Most self-help books emphasize on achieving success. They lay down the propellers and motivators of success. They reveal tricks that have personally benefitted them or someone else on their journey to make something of their lives. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday differs from the other books in a fashion that is simple yet hard to pinpoint. In this book, Holiday speaks about one’s life after achieving success – the world in which ego is a constant in life.
Inspired by his personal life, Holiday published his fourth book to explain the aftermath of achieving success. Amongst other emotions, the emotion of ego is the frontrunner of a successful person’s life. This ego, which comes as a result of this well-deserved success, tends to cause a downfall as well.
Holiday’s personal journey to success was filled with adventure. His ability and tenacity gave him what he likes to call “an early success”. Owing to this early success, he began noticing the changes in his life, which he later attributed to his own ego. Holiday steers away from the psychological definition of ego but interprets it as having an unhealthy pride in oneself and one’s accomplishments.
1. Ego is the enemy
The description of the ego as used in this book has to do with the arrogance and conceitedness that comes after success. The ego is described as a child who wants their way and rejects every other proposal. It is also the complex of superiority that does injustice to one’s abilities.
Most people do not consider themselves to be “egomaniacs”, and thus cannot source out the root of their problems. The root of the obstacle in their path, unfortunately, happens to be their ego. The feeling of competitiveness, desire, futility, and unrest even during happy times stem from the feeling of ego that every person harbors.
Ego also comforts our insecurity. Comfort and familiarity act as a breeding ground for ego. Ego is conveniently placed between us and our fear to mask our inability to face it. While doing so, it tells us and makes us do things that will uplift our esteem. However, it is secretly plotting our downfall by limiting ourselves. The instant of the arrival of the ego is a short-term incidence, which can have a lasting effect.
2. Ego in life
Ego can dominate three stages of our life – these three stages can apply to each person as they will find themselves stranded in one of the three. At each stage, the ego is the enemy. These stages can correspond to one where success has been achieved or where no success has been achieved. It can also be a stage where one has encountered failure.
When the ego is shed, a person is left with strength and humility. Humility is that form of emotion that keeps us proud yet pumps out efforts for the future. The humility and confidence we gain at each of these stages after foregoing ego is extremely rewarding and beneficial.
3. Ego when we aspire
At each of these stages, the ego must be resisted. We must recognize the patterns of ego and try to push it out of the way before it can cause an obstacle in our path. When we aspire, we must think realistically and gain support from humility and modesty. We must not aspire based on our ego since it would make sure our aim is amiss. Suppression of ego at the stage of aspiration is the foremost step in fighting the battle against it.
4. Ego when we succeed
With success comes a load of unexperienced experiences that can baffle an individual. The strategy is to get hold of our newly-found status and only credit it with the appropriate amount of importance. Success is the fast-track to finding ego creeping into our lives, and its bud must be snubbed. Instead of getting addicted to the ways of ego, we must adopt discipline and level-headedness.
5. Ego when we fail
Failure is as normal as a success. Since failure causes trauma – which success does not – our ego tries to soften the blow by filling our heads with what we want to hear. It can lead to problems in attitude and esteem. Instead, a failure must be faced with strength and the determination to try harder the next time around. The ego does soften the blow, but it also restricts our ability to aim for higher.
6. Detachment from our minds
Holiday explains the trick to distance ourselves from ego. Since ego rests in our minds, it is best to get out of our heads. Detachment, as the author calls it, is the “natural antidote for ego”. Detachment from our mind helps us stay away from the prejudices and the emotions associated with every stage. When we see ourselves independently, we drive away from the ego.
While it may be difficult to remove the ego from our systems, we are left with humility. Similarly, when we detach ourselves from our brains, we can interpret ourselves as modest and disciplined. We can also gain self-awareness.
7. The correct way to aspire
While our aspiration may be grand, our steps towards it may not be. Small things can lead to big changes. When small steps are taken, they are decisive and careful, instead of impulsive decisions that can spiral into negative outcomes.
Living small enables us to learn and grow at each step. It gives us the full taste of the experience without having to tire ourselves or miss any detail. It also conserves focus. Many require success for their self-esteem, but society often associates aspirations with self-esteem. However, neither of them state the truth. Since the steps are small and the focus is strong, self-esteem can be built on the journey.
