Ego Is the Enemy: 7 Ways Your Ego Sabotages You

ego is the enemy book cover

Ego is The Enemy teaches readers about the dangers and pitfalls of our ego. If we don’t get control of our ego, says author Ryan Holiday, it will stop us from being the best individuals we can be and it prevents us from achieving our full potential.

Bullet Summary

  • Ego blinds us and inflates our sense of worth, distorting reality
  • When ego and pride get to us, we lose track of what really matters and what we need to focus on
  • There are many techniques to avoid ego-take over, including being eternal learners and paying homage to everyone who’s helped us along the way

Full Summary

About The Author:
Ryan Holiday is a popular author of several self-development books. He learned from Robert Greene and helped Greene write The 48 Laws of Power.

What’s Ego?

This could be a definition of the harmful type of ego that Ryan Holiday wants to warn us against:

Ego is the unhealthy belief in your own importance

The 3 Phases of Ego

Holiday divides Ego is The Enemy into three phases, with the ego playing a different role in each one of them:

  1. Aspire (talk less and do more; drop the 10.000-hour rule: it takes infinite time to master)
  2. Success (ego gets big here and undermines your own success)
  3. Failure

Make It, Don’t Fake It

Ryan trashes the idea of “faking it till you make it”.

Make it instead, focus on becoming so good that you don’t even think about faking it.

It’s the ego that wants you to fake it. It’s the ego that wants to look good and successful and looks for the trappings of success instead of real mastery.

Ambition VS Egoism

Ryan Holiday distinguishes between ambition and egoism.

Ambitious people strive to excel in their field and be the best they can be, regardless of whether they become famous and receive accolades and congratulations.

Egoists instead chase after fame, popularity, and accolades, whether they are actually skilled at what they do or not.

How to Control Your Ego

Here are a way tips and mindsets to control our egos:

  • Eternal learner: remind yourself that there is always something new to learn
  • Know that mastery is an eternal pursuit (sweeping the gym floor every day)
  • Find someone more skilled than you are to learn from
  • Teach to beginners
  • Trust others and learn to delegate (our ego stops us from delegating by telling us we’re the only ones who can perform well)
  • Share recognition with others (often they’ll do the same back)
  • Think, recognize, and say thank you to all the people who supported you

Pride Prevents Us From Bigger Achievements

Pride and ego are connected but different.

Pride helps us justify our ego, and tells us how good we are after a major success that we’ve had.

However, pride blinds us to new opportunities and room for improvement.
Pride makes us defensive when someone criticizes us or shows us that we could do better. And instead of looking at reality and ways we could move forward, we get busy defending ourselves and bragging about what we’ve done.

Find Purpose, Not Passion

Ryan Holiday notices that we are constantly bombarded with the message of “finding our passion”.

But, similarly to Cal Newport and Angela Duckworth, he warns that “finding our passion” is often a fool’s quest.

Holiday proposes purpose and realism instead of passion.
What’s the difference? The purpose is passion tempered with a healthy dose of realism and perspective.
The realistic side is always checking in and making sure that we are moving forward on the right track.
Because achievement cannot rely on daydreamers.

Also, read:

Achievement’s foundation lay on realism, not daydreaming

Rein Your Ego When You Encounter Sabotage

Ryan says that it’s almost a given that as you strive valiantly towards your goals, you’ll meet not just total indifference, but possibly even covert or open sabotage.

Some people will indeed go out of their way to make you fail.

It’s easy then to be sidetracked by incredulity, hurt ego, or even reactive impulses of revenge.
But that’s exactly when you need to stay calm, put your head down and get on with the most efficient and effective work you can produce.
You can’t afford to be jerked left and right by your ego.

Stay The (Un-distracted) Course

This concept is what Ryan refers to as Euthymya, which would roughly translate to “tranquility”. It’s the tranquility of following your path without worrying about distractions.

Live in Reality

Contrary to the very popular advice these days of the “reality distortion field” and “law of attraction” Holiday recommends you focus on reality and don’t allow your mind to create abstract versions of reality.

Here Holiday ties realism back to the concept of pride.

Pride will take an actual achievement, but unrealistically blow it out of proportion. This tendency will make us forget the reality of the situation, and that’s always that there is so much more to do.

Live with the tangible and real, even if—especially if—it’s uncomfortable

The Danger of Success

Success is especially dangerous when it comes to ego.

When you become successful the tendency is to tell your story in an embellished form. The struggles you’ve overcome, the demons you’ve conquered, and the accomplishments seem all but obvious given your immense talent.

You keep telling that story to people and to yourself and your talent becomes your identity and your accomplishments become what you’re worth.

And that’s when you get trapped.
You become scared of trying something new and of being found lacking because now your story is that of an almost infallible being.

Instead, always keep telling yourself the truth, remind yourself of your lowest moments as well and stay grounded by taking pride in being an eternal learner.

Ego Makes You Approval Seeking

Finally, ego makes you a slave to others by making you seek the approval of others.

People with an outsized ego are not really focused on results, self-control, and achieving self-mastery. They are after accolades and hand-clapping.
And they are eternal approval seekers.

Focus on What’s Important to You

To live a fulfilling life you should focus on what really matters to you.

If you don’t know what’s really important to you, it’s easy to be swayed in life by shining toys and money. And indeed this is especially true with money.
Because if you don’t know how much you need, the answer with money is always the same: you need more.

And chances are that as you chase money, your quality of life will suffer.

