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Ego is the Enemy

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At every point in your life, when you aspire to succeed, when you do succeed, and when you fail, your ego is the enemy.

But what about Steve Jobs? He was successful despite his egotism, not because of it. And he did his best work when fighting his impulses.

Aspire

Talk, talk, talk

To our ego, to talk is the same as to do, and to not be heard is the same as death.

But in reality, it’s all too easy to talk about what we do, what we plan to do, but not actually do anything.

Silence is a sign of strength.

To be or to do

There comes a fork in the road of your life, when you have to decide if you want to be someone or to do something. Whether to seek attention, power, fame, recognition; or to do important work, change things, persuade, but always stick to your values.

The two are connected, of course: you often have to do something to become someone, and becoming someone might allow you to do something important; and yet they’re often contradictory, and require different choices.

Stay a student

Never become confident that you’re on top of the world, that you’re the best, that you have nothing more to learn. When you gain recognition, keep learning.

The martial arts system: have someone better than you to be your teacher, someone you’re better than as your student, and an equal to keep challenging you.

Purpose, not passion

You don’t need more zeal. (Zealot is just a nice word for “crazy person”). More enthusiasm and emotion won’t help you succeed.

Purpose is more useful. Because it’s not about you. It’s about a more important goal. It keeps you focused, disciplined, but dispassionate.

Master the canvas strategy

Be the one to prepare a canvas for others to draw on. Be an apprentice, serve others. Let others take credit.

Demeaning to your ego, yes. But if you can take it, it can take you far.

Give credit on credit, and collect interest later. New doors will be opened, new connections, and a bag of unclaimed favors to be returned.

Restrain yourself

It’s an unfortunate and timeless fact of life that the newcomers have to face indignity from the incumbents. In a new field, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve already achieved, how much money you have, how many dues you’ve paid in your life.

Restrain your ego. You can only change the system when you’ve already won.

The dangers of early pride

In Christian tradition, pride is a sin, because it is a lie. Don’t be proud of your smallest successes. In fact, don’t be proud at all. There’s nothing in it for you!

Doesn’t matter whather or not you talk about it. Pride while quiet is still pride.

Work, work, work

10 000 hours, 20 000, who knows. Either way, mastery takes a lot of work. Accept that.

Not fake it till you make it. Make it so you don’t have to fake it.

Success

Don’t tell yourself a story

When we hear about success, we always hear neat, grand stories.

But they’re myths. Those narratives are created later. Don’t partake in this.

Retroactively crafting a story creates an illusion of clarity that never was and never will be.

Resist the temptation to reverse engineer success from other people’s stories.

What’s important to you?

We don’t just want what we have, we want what others have, too. That’s how we spread ourselves thin, and get confused. We get into things we shouldn’t be doing, because we’re convinced our greatness guarantees success in a new field.

Same with money. If you don’t know how much you need, the default easily becomes “more”.

Know yourself.

We spend time doing things we don’t like to get things we don’t need and to impress people we don’t respect. Why?

Ego rejects compromise, because it wants to be better than everyone at everything.

Only when you know what you want can you opt out of stupid races and ignore people who are successful (but not at what matters).

Managing yourself

If you can’t manage yourself, you can’t manage an organization. Your own failures and chaos will doom it to fail.

Leadership requires management. It forces you to update your identity, and skip doing the enjoyable parts, because others are better at them.

The disease of me

At the beginning, there’s the innocent climb, the team working together. Then, once success and fame hit, it’s all about me, me, me. Getting what’s mine.

Who cares about credit if you’ve shaped your reality. Keep doing what got you here.

Meditate on the immensity

Appreciate the connection to the greater world. You’re just a tiny little piece of the great cosmos. You’re small. But in a sense you’re also big, because you’re connected to the greater whole. Just don’t forget which one is bigger and was first.

Maintain your sobriety

Ego makes you intoxicated. Stay sober, clear headed, make it about the issue you’re solving, not about yourself.

Most successful people are those you’ve never heard about. They wanted it this way. Keeps them focused on the job.

Ambitious people have sought happiness but found fame.

Failure

Path to success almost always leads through failure.

Narcissistic injury. Ego loves the notion of “unfair”. But it’s not about us.

Alive time or dead time

Live without wasted time. At every moment, we make a decision whether we want to make a good use of our time (alive time), or waste it (dead time).

Even when we feel imprisoned, we ought to choose to make the best out of it. No matter the circumstances.

The effort is enough

Whether or not you find success, appreciate that you’ve tried. The effort itself, the journey towards the goal should keep you motivated, not the end result.

Don’t tie your identity, drive, or happiness to external factors you have no control over.

The world won’t appreciate you or your work. That’s a given. It shouldn’t matter, because you know you did the right thing.

You have very little control over whether other people respect you. With the right motives, we’re happy to proceed with the risk of failure. With ego, we’re not.

Fight Club moments

Many people hit the bottom, in some way, at some point in their life.

But this failure, the humiliation, the ruin can be constructive. It can be a powerful drive to change. To let go of ego, learn, improve.

If you rock bottom, don’t waste the opportunity.

Draw the line

“It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character”

If you fail spectacularly, draw the line. Stop, think, and fix it. Don’t dig an even deeper grave.

Steve Jobs was fired from Apple because he was uncontrollable. But then he spent over a decade learning. And when he was brought back, he was capable of transforming the industry because of it.

Understand that you must get back to the aspiration phase, to first principles, and start from scratch. With humility.

Maintain your own scorecard

Hold yourself accountable to your own highest standards. Not to success and praise others assign to you, but to your own sharpest sense of what’s good.

Don’t look back and smile at your successes, always be sensitive to your mistakes and what you still have to improve.

By only allowing your highest standard to dictate your actions, you will always improve. Not out of greed of wanting more, but humbly inching forward.

Always love

Don’t waste your time and effort on haters, on people you feel have slighted you, disrespected you, and did harm to you.

It’s never worth it. You will hate, and be angry, waste your breath on them, and it will achieve you nothing. When was the last time hate did you anything good? Or anyone?

And the more successful and powerful you get, the more isolated and delusional you become. And you can fall into the age old cliche of an angry man trying to prove his enemies wrong, only to prove them right.

Epilogue

The goal is simple, but not easy: to seek and aspire without ego, have success without ego, push through failure with strength, and not ego.

It’s fine to want to be better professionals, better at what we do, better informed, better off. But we should also want to be better people, happier people, humbler people, more balanced people, more content people.

Tim Ferris' podcast about this book
Ryan Holiday’s further reading

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