In the following Ego Is The Enemy summary, I discuss the key insights that I gained from each chapter in Ryan Holiday’s book. I strongly recommend that you pick-up your own physical copy of the book here. A summary is good to get an overview of the key lessons, but in the original book Ryan uses tons of historical examples that help drive these key lessons home. And since storytelling is a critical component of learning, I highly recommend you go and pick-up a copy for yourself.
With that being said, let’s get into it…
The Painful Prologue
For those who don’t know, Ryan Holiday is a fairly accomplished marketer who achieved success in his field very early in his life.
In the prologue, he explains that with success comes the temptation to tell ourselves a story that deludes us of the reality of how we achieved that success in the first place. This is something that causes your identity and your accomplishments to become tied to your sense of self-worth.
Early in his career, things started to fall apart for Ryan because the lives of his mentors that he tied his self-worth to were becoming unraveled.
He goes on to explain that it wasn’t the amount of work that caused his downfall but that work then became his source of self-worth.
In order to battle ego at every turn, we need to fight to see ourselves in a new light and stay true to that light through constant practice.
The objective of the book is simple; to think less of yourself and liberate yourself of the influences of ego so you can stay true to the life-changing work you are pursuing.
Your ego is your own worst enemy.
The ego, which makes us so promising during the ascent to success also makes us vulnerable to a much darker side.
Your ego can be summed up as an unhealthy belief in your own importance. It constantly tells us that we are better than we actually are, which prevents us from communicating honestly with ourselves about the world around us.
This is a problem because if the ego distorts the very reality in which we operate then we cannot identify opportunities or accurately assess potential risks.
At any given time in life there are three stages:
- Aspiring to success
- Having achieved success
At any given time, ego plays a massive role in all three stages, which is why it’s critical to take control of your ego early on. To prevent your ego from forming bad habits during your ascent to success. To prevent your ego from giving you an over-inflated sense of self when you have achieved success. And to keep a level head so that you are not wrecked by failure when it inevitably does happen.
The good news is that your ego can be managed and the subsequent chapters will show you how.
There are two types of people who achieve success;
- Those who are born with a natural belief in themselves
- Those who slowly formed a belief in themselves based on actual achievement
If your belief in yourself is not based on actual achievement then it’s purely based on ego.
Today’s society tries to make us more and more dependent on validation, entitlement, and emotional. Think of all the social media networks you are on vying for your attention. Think of all the advertisers trying to get you to buy from them. They need you to be emotional.
Your ability to accurately and honestly assess your own ability is paramount to actually improving.
You must try to practice something Ryan calls, “seeing yourself with a little distance”. Despite your goals and aspirations you must act and live small in order to accomplish what it is that you want.
Furthermore, this will be a very iterative process (which we will get to later).
Talk, Talk, Talk
Every time you open Instagram or whatever social media app you use, the content you see is positive. People are only sharing their successes and never the times they feel scared, vulnerable, or helpless.
For some reason, in our society, we think of silence as a form of weakness. But in reality, it’s a strength.
By being silent as we build we gain something called strategic flexibility. You can fly under the radar and maintain flexibility in your plans and goals. You buy yourself more time to find better ideas and courses of action.
Talking depletes us because talking and doing fight for the same resources.
Talking deludes us that we are actually taking meaningful action. People talk about their plans to fill the void of uncertainty. But the void of uncertainty can only be overcome through doing.
Stop talking. Start doing.
To Be Or To Do?
This chapter is about staying true to your purpose in life.
In life, there is often a tradeoff between “being” and “doing”.
Will you give into ego and pursue selfish endeavors or will you stick to the larger plan?
Switch your perspective from “who do I want to be in life?” to “what do I want to do in life?” and everything will become easier.
Become A Student
You need to make the decision to be committed to always being a student at every step on your journey to success and even more importantly, once you have achieved success.
Being a student teaches humility by putting your ego in the hands of someone else.
