ego is the enemy

#33 – Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Top 3 things to think about

To overcome our ego, we need self knowledge and hard truths – be humble by really knowing ourselves and see ourselves as we are and not what we want to be.

The canvas strategy: Find canvases for other people to paint on. Enable successful people to succeed by clearing their paths and you will find your own path to success.

Success is fleeting. “Emerson, in his famous essay on Napoleon, takes pains to point out that just a few years after his death, Europe was essentially exactly as it was before Napoleon began his precipitous rise. All that death, that effort, that greed, and those honors—for what? For basically nothing. Napoleon, he wrote, quickly faded away, just like the smoke from his artillery.”

Humble in our aspirations

definition of ego: “an unhealthy belief in our own importance”

Aim of this book for the reader: think less of yourself.

ego prevents us from connecting directly and honestly to the world. it is a wall that prevents us from accurately seeing ourselves and the rest of the world.

The performance artist Marina Abramović: “If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity.”

the aims and structure of this book to help us be: humble in our aspirations, gracious in our success and resilient in our failures.

Humble in our aspirations

cure for ego: humility and reality

William Tecumseh Sherman – a general during the Civil War – is an example of a humble and confident person. He refused to be be President of the United States and was comfortable to be a number two. He said: “Be natural and yourself and this glittering flattery will be as the passing breeze of the sea on a warm summer day.” Read more about him.

Is too much self-esteem ruining society? Is it true that we can do whatever we want to do?

Evaluating your own ability is important because you can’t improve without it.

See yourself from a distance – detachment – as a cure for ego.

“What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence, and self-awareness.”

Instead of talking about your goals, do them. Talking takes away your energy.

John Boyd. A little known fighter pilot who made huge contributions but lived an unassuming life. He asked a protégé: “To be or to do? Which way will you go?” To be – make compromises, get promoted and good assignments. Or to do – do something without compromise but don’t get promotion and good assignments. “To be or to do—life is a constant roll call.”

“(John) Boyd had another exercise. Visiting with or speaking to groups of Air Force officers, he’d write on the chalkboard in big letters the words: DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY. Then he would cross those words out and replace them with three others: PRIDE, POWER, GREED. His point was that many of the systems and structures in the military—the ones that soldiers navigate in order to get ahead—can corrupt the very values they set out to serve.”

When John Boyd died, they found uncashed cheques worth thousands of dollars from private contractors. He thought these were bribes.

Ego dislikes reality. We need to actively look for harsh and critical feedback in order to improve.

Ego rushes. Be patient in obscurity and confusion.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar described John Wooden as “dispassionate” – always in control and had a plan. Passion wastes energy. “Leave passion for the amateurs.”

Not passion but purpose. Passion is about I and purpose is something outside yourself.

“Anteambulo” – one who clears the path. Someone who makes life easier for others and allow them to succeed.

What is the canvas strategy? “Find canvases for other people to paint on. Be an anteambulo. Clear the path for the people above you and you will eventually create a path for yourself.” Pick people who are already successful.

Move from “say little, do much” to “be lesser, do more.”

What we can do:
“Find what nobody else wants to do and do it.
Find inefficiencies and waste and redundancies. Identify leaks and patches to free up resources for new areas.
Produce more than everyone else and give your ideas away.”

There is no “imaginary audience” – the world is not looking at your every move.

“General George C. Marshall… refused to keep a diary during World War II despite the requests of historians and friends. He worried that it would turn his quiet, reflective time into a sort of performance and self-deception. That he might second-guess difficult decisions out of concern for his reputation and future readers and warp his thinking based on how they would look.”

“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.”

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

Peter Drucker: “The best plan is only good intentions unless it degenerates into work.” Plans typically degenerates.

Bill Bradley: “When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win.”

“Who wants to look at themselves and their work and find that it does not measure up? And so here we might bluster our way through. Cover up hard truths with sheer force of personality and drive and passion. Or, we can face our shortcomings honestly and put the time in.”

Gracious in our success

Viktor Frankl: “Man is pushed by drives. But he is pulled by values.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him.”

Genghis Khan was a great student. “Genghis Khan was not born a genius. Instead, as one biographer put it, his was “a persistent cycle of pragmatic learning, experimental adaptation, and constant revision driven by his uniquely disciplined and focused will.”

“Afterward, in every country or city he held, Khan would call for the smartest astrologers, scribes, doctors, thinkers, and advisers—anyone who could aid his troops and their efforts. His troops traveled with interrogators and translators for precisely this purpose.”

