Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday

 

 

My Score – 9/10

Ryan Holiday is a great writer and his message fell on my lap at the right time. In a world inundated by egotistical figures, Ryan argues that our egos hinder more than help.

Main Takeaways:

  • The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition.
  • Just one thing keeps ego around—comfort. Pursuing great work—whether it is in sports or art or business—is often terrifying. Ego soothes that fear. It’s a salve to that insecurity. Replacing the rational and aware parts of our psyche with bluster and self-absorption, ego tells us what we want to hear, when we want to hear it. But it is a short-term fix with a long-term consequence.
  • One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible. And certainly ego makes it difficult every step of the way. It is certainly more pleasurable to focus on our talents and strengths, but where does that get us? Arrogance and self-absorption inhibit growth. So does fantasy and “vision.”
  • Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.

Pros

  • Holiday knows how to write very well. He could write about a TV remote, and it would still be fun to read.

  • Holiday’s message is very much needed these days, and I fear the message will be needed more and more as our society evolves. Timely/Evergreen message.

Cons

  • The book could have been cut down 30%. The last quarter of the book was not necessary.

Favorite Quote

Marina Abramović puts it directly: “If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity.”

In this era, creativity is the last frontier. To lose it means to lose adventure.

Other Reads

Prologue

To go from wanting to be like someone your whole life to realizing you never want to be like him is a kind of whiplash that you can’t prepare for.

like everyone else, was called to answer the most critical questions a person can ask themselves in life: Who do I want to be? And: What path will I take? (Quod vitae sectabor iter.)

Introduction

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

The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition.

When, as the football coach Bill Walsh explained, “self-confidence becomes arrogance, assertiveness becomes obstinacy, and self-assurance becomes reckless abandon.” This is the ego, as the writer Cyril Connolly warned, that “sucks us down like the law of gravity.”

If ego is the voice that tells us we’re better than we really are, we can say ego inhibits true success by preventing a direct and honest connection to the world around us. One of the early members of Alcoholics Anonymous defined ego as “a conscious separation from.” From what? Everything.

Marina Abramović puts it directly: “If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity.”

Just one thing keeps ego around—comfort. Pursuing great work—whether it is in sports or art or business—is often terrifying. Ego soothes that fear. It’s a salve to that insecurity. Replacing the rational and aware parts of our psyche with bluster and self-absorption, ego tells us what we want to hear, when we want to hear it. But it is a short-term fix with a long-term consequence.

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

We can seek to rationalize the worst behavior by pointing to outliers. But no one is truly successful because they are delusional, self-absorbed, or disconnected. Even if these traits are correlated or associated with certain well-known individuals, so are a few others: addiction, abuse (of themselves and others), depression, mania. In fact, what we see when we study these people is that they did their best work in the moments when they fought back against these impulses, disorders, and flaws. Only when free of ego and baggage can anyone perform to their utmost.

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. —ADAM SMITH

the greatest thing in the smallest compass is a sound mind in a human body.”

Where Isocrates and Shakespeare wished us to be self-contained, self-motivated, and ruled by principle, most of us have been trained to do the opposite. Our cultural values almost try to make us dependent on validation, entitled, and ruled by our emotions. For a generation, parents and teachers have focused on building up everyone’s self-esteem. From there, the themes of our gurus and public figures have been almost exclusively aimed at inspiring, encouraging, and assuring us that we can do whatever we set our minds to. In reality, this makes us weak.

One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible. And certainly ego makes it difficult every step of the way. It is certainly more pleasurable to focus on our talents and strengths, but where does that get us? Arrogance and self-absorption inhibit growth. So does fantasy and “vision.”

In this phase, you must practice seeing yourself with a little distance, cultivating the ability to get out of your own head. Detachment is a sort of natural ego antidote. It’s easy to be emotionally invested and infatuated with your own work. Any and every narcissist can do that. What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence, and self-awareness.

For your work to have truth in it, it must come from truth. If you want to be more than a flash in the pan, you must be prepared to focus on the long term.

