“Ego is the Enemy” explores the fact that many of us insist the main impediment to a full, successful life is the outside world.
In fact, the most common enemy lies within: our ego.
Early in our careers, it impedes learning and the cultivation of talent. With success, it can blind us to our faults and sow future problems. In failure, it magnifies each blow and makes recovery more difficult. At every stage, ego holds us back.
In an era that glorifies social media, reality TV, and other forms of shameless self-promotion, the battle against ego must be fought on many fronts.
There’s so much good stuff in this book that I’m doing something a little bit different with this review.
The book is organized into three parts: Aspire. Success. Failure.
In Part 1 of this multi-part review we learned how to be humble in our aspirations.
In this section, part 2, we’ll focus on being gracious in our successes.
What follows are my favorite excerpts, takeaways and lessons learned from the second section (‘Success’) of Ryan’s book.
I hope you’ll learn something you can take with you and apply to your own life. I also hope that after being exposed to the ideas in the book, you’ll pick up a copy for yourself and explore the way your own ego may be holding you back and the strategies and tactics you can employ to conquer your own ego.
Why is Success So Ephemeral?
Ego shortens it.
The Great Stabilizers:
Sobriety, open-mindedness, organization, and purpose —
For Whatever Success You Have Achieved, Ego is the Enemy
“That we have made a hero out of Howard Hughes, tells us something interesting about ourselves.” – Joan Didion
Empires Always Fall:
We must think about why — and why they seem to always collapse from within.
Ego Has the Same Roots As Alcoholism:
Insecurity, fear, a dislike for brutal objectivity.
On Believing You Can Do No Wrong:
Unbridled personal egotism blinds a man to the realities around him; more and more he comes to live in a world of his own imagination.
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. We cannot buy into myths we make ourselves, or the noise and chatter of the outside world. We must understand that we are a small part of interconnected universe. We have to build an organization and a system around what we do — one that is about the work and not about us.
Always Stay a Student
Genghis Khan Was a Perpetual Student:
His stunning victories were often the result of his ability to absorb the best technologies, practices, and innovations of each new culture his empire touched.
His (success) was, “a persistent cycle of pragmatic learning, experimental adaptation, and constant revision drive by his unique disciplined and focused will.”
Each Victory and Advancement Leads to New Situations:
As we first succeed, we will find ourselves in new situations, facing new problems. The freshly promoted soldier must learn the art of politics. The salesman, how to manage. The founder, how to delegate. The writer, how to edit others. The comedian, how to act. The chef turned restaurateur, how to run the other side of the house.
It Takes a Special Kind of Humility To Grasp That You Know Less, Even As You Know and Grasp More and More:
Understanding and mastery is a fluid, continual process.
Humility Engenders Learning:
The humble improve. They don’t assume, “I know the way.”
If You’re Not Still Learning You’re Already Dying:
It is not enough only to be a student at the beginning. It is a position that one has to assume for life. 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. At every step and every juncture in life, there is the opportunity to learn — and even if the lesson is purely remedial, we must not let ego block us from hearing it again.
Put Yourself in Rooms Where You’re the Least Knowledgeable Person. Change Your Mind.
An amateur is defensive. The professional finds learning (and eve, occasionally, being show up) to be enjoyable; they like being challenged and humbled.
Don’t Tell Yourself a Story
On the 49ers (football team) Implementing “Standards of Performance”:
If the players take care of the details, “the score takes care of itself,” (Bill Walsh) [Ed note: Pair with “Trust the Process“]
I Hoped. I Worked. I Caught Some Breaks. vs. I Knew it All Along:
We want so desperately to believe that those who have great empires set out to build one. Why? So we can indulge in the pleasurable planning of ours. So we can take full credit for the good that happens and the riches and respect that come our way.
Writing Our Own Narrative Leads to Arrogance:
Crafting stories out of past events is a very human impulse. It’s also dangerous and untrue.
When You Think “You’re Special,” and/or Let The Story Go To Your Head:
Only when (the 49ers) stopped with the stories and focused on the task at hand did they begin to win like they had before.
“The way to do really big things seems to be to start with deceptively small things.” – Paul Graham
Success is rooted in work, creativity, persistence and luck.
What’s Important to You?
On Losing Sight of Our Priorities:
We’re never happy with what we have, we want what others have too.
On The Fear of Missing Out:
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.
Determine What’s Truly Important to You and Forsake the Rest:
This is especially true with money. If you don’t know how much you need, the default easily becomes: more.
