• Toby Sinclair

Book Summary: Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday | Big Ideas and Best Quotes

Updated: Aug 23


A book summary of Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

3 Big Ideas

  1. Ego is: an unhealthy belief in our own importance.

  2. Ego is primary factor in the self-destruction of many people across the world, especially those who think they have found success through materialistic gains such as money and status. Ego eats away at these people like a cancer, often with their actions fuelling the disease. Live a life that does not fuel the ego. Don’t fuel the disease.

  3. Managing your ego does not mean not pursuing your dreams and goals. Managing your ego means building a compass to navigate you through life as the ego fuel becomes greater and more tempting. Understanding what is important to you, your value and reflecting regularly.

2 Quotes

Managing your ego is especially important with money. If you don’t know how much you need, the default easily becomes: more.
Why do you do what you do? That’s the question you need to answer. Stare at it until you can. Only then will you understand what matters and what doesn’t. Only then can you say no, can you opt out of stupid races that don’t matter, or even exist. Only then is it easy to ignore “successful” people, because most of the time they aren’t—at least relative to you, and often even to themselves. Only then can you develop that quiet confidence.

1 Action:


Develop my life compass further to help manage my ego (Read my article to help build you life compass)

Buy the book

A longer book summary if you have more time… 


Part I: Aspire

  • As Irving Berlin put it, “Talent is only the starting point.” The question is:

  • Will you be able to make the most of it?

  • Or will you be your own worst enemy?

  • Will you snuff out the flame that is just getting going?

  • One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible.

  • Detachment is ego antidote.

  • What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence, and self-awareness.

  • Though we think big, we must act and live small to achieve goals

Ego Talk Replaces Action – Knowing Doing Gap

  • It’s a temptation that exists for everyone—for talk and hype to replace action. Talking is easy.

  • Confusing Talk with Action: Talk depletes us. Talking and doing fight for the same resources. Research shows that while goal visualization is important, after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress. The same goes for verbalization. Knowing Doing Gap

  • I just spent four hours talking about this. Doesn’t that count for something? The answer is no.

  • The only relationship between work and chatter is that one kills the other.

  • Now more than ever, our culture fans the flames of ego. It’s never been easier to talk, to puff ourselves up.

Ego crosses out what matters and replaces it with what doesn’t.

  • Appearances are deceiving.

  • Having authority is not the same as being an authority.

  • Having the right and being right are not the same either.

  • Being promoted doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing good work and it doesn’t mean you are worthy of promotion (they call it failing upward in such bureaucracies).

  • Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.

Ego blocks learning

  • An education can’t be “hacked”; there are no shortcuts besides hacking it every single day.

  • We don’t like thinking that someone is better than us. Or that we have a lot left to learn.

  • For someone to become great:

  • have someone better that they can learn from

  • someone lesser who they can teach

  • someone equal that they can challenge themselves against.

  • A true student is like a sponge. Absorbing what goes on around him, filtering it, latching on to what he can hold. A student is self-critical and self-motivated, always trying to improve his understanding so that he can move on to the next topic, the next challenge. A real student is also his own teacher and his own critic. There is no room for ego there.

  • Without an accurate accounting of our own abilities compared to others, what we have is not confidence but delusion.

  • “It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows,” Epictetus

Seek Purpose not Passion – The ego is driven by passion

  • Purpose is something larger than you—to accomplish something, to prove something to yourself

  • Purpose makes things easier:

  • you know now what it is you need to do and what is important to you. The other “choices” wash away, as they aren’t really choices at all. They’re distractions.

  • Purpose makes things harder:

  • each opportunity—no matter how gratifying or rewarding—must be evaluated along strict guidelines:

  • Passion typically masks a weakness. Its breathlessness and impetuousness and franticness are poor substitutes for discipline, for mastery, for strength and purpose and perseverance.

  • Passion Paradox – Staying busy doing things that pleasure our ego but don’t align with our purpose

  • Putting energy into our passions will not lead to purpose

  • Purpose is like passion with boundaries.

  • Passion is form over function. Purpose is function, function, function.

  • Fundamental realities to remember:

  • You’re not nearly as good or as important as you think you are;

  • You have an attitude that needs to be readjusted;

  • Most of what you think you know is out of date or wrong.