We will learn that though we think big, we must act and live small in order to accomplish what we seek. Because we will be action and education focused, and forgo validation and status, our ambition will not be grandiose but iterative—one foot in front of the other, learning and growing and putting in the time.

Talk, Talk, Talk

Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know. —LAO TZU

Almost universally, the kind of performance we give on social media is positive. It’s more “Let me tell you how well things are going. Look how great I am.” It’s rarely the truth: “I’m scared. I’m struggling. I don’t know.”

Anyone can talk about himself or herself. Even a child knows how to gossip and chatter. Most people are decent at hype and sales. So what is scarce and rare? Silence. The ability to deliberately keep yourself out of the conversation and subsist without its validation. Silence is the respite of the confident and the strong.

Strategic flexibility is not the only benefit of silence while others chatter. It is also psychology. The poet Hesiod had this in mind when he said, “A man’s best treasure is a thrifty tongue.”

Talking and doing fight for the same resources.

The more difficult the task, the more uncertain the outcome, the more costly talk will be and the farther we run from actual accountability. It’s sapped us of the energy desperately needed to conquer what Steven Pressfield calls the “Resistance”—the hurdle that stands between us and creative expression. Success requires a full 100 percent of our effort, and talk flitters part of that effort away before we can use it.

Doing great work is a struggle. It’s draining, it’s demoralizing, it’s frightening—not always, but it can feel that way when we’re deep in the middle of it.

“Void,” Marlon Brando, a quiet actor if there ever was one, once said, “is terrifying to most people.” It is almost as if we are assaulted by silence or confronted by it, particularly if we’ve allowed our ego to lie to us over the years. Which is so damaging for one reason: the greatest work and art comes from wrestling with the void, facing it instead of scrambling to make it go away. The question is, when faced with your particular challenge—whether it is researching in a new field, starting a business, producing a film, securing a mentor, advancing an important cause—do you seek the respite of talk or do you face the struggle head-on?

They work quietly in the corner. They turn their inner turmoil into product—and eventually to stillness. They ignore the impulse to seek recognition before they act. They don’t talk much. Or mind the feeling that others, out there in public and enjoying the limelight, are somehow getting the better end of the deal. (They are not.) They’re too busy working to do anything else. When they do talk—it’s earned.

The only relationship between work and chatter is that one kills the other.

Let the others slap each other on the back while you’re back in the lab or the gym or pounding the pavement. Plug that hole—that one, right in the middle of your face—that can drain you of your vital life force. Watch what happens. Watch how much better you get.

“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.” And then Boyd concluded with words that would guide that young man and many of his peers for the rest of their lives. “To be or to do? Which way will you go?”

To Be Or To Do?

Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.

There’s a quip from the historian Will Durant, that a nation is born stoic and dies epicurean.

What you choose to do with your time and what you choose to do for money works on you.

If your purpose is something larger than you—to accomplish something, to prove something to yourself—then suddenly everything becomes both easier and more difficult. Easier in the sense that you know now what it is you need to do and what is important to you. The other “choices” wash away, as they aren’t really choices at all. They’re distractions. It’s about the doing, not the recognition. Easier in the sense that you don’t need to compromise. Harder because each opportunity—no matter how gratifying or rewarding—must be evaluated along strict guidelines: Does this help me do what I have set out to do? Does this allow me to do what I need to do? Am I being selfish or selfless?

To be or to do—life is a constant roll call.

Become A Student

The power of being a student is not just that it is an extended period of instruction, it also places the ego and ambition in someone else’s hands. There is a sort of ego ceiling imposed—one knows that he is not better than the “master” he apprentices under. Not even close. You defer to them, you subsume yourself. You cannot fake or bullshit them. An education can’t be “hacked”; there are no shortcuts besides hacking it every single day. If you don’t, they drop you.

We don’t like thinking that someone is better than us. Or that we have a lot left to learn. We want to be done. We want to be ready. We’re busy and overburdened. For this reason, 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. The pretense of knowledge is our most dangerous vice, because it prevents us from getting any better. Studious self-assessment is the antidote.

A true student is like a sponge. Absorbing what goes on around him, filtering it, latching on to what he can hold. A student is self-critical and self-motivated, always trying to improve his understanding so that he can move on to the next topic, the next challenge. A real student is also his own teacher and his own critic. There is no room for ego there.

