Ego is the Enemy

A lot of us have given a lot of definitions to Ego. Ryan Holiday, in this book, talks about a version that sits inside our heads & impedes our growth. Below is my interpretation of the book –

What is the Ego that we’re talking about?

  • The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Self-centred ambition. The need to be better than, more than, recognised for, far past any utility – that’s ego

What are the characteristics of Ego?

  • The egotist does not stumble about, knocking things off his desk. He does not stammer or drool. No, instead, he becomes more and more arrogant, and some people, not knowing what is under that attitude, mistake his arrogance for a sense of power and self confidence
  • With success comes the temptation to tell oneself a story, to round off the edges, to cut out your lucky breaks and add a certain mythology to it all. It’s a temptation that exists for everyone – for talk and hype to replace action. The empty box (comment, what’s on your mind, tweet) is waiting to be filled with thoughts and stories. Technology asking you, prodding you, soliciting talk is acting as a facilitator of this temptation
  • We want to so desperately believe that those who have great empires SET OUT to build one. Why? So that we can indulge in the pleasurable planning of ours. Setting up narratives for ourselves deviates us from action
  • All of us unthinkingly say yes on a lot of occasions out of vague attraction, greed or vanity. Because we can’t say no as we might miss out on something if we did. Ego leads to envy that rots the bones of people big and small

I do have aspirations in life, but I am just a beginner. How does the Ego that you talked about impact me?

  • For a generation, parents and teachers have focused on building up everyone’s self-esteem. All gurus/public figures have been almost exclusively aimed at inspiring, encouraging and assuring us that we can do whatever we set our mind to. In reality, this makes us weak. We take it for granted that you have promise. But talent is only the starting point. Will you be your own worst enemy?
  • The passion paradox – Passion, for people who don’t start, is deliberately blunting most cognitive functions. The waste is often appalling in retrospect. Even dogs have passion (ask a toy) but fortunately it has a graciously short-term memory that keeps at bay the creeping sense of futility and impotence. What we humans require in our ascent is purpose and realism. Purpose is like Passion with boundaries. Realism is Detachment and Perspective
  • Passion is ‘About’. Purpose is ‘To & For’. Actually, purpose de-emphasises ‘I’. Passion is form over function. Purpose is function, function, function
  • When you’re starting out, be sure of these fundamental realities – you’re not really as good or as important as you think you are, you have an attitude that needs to be adjusted, most of what you learnt in books/school is out of date or wrong. It is not about kissing ass, it’s about providing the support to others so that others can be good. Greatness comes from humble beginnings; it comes from grunt work. It means you’re the least important person in the room – until you change that with results
  • We all behave like teenagers. Adolescence is marked by a phenomenon known as the ‘imaginary audience ‘. Consider a 13-year-old boy who misses entire week of school, positive that the entire school is thinking and murmuring about some tiny incident that in truth hardly anyone noticed. We’re susceptible to this even as adults. Our imagination – in many sense our asset- is dangerous when it runs wild. There is no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned, in all that is around us

I am already successful & have reached a certain level in life. I’m pretty sure I’m past all that now. How does it even matter to me now?

  • Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first call Promising. The first thing which He does bestow on one they would annihilate, is Pride. Pride leads to arrogance and then away from humility and connection with their fellow man. Pride blunts the very instrument we need to own to succeed: our Mind!
  • Genghis Khan was the greatest conqueror the world ever knew because he was more open to learning than any other conqueror. He learnt and absorbed from all cultures he raided. The technique of splitting your army into small units was taken from Turkic tribes. The concept of walled cities from Tangut raids. He would not be able to grow & sustain had he not applied these learnings
  • When we’re aspiring or small time, we can be idiosyncratic, we can compensate for disorganisation by hard work and a little luck. That’s not going to cut it in the majors. In fact, you’ll fail in the big game if you’re disorganised
  • With success, particularly power, come some of the greatest and most dangerous delusions: Entitlement, Control and Paranoia

I have failed in my venture(s) & I know what failure feels like. How does it even matter to me now?

  • Adversity gives you a chance. Most trouble is temporary. Unless you make that not so. Recovery is not grand, it’s one step in front of the other. Unless your cure is more of the disease. If your reputation can’t absorb a few blows, it wasn’t worth anything in the first place
  • If ego is just a nasty side effect of great success, it can be fatal during failure. The future bears down upon each one of us with all the hazards of the unknown. The only way out is through

Ok, I get it. Ego may have an impact in all the 3 stages – Aspiration, Success & Failure. Is there a way out? How do I keep it at bay?

  • Detachment is sort of a natural ego antidote. It’s easy to be emotionally attached to yourself and your work. Any narcissist can do that
  • Become a student. The power of being a student is not just that it is an extended period of instruction. It also imposes an ego ceiling that he is not better than the master he apprentices under. Try & follow this technique by Frank Shamrock, a MMA trainer. The training technique of + (have someone who is superior & can teach you), – (Have someone whom you can teach & give back) and = (Have someone with whom you can compete with). It purges our ego that puffs us up (the + helps), the fear that makes us doubt ourselves (the – helps) and any laziness that might make us want to coast (the = helps)
  • Help others and let it accumulate. You’ll see what most people’s egos prevent them from appreciating: the person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction, just as the canvas shapes the painting
  • Work Work Work! To be both craftsman and artist. To cultivate a product of labour and industry instead of just a product of the mind. It’s here where the abstraction meets the road and the real, where we trade thinking and talking for working. 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!
  • It is important to sit down and think about what’s truly important to you and then take steps to forsake the rest. Without this success won’t be pleasurable or nearly as complete as it could be. Specially money, if we don’t know how much we need, default answer is MORE
  • Ego needs honor 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. Beware of the Disease of Me & seek confidence (which comes from excellence). Ego only seeks praise. It cannot see the opportunity side. Make a distinction between your internal scorecard and external one. Your absolute best that you’re capable of – that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Winning is not enough. Anyone can get lucky and win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves
  • It’s no surprise that great leaders went into wilderness and come back with inspiration, a plan, with an experience that puts them on course to changing the world. Silencing the noise around, they could finally hear the voice they needed to. Meditate, seek calmness, get that inner self to tell you what is important
  • Sobriety is the counterweight that must balance out success. Especially if things keep getting better and better. Most successful people do not even reach the limelight – that’s because they want it that ways!

The bottom line – We must be: Humble in our Aspirations, Gracious in our Success, Resilient in our Failure

Do share your views/feedback in the comments section

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