8. Act more, talk less
It is our natural tendency to talk about the actions we are about to undertake. But declarations can only go so far. At some point in time, it is crucial to start acting on our decisions. Staying silent about accomplishments or plans is not a sign of weakness, as most people tend to perceive. Our ego tempts us to think this way.
The declaration of success is interpreted as a paramount of success. The validation that is obtained from talking does not contribute to success, however, it can tamper it. The time spent in speaking can be used in taking productive steps which can ultimately lead to success.
The human nature to talk is not something to marvel at. People talk – especially if it’s about something insignificant. Hence, in the case of success, actions speak louder than words. Not wanting validation that is procured while speaking is a sign of strength and confidence. This level of strength and confidence is required to achieve success.
Talking about achievements will not get us success. Earning achievements will.
9. Always be a student
The façade of knowledge that ego compels us to stop us from learning. Life is a constant journey of gaining knowledge and there should be nothing between us and the knowledge out there in the world. The trick to shed the ego and learn is to assess our true abilities and ponder whether we really know everything.
Holiday also describes a true student – one who is motivated and even critical of self but moves along the constant path of knowledge. Ego restricts learning, but humility encourages it. So we must always be a student. If at a point, we feel we know everything about a given subject, we must move on to the next adventure to restart the process.
10. How to handle success
With determination and humility comes success. With success right around the corner, we must maintain our sobriety and march forward with the same humility as before. Self-reflecting about one’s open-mindedness and purpose tend to dissolve the ego and prepare us for the greater things in the future.
Great empires have risen and fallen due to the predominance of ego and loss of humility. We must learn from the fallen kingdoms and people by not repeating their gravest mistakes. After earning success, we must take a minute to give ourselves the due credit. Post that, we must continue on the path we had destined ourselves to and reach greater heights. The ego will make us stop in our tracks as soon as success strikes, and our story of success may stop right there.
11. Delusions of the ego
While most of us have heard about “with great power, comes great responsibility”, Holiday presents us with the case of “with great power, comes great delusions”. While the phrase about responsibility is positive and empowering, delusions are dangerous. The three great delusions that come with success (and power) are an entitlement, control, and paranoia.
Entitlement is the delusion that imparts excessive and unearned credit to us. It clouds our judgment and abilities. Since our abilities now seem top-notch, the expectations we make for ourselves are ridiculous and unattainable.
Control gives us the impulsive need to have the reins of everything and everyone in our hands. It might even give us the illusion of truly having these reins. It causes us to fight battles with everyone who thinks and acts differently. This delusion is brought on by the perception of self-perfection.
Paranoia is the feeling of not being able to trust anybody. Everyone who earns something is in a constant fearing of losing it. Similarly, we are prone to paranoia as a result of our ego. It impairs us to trust others and sometimes even us. We do not think that we are doing enough and tend to work excessively and tire ourselves out.
To not be delusional, we must retrospect and not lose our perspective.
12. How to deal with failure
No matter how much we try, success has an end. Holiday mentions that we may find ourselves at any of the three stages in life – aspiration, success, or failure – and that each stage has its own importance. Since everyone is bound to find themselves in each stage, we must comprehend how to deal with failure.
It is futile to beat ourselves up for the failures we may have encountered. The setbacks we face are not a testament to our abilities but are simply the ways of life. We must not react negatively to these circumstances and blame neither ourselves nor us.
The ego also does the opposite of motivating us. It reminds us of how things used to better and compares to derogate us. It also tends to put the blame of the failure on things and people we are associated with.
13. We are doing enough
Ego motivates us yet pulls us down. It reminds us all we are incapable of doing and sometimes, overexaggerates our accomplishments. Thus, we must understand that we lie in the middle. Our efforts do amount to something significant and are enough for where we want to reach.
14. Keeping anger at bay
The world is full of things we love and despise. We must cherish what we love but not loathe what we dislike. Expressing anger at situations that we dislike but are out of our control is a waste of time. Since one would like to use their time productively, we must engage ourselves in the things we enjoy and people we enjoy it with. Essentially, we must spread love and keep anger at bay.