Summary: Ego is the Enemy (2016) teaches the reader how to manage the toxic vanity that’s associated with ego. The book draws insights and wisdom from history to help us understand how we often are our own worst enemies and that by getting out of our own ways we can focus on what matters – doing our best work.
A former director of marketing at American Apparel and a columnist at The New York Observer, the author Ryan Holiday is a writer and marketing strategist.
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Ego is the Enemy Summary
- Ego is an unhealthy sense of one’s self-importance.
- “With every ambition and goal we have—big or small—ego is there undermining us on the very journey we’ve put everything into pursuing.”
- The antidote to egotism: Humility.
- “One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible. And certainly, ego makes it difficult every step of the way…. practice seeing yourself with a little distance, cultivating the ability to get out of your own head. Detachment is a sort of natural ego antidote.”
Ryan Holiday “Ego is the Enemy” Summary
Note: This summary of ‘Ego is the Enemy’ by Ryan Holiday contains some of the key insights from the book which is presented as brief bullet notes.
- At any given time in life, people find themselves at one of three stages. We’re 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.
- Most of us are in these stages in a fluid sense—and therefore, the three parts that this book is organized into: Aspire. Success. Failure. This book you hold in your hands is written around one optimistic assumption: Your ego is not some power you’re forced to satiate at every turn. It can be managed. It can be directed.
- “Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, your worst enemy already lives inside you: your ego. “Not me,” you think. “No one would ever call me an egomaniac.” Perhaps you’ve always thought of yourself as a pretty balanced person.”
- “But for people with ambitions, talents, drives, and potential to fulfill, ego comes with the territory. Precisely what makes us so promising as thinkers, doers, creatives, and entrepreneurs, what drives us to the top of those fields, makes us vulnerable to this darker side of the psyche.”
- “Now this is not a book about ego in the Freudian sense. Freud was fond of explaining the ego by way of analogy—our ego was the rider on a horse, with our unconscious drives representing the animal while the ego tried to direct them.”
- “Modern psychologists, on the other hand, use the word “egotist” to refer to someone dangerously focused on themselves and with disregard for anyone else.”
- “All these definitions are true enough but of little value outside a clinical setting. The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition. That’s the definition this book will use.”
- “It’s that petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility—that’s ego. It’s 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. When, as the football coach Bill Walsh explained, “self-confidence becomes arrogance, assertiveness becomes obstinacy, and self-assurance becomes reckless abandon.” ”
- “Most of us aren’t “egomaniacs,” but ego is there at the root of almost every conceivable problem and obstacle, from why we can’t win to why we need to win all the time and at the expense of others. From why we don’t have what we want to why having what we want doesn’t seem to make us feel any better.”
- “The pioneering CEO Harold Geneen compared egoism to alcoholism: “The egotist does not stumble about, knocking things off his desk. He does not stammer or drool. No, instead, he becomes more and more arrogant, and some people, not knowing what is underneath such an attitude, mistake his arrogance for a sense of power and self-confidence.” ”
- “You could say they start to mistake that about themselves too, not realizing the disease they’ve contracted or that they’re killing themselves with it.”
- “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.”
- “We don’t like thinking that someone is better than us. Or that we have a lot left to learn. We want to be done. We want to be ready. We’re busy and overburdened.”
- “For this reason, updating your appraisal of your talents in a downward direction is one of the most difficult things to do in life—but it is almost always a 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.”
- “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.”
- “The purpose of Shamrock’s formula is simple: to get real and continuous feedback about what they know and what they don’t know from every angle. It purges out the ego that puffs us up, the fear that makes us doubt ourselves, and any laziness that might make us want to coast.”
- “As Shamrock observed, “False ideas about yourself destroy you. For me, I always stay a student. That’s what martial arts are about, and you have to use that humility as a tool. You put yourself beneath someone you trust.” ”
- “This begins by accepting that others know more than you and that you can benefit from their knowledge, and then seeking them out and knocking down the illusions you have about yourself.”
- “The art of taking feedback is such a crucial skill in life, particularly harsh and critical feedback. We not only need to take this harsh feedback, but actively solicit it, labor to seek out the negative precisely when our friends and family and brain are telling us that we’re doing great.”
- “The ego avoids such feedback at all costs, however. It thinks it already knows how and who we are—that is, it thinks we are spectacular, perfect, genius, truly innovative. It dislikes reality and prefers its own assessment.”