Entitlement , Control and Paranoia
With success, particularly power, come some of the greatest and most dangerous delusions: entitlement, control, and paranoia.
Success Casts a Spell Over Us:
The problem lies in the path that got us to success in the first place.
A Smart Man or Woman Must Regularly Remind Themselves of the Limits of Their Power and Reach:
Entitlement assumes: This is mine. I earned it.
Control says, It must be done my way.
Paranoia thinks, I can’t trust anyone.
“He who indulges empty fears earns himself real fears,” Seneca.
Urgent and Important Are Not Synonyms. Set Priorities, Think Big, and Trust Others:
Not because he (President Eisenhower) didn’t want to work himself, but because everyone had a job and he trusted and empowered them to do it.
Contrast With John DeLorean’s Mismanagement:
As one executive put it, DeLorean “had the ability to recognize a good opportunity but he didn’t know how to make it happen.” He couldn’t delegate — except to lackeys whose blind loyalty was prized over competence.
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.
Learn How to Manage Yourself And Others:
Micromanagers are egotists who can’t manage others and they quickly get overloaded. So do the charismatic visionaries who lose interest when it’s time to execute. Worse yet are those who surround themselves with yes-men or sycophants who clean up their messes and create a bubble in which they can’t even see how disconnected from reality they are.
Beware the Disease of Me
On the “Getting What’s Mine” Mindset:
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.
We never earn the right to be greedy or to pursue our interests at the expense of everyone else.
Never did General Marshall think about himself:
He had the same traits that everyone has — ego, self-interest, pride, dignity, ambition — but they were tempered by a sense of humility and selflessness.
Soccer Coach Tony Adams on Finding Balance (Between Striving and Humility):
Play for the name on the front of the jersey, and they’ll remember the name on the back.
Meditate on the Immensity
Connecting With the Cosmos:
Pierre Hadot describes it as a sense of belonging to something larger, or realizing that “human things are an infinitesimal point in the immensity.”
Bask in Both Your Relevance and Irrelevance:
“When I look up in the universe, I know I’m small, but I’m also big. I’m big because I’m connected to the universe and the universe is connected to me.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson
We just can’t forget which is bigger and which has been here longer.
Finding Perspective “In the Wilderness”:
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.
Reconcile Yourself With the Realities of Life:
Realize how much came before you, and how only wisps of it remain.
Maintain Your Sobriety
Don’t Be Driven By Recklessness or Fear:
Fear is a bad advisor.
Fight To Stay Sober Despite Forces Swirling Around Our Ego:
“Don’t be deceived by recognition you have gotten or the amount of money in your bank account.” – Zen Philosopher Zuigan
You Can’t Solve Tasks With Charisma:
Be rational. Analyze. Make it about the situation, not yourself.
On Withstanding Repeated Attacks off Prosperity:
Sobriety is the counterweight that must balance out success.
If You Want To Live Happy, Live Hidden:
Most successful people are people you’ve never heard of. They want it that way.
For What Often Comes Next Ego is the Enemy
It Gets Harder After You “Arrive”:
You must manage yourself in order to maintain your success.
Aristotle’s “Golden Mean”:
Courage, for instance, lies between cowardice on one end and reckless on the other.
On Using The Golden Mean To Navigate Our Ago and Our Desire to Achieve:
Endless ambition is easy; anyone can put their foot down hard on the gas. Complacency is easy too; it’s just a matter of taking that foot off the gas. We must avoid what the business strategist Jim Collins terms the “undisciplined pursuit of more,” as well as the complacency that comes with plaudits. To borrow from Aristotle again, what’s difficult is to apply the right amount of pressure, at the right time, in the right way, for the right period of time, in the right car, going the right direction.
Prepare For The Shifts of Fate That Inevitably Occur in Life:
We know what decisions we must make to avoid the ignominious, even pathetic end: protecting our sobriety, eschewing greed and paranoia, staying humble, retaining our sense of purpose, connecting to the larger world around us.
This is Part 2 of a three part series on Ryan’s book, “Ego is the Enemy.”
The final part will focuses on failure. You can find it here.
Click here for my other book reviews and favorite excerpts.
This blog started primarily as a marketing blog, but now features much more about work/life, social psychology, health and happiness. We also explore top performers (authors, entrepreneurs, business leaders and more) and dissect what we can take away to become top performers in our own work and personal lives.
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