Ego Is the Enemy

Ego Is the Enemy is a book by Ryan Holiday. It made for rather uncomfortable reading for me, which means it was important. I wish I had read this book for ten years ago.

Holiday discusses the role that ego has played in important historical figures, the people around him, and in his personal life. The effect is almost always negative. Ego is a destructive force and one of the biggest factors in whether you are successful in your life is whether you can keep it under your control or not.

Even those who seem to use ego, are ultimately laid low by it. Steve Jobs, who many regard as an egomaniac, really did his best work when not driven by his ego. His ego led to him being fired by Apple the first time around. It was only when he put it aside and started working again from the ground up that he built something amazing.

He holds Howard Hughes up as the ultimate cautionary tale of ego getting the better of you. We do not see most of the people who fail because they disappear without a trace. However, Hughes inherited so much money that he could just keep going in his folly. He built the Spruce Goose, it flew once, and then he stored it in a warehouse at a cost of $1,000,000 per year. For 15 years. A period that only ended with Hughes’s death.

You can be successful and have an out-of-control ego. But this is the exception. Take Kayne West for example. He is one of the greatest rappers of all time. But, after all of that, he is in huge personal debt because he keeps trying to launch a fashion label; something he knows nothing about.

Contrast this to those who shun the limelight (as much as you can when you are successful). Angela Merkel in her third term as the Chancellor of Germany. Bill Belichick, who has taken the Patriots to the Super Bowl six times, and won four of them.

Success is built upon:

  • Staying humble
  • Getting out of your own head, and not wasting time thinking how great you are
  • Being willing to put in the work
  • Always learning, and knowing that there is more to learn

It also gave me a new favourite quote, from John Archibald Wheeler.

As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.

When I look back at my own life, ego has been a destructive force. Looking back, I can see plenty of incidents, especially in my charity work, that were clearly driven by ego. More often than not, these situations played out badly for me.

It also matches up with what Dacher Keltner writes in The Power Paradox. When are are successful, the success quickly rises to our heads. We become the authors of our down downfall, because are unable to keep our ego in check.

This book is an essential read and one that I will be coming back to again and again.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 25th, 2017 at 10:56 am and is filed under Books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.