Books I've Read

Ego is the Enemy

  • — by Ryan Holiday
  • May 22, 2018
  • 70/100
  • 1591847818

Good read for me at the moment I read it. I found the intro and earliest moments to be the most interesting, with the back half of the book becoming a little monotonous. Biggest takeaway are the other books, subjects, and philosophies mentioned in the opening chapters which I want to explore in the future.


Prologue & Introduction


Ego is the Enemy, the Obstacle is the Way


"Virtue begins with understanding and is fulfilled by courage" - Demosthenes


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



Egotist - the clinical term for an egomaniac


observed as arrogance in this book


football coach Bill Walsh explained, “self-confidence becomes arrogance, assertiveness becomes obstinacy, and self-assurance becomes reckless abandon.”


we’re aspiring until we succeed, we succeed until we fail or until we aspire to more, and after we fail we can begin to aspire or succeed again



      • Humble in our aspirations
      • Gracious in our success
      • Resilient in our failures


Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned.



Part 1: Aspire


He is a bold surgeon, they say, whose hand does not tremble when he performs an operation upon his own person; and he is often equally bold who does not hesitate to pull off the mysterious veil of self-delusion, which covers from his view the deformities of his own conduct.



Isocrates' letter to Demonicus, "noble maxims", referenced in Hamlet


Polonius in a speech to his son, Laertes.


This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Farewell. My blessing season this in thee!



General Sherman's biographer:


Among men who rise to fame and leadership two types are recognizable—those who are born with a belief in themselves and those in whom it is a slow growth dependent on actual achievement. To the men of the last type their own success is a constant surprise, and its fruits the more delicious, yet to be tested cautiously with a haunting sense of doubt whether it is not all a dream. In that doubt lies true modesty, not the sham of insincere self-depreciation but the modesty of “moderation,” in the Greek sense. It is poise, not pose.


Detachment is a sort of natural ego antidote.  Humility, diligence, and self-awareness


Think big, act/live small. Action & education focused. Iterative ambition, one foot in front of the other. Be connected, learning, aware.






Talk, Talk, Talk


Those who know do not speak.

Those who speak do not know.



Technology passively solicits you to make noise (talk)


Working On My Novel by Cory Arcangel (2014-07-01)

filled with social media posts from writers who are clearly not working on their novels.

From <>


On silence..

Kierkegaard warned, “Mere gossip anticipates real talk, and to express what is still in thought weakens action by forestalling it.”


“Never give reasons for you what think or do until you must. Maybe, after a while, a better reason will pop into your head.”  - Gen Sherman


“A man’s best treasure is a thrifty tongue.” - Hesiod, poet


Basically, stfu and do the work






To Be or To Do?


"Genghis" John "Forty-Second" "Ghetto Colonel" Boyd - 30 years, never ranked above colonel. See his role in development of f-15 & f-16


To be somebody, or to do something


“Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road,” Boyd said to him. “And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.” Using his hands to illustrate, Boyd marked off these two directions. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd paused, to make the alternative clear. “Or,” he said, “you can go that way and you can do something—something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision.”


“To be or to do? Which way will you go?”



Having authority is not the same as being an authority. Having the right and being right are not the same either. See: failing upward


Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.



DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY. Corrupted analogous values: PRIDE, POWER, GREED


"A nation is born stoic and dies epicurean" Will Durant


“A man is worked upon by what he works on,” Frederick Douglass


He died with a drawerful of thousands of dollars in uncashed expense checks from private contractors, which he equated with bribes.



Become a Student


Let No Man’s Ghost Come Back to Say My Training Let Me Down.



A master imposes an "ego ceiling" on his apprentice


Metallica's guitarist sought out Joe Satriani as a tutor when he was recruited into the band, a humble move


updating your appraisal of your talents in a downward direction is one of the most difficult things to do in life—but it is almost always a component of mastery.


Frank Shamrock has a system he trains fighters in that he calls plus, minus, and equal. Each fighter, to become great, he said, needs to have someone better that they can learn from, someone lesser who they can teach, and someone equal that they can challenge themselves against.


“It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows,” Epictetus


“When student is ready, the teacher appears.” - Proverb



Don't be Passionate


Let reason drive you, not passion


Discard courage and boldness, favor clarity, deliberateness and methodological determination


Passion paradox - business with few accomplishments


Purpose is passion with boundaries. Realism is detachment and perspective.


Passion is about, purpose is to and for


“Great passions are maladies without hope,” Goethe





Follow 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.




Anteambulo - one who clears the path.




you’re the least important person in the room—until you change that with results.




"Say little, do much" Be lesser, do more.




Let the others take their credit on credit, while you defer and earn interest on the principal.




the person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction, just as the canvas shapes the painting.



Restrain Yourself

Not so inspiring. Just says to work on your shit-eating grin


Get Out of Your Own Head


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.





J. D. Salinger really did suffer from a sort of self-obsession and immaturity that made the world too much for him to bear, driving him from human contact and paralyzing his genius. John Fante struggled to reconcile his enormous ego and insecurity with relative obscurity for most of his career, eventually abandoning his novels for the golf course and Hollywood bars. Only near death, blind with diabetes, was he finally able to get serious again. The Moviegoer, Walker Percy’s first book, came only after he’d conquered his almost teenage indolence and existential crisis, which lasted alarmingly into his forties.


Real people preferring to live in passionate fiction than in actual reality.



“imaginary audience.” - David Elkind, psychologist


There’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned 


Don’t live in the haze of the abstract, live with the tangible and real, even if—especially if—it’s uncomfortable



The Danger of Early Pride


A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.