This Ego Is The Enemy summary, unfortunately, does not cover the amazing example from the band Metallica that illustrates this point so perfectly in the physical book.
Deluding yourself that you have the knowledge that you don’t it the most dangerous thing you can do because it prevents you from improving.
The famous fighter Frank Shamrock says that you should always train with someone who is better, equal, and worst than you.
You need to actively solicit honest feedback from people who have the balls to tell you how it is and not sugarcoat things.
You can always be learning, no excuses.
Don’t Be Passionate
Passion can actually hold you back from achieving your goals.
In this chapter, passion is defined as; unbridled enthusiasm, not to be confused with caring about something.
These kinds of emotions can be a huge burden to the process that one needs to undertake to achieve a specific goal.
You must stay true to the process and follow the steps. Most people have tons of passion when starting out, which soon fizzles out when they find out what is required to achieve the end result.
Passion is a poor substitute for discipline, purpose, and mastery.
The passion paradox is when people tell you about all the things they are going to do but never have any results to prove it.
Purpose is like passion with boundaries.
Switch from, “I’m so passionate about ___” to “I must do _____”).
Follow The Canvas Strategy
This chapter focuses on the importance of serving under someone who is more knowledgable or successful than you so that you can learn valuable skills and humility in the process.
The idea with an apprenticeship is to learn how to make other people look good without taking any recognition for yourself.
By clearing a path to success for other people you inevitably clear a path to success for yourself.
When you are first starting out, keep these three things in mind:
- You’re not as good as you think you are
- Your attitude needs to be readjusted
- Most of what you know is plain wrong
Attach yourself to people or organizations who are on their way up and look to serve them as much as possible.
How would your life change if every time you met a person you thought, “how could I help this person succeed?”.
In the following chapter of this Ego Is The Enemy summary, we touch on the topic of self-control in the face of the adversity we will face on the path to success.
Our success will always in some way be defined by how much nonsense we are willing to tolerate.
When people treat you poorly it doesn’t degrade you, it degrades them.
Restrain yourself from being reactive to the shit people throw at you and keep your eye focused on your purpose.
Get Out Of Your Own Head
This chapter can be summarized through the concept of the “imaginary audience”. When we are teenagers we think that people are watching us at all times and we are the focus of their attention every minute of every day.
It’s not true.
Nobody cares about you, so get out of your own head and be present.
The Danger Of Early Pride
Pride is a precursor to arrogance. Pride dulls our mind by taking minor accomplishments and making them seem like major ones (e.g. “I am an entrepreneur because I struck out on my own”).
A prideful attitude is fraudulent. Those who are putting in the work don’t need to overcompensate.
The formula to success is simple:
- Receive feedback
- Maintain hunger
- Chart a proper course in life
Here is a question you can ask yourself when you are feeling prideful; “What am I missing right now that a more humble person might see?”
Ther is no benefit to having pride.
Work, Work, Work
Here is a great quote from Henry Ford; “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.”
Do you know how people always refer to the concept that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill?
The truth is it doesn’t matter how long it takes because there is no end zone. Improvement is a life long, iterative process.
This is a positive message because it means what you want is within your grasp.
You just need to work for it.
Every time you sit down to work remind yourself that you are making an investment in yourself over your ego.
Ego begins to toy with our minds once success arrives. So without the right values, success is very brief.
You must build an organization and system around you that is about work and not about ego (aka you).
Always Stay A Student
As we accomplish more, we pretend to know more than we actually do.
You can tell how humble a person is by how much they observe and listen.
You must be a student not only at the beginning of your journey but for life.
Too often we like to remain in our comfort zones to avoid feeling stupid. That way we don’t have to deal with our own weaknesses. Unfortunately, this strategy just delays the inevitable.
Here is how you can remain a student:
- Pick up a book on something you know nothing about
- Take a class for a skill you have zero understanding of
- Put yourself in a room where you are the least knowledgable
Businesses fail because they lose the ability to learn.
