation for his future success. When Ian Fleming was put on bed rest, doctors forbade him to even use a typewriter. So, Fleming started writing with a pen and produced his well-loved fantasy Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang. When you’re hit with failure, don’t dwell on the problems, hide from them, or plot revenge. Reflect on how your choices have led to where you are, and use what you have to turn things around.
During failure, you must choose ‘alive time’ by dedicating every second to improving your skills and using your surroundings to create a better situation.
Ego prevents you from overcoming difficulty because it focuses on the negative side of difficulties. It also discourages you and provides sensible excuses that prevent you from overcoming difficulty. The ego prefers to brush off failure as a one-off, or as something which was just not our cup of tea. As a result, we hit a phase called dead time as we don’t seem to move any forward from there. We can only move forward if we analyze what got us there, what we can learn from it, and what we can do to get out of it. In short, we must convert moments of ruin into alive time. That’s what JK Rowling did and the rest is history.
Nobody is successful forever. There are two constants in life: change and transformation.
You can let your ego get the better of you and allow failure to break you. Or, you can utilize failure as a learning opportunity and a springboard towards obtaining tremendous success in the future. Ryan Holiday breaks failure down into alive time and dead time. Dead time is characterized by feeling sorry for yourself and blaming others and the surrounding environment. During dead time, some even claim that they are hopeless. This period is characterized by passivity. Alternatively, alive time involves utilizing this period of failure to learn something, grow further, and become a better person. It is characterized by action and learning.
Lesson #5: Always Love
On the path to success, one will encounter individuals who may deceive, offend, or hurt you. This causes us to become angry and seek retribution. However, this is short-term thinking from the ego. It is easy to hate. It is our ego attempting to seek payback. However, this is a distraction. If we’re busy getting revenge, we aren’t focusing on our course and our work. Hate doesn’t get us to our goal, and can even set us back.
Instead, one must always love. Love is egoless.
It is positive, peaceful and productive. Hate focuses on the past while love focuses on the present and most importantly, the future. Stay positive, stay focused and always show love. When you’re surrounded by love, it’s impossible to be conquered by the crippling disease that is hate. Love restarts the heart like a defibrillator. Hate causes a heart attack that can kill you if you let it. Always choose love over hate.
Feelings of hate can cause us to go into a downward spiral.
This spiral involves us becoming very selfish and only focusing on our own needs. From this place, we can’t do the inner work required to come back from adversity. Train your brain to always assume love as the default reason for everything. Hate will transport us to a land far far away that resembles hell. Hell is where your nightmares come true, your fears are born and the person you become is something you despise for eternity.
To choose love over hate often means taking the harder path. It means stepping back and thinking deeper, oftentimes it means learning more.
Martin Luther King understood that hate is like an “eroding acid that eats away the best and the objective center of your life.” Hatred is when ego turns a minor insult into a massive sore and it lashes out. But pause and ask: has hatred and lashing out ever helped anyone with anything? Don’t let it eat at you — choose love. Yes, love. See how much better you feel. Learning to be grateful and kind toward others is also good for the soul. Instead of practicing active wishing of ill will, we should practice active wishing of good will. We should even do this for our enemies. We all end up dead anyway. Don’t leave room for hate or resentment in your soul.
With all of the negativity that is going on in the world right now, we need love more than ever.
I believe that it is easier to love than it is to hate. We are born with love in our hearts. Hate is learned and it takes an effort to hate. Every day we have a choice to attend to and nurture attitudes and activities that support either love or hatred. It is important to remember that love is not simply a feeling we experience, it is an attitude we nourish and an activity we engage in. If we want it to illuminate our lives with love, we need to be willing to let go of the anger, resentments and hatred that block its healing light.
Put simply , ‘Ego is The Enemy’ says we must manage our ego or see it get the best of us. Think of coach Bill Walsh who focused on perfecting the basics, taking the worst team in the NFL to winning the Super Bowl. Be an eternal student, like Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, absorbing everything around you like a sponge, knowing that there is always more to learn. As well as living with purpose and remaining a student, focus on doing the work instead of seeking recognition, letting your confidence show with results.
Your ego is your worst enemy. If you don’t do something about the march of your self-love, you’ll suffer.
Arrogance and self-centered ambition are rarely good qualities. The opposite attributes, however, are — modesty and being respectful to others. But the need to be better than other people. More than others is a drive for many people. That’s exactly what the book is all about. Ryan Holiday is explaining why your constant desire to be recognized and appreciated is devilish. Hopefully, these five lessons help you defeat your ego and reach new levels of success.
Your potential — the absolute best you’re capable of — that’s what you should be measuring yourself against, not the performance of those around you
People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best version of themselves. Ego Is The Enemy. And there is only one way to stay ahead. To remain modest and vigilant. That’s how you’ll undoubtedly win.
Now go out and accomplish the life changing work you are meant to do.
I’m glad you reached the end. You have kicked off the journey to become aware of the beast inside of you. Ultimately, curbing your ego is the transformation you need to succeed in every stage of life. There are many great lessons from Ego is the Enemy, you must read the book to know them all. Anyway, thanks for reading. Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.