Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday [Part II]


In this chapter, Ryan Holiday emphasizes the bad impact of ego when we are in the peak of the mountain or when we are successes. Remember the cycle of life, from aspiring to success, then it is either you fail or aspire more. In this stage, imagine that you have gained success. So, Holiday reminds us of the worst enemy ever in every path of our journey, which is Ego.

When we are at the top of a mountain or at least the summit is in sight, we will face new temptations and problems. Don't stop learning and listening. Never lose our grasp on what matters. Don't become the victim of ourselves and the competition. Sobriety, open-mindedness, organization and purpose - these are the great stabilizers. They balance out the ego and pride that comes with achievement and recognition.

"The worst disease which can afflict business executives in their work is not, as popularly supposed, alcoholism; it's egotism. Whether in middle management or top management, unbridled personal egotism blinds a man to the realities around him; more and more he comes to live in a world of his own imagination; and because he sincerely believes he can do no wrong, he becomes a menace to the men and women who have to work under his direction." (Harold Geneen) Here we are having accomplished something. After we give ourselves proper credit, ego wants us to think. I'm special. I'm better. The rules don't apply to me.

If we wish to do more than flash, if we wish to last, then it is time to understand how to battle this new form of ego and what values and principles are required in order to beat it.

Success is intoxicating, yet to sustain it requires sobriety. We can’t keep learning if we think we already know everything. We cannot but into myths we make ourselves, or the noise and chatter of the outside world. We must understand that we are a small part of an interconnected universe. On top of all this, we have to build an organization and a system about the work and not about us.

Now, let's see the discussion in Chapter II of this book, SUCCESS.

a. Always Stay a Student
Genghis Khan was not born a genius. Instead, as one biographer put it, he was "a persistent cycle of pragmatic learning, experimental adaptation, and constant revision driven by his uniquely disciplined and focused will." He was more open to learning than any other conqueror has ever been. It was Mongol openness to learning and new ideas that brought them together.

It takes a special kind of humility to grasp that you know less, even as you know and grasp more and more. It's remembering Socrates' wisdom lay in the fact that he knew that he knew next to nothing.

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

Thinking that we're set and secure is dangerous, because in reality understanding and mastery is a fluid, continual process.

When someone is truly humble is when they consistently observe and listen.

No matter what you've done up to this point, you better still be a student. If you're not still learning, you've already dying.

Learn from everyone and everything. From the people you beat, and the people who beat you, from the people you dislike, even from your supposed enemies. At every step and every juncture in life, there is the opportunity to learn - and even if the lesson is purely remedial, we must not let ego block us from hearing it again.

An amateur is defensive. The professional finds learning (and even, occasionally, being shown up) to be enjoyable; they like being challenged and humbled, and engage in education as an ongoing and endless process.

Take the theory if disruption. At some point in time, every industry will be disrupted by some trend or innovation that, despite all the resources in the world, the incumbent interests will be incapable of responding to. A large part of it is because they lost the ability to learn. They stopped being students. The second this happens to you, your knowledge becomes fragile.

b. Don't Tell Yourself a Story
When take over something, do not focus on winner per se. Instead, try to implement the "Standard of Performance". That is: What should be done. When. How. At the most basic level and throughout the organization. Try to instill these standards.

The Standard of Performance is about instilling excellence. These seemingly simple but exacting standards mattered more than some grand vision or power trip.

You will lose when you prematurely credit yourself with powers you don't yet have control of. This is what happens when you start to think about what your rapid achievements say about you and begin to slacken the effort and standards that initially fueled them.

Only when you stop with the stories and focus on the task at hand that you will begin to win.

When we are aspiring we must resist the impulse to reverse engineer success from other people's stories. When we achieve our own, we must resist the desire to pretend that everything unfolded exactly as we'd planned. There was no grand narrative. You should remember - you were there when it happened.

Paul Graham (who invested in Airbnb, reddit, Dropbox and others) explicitly warns startups against having bold, sweeping visions early on. The way to do really big things seems to be to start with deceptively small things. He said, "don’t make a frontal attack out of ego, instead, you start with a small bet and iteratively scale your ambitions as you go.

