Ego is the Enemy – Ryan Holiday

Ego is the Enemy, written by Ryan Holiday, is a thought-provoking read that delves into the negative effects of ego on our personal and professional lives. From his small ranch outside of Austin, TX, Ryan masterfully explores the ways in which our own egos can hold us back and impede our progress.

As I read Ego is the Enemy, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of resonance with Ryan’s message. Here are some of my learnings from the book. 

Our ego is our worst enemy. Performance Artist Marina Abramovic said, ‘If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity’. Ryan says many of us do not reach the destination we desire. Ego is the culprit. Humility and reality are the cure. Will we be able to make the most of the talent we have? It is ordinary people who achieve extraordinary things, and they learn things along the way. They do not think that their success is because of them. It is a team effort. 

Through personal anecdotes and examples, Ryan illustrates how ego can cloud our judgment, fuel our insecurities, and ultimately lead us down a path of self-destruction. He encourages readers to think less of themselves and to focus on humility, self-awareness, and the pursuit of true excellence.

Those who know, do not speak
Those who speak, do not know

Lao Tzu

A lot of things we want to achieve are painfully difficult. It requires a lot of hard work. Talking is the easiest thing one can do. A thrifty tongue is one’s treasure. Thiruvalluvar wrote something similar, thousands of years ago.

யாகாவா ராயினும் நாகாக்க காவாக்கால் 
சோகாப்பர் சொல்லிழுக்குப் பட்டு.

We do not have to crave recognition; it is about doing. You need to work with people smarter than you so you can learn from them and be a lifelong learner. You need people who can challenge you. Many of the best teachers are free.

Genghis Khan’s advice to his sons ‘If you can’t swallow your pride, you can’t lead. Do not think too much about yourself. Genghis Khan’s success came because he kept learning and adapting to new technologies from the cultures and countries he conquered. He would steal and absorb the best of each culture. He was not a born genius. As one biographer put it, ‘A Persistent cycle of pragmatic learning, experimental adaptation and constant revision driven by his uniquely disciplined and focused will‘. 

A founder needs to learn how to delegate. The author suggests learning from everyone, even people you dislike or your enemies. 

Work: There is no substitute for hard work. You always need to work hard. Bill Clinton collected names and phone numbers of friends and acquaintances who he thought might be able to help him when he enter spolitics. He would send them letters and take notes every night. Eventually, his collection grew to 10,000 cards. This is hard work, and this is what got him to the Oval office. Execution with excellence is the key. If you meet other successful people, it will make you feel insignificant.

Dwilight Eisenhower did not want his folks to bring him a sealed envelope. He wanted people reporting to him to open and read the letter. He wanted to focus on the big picture and important stuff. He was very organized. Being organized is critical for success. 

Angela Markel, the former Chancellor of Germany, is sober. In her 50’s she became chancellor, it was a diligent, plodding path. She is very different from the leaders we see today. The author writes that we are lucky to see someone like Angela. A lot of accomplished people live in modest apartments, and we do not know them. They are sober. Do not get deceived by the recognition you get or the money in your bank account.

History is full of people who suffered rejections and bounced back. Lots of politicians lost elections, but with time fought back and led us. 

You never know what’s in store for you. Things may be going great and at any point, fate may intervene. Katharine Graham had to take the mantle of running the Washington Post because of the circumstances in her family. Life isn’t fair. Failures can come to anyone even if you do good. When we are less attached to the outcomes, it is better. The effort is what matters. Even if the audience doesn’t cheer, don’t let that demotivate you. We need to continue to work hard and put in the effort. You have to judge yourself by your own standards.

We surround ourselves with distractions and lies about what makes us happy. 

The disease of me is a problem and it is always about the Team and culture. Never overestimate your own powers. As you become more accomplished, you will realize that marketing, PR, and more takes away time from your core work. It is a distraction, and you should not care too much about the credit. 

Bill Bradley baseball player quote ‘When you are not practicing, remember someone somewhere is practicing and when you meet him, he will win.’

You need to play for the long term. Do not overestimate your own power. Never get a sense of entitlement. At times, we tend to fight or raise our voices with customer service folks, attendants at the airport, and more. It will not take us anywhere and it is a waste of time. 

Instead of hating your enemies, you can show pity or empathy for them. You can love them, (always love). In life, at times, you will have to fight it alone. Winston Churchill stood alone (for a full eight years), and Katherine Graham stood alone as she took over her family newspaper. People learn from failures. 

Towards the end of the book, the author stresses again on training or working hard. You must sweep the floor every day (every minute of every day) and then sweep again. If you don’t, the floor gets dirty. 

While reading Ego is the Enemy, I couldn’t resist remembering the great Tamil Poet, Thiruvaluvar who has written similar stuff thousands of years ago in his Thirukural. 

Thank you Ryan for the great book. Enjoyed reading it. 

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