“The Mongol Empire was remarkable for its religious freedoms, and most of all, for its love of ideas and convergence of cultures. It brought lemons to China for the first time, and Chinese noodles to the West. It spread Persian carpets, German mining technology, French metalworking, and Islam. The cannon, which revolutionized warfare, was said to be the resulting fusion of Chinese gunpowder, Muslim flamethrowers, and European metalwork. It was Mongol openness to learning and new ideas that brought them together.”

The more we know, the more we know we don’t know. John Wheeler: “as our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.”

Wynton Marsalis: “Do you know how you can tell when someone is truly humble? I believe there’s one simple test: because they consistently observe and listen, the humble improve. They don’t assume, ‘I know the way.’”

“Pick up a book on a topic you know next to nothing about. Put yourself in rooms where you’re the least knowledgeable person. That uncomfortable feeling, that defensiveness that you feel when your most deeply held assumptions are challenged—what about subjecting yourself to it deliberately? Change your mind. Change your surroundings.”

Don’t explain why you succeeded. “Crafting stories out of past events is a very human impulse. It’s also dangerous and untrue. Writing our own narrative leads to arrogance. It turns our life into a story—and turns us into caricatures—while we still have to live it. ”

Paul Graham: “The way to do really big things seems to be to start with deceptively small things.” And these small things don’t usually tell a good story.

Focus on execution with excellence.

Important question – Are we wasting life by doing things we don’t like, proving ourselves to people we don’t respect to get things we don’t want?

“According to Seneca, the Greek word euthymia is one we should think of often: it is the sense of our own path and how to stay on it without getting distracted by all the others that intersect it.” The English word for euthymia – tranquility.

Pat Riley’s “Disease of me” – when players ego gets in the way of teamwork after success and fame.

Evagrius Ponticus: “A monk is a man who is separated from all and who is in harmony with all.”

Ego separates us from being connected to something bigger than ourselves by focusing on activities and being the center of attention.

“Why do you think that 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? It’s because 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.”

“This is why the Zen philosopher Zuigan is supposed to have called out to himself everyday:
Then he would add:
He would conclude by saying:

The historian Shelby Foote: “power doesn’t so much corrupt; that’s too simple. It fragments, closes options, mesmerizes.”

“David Halberstam, writing about the Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick, observed that the man was “not only in the steak business, he had contempt for sizzle.”

Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian: “In order to live happily, live hidden.”

“Alexander just never grasped Aristotle’s “golden mean”—that is, the middle ground. Repeatedly, Aristotle speaks of virtue and excellence as points along a spectrum. Courage, for instance, lies between cowardice on one end and recklessness on the other.”

“There is a line from Napoleon, who, like Alexander, died miserably. He said, “Men of great ambition have sought happiness . . . and have found fame.”

“Emerson, in his famous essay on Napoleon, takes pains to point out that just a few years after his death, Europe was essentially exactly as it was before Napoleon began his precipitous rise. All that death, that effort, that greed, and those honors—for what? For basically nothing. Napoleon, he wrote, quickly faded away, just like the smoke from his artillery.”

Resilient in our failures

“Ego loves this notion, the idea that something is “fair” or not. Psychologists call it narcissistic injury when we take personally totally indifferent and objective events. We do that when our sense of self is fragile and dependent on life going our way all the time. Whether what you’re going through is your fault or your problem doesn’t matter, because it’s yours to deal with right now.”

“According to (Robert) Greene, there are two types of time in our lives: dead time, when people are passive and waiting, and alive time, when people are learning and acting and utilizing every second. Every moment of failure, every moment or situation that we did not deliberately choose or control, presents this choice: Alive time. Dead time.”

When asked about his alma mater, Malcolm X said, “Books.”

Goethe: “What matters to an active man is to do the right thing; whether the right thing comes to pass should not bother him.”

Marcus Aurelius: “Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do . . . Sanity means tying it to your own actions.”

“In Greek mythology, characters often experience katabasis—or “a going down.” They’re forced to retreat, they experience a depression, or in some cases literally descend into the underworld. When they emerge, it’s with heightened knowledge and understanding.”

Ernest Hemingway: “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.”

Joseph Conrad: “I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself.”

“My friend the philosopher and martial artist Daniele Bolelli once gave me a helpful metaphor. He explained that training was like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep.”

Otto von Bismarck: “Fools say they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by other people’s experience.”

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. Subscribe to my newsletter.


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