“Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, your worst enemy already lives inside you: your ego.”
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday examines how our “egos” can hold us back from learning, growing, and achieving the level of success that we aspire to. Holiday is also the author of Growth Hacker Marketing, and The Obstacle is the Way, and is also a media strategist, marketer and entrepreneur.
The book is broken down into three main sections: Aspire, Success, and Failure. Through these three sections, Holiday explores the stories from the following people (among a few others): George Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Katharine Graham, Bill Belichick, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Each of these individuals achieved a level of success in their industries and positions because they were able to conquer and manage their own egos along their journey.
The book is an engaging read filled with great quotes, stories and examples to illustrate these learnings from the author. What is most exciting is that these lessons are simple and transferable to each of us. Awareness for controlling your ego will grow and your paradigm will certainly shift as a result.
Recognize the Enemy
"Talent is only the starting point. The question is: will you be able to make the most of it? Or will you be your own worst enemy?"
On the first page of the book, Holiday writes: “wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, your worst enemy already lives inside you: your ego.” What he is saying here is that if we’re unable to manage, control and let go of our ego, we will struggle to continually attain the level of success that we desire. Holiday suggests that most people are not egomaniacs, but it’s often hard to recognize that our ego may be standing in our way. “One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible” (page 21). This quote is powerful and an important lesson to learn, no matter the role that we play in life. Being self-aware to the fact that our ego can and will negatively affect how we operate, and interact with others if we let it. Being able to detach ourselves from the situation or circumstance and objectively consider how we should handle it, is critical to us overcoming our ego. The next time you feel a strong negative emotional response to a situation at work (or in your personal life), ask yourself if the root cause could be feeling a threat to your ego.
Stay a Student
"An amateur is defensive. The professional finds learning (and even, occasionally, being shown up) to be enjoyable; they like being challenged and humbled, and engage in education as an ongoing and endless process."
The legend of Genghis Khan is both controversial and terrifying. He is best known for this ruthless conquests, and horrifying rule in ancient times. Those facts aside, there’s a lot we can learn from Kahn. “Genghis Khan one of the greatest military minds who ever lived, he was a perpetual student, whose stunning victories were often the result of his ability to absorb the best technologies, practices and innovations of each new culture his empire touched” (page 101).
When you look at other examples of wildly successful people, this notion of continued growth and learning seems to be ever-present. The people that dominate, especially over a long period of time, look for and find new ways to lead and operate to keep up with changing times. The more we’re open to learning, growing and getting better, that better off we’ll be in all areas of our lives. By constantly seeking out new opportunities for learning and growth, you can evolve with the changing demands of a modern workplace, becoming more successful as a result.
WORK, WORK, WORK
"When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win."
For many people, it’s common to achieve a degree of success and then relax, to stop striving for new opportunities and successes. We tend to lose sight of and stop doing the things that propelled us to that success in the first place. The details, the fundamentals, the rigor, the work. This is one way that ego can get in the way: we suddenly feel that “we’ve arrived” and that we no longer need to do the things necessary to win and succeed. We must constantly work against our ego to ensure that we don’t sabotage our own success. The work of practice, preparation, growing, and learning consistently over time is critical for us to sustain our success in the long-term. As Holiday writes, “Do we love practice, the way great athletes do?” (page 82). It’s an interesting question and helps to frame how important loving the process of preparation and practice are to our success. Athletes cannot achieve success without long hours of training over many years. As we pursue success in our own lives, it is important to fight against our egos telling us that we don’t need to do the hard work.
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday is a powerful read on a topic that we are often blind to. Our egos can be the detriment to our current and future success if we aren’t careful. Being aware of this fact and constantly checking out ego at the door will pay huge dividends for us in all areas of our lives.
Is your ego getting the best of you? Are you standing in your own way? If your initial thought is no, I think Holiday would suggest that you shouldn’t be quite so sure.