Ego Is The Enemy, by Ryan Holiday, reminded me a little bit of the daily devotional books I used to read as a christian. Short chapters, succinct messages. If you’re looking for them, you’ll probably find applications for nearly every chapter, every day. Unlike the devotional books which were always based on expositing a single verse or section of the bible, Ego Is The Enemy draws lessons from historical figure’s relationships to their ego.
The “ego” Holiday is talking about is not the Freudian definition, which is sort of an analogy for the unconscious mind. The ego Holiday is referring to is the one used in a more colloquial manner: “An unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition.”
He’s talking about the kind of ego that makes people think you’re an asshole.
This sort of ego blinds us from what we could do, seeing only what we have done. It blinds us from other people’s contributions. It makes enemies for us, when we think we’re untouchable by those “beneath” us. It makes us think foreword is the only direction–even when foreword only leads to catastrophe. It spoils success, when holding the trappings of that success require we defer to someone our ego thinks is less deserving–primarily anyone other than ourselves. Ego short circuits growth, as we always believe we are fully grown.
Ego Is The Enemy is broken up into three major sections: Aspire, success and failure. In each section, Holiday anecdotally demonstrates how ego stunts our aspirations, undoes our successes and elongates our failures.
Ryan Holiday has an inviting way of writing. In this book, he never seems to write more than he needs to and never less. It helps that all of us, to some degree, are experts on our ego. Or, at least, we’ve heard the ego’s language enough that when someone starts explaining what it’s saying, it’s abundantly clear what it means. And there is a lot to relate to in these pages.
For me reading this book, one of my most valuable take aways was the section discussing Kirk Hammett, the replacement guitar player for Metallica. Impressive in skill already having been recruited to replace Dave Mustaine, he was unsatisfied with himself and sought a teacher. The teacher was impressed, not with his existing skill, but with his willingness to endure grueling instruction for marginal, advanced-level improvement. “The pretense of knowledge is our most dangerous vice, because it prevents us from getting any better.”
I’ve been a photographer for 10 years, photographed thousands of portrait sessions and weddings, and delivered more than 250,000 images to happy clients. I’m the best. Just kidding, but my experience makes it tempting to think that way. My ego says it’s smooth sailing, that I’ve learned what I need to know, that I’m “finished” in some respects. But I’m not, in spite of what my ego might want me to believe.
There were a lot of other valued insights and reminders, and the book was well worth the time. It’s not instructional. It’s not “knowledge” per se. It’s more like a chisel that has a chance of making cracks in the ego. Our egos prop up delusion, some more so than others. Delusion never makes us happy, but it keeps us from fully grasping what will. So if we want to be happy, we need to be ready to throw our ego under the bus. This book might help you do that.