Focus on Helping others

  • There is constant benefit in making other people look good and letting them take credit for your ideas.

  • Produce more than everyone else and give your ideas away

  • Find canvases for other people to paint on. Clear the path for the people above you and you will eventually create a path for yourself.

Adopt tiny habits consistently and don’t be proud – Tiny Habits

  • A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts, so he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions.—ALAN WATTS

  • There’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned, in all that is around us.

  • Our ability to learn, to adapt, to be flexible, to build relationships, all of this is dulled by pride.

  • Pride takes a minor accomplishment and makes it feel like a major one.

  • Questions to manage pride:

  • What am I missing right now that a more humble person might see?

  • What am I avoiding, or running from, with my bluster, franticness, and embellishments?

  • Be patient and put in the work.

  • Work is finding yourself alone at the track when the weather kept everyone else indoors.

  • “The way to do really big things seems to be to start with deceptively small things.”

Part II: Success

Ego blocks learning – Don’t be an expert, always a learner

  • “The worst disease which can afflict business executives in their work is not, as popularly supposed, alcoholism; it’s egotism,”

  • “Man is pushed by drives, But he is pulled by values.” Viktor Frankl

  • We can’t keep learning if we think we already know everything.

  • “as our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.”

  • With accomplishment comes a growing pressure to pretend that we know more than we do. To pretend we already know everything.

  • It is not enough only to be a student at the beginning. It is a position that one has to assume for life.

  • Put yourself in rooms where you’re the least knowledgeable person.

Set your own standards, don’t copy others

  • Standard of Performance (Also referenced in Barcelona Way): What. When. How. At the most basic level and throughout the organization. Bill Walsh example:

  1. Players could not sit down on the practice field.

  2. Coaches had to wear a tie and tuck their shirts in.

  3. Everyone had to give maximum effort and commitment.

  4. Sportsmanship was essential.

  5. The locker room must be neat and clean.

  6. There would be no smoking, no fighting, no profanity.

  7. Quarterbacks were told where and how to hold the ball.

  8. Linemen were drilled on thirty separate critical drills.

  9. Passing routes were monitored and graded down to the inch.

  10. Practices were scheduled to the minute.

  • The deceptively small things are responsible for your success

  • Don’t Cargo Cult – Resist the impulse to reverse engineer success from other people’s stories.

  • Don’t skill the details in your own story – When we achieve our own, we must resist the desire to pretend that everything unfolded exactly as we’d planned.

  • The less attached we are to outcomes the better. Focus on your standards.

  • Make a distinction between the inner scorecard and the external one. Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of—that’s the metric to measure yourself against.

Build your compass don’t let Ego direct you

  • It is not enough to have great qualities; we should also have the management of them

  • All of us waste precious life doing things we don’t like, to prove ourselves to people we don’t respect, and to get things we don’t want.

  • Let’s be clear: competitiveness is an important force in life. It’s what drives the market and is behind some of mankind’s most impressive accomplishments. On an individual level, however, it’s absolutely critical that you know who you’re competing with and why, that you have a clear sense of the space you’re in.

  • More urgently, each one of us has a unique potential and purpose; that means that we’re the only ones who can evaluate and set the terms of our lives. Far too often, we look at other people and make their approval the standard we feel compelled to meet, and as a result, squander our very potential and purpose.

  • “The Strongest Poison ever known, came from Caesar’s Laurel Crown.” William Blake

  • “He who indulges empty fears earns himself real fears,” Seneca

Don’t let Ego distract you

  • Find the sense of our own path and how to stay 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. It’s about going where you set out to go. About accomplishing the most that you’re capable of in what you choose.

  • It’s time to sit down and think about what’s truly important to you and then take steps to forsake the rest. Without this, success will not be pleasurable, or nearly as complete as it could be. Or worse, it won’t last.

  • This is especially true with money. If you don’t know how much you need, the default easily becomes: more.

  • Ego rejects trade-offs. Why compromise? Ego wants it all. strategies are often mutually exclusive. One cannot be an opera singer and a teen pop idol at the same time. Life requires those trade-offs, but ego can’t allow it.

  • Why do you do what you do? That’s the question you need to answer. Stare at it until you can. Only then will you understand what matters and what doesn’t. Only then can you say no, can you opt out of stupid races that don’t matter, or even exist. Only then is it easy to ignore “successful” people, because most of the time they aren’t—at least relative to you, and often even to themselves. Only then can you develop that quiet confidence.

