This week, I want to share my notes on a book called Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.
Note: These are just my highlights from the book. None of my own commentary or experiences are embedded.
- Sun ☀️
PS: Ryan Holiday's Trilogy on Stoicism changed the trajectory of my life. I am confident any one of the three books can make a meaningful impact on you as well.
Livin' La Vida Luna
Luna got her Hepatitis B shot this past week. She only cried for 10 seconds. Holding a baby down to get an injection is brutal.
Ego is the Enemy
The clinical definition of Ego - an unhealthy belief in your own importance.
“if you start believing in your own importance, it is the death of your creativity”
This book will help us be
- Humble in aspirations
- Gracious in success
- Resilient in failures
Your belief in yourself must be dependent on actual achievement, not ego.
Entitlement: The idea that you can do whatever you put your mind to makes us weak.
Self-awareness: Evaluating your own ability is the most important skill of all.
Silence: Scarce, rare, strong. Never give reasons for what you think or do until you must.
Talking depletes you. Talking and taking action fight for the same resources. Choose taking action.
Work quietly in the corner and ignore the impulse to seek recognition before taking action.
Doing the right thing is always the right thing.
On Becoming a Student:
“You cannot learn if you think you already know”
The power of being a student is not just in an extended period of instruction, it also places the ego and ambition in someone else’s hands.
Apply the Frank Shamrock system of plus, minus, and equal. To become great you need to learn from someone better than you, teach someone not as good as you, and identify an equal to challenge you.
Students are like sponges. Absorb, filter, latch on. Self-critical and self-motivated. No room for ego there.
Don’t be Passionate:
Caring vs. Passion
Passion is like an unbridled enthusiasm. Pouncing on what’s in front of you with all your energy and weight.
Be dispassionate or apathetic. This stance doesn’t mean you don’t care. There’s just less entertainment value.
Passion Paradox - constantly busy but never accomplishing anything. Don’t spend the best years of your life spinning tires going nowhere.
Purpose vs Passion
Purpose says, “I must do.” while Passion says, “I want to do.”
Passion prioritizes form over function.
Purpose is just function.
Anteambulo - one who clears the path.
Bill Belichick excelled as a coach by embracing parts of the job other coaches usually hate.
Being an Anteambulo is not about making someone look good. It’s about allowing someone else to be good. Clear the path for the people above you. In doing so, you will have cleared a path for yourself.
Be a rising star without threatening or alienating anyone. Provide feedback to your supervisors in private and pose it as a question you’re unsure of.
Say little, Do much. Be less, Do more.
Help yourself by helping others: When you meet someone, help them in a way that has nothing to do with you. Deposit favors in your bank account.
Get Out of Your Head:
Plato spoke of the type of people who are guilty of “feasting on their own thoughts”. It was common to find people who “instead of finding out how something they desire might come about, they pass that over, to avoid tiring deliberations about what’s possible. They assume that what they desire is available and proceed to arrange the rest, taking pleasure in thinking through everything they’ll do when they have what they want, thereby making their lazy souls even lazier.
It’s natural for ambitious youth to get excited and swept up by their thoughts. Like a teenager sitting in front of a mirror perfecting their look for hours before heading to get groceries with mom. Or when you’re walking down the street with headphones and you think the world is conforming to your beat.
The Danger of Early Pride:
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
Rockefeller told himself every night, “go steady. Look out or you will lose your head”
Genghis Khan taught his sons that pride is harder to tame than a lion.
We tend to be on guard against negative people. What we don’t protect ourselves against, but should, is people that inflate our egos. Prepare for pride and kill it early. Or it will kill what you aspire to.
Work, Work, Work:
“You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do”
- Henry Ford
A dilettante thinks an idea is enough. The professional works until he can create a tangible experience.
Do it if you’re going to do it. The workmanship is better than the material.
Fake it until you make it only works for losers. Imagine a Doctor, Quarterback, or CEO trying to fake it. They’ll be exposed quickly.
Ego is the Enemy:
Taste/talent gap: your taste may lead you to attempt creative work. But your youth makes your output seem untalented. It is in this gap, that ego can seem comforting. You can cover up your shortcomings or you can put the time in to get better.
Ego is the wicked sister of success.
“Man is pushed by drives, and pulled by values”
- Victor Frankl
Egotism has the same roots as alcoholism: insecurity, fear, a dislike for brutal objectivity.
Always Stay a Student:
Genghis Khan was one of the greatest military minds of all time because of his ability to learn from the technology and culture of every empire he captured.
GK was not a genius. Instead, he exercised a persistent circle of pragmatic learning.
You can tell someone is truly humble when they are seemingly at the top of their field, but continue to consistently ask questions, learn, and improve.
Deliberately put yourself in a room full of people smarter than you. Read books on topics you know nothing about.
Don’t Tell Yourself a Story:
Bill Walsh turned the SF 49ers into Superbowl Champions after 2 losing seasons. He focused on a “standard of performance”. What should be done? How it should be done? And when?
He did not expect winning a Superbowl, let alone in three short seasons.
Crafting stories out of past events is a human impulse. It’s dangerous, untrue, and often leads to arrogance. “I knew it would work”, “Failure was not an option”
“Keep your identity small”
- Paul Graham
Make it about the work and principles behind it, not the headlines that may come later.
What’s important to you?
Euthymia: Greek word for realizing our own path and how to stay on it without getting distracted by all the others that intersect it. Translates to tranquility in English.
After winning the battle for the Union, Ulysses S. Grant won the Presidency in a landslide, yet had no political background at all. After two corrupt, terrible terms, he started a financial firm and was bankrupted by his partner. He lost everything because he always wanted more. His ego led him to waste his life doing things he didn’t want to, to prove himself to people he didn’t respect, to get things he didn’t want.
