Ego Is the Enemy: Book Summary

by | Aug 31, 2021 | Reading

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I recently read Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. One of my development plans is to focus on mindset and mental toughness. Holiday does a great job of diagnosing some of the common mental obstacles and challenges that high-achievers face and gives practical, time-tested principles to manage our ego and ultimately get us out of the way of our own self. 

If you are looking for a book to help you manage success and/or cope with failure, I highly recommend this book. You can purchase it here

Below are some of my highlights, taken directly from the book during my reading (any emphases are my own)… 


    • Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, your worst enemy already lives inside you: your ego. 
    • 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. 
    • The aim of that structure 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 to cultivate strength and fortitude so that when fate turns against you, you’re not wrecked by failure. In short, it will help us be:
      • Humble in our aspirations
      • Gracious in our success
      • Resilient in our failures 
    • So what is scarce and rare? Silence. The ability to deliberately keep yourself out of the conversation and subsist without its validation. Silence is the respite of the confident and the strong.
    • The power of being a student is not just that it is an extended period of instruction, it also places the ego and ambition in someone else’s hands.
    • Greatness comes from humble beginnings; it comes from grunt work. It means you’re the least important person in the room—until you change that with results. 
    • “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? 
    • Ego is a wicked sister of success. 
    • Sobriety, open-mindedness, organization, and purpose—these are the great stabilizers. They balance out the ego and pride that comes with achievement and recognition. 
    • A smart man or woman must regularly remind themselves of the limits of their power and reach. 
    • Ego needs honors in order to be validated. Confidence, on the other hand, is able to wait and focus on the task at hand regardless of external recognition. 
    • Creativity is a matter of receptiveness and recognition. This cannot happen if you’re convinced the world revolves around you. 
    • Ego loves this notion, the idea that something is “fair” or not. Psychologists call it narcissistic injury when we take personally totally indifferent and objective events. 
    • As Goethe once observed, the great failing is “to see yourself as more than you are and to value yourself at less than your true worth.” 
    • Do your work. Do it well. Then “let go and let God.“ That’s all there needs to be. Recognition and rewards—those are just extra. Rejection, that’s on them, not on us. 
    • Ego kills what we love. 
    • He who will do anything to avoid failure will almost certainly do something worthy of a failure. The only real failure is abandoning your principles…If your reputation can’t absorb a few blows, it wasn’t worth anything in the first place. 
    • From the book: I want to conclude this book with the idea that has underpinned all of what you’ve just read. That it’s admirable to want to be better businessmen or businesswomen, better athletes, better conquerors. We should want to be better informed, better off financially . . . We should want, as I’ve said a few times in this book, to do great things. I know that I do. But no less impressive an accomplishment: being better people, being happier people, being balanced people, being content people, being humble and selfless people. Or better yet, all of these traits together. And what is most obvious but most ignored is that perfecting the personal regularly leads to success as a professional, but rarely the other way around. 


Game Plan

Take some time to assess your ego. Which aspect of your life is your ego creeping into: aspirations, success, or failure? (Or if you are like me, you see your ego in each one of them.)

What is your ego telling you and how can you begin to combat it?


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