Author: Ryan Holiday
Published in: 2016
Many of us insist the main impediment to a full, successful life is the outside world. In fact, the most common enemy lies within: our ego. Early in our careers, it impedes learning and the cultivation of talent. With success, it can blind us to our faults and sow future problems. In failure, it magnifies each blow and makes recovery more difficult. At every stage, ego holds us back.
Ego Is the Enemy draws on a vast array of stories and examples, from literature to philosophy to history. We meet fascinating figures such as George Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Katharine Graham, Bill Belichick, and Eleanor Roosevelt, who all reached the highest levels of power and success by conquering their own egos. Their strategies and tactics can be ours as well.
In an era that glorifies social media, reality TV, and other forms of shameless self-promotion, the battle against ego must be fought on many fronts. Armed with the lessons in this book, as Holiday writes, “you will be less invested in the story you tell about your own specialness, and as a result, you will be liberated to accomplish the world-changing work you’ve set out to achieve.”
Takeaway #1: Plus, minus and equal
Holiday writes about a multi-title mixed martial arts champion named Frank Shamrock, who uses a system called plus, minus and equal to train his fighters.
“Each fighter, to become great...needs to have someone better that they can learn from, someone lesser who they can teach, and someone equal that they can challenge themselves against” (Pg 39). By training against someone who is better than us, it purges the ego from thinking we are the best. By training against someone lesser than us, it humbles the ego to think of ourselves as teachers. And by training against someone of equal skill, it reminds us to stay competitive and not become complacent.
The plus, minus, and equal principle can be applied to any field. If you’re a manager, seek out a mentor, train an intern and collaborate with co-workers. If you play varsity soccer, learn from the best player on the team, help train the worst player, and compete with all other teammates during practice.
Takeaway #2: Forever a Student
It is easy to be a student before one becomes successful and great. The real challenge is staying a student even after achieving greatness.
“A student is self-critical and self-motivated, always trying to improve his understanding so that he can move onto the next topic, the next challenge” (Pg 41). A student must be able to take harsh and critical feedback to learn where they can improve. The ego, however, avoids such feedback at all costs. This stops us from improving by convincing us that we don’t need to improve. Then, when we don’t get the results we were expecting, we wonder what happened.
Today, books are available in stores and online. Ivy league college courses can be found online. Smartphones give us 24/7 access to the internet. There is more information than ever before. One must remain a student throughout their lives to achieve true success.
Takeaway #3: Stay on Course
According to the philosopher Seneca, the Greek word euthymia, is the sense of our own path and staying on it without getting distracted by all the others that intersect it.
“It’s about being what you are, and being as good as possible at it, without succumbing to all the things that draw you away from it” (Pg 117). Ego is constantly telling people they can have it all. It rejects trade-offs. One must remember what is important and ignore the other paths. Do not get distracted by those around you. Find out what matters and what doesn’t. Only then can a person say no to all other paths and concentrate on staying on course.
Takeaway #4: Do your Best, Forget the Rest
Life is not a fairy-tale. The path to success will have ups and downs, victories and failures, happiness and disappointment. However, it is important to focus on the effort and not the outcome.
“We have only minimal control over the rewards for our work and effort–other people’s validation, recognition, rewards. So what are we going to do? Not be kind, not work hard, not produce, because there is a chance it wouldn’t be reciprocated? C’mon” (Pg 178). Do not attach your ego to rewards and accolades. We can’t let that be what motivates us. There will be failures and disappointments in life. How then, do we carry on?
John Wooden, the famous basketball coach gives us the answer, “Success is peace of mind…knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming” (Pg 180). Do your best and forget the rest.
Takeaway #5: Always Love
On the path to success, one will encounter individuals who may deceive, offend, or hurt you. This causes us to become angry and seek retribution. However, this is short-term thinking from the ego.
“Hate at any point is a cancer that gnaws away at the very vital center of your life and your existence. It is like eroding acid that eats away the best and the objective center of your life” (Pg 204). It is easy to hate. It is our ego attempting to seek payback. However, this is a distraction. If we’re busy getting revenge, we aren’t focusing on our course and our work. Hate doesn’t get us to our goal, and can even set us back.
Instead, one must always love. Love is egoless. It is positive, peaceful and productive. Hate focuses on the past while love focuses on the present and most importantly, the future. Stay positive, stay focused and always show love.