Book Review: Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

We've all read self-help books that are meant to improve our confidence and self-esteem. While these books can be helpful, it's great to balance them out with a book like Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. In this book, Holiday teaches you how to manage your ego, reconnect with reality, and focus on making a real impact in the world.

Here are the top lessons I learned from reading this book:

Ego can hurt us during any time in our lives. It can hurt us as we aspire towards our dreams. It can hurt us once we finally succeed in reaching our goals. And it can hurt us during times of adversity and failure. If we're not careful, we can allow our egos to sabotage our goals, prolong failure, and keep us from experiencing true happiness.

When we first set out to achieve our goals, we look to successful people for inspiration. Often, we see their egos and assume that if we want to succeed like them, we need the same amount of pride, arrogance, and swagger. However, as Holiday points out in this book, we shouldn't mistake the byproducts of success with the causes of success. Just because an athlete develops a big ego after becoming successful doesn't mean it was their ego that helped them accomplish their goals. In fact, most often, it was actually their humility, work ethic, discipline, and coachability that led to their success. If they had a big ego to begin with, they probably succeeded despite of it, not because of it. And if they maintain a ego, their current success may not last long.

After warning you of the dangers of ego with cautionary tales, Holiday writes about key attitudes, virtues, and behaviors we need to obtain/maintain success and persevere through adversity. Here are some of my favorites:

Talk less, do more. Our ego likes to talk about our plans and how successful we'll be, but does this actually accomplish anything. While planning for the future is necessary, too much planning, talking, and thinking can distract us from the task at hand. Even more, overthinking and talking can deplete us of our willpower. After daydreaming about our goals and sharing them to others, we can feel mentally exhausted and have little energy to actually work hard. Lastly, daydreaming can trick our brains to thinking that we've already accomplished our goals, which can lead to complacency. 

Focus more on doing than being. In this chapter, Holiday teaches us that as we strive towards success, we have two choices. We can either focus more on doing great things, or being a person who is highly recognized and rewarded. These two things don't always go together. Often, we have to choose one over the other. For example, we often have to make compromises and actively seek out recognition at the expense of our actual work, improvement, and integrity in order to get the promotions, titles, and rewards that we want. Holiday argues that we can actually make a bigger difference in the world if we manage our egos and focus more on doing good work without worrying so much about earning recognition and praise.

Get out of your head. Your ego wants you to obsess about yourself and constantly think about your past success and future potential. Seeing life through the lens of your ego disconnects you from reality. Instead of seeing the truth, you only see what you want to see. And instead of focusing on what needs to be done, you focus only on what will satisfy your ego. If you give your ego too much power, it can disrupt your moral compass and destroy your compassion for others.

Always be open to learning. This is one of the main themes of the book. In order to succeed, we must keep improving. And in order to to improve, we must keep learning. And in order to learn, we must remain humble and admit that we don't know it all. Becoming a lifelong learner can make a tremendous impact on your life. Over time, learning something new every day will add up and lead to great knowledge and wisdom.

Stay true to your values. Once we reach our goals, it is very easy to fall into the traps of success. Too often, our egos blind us and we lose sight on what's most important in life. Instead of living a healthy, balanced life, we chase after more and more success, fame, power, and money. The best way to resist these temptations is to constantly remind ourselves of our core values and commit to them every day. Not only will this keep us humble and happy, but it'll also keep us successful.

Beware of entitlement. After becoming successful, we sometimes become entitled and believe we no longer have to work hard for our success. We must snap out of this mentality and remind ourselves that no one owes us anything. We must always earn our success by sticking with the discipline, patience, fundamentals, and humility that got us the success in the first place.

Never get too satisfied with your success. Perhaps the biggest reason why people can't maintain success is because they become too satisfied with it. As a result, they become complacent and lose motivation. This is what happens when you only have extrinsic motivations. Once you obtain the success, recognition, and money that you've always wanted, you have nothing else to motivate you to keep working hard. While some people are fine with experiencing their share of success and riding off into the sunset, truly great people understand that there's always more work to be done, not necessarily for themselves, but for a greater cause. Their intrinsic motivation, drive to maximize their potential, and desire to work for something greater than themselves keeps them from getting complacent.

As you can see, intrinsic motivation is key to managing your ego. While most people need recognition and credit to satisfy their egos, humble people can be happy simply by doing their duty in life. As Holiday says, "the effort is enough" for them. When you're intrinsically motivated, you're much more likely to resist the temptations of ego.

In order to increase your intrinsic motivation, you need to increase your humility and see the bigger picture in life. When you step back and realize that you don't need to chase after money and recognition to be happy, it's much easier to put your happiness on the journey and process.

In the last section of the book, Holiday gives us great advice on how to persevere through adversity. Without cultivating humility and fortitude on our way towards success, it's easy to allow failure to cause despair and hopelessness. As Holiday writes, the bigger the ego, the bigger the fall. Once we suffer adversity, our hurt egos can cause us to feel sorry for us, fall into depression, and completely give up on our dreams. It takes great character and mental strength to get yourself back on your feet. However, if our determination is not paired with humility, our egos can make things worse than they were. Instead of humbling ourselves, admitting mistakes, and making necessary changes, our egos can cause us to double down on our bad habits, which only digs us deeper into failure. This is why it's important to swallow your pride, cut your losses, and patiently climb yourself back to the top.

Lastly, Holiday says that love and forgiveness are needed to overcome adversity. Too often, we let bitterness and hatred fuel us as we bounce back from failure. While this can give us great energy, it can also blind us to reality and distract us from the task at hand. Love and forgiveness, on the other hand, frees us from the bonds of grudges, and clears our hearts and mind so we can work smarter and live happier.

Here is my summary of the book:

Ego is truly the enemy to both success and happiness. The antidote to ego is humility, self-awareness, and perspective. These things allow us to think clearer, work harder, be happier, and become better people. In today's culture, we're constantly told that we can't succeed or be happy without promoting ourselves and chasing after money/fame. This is why this book is extremely important. I highly recommend it to all coaches and athletes.