It’s finally time for another book review! I haven’t summarized a book in quite some time, but I finally got some inspiration after starting a book club with my mate Jono. I’ve also been itching to share some useful knowledge that you can read up more on yourself.
The book I’ll be diving into today is called ‘Ego is the Enemy’ by Ryan Holiday. As the title suggests, it’s all about why ego is our greatest opponent and how to fight it. It was actually an eye-opener for me, as I haven’t really realized the way ego can sneak into our worldview and affect almost everything we do.
The book is segmented into 3 main sections; Aspire, Success, and Failure. Each section is comprised of multiple subsections, but I’ll only focus on a couple that resonated quite strongly with me.
The book essentially talks about the different stages that we experience in life and how ego develops in every stage. Ryan Holiday explains the concept by bringing in real-life examples from his personal journey, and by speaking through the stories of other historically famous people.
Let’s understand more about the ego and what we can do to prevent it from crippling us.
This is the phase where we set out to achieve something. We dream big, start chasing goals and begin a new journey. Yet, we oftentimes fall short of our ambition. Ego tends to be the culprit.
Talk, Talk, Talk
How often do we find ourselves talking endlessly about all that we want to achieve in life? Our wishes, our goals, our aspirations seem so much easier when we’re just talking about them. Getting to action or making other people have the spotlight seems less likely.
Silence is a crucial element here, especially when everyone else just seems to be a constant chatterbox. My previous post on The Art of Silence fits well into this section, as it highlights the importance of being comfortable in your own quietness.
The point here is that talking is easy. What’s ultimately always harder is walking the talk. It goes both ways. As one of the partners at the company I currently work at always says: We need to talk the walk and walk the talk. It goes both ways, but the latter is definitely more important.
Become A Student
I think it’s quite clear why this one resonates so much with me. I’ve devoted myself to constantly trying to be a life-long learner. This means approaching life like a sponge. Absorbing as much information and knowledge that I can from people that I encounter and experiences that I face.
It’s crucial not to let ego get in the way of this. We can easily pretend like we know what’s going on or fake our way through certain phases of our life, but it prevents true learning and growth. Having a white-belt mentality at the start will enable us to rapidly develop and gain expertise.
Work, Work, Work
This point links very closely to the one on Talk, Talk, Talk, as it brings in the concept of working hard. What we often underestimate is how challenging it can be to push forward when we face setbacks. Ego often tends to come into the picture here and makes us fall into the planning fallacy. We try as best as we can to avoid doing the actual work, by spending time ‘preparing’ and trying to feel productive about it.
It’s not always going to be easy. We’re going to wish it was a straight and clear path to move forward and achieve that goal. But it’s not going to be that way. There will be challenges, whether we like it or not. The best thing we can do is embrace it and keep ourselves prepared to overcome the hurdles and become stronger.
“Every time you sit down to do work, remind yourself: I am delaying gratification by doing this. I am passing the marshmallow test. I am earning what my ambition burns for. I am making an investment in myself instead of my ego.
This is the part where we’re reaping the harvest of the hard work and enjoying success, or where the summit is potentially insight. It’s when our pride, arrogance, and ‘know-it-all’ attitude strike out. It’s where we have to be incredibly careful not to stop learning or undermine the challenges that are yet to come.
Always Stay A Student
“As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.”
It’s quite clear why this is so important once we start picking up a few wins. Becoming a student is one thing. Remaining a student is something else altogether. We need to constantly remind ourselves that we’re not ‘there’. There’s no specific end goal to learning. It’s a continuous and life-long process.
When we start to feel like ‘we’ve been there and done that’, we need to keep ourselves in check. There’s always an opportunity to learn from other people, it just depends on the perspective you have.
Beware Of The Disease Of Me
Another crucial humbling point is to remind ourselves that we’re not the centre of the universe. We should not make ourselves feel like we’re the most important person in the room. We need to realize that the privilege of success is not going to continue falling into our lap once we make it.
We have to constantly seek out new challenges and embrace the opportunity to struggle. Give other people credit where it’s due and focus on developing them as well. It’s not all about you. It never will always be about you. Let that sober you up a little bit.
Meditate On the Immensity
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour.”
Reflect on how far you’ve come. How much you’ve grown. How much more there is to grow. Try and see the bigger picture amidst all the distractions. Think of your purpose. Who you are. What you are doing. Your role in this world.
Meaning does not only come from activity, despite how often our ego makes us feel that way. We don’t have to be the centre of attention. We need to look beyond our own success and the rat race, and keep the real objective in mind.
We then hit a roadblock. Things don’t always work out. We might fall short of our achievement. But how do we respond and pick ourselves up? What is the inner dialogue? How do we react?
Alive Time or Dead Time?
We are almost certainly bound to experience failure in some form or the other, at some point in our life. This can be somewhat of a daunting thought, but there are always ‘make or break’ moments that follow those experiences. We either rise above the circumstance and grow, or we let it crush us and stagnate (or even deteriorate).
Alive time or dead time refers to the concept of either utilizing a negative experience to stay alive (to the learnings, the lessons and potential to grow), or to die out (by falling into bad habits, losing hope and giving up).
When faced with any form of fear, we should constantly try to look at how we can learn from it. Almost all our experiences have some form of value to offer. It’s up to us to extract it. Choose alive time.
The Effort is Enough
“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
“Do your work. Do it well. Then let go, and let God.”
To me, this section focused on having a growth mindset. Ryan Holiday brought it up in a slightly different way though. When it comes to missing our targets or not achieving our set out goals, we should focus on the effort we put in. It’s not always about the result, it’s about the dedication.
He brings it up in the context of appreciation and not getting all the praise we deserve for what we set out to do. We should remind ourselves that it’s not our objective to be put on a pedestal. That’s the ego’s goal. Our goal is to try our best and keep pushing, whatever that may mean.
When things don’t go our way, it’s easy to hate. It’s easy to blame other people and not take responsibility for the outcomes. We should keep in mind, however, that it doesn’t get us any closer to our goal. In fact, it may even arrest our development entirely.
What we need to do in moments of difficulty is to choose love. To choose forgiveness. To let go of resentment and arrogance. This is definitely easier said than done, but the outcome will always be better. Maybe not for everyone involved, but definitely for your own well-being.
Choosing love is hard because the ego convinces us that we have every right to hate and stay bitter. Which is probably true. Your anger might be justifiable. But it doesn’t mean that lashing out will help you progress. In moments of failure, always love.
Throughout our life, we’ll always be in one of those three stages. Ego will invariably try to play a role in directing us. It’s up to us to be conscious enough in our decisions, to remain humble and to always remain a student.