"Keep your identity small." (Paul Graham)

Genius, film-maker, writer, lawyer, etc. These labels put you at odds not just with reality, but with the real strategy that made you successful in the first place. From that place, we might think that success in the future is just the natural next part of the story - when really it's rooted in work, creativity, persistence, and luck.

Whatever we do, instead of pretending that we are living some great story, we must remain focus on the execution - and on executing with excellence. We must shun the false crown and continue working on what got us here. Because that's the only thing that will keep us here.

c. What's Important to You
"To know what you like is the beginning of wisdom and of old age." (Robert Louis Stevenson)

That's how it seems to go: we're never happy with what we have, we want what others have too. We want to have more than everyone else. We start out knowing what is important to us, but once we've achieved it, we lose sight of our priorities. Ego sways us, and can ruin us.

All of us regularly say yes unthinkingly, or out of vague attraction, or out of greed or vanity. Because we can't say no - because we might miss out on something if we did. We think "yes" will let us accomplish more, when in reality it prevents exactly what we seek. 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.

Ego leads to envy and it rots the bones of people big and small. Ego undermines greatness by deluding its holder.

Most of us begin with a clear idea of what we want in life. We know what's important to us. The success we achieve, especially if it comes early or in abundance, puts us in an unusual place. Because now, all of a sudden, we're in a new place and have trouble keeping our bearings.

Only you know the race you're running. That is, unless your ego decides the only way you have value is if you're better than, have more than, everyone everywhere. 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 out very potential and purpose.

Ego rejects trade-offs. Why compromise? Ego wants it all. Ego tells you to cheat, though you love your spouse. Because you want what you have and what you don't have. Ego says that sure, even though you're just starting to get the hang of one thing, why not jump right in the middle of another? Eventually, you say yes too much, to something too far beyond the pale.

Set your priority. Maybe your priority is money. Or, maybe it's family. Maybe it's influence or change. Maybe it's building an organization that lasts, or serves a purpose. All of these are perfectly fine motivations. But you do need to know what you don't want and what your choices preclude. Because 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.

When you can say no, you can opt out of stupid races that don't matter, or even exist. You can develop that quiet confidence.

Find out what you're after what you're after. Ignore those who mess with your pace. Let them covet what you have, not the other way around. Because that's independence.

d. Entitlement, Control and Paranoia

Sometimes, we begin to overestimate our own power. Then we lose perspective.

A smart man or woman must regularly remind themselves of the limits of their power and reach.

Entitlement assumes: This is mine. I've earned it. At the same time, entitlement nickels and dimes other people because it can't conceive of valuing another person's time as highly as its own. It delivers tirades and pronouncements that exhaust the people who work for and with us, who have no choice other than to go along. It overstates our abilities to ourselves, it renders generous judgment of our prospects, and it creates ridiculous expectations.

Control says it all must be done my way - even little things, even inconsequential things. It can become paralyzing perfectionism, or a million pointless battles fought merely for the sake of everything its say. It too exhausts people whose help we need, particularly quiet people who don't object until we've pushed them to their breaking point. In reality, we don't control the weather, we don't control the market, we don't control other people, and our efforts and energies in spite of this are pure waste.

Paranoia thinks, I can't trust anyone. I'm in this totally by myself and for myself. It says, I'm surrounded by fools. It says, focusing on my work, my obligations, myself is not enough.

"He who indulges empty fears earns himself real fears." (Seneca)

Paranoia creates the persecution it seeks to avoid, making the owner a prisoner of its own delusions and chaos. Is this the freedom you envisioned when you dreamed of your success? Likely not. So stop.

e. Managing Yourself
"It is not enough to have great qualities; we should also have the management of them." (La Rochefoucauld)

Urgent and Important are not synonyms.

As you become successful in your own field, your responsibilities may begin to change. This transitions requires reevaluating and updating your identity. It requires a certain humility to put aside some of the more enjoyable or satisfying parts of your previous job. It means accepting that others might be more qualified or specialized in areas in which you considered yourself competent - or at least their time is better spent on them than yours.

There is no "right" system. Sometimes systems are better decentralized. Sometimes they are better in a strict hierarchy. Every project and goal deserves an approach fitted perfectly to what needs to be done.