“It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows,” Epictetus says. You can’t learn if you think you already know. You will not find the answers if you’re too conceited and self-assured to ask the questions. You cannot get better if you’re convinced you are the best.

The art of taking feedback is such a crucial skill in life, particularly harsh and critical feedback. We not only need to take this harsh feedback, but actively solicit it, labor to seek out the negative precisely when our friends and family and brain are telling us that we’re doing great.

Don’t Be Passionate

In our endeavors, we will face complex problems, often in situations we’ve never faced before. Opportunities are not usually deep, virgin pools that require courage and boldness to dive into, but instead are obscured, dusted over, blocked by various forms of resistance. What is really called for in these circumstances is clarity, deliberateness, and methodological determination.

Passion typically masks a weakness. Its breathlessness and impetuousness and franticness are poor substitutes for discipline, for mastery, for strength and purpose and perseverance. You need to be able to spot this in others and in yourself, because while the origins of passion may be earnest and good, its effects are comical and then monstrous.

What humans require in our ascent is purpose and realism. Purpose, you could say, is like passion with boundaries. Realism is detachment and perspective.

More than purpose, we also need realism. Where do we start? What do we do first? What do we do right now? How are we sure that what we’re doing is moving us forward? What are we benchmarking ourselves against?

“Great passions are maladies without hope,” as Goethe once said. Which is why a deliberate, purposeful person operates on a different level, beyond the sway or the sickness. They hire professionals and use them. They ask questions, they ask what could go wrong, they ask for examples. They plan for contingencies. Then they are off to the races. Usually they get started with small steps, complete them, and look for feedback on how the next set can be better. They lock in gains, and then get better as they go, often leveraging those gains to grow exponentially rather than arithmetically.

Passion is form over function. Purpose is function, function, function.

Follow the Canvas Strategy

When you are just starting out, we can be sure of a few fundamental realities: 1) You’re not nearly as good or as important as you think you are; 2) You have an attitude that needs to be readjusted; 3) Most of what you think you know or most of what you learned in books or in school is out of date or wrong.

There’s one fabulous way to work all that out of your system: attach yourself to people and organizations who are already successful and subsume your identity into theirs and move both forward simultaneously. It’s certainly more glamorous to pursue your own glory—though hardly as effective. Obeisance is the way forward.

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.

There is an old saying, “Say little, do much.” What we really ought to do is update and apply a version of that to our early approach. Be lesser, do more. Imagine if for every person you met, you thought of some way to help them, something you could do for them? And you looked at it in a way that entirely benefited them and not you. The cumulative effect this would have over time would be profound: You’d learn a great deal by solving diverse problems. You’d develop a reputation for being indispensable. You’d have countless new relationships. You’d have an enormous bank of favors to call upon down the road.

The iterations are endless. Maybe it’s coming up with ideas to hand over to your boss. Find people, thinkers, up-and-comers to introduce them to each other. Cross wires to create new sparks. Find what nobody else wants to do and do it. Find inefficiencies and waste and redundancies. Identify leaks and patches to free up resources for new areas. Produce more than everyone else and give your ideas away In other words, discover opportunities to promote their creativity, find outlets and people for collaboration, and eliminate distractions that hinder their progress and focus. It is a rewarding and infinitely scalable power strategy. Consider each one an investment in relationships and in your own development.

Restrain Yourself

Those who have subdued their ego understand that it doesn’t degrade you when others treat you poorly; it degrades them.

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. —ALAN WATTS

The novelist Anne Lamott describes that ego story well. “If you are not careful,” she warns young writers, “station KFKD (K-Fucked) will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo.” Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything that one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one had no talent or insight, and on and on and on. Anyone—particularly the ambitious—can fall prey to this narration, good and bad. It is natural for any young, ambitious person (or simply someone whose ambition is young) to get excited and swept up by their thoughts and feelings. Especially in a world that tells us to keep and promote a “personal brand.” We’re required to tell stories in order to sell our work and our talents, and after enough time, forget where the line is that separates our fictions from reality.

