“Here we are at the top of a mountain we worked hard to climb – or at least the summit is in sight. Now we face new temptations and problems. We breathe thinner air in an unforgiving environment. Why is success so ephemeral? Ego shortens it.
Whether a collapse is dramatic or a slow erosion, it’s always possible and often unnecessary. We stop learning, we stop listening, and we lose our grasp on what matters. We become victims of ourselves and the competition. Sobriety, open-mindedness, organisation, and purpose – these are the great stabilisers. They balance out the ego and pride that comes with achievement and recognition.”
This is one such passage from Ryan Holiday’s Ego Is The Enemy, a book that details all the pitfalls and dangers of believing in our own bullshit and thinking we have everything figured out. Packed full of real-world examples of people who fought against their ego and who let it consume them, Ego Is The Enemy is a fantastic book to read.
On the dangers of ego
Holiday’s work has been a joy to discover since reading his Lives Of The Stoics and learning more about Stoicism through his podcast. Much of Holiday’s Stoic principles are captured in this book, split across three sections of aspire, success and failure.
All of these factors are underpinned by the presence of ego and how it sabotages us at different stages of life. When we’re aspirational, ego is the voice that whispers to us that we can accomplish everything but never get started. When we’re successful, ego is the devil on our shoulder singing that we’ve made it and we can stop trying. When we’re failing, ego is the defense mechanism that stops us from thinking objectively.
Holiday implores that we do everything in our power to prevent ego from overcoming us and that while it’s sometimes easier said than done, there are many examples from history that we can draw from for inspiration.
History is written by the egomaniacs and the humble
Across the chapters, figures from history loom with cautionary tales of self-destruction and tales of virtue. One such example is the American business magnate Howard Hughes Jr, who many considered to be a genius, but whose story ended in a fog of madness and infamy.
On the other side of the spectrum, General George Marshall was able to overcome the Disease Of Me and turn down leading the troops at D-Day during WW2. Alexander The Great was consumed by a desperate need to be relevant and remembered, while German politician Angela Merkel walked a slow and steady path of sobriety that ultimately led to her success.
These examples are sobering and inspiring. Tragic and uplifting. They demonstrate ego is a universal concept that touches people from all walks of life and everyone has a choice as to whether they give in or push through.
Ego truly is the enemy. The enemy of a purposeful life. The enemy of self-growth and the enemy of being a better human being. Holiday’s insights carry a lot of resonance and the book is helpful for shifting mindset towards the things that matter in life.
Get the book today and let me know what you think.