Why do you do what you do? The only question that matters.
Entitlement, control, and paranoia:
- Accomplishment can be dangerous. You begin to overestimate your power. Then lose perspective. Xerxes wrote letters to mountains before building tunnels and cursed the sea before building bridges.
- A smart mind must regularly remind itself of the limits of its power and reach. Entitlement assumes this is mine, I’ve earned it, and nickel and dimes others because it can’t fathom their worth being as high as its own.
- Control says all things, big and small, must be done my way. Perfectionism is exhausting. You fight with the clerk over a canceled flight when you’re well aware neither of you controls the weather.
- Paranoia prevents you from establishing trust. You feel like you're in it for yourself by yourself. Looking out for number one is a mask for weakness, insecurity, and instability.
On Managing Yourself:
If you cannot manage yourself, you cannot manage others.
As you become more successful, your day shifts from “doing” to “deciding.”
- Micromanaging the small things is easy, engaging, and flattering.
- Delegating, trusting, and thinking about the big picture is difficult.
- Increase your clarity and purpose, set goals and priorities, then enforce them.
Beware the disease of “me”.
“When you're good at something, you'll tell everyone. When you're great at something, they'll tell you.”
- Walter Payton
Ego needs honors to be validated. Confidence can wait and focus on the task at hand regardless of external recognition.
Once you make it, you constantly look for “getting what’s mine”. You never earn the right to be greedy or pursue an interest at the expense of others
Pat Riley says young teams start with a phase called “the innocent climb”. As soon as they taste success, the “importance of me” can tear it apart. Shaq and Kobe. Kyrie and Lebron. KD & Steph/Klay/Dray.
If you play for the name on the front of the jersey, they will remember the name on the back.
Meditate on the immensity.
Sympatheia: a connectedness with the cosmos.
When we lack a connection to anything larger than us, it’s like a piece of our soul is gone. Ego blocks us from the beauty and history of the world.
Creativity is a matter of receptiveness and recognition. This cannot happen if you think the world revolves around you.
Reconcile yourself with the realities of life. Realize how much came before you and how much will come after you. Let that feeling carry you.
Maintain your sobriety
- Don’t be deceived by recognition or money
- You can't solve a problem with charisma
- If you want to live happily, live hidden
- Sobriety is the counterweight to success, especially when things get better and better
Aristotle's “golden mean” is the middle ground
- Virtue and excellence are points along a spectrum.
- Courage lies between cowardice and recklessness
- Achievement lies between endless ambition and complacency
“Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.”
- Mae West.
Failure and adversity are relatively unique to each of us.
Ego loves the notion that life isn't fair.
Narcissistic injury - when we take personally totally indifferent and objective events. This occurs when your sense of self is fragile and dependent on life going your way all the time.
The narcissistically inclined live in a city without walls. A fragile sense of self is constantly under threat.
The great failing, as described by Goethe, “seeing yourself for more than you are, and to value yourself at less than your true worth”
Alive Time Vs. Dead Time: A concept popularized by Robert Greene
“Cast down your buckets where you are, make use of what’s around you, don’t let stubbornness make a bad situation worse”
- Booker T Washington
Dead time: when you are passive and waiting
Alive time: when you are learning, acting, and utilizing
The Effort is Enough - *Favorite Chapter*
In life, there will be times when we do everything right. Yet the result will somehow be negative. If ego holds the way, we’ll be crushed and accept nothing less than full appreciation.
Doing the right thing is always the right thing.
Do you work hard on something that can be taken away from you? Will you put in time and energy even if the outcome is not guaranteed?
If not, how do you plan to endure tough times?
The less attached you are to the outcomes the better. Fulfilling your own standard is what should fill you with pride.
Ego requires compensation, recognition. If you get it once, you expect it always.
John Wooden on Success: 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.
Marcus Aurelius defines “ambition” as tying your well being to what other people say or do and “sanity” as tying your well being to your actions
“We cannot be humble without experiencing humiliation”
- Reverend William A Sutton
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places, those who do not break are killed”
The world can show you the truth, but no one can force you to accept it
A Fight Club Moment is an event that demolishes you. An event in which everything you thought you knew about the world is rendered false.
- Almost always come at the hands of an outside person or force.
- Often involve things we already knew about ourselves but are too scared to admit.
- From the ruin, comes a great opportunity for progress and improvement.
Face the symptoms, cure the disease. Ego makes this so hard. It’s easier to delay, double down, or deliberately avoid making any change.
“It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character.”
- Marcus Aurelius
People make mistakes all the time. The problem is tying your identity to the failure. Worrying that people will think you’re a bad person for failing.
Your ego asks, “Why is this happening to me? How do I save this and prove to everyone I'm as great as they think?”
Only ego thinks failure and embarrassment are more than they actually are.
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, to begin with.
Alexander Graham Bell wrote in a letter to a friend. In it, he wrote, “Act with fortitude and honor. If you cannot reasonably hope for a favorable extrication, do not plunge deeper. Have the courage to make a full stop.”
Maintain Your Own Scorecard:
Great people hold themselves to a standard that exceeds what society might consider being an objective success
Hold yourself accountable to being the best possible version of yourself.
Hate and bitterness accomplish almost the exact opposite of what we hope it does.
Instead of hating your enemies, show them empathy.
In failure or adversity, it’s so easy to hate. Hate leads to blame. It makes someone else responsible. It’s also a distraction. Nothing gets done when you’re busy getting revenge.
People learn from their failures, not their successes.
See much, study much, suffer much, that is the path to wisdom
Any fool can learn from their own mistakes. It takes a wise person to learn from other people’s mistakes.