Book Review: Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

“Ego is the Enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Of repeating and retaining your success. It repulses advantages and opportunities. It’s a magnet for enemies and errors.” -Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy

Who is your worst enemy?

Is it the circumstances of your birth? Or maybe what’s happening right now? Or maybe it’s a rival or nemesis? 

Because it’s important to answer this question, when we know who our worst enemy is and how it works and affects us, we can take measures to overcome and succeed. 

But before we answer this, let’s take heed of what Nobel Laureate and Physicist Richard Feynman says… 

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” 

Strangely, people don’t know who their worst Enemy is. They think it’s one’s beginnings and outside circumstances. They believe it’s the times we face. And others still believe it’s another person, thing, or group. 

But it’s not. It’s much more insidious than what the world thinks it is.

The rock band Lit says it sardonically in this line from one of their late 90’s songs… 

“It’s no surprise to me; I am my own worst enemy.” 

And more than that, it is ego. We fail the most because of our egos. 

That’s why Ryan Holiday dove deep and decided to write about this. He recognized that this undermines us in every step of our journeys in life. It sets traps that disrupt our eventual Success. And it destroys us before we even fulfill our destiny. 

Ryan recognizes our potential. And he clearly says this about it… 

“Aspiration leads to Success (and adversity). Success creates its adversity (and, hopefully, new ambitions). And adversity leads to aspiration and more Success. It’s an endless loop.”

He recognizes that we all aspire for greatness that we can most definitely achieve. We experience failure and have the choice to learn or despair from it. And yes, we overcome adversity and achieve the Success we so greatly deserve. 

Ryan recognizes that we aspire for greatness and destiny in our journey in life, achieve success, and experience failure. He says… 

“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.”

So in this book review, we’re going to see how Ego defeats us and how we can overcome it. 

Let’s define ego first. According to Ryan Holiday, ego is… 

It is also craving recognition without doing the work. This shows an immense sense of entitlement that does not build us up. On the contrary, it only undermines us and destroys us from within. 

And what is terrifying about this is what Ryan says that …

“Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, your worst enemy already lives inside you: your ego.”

Ego brings us down in our life journey when we… 

ASPIRE

It’s great that we have dreams and goals. It’s wonderful to have the destiny to aspire to. But if we do not take any action and only say what we want, the destructiveness of ego takes over. 

Ego makes us declare without making a move towards our objectives. And it does this, so we only get admiration to feed it. 

Ryan Holiday wants us to answer this question… 

Am I doing this to be somebody or do something?

If we do something to be somebody, we surely are feeding our ego and the destructiveness it brings. 

SUCCESS

It’s fun to celebrate our wins. It gives us a good feeling that shows us that we can make a sound of victory through our actions. But take care; it can also be a back door to ego taking over us. 

But if we ever want to continue in our life journey to our destinies, we must keep our egos in check. 

In the end, it destroys us by disconnecting from reality and making us forget that we need the fundamentals of living and giving. 

Failure

We fail now and then. And yet, most of the time, we do not see failure as a precious gift that we can use. And when we give in to ego, we only focus on what failure does to break us. 

It keeps us from seeing what failure is – a learning opportunity that potentially becomes a launching pad for success. 

Ego undermines us by making us feel that the only outcome of failure is hopelessness and despair. 

And not only that, but it also affects what we hold important. So, for example, in the book, Ryan Holiday writes… 

“Ego is its own worst enemy. It hurts the ones we love too. Our families and friends suffer for it. So do our customers, fans, and clients”. 

We live with humility in our aspirations.  And when we achieve success, we must become gracious in our ways. But, on the other hand, if we encounter failure, we should stay resilient and continue. 

Ryan adds up to this when he says… 

“What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence, and self-awareness.”

He also says that … 

When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real.”

For us to overcome ego, we have to realize that… 

We have to live with purpose, not passion.

Purpose puts a focus on what we have to do in life. And when that happens, we don’t get swayed by the destructiveness of ego. 

For starters, we have to answer the following questions: 

  • Why do I do what I do? 
  • Who am I? 
  • What purpose am I serving? 

Once we know the answers to these questions, it’s easy to stay on track and not get distracted. We know what to do and what to prioritize. 

We can deliberate and work even when there seems to be no passion because blind passion doesn’t show any progress at all. It is just bluster and not true confidence. 

We look for purpose because it leads us to true confidence. So we put in the time to be disciplined and master ourselves. And that, in turn, gives us the calm self-confidence that will help us achieve our goals. 

“The critical work that you want to do will require your deliberation and consideration. Leave passion for the amateurs. Make it about what you feel you must do and say, not what you care about and wish to be.”

Ryan Holiday says… 

We have to see ourselves as students.

There will always be more to learn so that we can achieve what we must. Therefore, at every step of our journey, we have to possess a unique curiosity about life. And more so, we have to commit to the discipline of learning. 

Many are overconfident because they think they know everything. But the reality is different. First, we don’t hold every information and skill at any given moment to succeed. Second, and worse, we will always need feedback to know what to refine and achieve. 

Ryan Holiday has this to say… 

“A true student is like a sponge. Absorbing what goes on around him, filtering it, latching on to what he can hold. A student is self-critical and self-motivated, always trying to improve his understanding so that he can move on to the next topic, the next challenge. A real student is also his own teacher and his own critic. There is no room for ego there.”

And yes, we have to realize that we need to submit to humility for this to happen. This gives us the grounding to accept feedback and helps us become better versions of ourselves. 

As Ryan Holiday says… 

“Humility is what keeps us there, concerned we don’t know enough and that we must continue to study. Ego rushes to the end, rationalizes that patience is for losers (wrongly seeing it as a weakness), and assumes we’re good enough to give our talents a go in the world.”

We have to take more decisive action. 

In achieving our desires, dreams, and destinies, we come to realize how monumental our tasks can be. As was written in the book, 

“You know that all things require work and that work might be quite difficult. But do you really understand? Do you have any idea just how much work there is going to be? Not work until you get your big break, not work until you make a name for yourself, but work, work, work, forever and ever.”

It is therefore important for us to do the work that is required. We have to find ways to let go of the noise and focus. 

It is this quiet work that helps us achieve the goals we endeavor. We don’t talk needlessly. We get to our work corners and do the tasks. Ryan Holiday says this about people who succeed… 

“They work quietly in the corner. They turn their inner turmoil into product—and eventually into stillness. They ignore the impulse to seek recognition before they act. They don’t talk too much. And they don’t mind the feeling that others, out there in public are enjoying the limelight, are somewhat getting the better end of the deal (They are not).”

And he asks us…

“When facing a new task, do you seek to talk about it or do you face the struggle head-on?”

In the end, we realize that ego stops us because we fail to commit to our purpose, stop learning as humble students, and don’t take action. 

Yes, we have the capability and potential to become the best we can be. We can overcome any challenge, problem, or obstacle life throws at us. We can, and must, succeed. 

Still, we have to overcome the greatest hindrance in our lives – ourselves and our egos. 

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