All of us are susceptible to these obsessions of the mind—whether we run a technology startup or are working our way up the ranks of the corporate hierarchy or have fallen madly in love. The more creative we are, the easier it is to lose the thread that guides us.

Living clearly and presently takes courage. Don’t live in the haze of the abstract, live with the tangible and real, even if—especially if—it’s uncomfortable. Be part of what’s going on around you. Feast on it, adjust for it.

There’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned, in all that is around us.

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. —C. S. LEWIS

“Whom the gods wish to destroy,” Cyril Connolly famously said, “they first call promising.” Twenty-five hundred years before that, the elegiac poet Theognis wrote to his friend, “The first thing, Kurnos, which gods bestow on one they would annihilate, is pride.” Yet we pick up this mantle on purpose!

Pride blunts the very instrument we need to own in order to succeed: our mind. Our ability to learn, to adapt, to be flexible, to build relationships, all of this is dulled by pride. Most dangerously, this tends to happen either early in life or in the process—when we’re flushed with beginner’s conceit. Only later do you realize that that bump on the head was the least of what was risked.

The question to ask, when you feel pride, then, is this: What am I missing right now that a more humble person might see? What am I avoiding, or running from, with my bluster, franticness, and embellishments? It is far better to ask and answer these questions now, with the stakes still low, than it will be later.

Work, Work, Work

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

The investor and serial entrepreneur Ben Horowitz put it more bluntly: “The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. . . . The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.”

Is it ten thousand hours or twenty thousand hours to mastery? The answer is that it doesn’t matter. There is no end zone. To think of a number is to live in a conditional future. We’re simply talking about a lot of hours—that to get where we want to go isn’t about brilliance, but continual effort. While that’s not a terribly sexy idea, it should be an encouraging one. Because it means it’s all within reach—for all of us, provided we have the constitution and humbleness to be patient and the fortitude to put in the work.

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

For Everything That Comes Next, Ego Is the Enemy

what is truly ambitious is to face life and proceed with quiet confidence in spite of the distractions. Let others grasp at crutches. It will be a lonely fight to be real, to say “I’m not going to take the edge off.” To say, “I am going to be myself, the best version of that self. I am in this for the long game, no matter how brutal it might be.” To do, not be.

Part II: Success

Always Stay A Student

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

Genghis Khan was not born a genius. Instead, as one biographer put it, his was “a persistent cycle of pragmatic learning, experimental adaptation, and constant revision driven by his uniquely disciplined and focused will.” He was the greatest conqueror the world ever knew because he was more open to learning than any other conqueror has ever been.

The physicist John Wheeler, who helped develop the hydrogen bomb, once observed that “as our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.”

With accomplishment comes a growing pressure to pretend that we know more than we do. To pretend we already know everything. Scientia infla (knowledge puffs up). That’s the worry and the risk—thinking that we’re set and secure, when in reality understanding and mastery is a fluid, continual process.

The nine-time Grammy– and Pulitzer Prize–winning jazz musician Wynton Marsalis once advised a promising young musician on the mind-set required in the lifelong study of music: “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.’”

It is not enough only to be a student at the beginning. It is a position that one has to assume for life. Learn from everyone and everything. From the people you beat, and the people who beat you, from the people you dislike, even from your supposed enemies. At every step and every juncture in life, there is the opportunity to learn—and even if the lesson is purely remedial, we must not let ego block us from hearing it again.

The solution is as straightforward as it is initially uncomfortable: Pick up a book on a topic you know next to nothing about. Put yourself in rooms where you’re the least knowledgeable person. That uncomfortable feeling, that defensiveness that you feel when your most deeply held assumptions are challenged—what about subjecting yourself to it deliberately? Change your mind. Change your surroundings.

An amateur is defensive. The professional finds learning (and even, occasionally, being shown up) to be enjoyable; they like being challenged and humbled, and engage in education as an ongoing and endless process.

Don’t Tell Yourself A Story

Instead, he implemented what he called his “Standard of Performance.” That is: What should be done. When. How. At the most basic level and throughout the organization, Walsh had only one timetable, and it was all about instilling these standards.

