Book Review – Ego is the Enemy

Book:  Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

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Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

We take risks. We mess up. The problem is that when we get our identity tied up in our work, we worry that any kind of failure will then say something bad about us as a person. It’s a fear of taking responsibility, of admitting that we might have messed up. It’s the sunk cost fallacy. And so we throw good money and good life after bad and end up making everything so much worse.

Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy, p.189

You can’t tell from this carefully staged photo, but if you turn this book to its side and look at the edges you’ll see a disaster—about half a cup of coffee is splashed along the outer pages and leaves some embarrassing evidence of my clumsiness one fine November morning. It also quite clearly illustrates that “stuff happens” and regardless of the outer mess that sometimes gets thrown at us, at our core we can remain unchanged like the words on these pages.

Sure, there’s some coffee spilt and some pages are stained, but the words—the message—is still there if you’re willing to open the mess up and look for it. We still control our stories even if we can’t control the scratches, torn pages, and other “stuff” life happens to throw at us.

Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of—that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best version of themselves.

Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy, p. 197

Here, we have a book about the phantom of success. Ryan Holiday gives us a guide for practicing mindfulness and humility during the good times as a caution against the downfall that can follow when our egos run amok. Too often, when things are going our way and we’re winning, we begin to lose the perspective that helped get us to the top. Once that frame of reference is lost, it’s just a matter of time before we experience our own fall from grace.

The danger lies when we come to expect greatness but forget about the sacrifices or lucky breaks that led to our success. That’s where Holiday excels in this book. He delivers us a variety of material to help us find our center in a world of uncertainty where success and failure are not a matter of fairness but often a measure of both luck and perseverance.

Ego is the Enemy is a fast, accessible read and an entertaining source of real world histories and anecdotes that illustrate the perils of allowing the ego free range in our lives. Some may argue that the Ego can be a source of motivation that drives one to achieve greatness, but Holiday counters that the Ego is more often a toxic mindset.

We love the big personalities of our celebrities, trailblazers and industry pioneers. However, we tend to confuse personality with Ego when we create fictitious narratives about the lives of our heroes.

  • Ego tells us we’re the best and we will always be the best.
  • Perseverance acknowledges that we may be the best today, but that it’s going to be a lot of hard work to stay the best.
  • Personality reflects how well we communicate and connect with others.

Clearly, personality has nothing to do with either. We can have a great personality and be a terrible decision-maker. That’s the message I enjoyed the most in this reading. Through the lives and experiences of notable men and women, we get an opportunity to learn from their experience and a chance to mitigate our own failures.

Book Review – Stoicism and the Art of Happiness

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Stoicism and the Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson

The Stoics also emphasized the notion that by anticipating possible future adversities we can learn to take away the sense of ‘surprise’ or ‘shock’ that often accompanies their occurrence, seeing them instead as something natural and in some cases inevitable in life.

Donald Robertson, p. 159

The truth is that Stoicism has a lot to offer modern readers. However, I’ve found the predominant use of ancient Greek terminology to describe key concepts for English readers has had a dampening effect on its adoption in the US. There’s nothing wrong with using Greek words to describe Greek ideas. The problem is that many modern readers are unfamiliar with these foreign words. This means readers must learn both a “new language” and new cognitive strategies in order to make Stoic philosophy an accessible way of life.

A Strange New Vocabulary

  • Eudaimonia – happiness/sense of fulfillment from living a “noble” (Reason-focused) life
  • Ataraxia – tranquility/peace of mind
  • Hupexhairesis – reserve clause/Fate Willing/I’ll do all in my power, but I accept that it may not turn out how I planned.
  • Prosechê – attention to one’s mind/mindfulness of your thoughts

I think this is where Robertson has done a remarkable job in creating a textbook for modern Stoicism to rival the historic Handbook of Epictetus in it’s usefulness to the common reader. There are so many great texts on Stoicism—both ancient and modern—that it can be difficult to know where to start your search.

Robertson has made your decision effortless and given you the best of both worlds from Seneca to Hadot. If you want a solid understanding and a real chance at practicing the Stoic way of life, grab a copy of this book and start reading today. Robertson not only provides a slew of source material, but he also gives us a helpful format that provides structure and guidance as we learn how to approach life with Stoic mindfulness.

Additionally, the novel Teach Yourself format reinforces key concepts to help you maximize your understanding as well as easily refer back to the material as you interact with it. Some of the most helpful features include “Try it Now” practice exercises, “Case Studies” and “Self Assessments.”

Give this one a chance and experience the rich history of the Stoics while getting real world perspectives and even psychological insights from CBT – Cognitive Behavior Theory. Stoicism as a philosophy of life can help you achieve your best.

The Cornerstone of Success

There really is no shortcut to success. It takes constant work and repetition to create the skills necessary to build your best life.

It is only with hard work that greatness can be achieved. Too often we look at those around us and end up envying their possessions, fortune and fame. The truth is that we can be unfair in those moments.

  • Why are we upset about another’s good fortune?
  • What are we fighting for—a home full of “stuff” or a better life?
  • Are we jealous or are we seeking opportunities that may be withheld from us?

We seem to forget that the cornerstone to success isn’t luck but effort. Success—in whatever form it takes for you—can only be achieved when you direct that effort toward your goal. You can’t wish for a better tomorrow. You have to build it one day at a time.

  • We can dream of having the fortunes of others.
  • We can wish for the winning lottery ticket.
  • We can imagine the great deeds and generous donations we would make if only we had “the money.”

When we do those things, we missed the point. We spent all of our energy dreaming but never planning. We will spend all our time imagining how we would spend uncollected fortunes, but we will never plan a way to make that fortune.

For some reason, too many of us spend our days stuck hoping that the our lucky day will come, that we’ll will win the lottery, or that a windfall will find its way to our doorstep. I find that discouraging. Why can’t we spend our days actively building that better tomorrow? What can we do today other than dream?

Desire can be a two edged sword. It can motivate you to accomplish more when you wield it as a tool to aid you in your labors. However, it can also easily hold you back if you spend your time longing for the golden blade of your neighbor.

A blade wielded is a helpful tool. A blade set aside or longed for performs no labor. It’s better to use a rusty blade to accomplish your work than to do nothing. What does it matter if your tool is old as long as it aids you in your purpose?

In modern words, use the tools you have. Don’t let your hangups, embarrassment or opinions keep you from achieving your goals.