  • Find out why you’re after what you’re after. Ignore those who mess with your pace.

  • With success, particularly power, come some of the greatest and most dangerous delusions: entitlement, control, and paranoia.

You are not the centre of the universe

  • As you become successful in your own field, your responsibilities may begin to change. Days become less and less about doing and more and more about making decisions.

  • Let’s make one thing clear: we never earn the right to be greedy or to pursue our interests at the expense of everyone else. To think otherwise is not only egotistical, it’s counterproductive.

  • Ego tells us that meaning comes from activity, that being the center of attention is the only way to matter.

  • “When I look up in the universe, I know I’m small, but I’m also big. I’m big because I’m connected to the universe and the universe is connected to me.”

  • Someone recently calculated that it takes but a chain of six individuals who shook hands with one another across the centuries to connect Barack Obama to George Washington.

  • That is sobriety. That is command of oneself.

  • Courage, for instance, lies between cowardice on one end and recklessness on the other. Generosity, which we all admire, must stop short of either profligacy and parsimony in order to be of any use. Where the line—this golden mean—is can be difficult to tell, but without finding it, we risk dangerous extremes.

Part III: Failure

Build a personal compass to navigate failure

  • Failure and adversity are relative and unique to each of us.

  • “Almost always, your road to victory goes through a place called ‘failure.’”

  • Ego loves this notion, the idea that something is “fair” or not. Psychologists call it narcissistic injury when we take personally totally indifferent and objective events.

  • As Goethe once observed, the great failing is “to see yourself as more than you are and to value yourself at less than your true worth.”

  • adhering to a set of internal metrics that allowed them to evaluate and gauge their progress while everyone on the outside was too distracted by supposed signs of failure or weakness.

  • This is characteristic of how great people think. It’s not that they find failure in every success. They just hold themselves to a standard that exceeds what society might consider to be objective success. Because of that, they don’t much care what other people think; they care whether they meet their own standards. And these standards are much, much higher than everyone else’s.

See failure as an opportunity – use the “dead time”

  • According to Greene, there are two types of time in our lives: dead time, when people are passive and waiting, and alive time, when people are learning and acting and utilizing every second.

  • Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that became the national anthem of the United States while trapped on a ship during a prisoner exchange in the War of 1812.

  • Viktor Frankl refined his psychologies of meaning and suffering during his ordeal in three Nazi concentration camps. Not that these opportunities always come in such serious situations.

  • The author Ian Fleming was on bed rest and, per doctors’ orders, forbidden from using a typewriter. They were worried he’d exert himself by writing another Bond novel. So he created Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by hand instead.

  • Walt Disney made his decision to become a cartoonist while laid up after stepping on a rusty nail.

  • In life, we all get stuck with dead time. Its occurrence isn’t in our control. Its use, on the other hand, is.

Be clear on what success is to you

  • “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.”

  • This is why we can’t let externals determine whether something was worth it or not. It’s on us.

  • The bigger the ego the harder the fall.

  • many significant life changes come from moments in which we are thoroughly demolished, in which everything we thought we knew about the world is rendered false.

  • A look at history finds that these events seem to be defined by three traits:

  • They almost always came at the hands of some outside force or person.

  • They often involved things we already knew about ourselves, but were too scared to admit.

  • From the ruin came the opportunity for great progress and improvement.

  • In the end, the only way you can appreciate your progress is to stand on the edge of the hole you dug for yourself, look down inside it, and smile fondly at the bloody claw prints that marked your journey up the walls.

Don’t Hate, Love

  • Streisand effect (named after a similar attempt by the singer and actress Barbra Streisand, who tried to legally remove a photo of her home from the Web. Her actions backfired and far more people saw it than would have had she left the issue alone.)

  • Attempting to destroy something out of hate or ego often ensures that it will be preserved and disseminated forever.

  • “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.”

Epilogue

Training is like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep.
Ego is a disease that sweeps over someone like a plague; a cancer that slowly eats you away, the symptoms developing and intensifying: success, loneliness, fear. Fear of all the bright young men that threaten to overtake you in life.

©2020 by Toby Sinclair.