What matters is that you learn how to manage yourself and others.

Micromanagers are egoists who can't manage others and they quickly get overloaded. So do the charismatic visionaries who lose interest when it's time to execute.

Responsibilities requires a readjustment and then increased clarity and purpose.

f. Beware the Disease of Me
The great teams tend to follow a trajectory. When they start - before they have won - a team is innocent. If the conditions are right, they come together, they watch out for each other and work together toward their collective goal. This stage, he calls the "Innocent Climb". After a team starts to win and media attention begins, the simple bonds that joined the individuals together begin to fray. Player calculate their own importance. Chests swell. Frustrations emerge. Egos appear. The Innocent Climb is almost always followed by the "Disease of Me". It can strike any winning team in any year and at any moment.

When we thing we are better, we're special, our problems and experiences are so incredibly different from everyone else's that no one could possibly understand, this attitude will sink far better people, teams.

Ego needs honors in order to be validated. Confidence on the other hand, is able to wait and focus on the task at hand regardless of external recognition.

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 egoistical, it's counter-productive.

g. Meditate on the Immensity
"A monk is a man who is separated from all and who is in harmony with all". (Evagrius Ponticus)

Sympatheia - a connectedness with the cosmos. Pierre Hadot has referred to it as the "oceanic feeling". A sense of belonging to something larger, a of realizing that "human things are an infinitesimal point in the immensity". It is in these moments that we're not only free but drawn toward important questions: Who am I? What am I doing? What is my role in this world?

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

When we lack a connection to anything larger or bigger than us, it's like a piece of our soul is gone. Ego blocks us from the beauty and history in the world. It stands in the way. No wonder we find success empty. No wonder we're exhausted. No wonder it feels like we're on a treadmill. No wonder we lose touch with the energy that once fueled us.


Walk onto ancient battlefield or a place of historical significance.
Look at the status and see how similar the people look, how little has changed since then - since before. How it will be forever after. Here a great man once stood. Here another brave women died. Here a cruel rich man lived, etc.

In those moments, we have a sense of the immensity of the world.

"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." (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Great leaders and thinkers throughout history have "gone out into the wilderness" and come back with inspiration, with a plan, with an experience that puts them on a course that changes the world. In doing so, they found perspective, they understood the larger picture in a way that wasn't possible in the bustle of everyday life. Silencing the noise around them, they could finally hear the quiet voice they needed to listen to.

Creativity is a matter of receptiveness and recognition. This cannot happen if you're convinced the world revolves around you.

By removing the ego, we can access what's left standing in relief. By widening our perspective, more comes into view.

Go and put yourself in touch with the infinite, and end your conscious separation from the world. Reconcile yourself a bit better with the realities of life. Realize how much came before you, and how only wisps of it remain.

Let the feeling carry you as long as you can. Then, when you start to feel better or bigger than, go and do it again.

h. Maintain Your Sobriety

"Fear is a bad advisor". (Angela Merkel)

Use every allotted second to make the right decision, not driven by recklessness or fear.

Maintain your equilibrium and clear-headedness, regardless of the immediate stressors or stimuli.

Don’t be deceived by recognition your have gotten or the amount of money in your bank account.

We have to fight to stay sober, despite the many different forces swirling around our ego.

Ego clouds the mind precisely when it needs to be clear. Sobriety is a counterbalance, a hangover cure - or better, a prevention method.

If you want to live happy, live hidden. It will keep you sober and help you do your jobs.

i. For What Often Comes Next, Ego is the Enemy
You thought it would get easier when you arrived; instead, it's even harder - a different animal entirely. What you found is that you must manage yourself in order to maintain your success.

"Courage lies between cowardice on one end and recklessness on the other. Generosity must stop short of either profligacy and parsimony in order to be of any use." (Aristotle)

What's difficult is to apply the right amount of pressure, at the right time, in the right way, for the right period of time, in the right car, going in the right direction. (Aristotle)

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Aulia Ulfah

I am from Jakarta, Indonesia but now living in Antalya, Turkey with my husband. Sometimes I return to my homeland for my job and sell things from Turkey! Yes, you can buy them in my shop in the following link! 😊