He focused on seemingly trivial details: Players could not sit down on the practice field. Coaches had to wear a tie and tuck their shirts in. Everyone had to give maximum effort and commitment. Sportsmanship was essential. The locker room must be neat and clean. There would be no smoking, no fighting, no profanity. Quarterbacks were told where and how to hold the ball. Linemen were drilled on thirty separate critical drills. Passing routes were monitored and graded down to the inch. Practices were scheduled to the minute.

It would be a mistake to think this was about control. The Standard of Performance was about instilling excellence. These seemingly simple but exacting standards mattered more than some grand vision or power trip. In his eyes, if the players take care of the details, “the score takes care of itself.” The winning would happen.

Bill Walsh understood that it was really the Standard of Performance—the deceptively small things—that was responsible for the team’s transformation and victory.

The twentieth-century financier Bernard Baruch had a great line: “Don’t try to buy at the bottom and sell at the top. This can’t be done—except by liars.” That is, people’s claims about what they’re doing in the market are rarely to be trusted.

Too often, artists who think it was “inspiration” or “pain” that fueled their art and create an image around that—instead of hard work and sincere hustle—will eventually find themselves at the bottom of a bottle or on the wrong end of a needle.

The same goes for us, whatever we do. Instead of pretending that we are living some great story, we must remain focused on the execution—and on executing with excellence. We must shun the false crown and continue working on what got us here.

What’s Important To You?

To know what you like is the beginning of wisdom and of old age. —ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

All of us waste precious life doing things we don’t like, to prove ourselves to people we don’t respect, and to get things we don’t want.

Ego leads to envy and it rots the bones of people big and small.

According to Seneca, the Greek word euthymia is one we should think of often: it is the sense of our own path and how to stay on it without getting distracted by all the others that intersect it. In other words, it’s not about beating the other guy. It’s not about having more than the others. It’s about being what you are, and being as good as possible at it, without succumbing to all the things that draw you away from it. It’s about going where you set out to go. About accomplishing the most that you’re capable of in what you choose. That’s it. No more and no less. (By the way, euthymia means “tranquillity” in English.)

Entitlement, Control, and Paranoia

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

Managing Yourself

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

The public image of Eisenhower is of the man playing golf. In reality, he was not someone who ever slacked off, but the leisure time he did have was available because he ran a tight ship. He knew that urgent and important were not synonyms. His job was to set the priorities, to think big picture, and then trust the people beneath him to do the jobs they were hired for.

Responsibility requires a readjustment and then increased clarity and purpose. First, setting the top-level goals and priorities of the organization and your life. Then enforcing and observing them. To produce results and only results.

Meditate On The Immensity

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

Why do you think that great leaders and thinkers throughout history have “gone out into the wilderness” and come back with inspiration, with a plan, with an experience that puts them on a course that changes the world? It’s because in doing so they found perspective, they understood the larger picture in a way that wasn’t possible in the bustle of everyday life. Silencing the noise around them, they could finally hear the quiet voice they needed to listen to.

Maintain Your Sobriety

The height of cultivation runs to simplicity. —BRUCE LEE

Part III: Failure

At any given moment, there is the chance of failure or setbacks. Bill Walsh says, “Almost always, your road to victory goes through a place called ‘failure.’” In order to taste success again, we’ve got to understand what led to this moment (or these years) of difficulty, what went wrong and why. We must deal with the situation in order to move past it. We’ll need to accept it and to push through it.

As Goethe once observed, the great failing is “to see yourself as more than you are and to value yourself at less than your true worth.”

Alive Time Or Dead Time?

Vivre sans temps mort. (Live without wasted time.) —PARISIAN POLITICAL SLOGAN

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. —GOETHE

Fight Club Moments

If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way. —EMILE ZOLA

In Greek mythology, characters often experience katabasis—or “a going down.” They’re forced to retreat, they experience a depression, or in some cases literally descend into the underworld. When they emerge, it’s with heightened knowledge and understanding.