- “As we sit down to proof our work, as we make our first elevator pitch, prepare to open our first shop, as we stare out into the dress rehearsal audience, ego is the enemy—giving us wicked feedback, disconnected from reality.”
- “It’s defensive, precisely when we cannot afford to be defensive. It blocks us from improving by telling us that we don’t need to improve. Then we wonder why we don’t get the results we want, why others are better and why their success is more lasting.”
- “Our teachers in life are not only those we pay, as Hammett paid Satriani. Nor are they necessarily part of some training dojo, like it is for Shamrock. Many of the best teachers are free. They volunteer because, like you, they once were young and had the same goals you do.”
- “Many don’t even know they are teaching—they are simply exemplars, or even historical figures whose lessons survive in books and essays. But ego makes us so hardheaded and hostile to feedback that it drives them away or puts them beyond our reach.” It’s why the old proverb says, “When student is ready, the teacher appears.” ”
- “We tend to be on guard against negativity, against the people who are discouraging us from pursuing our callings or doubting the visions we have for ourselves. This is certainly an obstacle to beware of, though dealing with it is rather simple.”
- “What we cultivate less is how to protect ourselves against the validation and gratification that will quickly come our way if we show promise. What we don’t protect ourselves against are people and things that make us feel good—or rather, too ”
- “We must prepare for pride and kill it early—or it will kill what we aspire to. We must be on guard against that wild self-confidence and self-obsession. “The first product of self-knowledge is humility,” Flannery O’Connor once said. This is how we fight the ego, by really knowing ourselves.”
- “The question to ask, when you feel pride, then, is this: What am I missing right now that a more humble person might see? What am I avoiding, or running from, with my bluster, franticness, and embellishments? It is far better to ask and answer these questions now, with the stakes still low, than it will be later.”…
- “Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is.”
- “Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything that one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one had no talent or insight, and on and on and on.”
- “Anyone—particularly the ambitious—can fall prey to this narration, good and bad. It is natural for any young, ambitious person (or simply someone whose ambition is young) to get excited and swept up by their thoughts and feelings. Especially in a world that tells us to keep and promote a “personal brand.” ”
- “As the psychologist David Elkind has famously researched, adolescence is marked by a phenomenon known now as the “imaginary audience.” Consider a thirteen-year-old so embarrassed that he misses a week of class, positive that the entire school is thinking and murmuring about some tiny incident that in truth hardly anyone noticed.”
- “Or a teenage girl who spends three hours in front of the mirror each morning, as if she’s about to go on stage. They do this because they’re convinced that their every move is being watched with rapt attention by the rest of the world.”
- “Even as adults, we’re susceptible to this fantasy during a harmless walk down the street. We plug in some headphones and all of a sudden there’s a soundtrack. We flip up our jacket collar and consider briefly how cool we must look. We replay the successful meeting we’re heading toward in our head. The crowds part as we pass. We’re fearless warriors, on our way to the top.”
- “It’s the opening credits montage. It’s a scene in a novel. It feels good— so much better than those feelings of doubt and fear and normalness—and so we stay stuck inside our heads instead of participating in the world around us. That’s ego, baby.”…
- “All of us are susceptible to these obsessions of the mind—whether we run a technology startup or are working our way up the ranks of the corporate hierarchy or have fallen madly in love. The more creative we are, the easier it is to lose the thread that guides us.”
- “Our imagination—in many senses an asset—is dangerous when it runs wild. We have to rein our perceptions in. Otherwise, lost in the excitement, how can we accurately predict the future or interpret events? How can we stay hungry and aware? How can we appreciate the present moment? How can we be creative within the realm of practicality?”
- “Living clearly and presently takes courage. Don’t live in the haze of the abstract, live with the tangible and real, even if—especially if—it’s uncomfortable. Be part of what’s going on around you. Feast on it, adjust for it. There’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned, in all that is around us.”
- “My friend the philosopher and martial artist Daniele Bolelli once gave me a helpful metaphor. He explained that training was like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep.”
- “The same is true for ego. You would be stunned at what kind of damage dust and dirt can do over time. And how quickly it accumulates and becomes utterly unmanageable.”
- “Every day for the rest of your life you will find yourself at one of three phases: aspiration, success, failure. You will battle the ego in each of them. You will make mistakes in each of them. You must sweep the floor every minute of every day. And then sweep again.”