Book Review, Summary & Notes

Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

The Fight to Master Our Greatest Opponent

Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday
My Rating


Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Today I'd like to share my notes of Ego is the Enemy. It's a brilliant book written by Ryan Holiday. No matter where you are in life, you'll have to fight your ego in order to succeed.

Ego is the enemy, without a doubt. Reading this book will make you feel uncomfortable, and even angry sometimes. Ryan Holiday shares powerful stories of how ego ruins individuals, lives, organizations, and civilizations.

Biggest lesson: Ego is your biggest enemy in work, relationships, and life. Fight it or you'll fail.


In this provocative book, Ryan Holiday shows us how the ego can get in the way of success, satisfaction, and true happiness. When we let our ego get the best of us, it can lead to self-sabotage, and it often makes it harder for us to listen, learn, and grow.

Ego is the Enemy offers a powerful antidote to the ego trap by demonstrating how great historical figures—from Napoleon to John D. Rockefeller to Serena Williams—have let their egos get the best of them and how, in contrast, history’s greatest achievers were able to use ego to their advantage.

Notes & Quotes

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.— RICHARD FEYNMAN

The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition.

We think something else is to blame for our problems (most often, other people).

We can’t improve the world if we don’t understand it or ourselves. We can’t take or receive feedback if we are incapable of or uninterested in hearing from outside sources.

When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes—but rock-hard humility and confidence.

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?

One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all.

Detachment is a sort of natural ego antidote.

Facts are better than dreams, as Churchill put it.

Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.— LAO TZU

Writing, like so many creative acts, is hard. Sitting there, staring, mad at yourself, mad at the material because it doesn’t seem good enough and you don’t seem good enough. In fact, many valuable endeavors we undertake are painfully difficult, whether it’s coding a new startup or mastering a craft. But talking, talking is always easy.

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.

Talking—listening to ourselves talk, performing foran audience—is almost like therapy. I just spent four hours talking about this. Doesn’t that count for something? The answer is no. Doing great work is a struggle. It’s draining, it’s demoralizing, it’s frightening—not always, but it can feel that way when we’re deep in the middle of it.

Appearances are deceiving. Having authority is not the same as being an authority. Having the right and being right are not the same either.

Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.

This is what the ego does. It crosses out what matters and replaces it with what doesn’t.

Let No Man’s Ghost Come Back to Say My Training Let Me Down.— SIGN IN THE NEW YORK FIRE DEPARTMENT TRAINING ACADEMY

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

Do you think you are the only one who hopes to achieve your goal?

You will not find the answers if you’re too conceited and self-assured to ask the questions. You cannot get better if you’re convinced you are the best.

“When student is ready, the teacher appears.”

She had direction. She wasn’t driven by passion, but by reason.

The reality: We hear what we want to hear. We do what we feel like doing, and despite being incredibly busy and working very hard, we accomplish very little.

Because we only seem to hear about the passion of successful people, we forget that failures shared the same trait.

Great men have almost always shown themselves as ready to obey as they afterwards proved able to com mand.— LORD MAHON

Franklin saw the constant benefit in making other people look good and letting them take credit for your ideas.

He learned how to be a rising star without threatening or alienating anyone.

Greatness comes from humble beginnings; it comes from grunt work. It means you’re the least important person in the room—until you change that with results.

Find what nobody else wants to do and do it.

Produce more than everyone else and give your ideas away.

Our own path, whatever we aspire to, will in some ways be defined by the amount of nonsense we are willing to deal with.

Those who have subdued their ego understand that it doesn’t degrade you when others treat you poorly; it degrades them.

But you’re not able to change the system until after you’ve made it.

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

Our imagination—in many senses an asset—is dangerous when it runs wild. We have to rein our perceptions in.

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.

What we don’t protect ourselves against are people and things that make us feel good—or rather, too good. We must prepare for pride and kill it early—or it will kill what we aspire to.

The first product of self-knowledge is humility,” Flannery O’Connor once said. This is how we fight the ego, by really knowing ourselves.

We are still striving, and it is the strivers who should be our peers—not the proud and the accomplished.

You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.

We’re simply talking about a lot of hours—that to get where we want to go isn’t about brilliance, but continual effort.

The material we’ve been given genetically, emotionally, financially, that’s where we begin. We don’t control that. We do control what we make of that material, and whether we squander it.

Because no one ever said, reflecting on the whole of someone’s life, “Man, that monstrous ego sure was worth it.”

Sobriety, open-mindedness, organization, and purpose—these are the great stabilizers.

We know that empires always fall, so we must think about why—and why they seem to always collapse from within.

After we give ourselves proper credit, ego wants us to think, I’m special. I’m better. The rules don’t apply to me.

Without the right values, success is brief.

Success is intoxicating, yet to sustain it requires sobriety. We can’t keep learning if we think we already know everything.

Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him.— RALPH WALDO EMERSON

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

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

When we are aspiring we must resist the impulse to reverse engineer success from other people’s stories.

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 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.

Only you know the race you’re running.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.

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.

So why do you do what you do? That’s the question you need to answer. Stare at it until you can.

We all occasionally find ourselves in the middle of some project or obligation and can’t understand why we’re there. It will take courage and faith to stop yourself.

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

Ego is its own worst enemy. It hurts the ones we love too. Our families and friends suffer for it.

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. Such is the nature of leadership.

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.

There is a balance. Soccer coach Tony Adams expresses it well. Play for the name on the front of the jersey, he says, and they’ll remember the name on the back.

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

Most successful people are people you’ve never heard of. They want it that way.It keeps them sober. It helps them do their jobs.

What you found is that you must manage yourself in order to maintain your success.

Because even if we manage ourselves well, prosperity holds no guarantees. The world conspires against us in many ways, and the laws of nature say that everything regresses toward the mean.

something once, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it successfully forever.Reversals and regressions are as much a part of the cycle of life as anything else. But we can manage that too.

The way through, the way to rise again, requires a reorientation and increased self-awareness.

Almost without exception, this is what life does: it takes our plans and dashes them to pieces. Sometimes once, sometimes lots of times.

The only way out is through.

As they say, this moment is not your life. But it is a moment in your life. How will you use it?

In life, there will be times when we do everything right, perhaps even perfectly. Yet the results will somehow be negative: failure, disrespect, jealousy, or even a resounding yawn from the world.

Especially problematic is the fact that, often, we get that. We are praised, we are paid, and we start to assume that the two things always go together. The “expectation hangover” inevitably ensues.

We surround ourselves with bullshit. With distractions. With lies about what makes us happy and what’s important.

Hard things are broken by hard things. The bigger the ego the harder the fall.

Sometimes because we can’t face what’s been said or what’s been done, we do the unthinkable in response to the unbearable: we escalate. This is ego in its purest and most toxic form.

The problem is that when we get our identity tied up in our work, we worry that any kind of failure will then say something bad about us as a person. It’s a fear of taking responsibility, of admitting that we might have messed up.

Ego says we’re the immovable object, the unstoppable force. This delusion causes the problems.

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

The question we must ask for ourselves is: Are we going to be miserable just because other people are?

Everyone else has moved on, but you can’t, because you can’t see anything but your own way. You can’t conceive of accepting that someone could hurt you, deliberately or otherwise. So you hate.

I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself.— JOSEPH CONRAD

There’s a quote from Bismarck that says, in effect, any fool can learn from experience. The trick is to learn from other people’s experience.

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