We surround ourselves with bullshit. With distractions. With lies about what makes us happy and what’s important. We become people we shouldn’t become and engage in destructive, awful behaviors. This unhealthy and ego-derived state hardens and becomes almost permanent. Until katabasis forces us to face it. Duris dura franguntur. Hard things are broken by hard things.

Pick a time in your life (or perhaps it’s a moment you’re experiencing now). A boss’s eviscerating critique of you in front of the entire staff. That sit-down with the person you loved. The Google Alert that delivered the article you’d hoped would never be written. The call from the creditor. The news that threw you back in your chair, speechless and dumbfounded. It was in those moments—when the break exposes something unseen before—that you were forced to make eye contact with a thing called Truth. No longer could you hide or pretend. Such a moment raises many questions: How do I make sense of this? How do I move onward and upward? Is this the bottom, or is there more to come? Someone told me my problems, so how do I fix them? How did I let this happen? How can it never happen again? A look at history finds that these events seem to be defined by three traits: 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.

in his book A Farewell to Arms. He wrote, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.”

“Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed,” reads John 3:20. Big and small, this is what we do. Getting hit with that spotlight doesn’t feel good—whether we’re talking the exposure of ordinary self-deception or true evil—but turning away only delays the reckoning. For how long, no one can say. Face the symptoms. Cure the disease. Ego makes it so hard—it’s easier to delay, to double down, to deliberately avoid seeing the changes we need to make in our lives.

Vince Lombardi said this once: “A team, like men, must be brought to its knees before it can rise again.” So yes, hitting bottom is as brutal as it sounds.

Draw The Line

It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character. —MARCUS AURELIUS

“Act with fortitude and honor,” he wrote to a distraught friend in serious financial and legal trouble of the man’s own making. “If you cannot reasonably hope for a favorable extrication, do not plunge deeper. Have the courage to make a full stop.”

Alexander Hamilton

Maintain Your Own Scorecard

For years, Scott Pioli, director of personnel for the Patriots, kept a photo on his desk of Dave Stachelski, a player the team had drafted in the 5th round, but who never made it through training camp. It was a reminder: You’re not as good as you think. You don’t have it all figured out. Stay focused. Do better.

This is characteristic of how great people think. It’s not that they find failure in every success. They just hold themselves to a standard that exceeds what society might consider to be objective success. Because of that, they don’t much care what other people think; they care whether they meet their own standards. And these standards are much, much higher than everyone else’s.

Ego can’t see both sides of the issue. It can’t get better because it only sees the validation. Remember, “Vain men never hear anything but praise.” It can only see what’s going well, not what isn’t. It’s why you might see egomaniacs with temporary leads, but rarely lasting runs of it.

For us, the scoreboard can’t be the only scoreboard. Warren Buffett has said the same thing, making a distinction between the inner scorecard and the external one. 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 possible version of themselves.

Holding your ego against a standard (inner or indifferent or whatever you want to call it) makes it less and less likely that excess or wrongdoing is going to be tolerated by you. Because it’s not about what you can get away with, it’s about what you should or shouldn’t do.

Always Love

And why should we feel anger at the world? As if the world would notice! —EURIPIDES

This is what propelled Nixon forward and then, sadly, downward. Reflecting on his own exile, he later acknowledged that his lifelong image of himself as a scrappy fighter battling a hostile world was his undoing. He’d surrounded himself with other such “tough guys.” People forget Nixon was reelected by a landslide after Watergate broke. He just couldn’t help himself—he kept fighting, he persecuted reporters, and he lashed out at everyone he felt had slighted or doubted him. It’s what continued to feed the story and ultimately sank him. Like many such people, he ended up doing more damage to himself than anyone else could. The root of it was his hatefulness and his anger, and even being the most powerful leader in the free world couldn’t change it.

Booker T. Washington tells an anecdote told to him by Frederick Douglass, about a time he was traveling and was asked to move and ride in the baggage car because of his race. A white supporter rushed up to apologize for this horrible offense. “I am sorry, Mr. Douglass, that you have been degraded in this manner,” the person said. Douglass would have none of that. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t hurt. He replied with great fervor: “They cannot degrade Frederick Douglass. The soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me.”

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. —JOSEPH CONRAD

 

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