Don’t Tell Yourself A Story
The narratives we tell ourselves after achieving success are very dangerous because it leads to arrogance. Typically these narratives gloss over the hard work and habits that got us there and focus on the superficial, glorified elements of the story.
A narrative makes it seem like you knew what was going to happen each step of the way when in reality you had no clue.
Success needs to be about the principles and hard work that got you there in the first place.
What’s Important To You?
As humans, we are never happy with what we have and always want to have more than everyone else. We often say “yes” to new opportunities out of greed and vanity in the pursuit of more.
We begin with a clear idea of what we want in life when we first start out. But when we achieve success and see what other, more successful people have we let ego get in the way and get envious.
You must clearly define what is important to you and stick to that baseline.
If you don’t know how much of whatever it is that you are seeking you need, the default answer is always, “more”.
Entitlement, Control, And Paranoia
After achieving success, we begin to overestimate our own power. The sense of certainty that allowed you to succeed initially can become a liability if you don’t manage it accordingly.
Entitlement assumes that everything you’ve earned is yours and in the process, it short changes other people by thinking your time is more valuable than theirs.
Control paralyzes you through perfectionism.
Paranoia makes you feel as though you can’t trust anyone.
These three emotions can result in other people trying to undermine and fight you.
As you become more successful, your days become less about doing and more about making decisions.
This means you need to learn how to manage yourself.
Beware The Disease Of Me
The disease of me is when we begin to think we are special, that our problems are unique, and that we are different from everyone else.
The ego needs validation, which confidence can wait and focus on the bigger picture.
Once success is achieved it’s common for your mindset to switch and focus on “getting what’s yours”.
Everyone has feelings of pride, ego, and self-interest but you must have the humility and self-awareness to reel it in and harness them.
Meditate On The Immensity
Cosmic sympathy is when we feel connected to something in the universe that is bigger than ourselves. This can be achieved by studying history, going out into nature, etc…
This practice can keep you humble and remind you of how small you are.
All of us at one point in our lives will face adversity.
In the face of failure or adversity, you must adhere to your internal metrics that allow you to gauge your progress.
Alive Time Or Dead Time?
Dead time is when people are passive and waiting.
Alive time is when you are learning and utilizing each second.
What are the issues that you have been putting off and refusing to deal with? Take control of the dead time in your life by tackling that issue that you have been putting off.
When we can’t examine ourselves honestly, we re-invest our time energy into the same habits that caused us to fail.
The Effort Is Enough
When success is achieved, there will be the temptation to accept praise for your work.
You must remain humble in knowing the fact that consistent effort is enough reward on its own.
The less attached we are to a particular outcome, the better.
You cannot let external influence determine if something was worth it or not.
Draw The Line
When we get our identity tied up in our work, we worry that any failure might say something bad about us as a person.
Only your ego thinks that embarrassment and failure are more than what they are.
Detach yourself from any setbacks or failures you might experience and stay focused on the bigger picture.
Maintain Your Own Scorecard
Successful people don’t care about what other people think. They only care about whether or not they meet their own standards. That is why you must develop an inner scorecard.
What is the scorecard for your own performance? What are the standards you hold for yourself?
Only when you achieve those should you feel satisfied with your efforts.
The Streisand Effect state that trying to destroy something out of hate or ego often ensures it will be preserved.
Love is always a better response to an attack or slight against you. Instead of hating your enemy, feel empathy toward them.
Ego Is The Enemy Summary: Conclusion
I hope you found my Ego Is The Enemy summary helpful and you were able to get some interesting insights that can help you along in your journey to becoming more humble and purpose driven. Personally speaking, I know that I have succumbed to these lesser emotions of pride, envy, and ego many times. That said, with the principles outlined in this book, I have become more away of when I am misaligned with my bigger purpose and am able to recenter myself and get back on tack.
I hope you can do the same.