Ego Is The Enemy is a fantastic book to read if you want to learn the folly of letting your ego get the better of you.
You need a little bit of arrogance and self-assurance to succeed in life, but too much and it will cost you. We have a tendency to believe that the world revolves around us.
This belief is fostered on childhood when our parents dote on us and take care of our every whim. However, the older we get, the more we realise that the Earth does not revolve around us at all.
We learn that we are simply another piece in the puzzle that is humanity. It’s when we don’t recognise when we think we are exceptional with no evidence to prove this, that our egos get the better of us.
Ryan Holiday is a perfect person to tell this story. He apprenticed under the author Robert Greene who wrote Mastery and has produced a number of bestselling books himself such as The Obstacle Is The Way and Conspiracy.
If there was anybody that would be justified in being slightly egotistical, it’s him. However, he leads a relatively serene life on a farm in Texas and practices stoicism daily.
Keeping your ego in check is vital to success, as Holiday argues and he credits it for his success and many other individuals throughout history too.
Ego Is The Enemy summary
Takeaway 1 – To stay humble, keep learning
One of the best takeaways I took from Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan was the idea of an antilibrary. It’s where you have a bookcase full of books that you haven’t read to remind you of what you don’t know.
One of the many fallacies we believe as humans is that there comes a point where we don’t need to learn anything new.
I’ve heard many people say they haven’t read a book since leaving school or university. This is bewildering to me.
Just because your formal education is over does not mean you stop learning. It should be a lifelong pursuit. The world is constantly changing and at an ever-increasing rate.
If you don’t keep learning you’ll be left behind. The side of the argument that Holiday is making is that can cause our egos to grow as we believe that we know enough already and have no more need to learn.
You need to think of yourself as an eternal student. Like the Stoics of yesteryear, you should be constantly learning to stay humble.
Takeaway 2 – Silence is strength
One of the things that I have learnt during my life is that the person who talks the most is often the most insecure or trying to prove a point.
I saw this in university. I always held back with my opinions and only spoke when I felt like that. This was not the case for other people. Some of would constantly talk and refer to the various books they had read to back up their point.
At the time, it struck me as odd that they would do this. Now I know that they were trying to make themselves look better in front of the group.
One of my favourite quotes is the following:
“It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”
This is similar to the quote from Lao Tzu, which reads: “Those who know do not speak, those who speak do not know.”
Talk is cheap. It’s easy to get sucked into talking and hyping yourself up, but if you don’t back it up with action, then it’s meaningless.
Talking is easier than action. That’s why you see politicians make endless promises when they are campaigning, but when you look at their track record a few years down the line, you see that a lot of those pledges have not been kept.
Why? Doing things is difficult. Writing a book is hard, starting a business is hard. It’s easier to talk about doing it, but actually doing it is something else entirely.
Silence is a strength because it keeps you out of the conversation and allows you to exist without the need for external validation.
Takeaway 3 – Appearances can be deceiving.
Humans are visual creatures. When we see something that looks impressive we are likely to acknowledge it as such even if it is not.
Think of a man in a suit. The likelihood is you will believe he is an impressive and successful individual just because he is wearing a suit.
But how do we know this?
All we see is a man in a suit. We don’t know what he does, we don’t know how he lives. All we are seeing is the exterior, while the interior could be as hollow as an easter egg.
The same thing applies to business. Just because someone is promoted does not mean they are good at their job. Maybe they are just good at playing office politics.
When I worked in an office for a little under a year I saw this first-hand. It wasn’t always the best people that got promotions, it was the people who knew how to play the game instead.
Holiday describes this as such in Ego Is The Enemy:
“Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.”
Do you want to be impressive, or do you want to be merely recognised as such? The latter may sound appealing but it will be short-lived if you can’t back it up with action.
A purpose is important in life, but its importance should come from doing it, not from being recognised for doing it.
Greatness has many different forms and it’s often not in the forms we imagine.
- “Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.”
- “Almost universally, the kind of performance we give on social media is positive. It’s more “Let me tell you how well things are going. Look how great I am.” It’s rarely the truth: “I’m scared. I’m struggling. I don’t know.”
- “Most successful people are people you’ve never heard of. They want it that way. It keeps them sober. It helps them do their jobs.”
- “The only real failure is abandoning your principles. Killing what you love because you can’t bear to part from it is selfish and stupid. If your reputation can’t absorb a few blows, it wasn’t worth anything in the first place.”
- “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.”
Ego Is The Enemy review
Ego Is The Enemy is essential reading for anyone who wants to become a better version of themselves.
Delusions of grandeur are more common than we like to think. The message espoused by Holiday is that we should be wary of falling into this trap.
History is littered with examples of people who were to hubristic for their own good. the story of Icarus. He believed that his wings were infallible and that he could fly wherever he wanted.
When he got too close to the sun, the wax binding the wings together melted and resulted in him plummeting to his death.
We’re unlikely to suffer Icarus’ exact fate, but we will face a similar one if we do not check our ego at the door.
Humility goes a long way in life. A little bit of arrogance and confidence is necessary to succeed but too much of it will ruin us.
It’s important to stay humble, as we never what know what lies around the corner and may trip us up.
Who should read Ego Is The Enemy?
I recommend everyone reads this book. It’s not Holiday’s best work, I think The Obstacle Is The Way and Conspiracy are better, with the latter a fascinating story, but there are real lessons to be learned from reading this book.
Anyone that holds a position of power, or who aspires to do so, should take notes from this book.
Learn the lessons from the figures depicted and you will stop yourself from making the same mistakes.