Pride is fraudulent


Ask often, while the stakes are low: "What am I missing right now that a more humble person might see?"


it is the strivers who should be our peers—not the proud and the accomplished


Pride shouldn't be deferred until earned, it should be abolished entirely





Work, Work, Work


The best plan is only good intentions unless it degenerates into work.




that you must work until you are able to recreate your experience effectively in words on the page


Where we decide to put our energy decides what we’ll ultimately accomplish.


Fac, si facis. (Do it if you’re going to do it.)


Materiam superabat opus. (The workmanship was better than the material.)


Fake it ’til you make it, noxiously bullshit, Nerf world.


Make it so you don’t have to fake it





For Everything That Comes Next, Ego is the Enemy


Ira Glass' Taste/Talent Gap concept (knowing enough to value your own shoddy work)


Ego becomes a crutch w/in this gap



Part 2: Success


Ego shortens success. Leverage Sobriety, open-mindedness, organization, and purpose to balance achievement and recognition.


“it is hard to bear the results of good fortune suitably (without virtue and training)" Aristotle


 “Whether in middle management or top management, 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; and because he sincerely believes he can do no wrong, he becomes a menace to the men and women who have to work under his direction,” - Harold Geneen


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



Always Stay a Student


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



Said of Genghis Khan, “a persistent cycle of pragmatic learning, experimental adaptation, and constant revision driven by his uniquely disciplined and focused will.”


“as our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.” - physicist John Wheeler


Scientia infla (knowledge puffs up)


“Humility engenders learning because it beats back the arrogance that puts blinders on. It leaves you open for truths to reveal themselves. You don’t stand in your own way. . . . 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.’” - Wynton Marsalis


even if the lesson is purely remedial, we must not let ego block us from hearing it again.



Don't Tell Yourself a Story


Myth becomes myth not in the living but in the retelling.






What's Important To You?


To know what you like is the beginning of wisdom and of old age.




Euthymia - the sense of our own path and how to stay on it without getting distracted by all the others that intersect it. Literally: "tranquillity"






Entitlement, Control, and Paranoia


One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.



“He who indulges empty fears earns himself real fears,” wrote Seneca,



Managing Yourself


It is not enough to have great qualities; we should also have the management of them.



Urgent and important are not synonyms


Micromanagers are egotists who can’t manage others and they quickly get overloaded.



Beware the Disease of Me


If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I?




Be magnanimous


I relate to General Marshall in that he let others pass over him and was once targeted by a superior, relegated to the sidelines, only to surpass the man later.




Meditate on the Immensity


A monk is a man who is separated from all and who is in harmony with all.



sympatheia—a connectedness with the cosmos.


The feeling I got visiting the museums in NYC was a loss of ego


“To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour.” - Blake





Maintain Your Sobriety


Self-command, patience, compromise on all except the principle at stake




For What Often Comes Next, Ego is the Enemy


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. Generosity, which we all admire, must stop short of either profligacy and parsimony in order to be of any use.


Be prepared for regression to the mean level of happiness/success/fulfillment.




Part 3: Failure


narcissistic injury - when we take personally totally indifferent and objective events


“(the great failing is) to see yourself as more than you are and to value yourself at less than your true worth.”  - Goethe


Cultivate a stoic, cheerful resilience




Alive Time or Dead Time?


Vivre sans temps mort. (Live without wasted time.)



Turn dead time into an opportunity, lemons to lemonade





The Effort is Enough


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



the less attached we are to outcomes the better. When fulfilling our own standards is what fills us with pride and self-respect. When the effort—not the results, good or bad—is enough.





Fight Club Moments


katabasis—or “a going down.” a forced retreat, depression or literally trip to Hades. Return with heightened knowledge and understanding


Duris dura franguntur. Hard things are broken by hard things.



1. They almost always came at the hands of some outside force or person.

2. They often involved things we already knew about ourselves, but were too scared to admit.

3. From the ruin came the opportunity for great progress and improvement.


Psychologists often say that threatened egotism is one of the most dangerous forces on earth.





Draw the Line


“Act with fortitude and honor. If you cannot reasonably hope for a favorable extrication, do not plunge deeper. Have the courage to make a full stop.” - Alexander Hamilton


aspiring, succeeding, or failing are all transitory states occurring in a looping cycle, not a reflection of your value as a human



“He who fears death will never do anything worthy of a living man,” Seneca



Maintain Your Own Scorecard


You’re not as good as you think. You don’t have it all figured out. Stay focused. Do better.


Measure yourself by your standards, not external ones.


There are two different occasions upon which we examine our own conduct, and endeavour to view it in the light in which the impartial spectator would view it: first, when we are about to act; and secondly, after we have acted. Our views are apt to be very partial in both cases; but they are apt to be most partial when it is of most importance that they should be otherwise. When we are about to act, the eagerness of passion will seldom allow us to consider what we are doing, with the candour of an indifferent person. . . . When the action is over, indeed, and the passions which prompted it have subsided, we can enter more coolly into the sentiments of the indifferent spectator. - Adam Smith


Ego exploits moral gray areas.


Discipline over disposition



Always Love


Hate and bitterness paradox, Streisand effect





For Everything That Comes Next, Ego is the Enemy


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




“See much, study much, suffer much, that is the path to wisdom.” - Celtic saying


A mantra:


Not to aspire or seek out of ego.

To have success without ego.

To push through failure with strength, not ego.






Ego collects like dust in the floor of your psyche, sweep daily


What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg


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


perfecting the personal regularly leads to success as a professional, but rarely the other way around