Ego Destroys Great Teams

As teams become more successful, the people in it grow and become stars.

But as their sense of self-importance grows bigger and bigger, they start claiming and fighting for the spotlight all for themselves.

That breaks the team and rarely leads to more success.
Take the example of the Lakers with Kobe Bryant and O’Neal. The bickering between the two eventually led to a breakup and O’Neal leaving the team, which interrupted a streak of 3 championships in a row (you can read the account of their trainer Phil Jackson in Eleven Rings).

Instead, realize that your strength comes from your team, and the more you push your team up, the more they will push you further up.

All the Dangers of Ego

Ryan says that ego is responsible for a lot of our failures, undoing, and overall ineffectiveness.
Because of ego:

  • We delay doing what we should do
  • It poisons our relationships as we seek to hog the spotlight
  • It blocks us from thinking long term
  • Encourages us to be greedy, which rarely makes us happy and fulfilled
  • Shifting blame: when things don’t go well, we rather blame someone else

Ego is The Enemy Quotes

On ego is the enemy:

Your ego is the enemy—it blocks us from improving by telling us that we don’t need to improve. Then we wonder why we don’t get the results we want, why others are better and why their success is more lasting.

On the silliness of “passion”:

The critical work that you want to do will require your deliberation and consideration. Not passion.

On overcoming entitlement mentality:

Who can afford to be jerked around by impulses, or believe that you’re God’s gift to humanity, or too important to put up with anything you don’t like?
Those who have subdued their ego understand that it doesn’t degrade you when others treat you poorly; it degrades them.

On teamwork:

Soccer coach Tony Adams expresses it well. Play for the name on the front of the jersey, he says, and they’ll remember the name on the back.

On doing your best:

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.

Amen to that.

ego is the enemy book cover

Real-Life Applications

Ground Yourself In Reality
Take with a pinch of salt all the literature telling you to “build your own reality”. They make a great point when they talk about beliefs and focusing on your goals, but never, never forget to also firmly ground yourself in reality.

Be Aware of Your Ego
Be aware of how your ego is either helping you or hindering you toward your goals. Indeed, I agree with Ryan: ego can be a major drag on a happy, successful, and fulfilling life.
I would also like to add though that you can leverage your ego instead of just getting it out of your way. Check out Ultimate Power.

Don’t Build Your Own Cage
As you get successful, don’t make your story, and don’t teach from a place of greatness. Otherwise, you build your identity around perfection and that will become your own cage (fixed mindset).

Don’t Shift Blame & Play Ostrich
Once our ego has grown, we can find it hard to accept and own failure. And that’s when we hide, rage, and shift blame. Don’t allow your ego to ever grow so big that you cannot face failure. We all fail, it’s all about how we react to it -or act around it-.

Develop Ego Resilience
Develop a growth mindset and an antifragile ego.

The bigger the ego the harder the fall


My main criticism is around the concept of “ego is the enemy”.

It’s not.

It’s a poorly developed ego that is the enemy.
But a good ego supports you:

Ego Is Needed And A Healthy Ego Is Good

Ego is important to a happy, fulfilled, and successful life.

Even focusing on achievement alone, ego allows us to compete, strive to reach our goals, and do our best to surpass our past achievements.

Some psychiatrists even say that narcissism in moderate doses is positively correlated with healthy self-esteem and positive personality.

However, Ego is The Enemy focuses on those instances when the ego doesn’t help us anymore and stands in the way of our success.
It doesn’t mention how ego is important or helpful, and how “attacking” the ego can lead to more harm than good.

Even ChatGTP knows that:

explanation of why ego is not the enemy

Some Jumping to Conclusions

The author leverages a lot of historical examples to make his points, and I like that.

However, I didn’t like the determinism with which some examples were presented. For example, did Napoleon overreach because he believed in destiny?
Maybe, but we don’t know that. And there could be a million other reasons why he over-stretched, including hubris, lack of knowledge of Russian winters, etc., etc.

The more scientifically-minded among the readers will find a few of those examples to be a bit of a stretch.


Great Wisdom
Those who seek to become the best versions of themselves will find a lot of wisdom in “Ego Is the Enemy“.
And learning about our own ego is a necessity for those who want to move forward in life.

Ryan’s Realism
I absolutely love Ryan Holiday’s real take on life.
He doesn’t BS you with stuff like “love, love, love, and people will love you”.


Ego Is The Enemy is a good book if you disregard the bellicose approach to ego in general and redirect it to worst expressions of ego only.

In that sense, it lists several ways in which ego can indeed be a hindrance to a happy and successful life.

I had already read The Obstacle is The Way from Holiday, which catapulted him as one of my favorite authors.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that Ryan’s mentor was Robert Greene, another one of my favorite authors (The 48 Laws of Power, MasteryThe Art of Seduction, The 50th Law).

I have to admit the title of the book, “Ego Is the Enemy“, made me a bit skeptical.
I know some people truly have the mindset that you need to “destroy your own ego”, and I think that’s wrong: you don’t need to “destroy” your ego. I think you should use and recruit your ego and then it can become your ally instead of your enemy (read: the power of the antifragile ego).

However, that’s not what Ryan really meant.
He is not recommending anyone to “destroy” one’s ego.
He simply focuses on all the ways that ego can impair us and stop us from what should always be our number one goal: being the best possible version of ourselves that we can be.

So, do I recommend “Ego Is the Enemy“?
Ryan delivered another awesome gem to guide us on being the very best versions of ourselves.

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