Where is the line between confidence and ego? How do you climb to the top and secure a place in history among humanity’s great leaders? Will your peers see your humbleness as weakness? Many great questions like these are answered at length in Ego is the Enemy.
Author Ryan Holiday takes us down a path where the audience is forced to confront really difficult self reflection that, if done correctly, can lead us to a more stable and focused version of ourselves. This is a book designed to motivate, but it’s a kick in the pants rather than hand holding. Do you have what it takes to work hard? Great. Do you also have what it takes to keep your head down, stay quiet, continue grinding, even when nobody notices your contributions or worse…when others get the glory for your contributions? Don’t get defensive. Instead get ready for a dose of reality. (Spoiler alert: It pays off in a big way.)
The “bootstraps” mentality is nonsensical and dated because it fails to take into account circumstances beyond one’s control and requires the subject to have certain assumed privileges. A person can’t pull themselves up by the bootstraps when they have no boots or straps to begin with. For this reason it is easy to roll our eyes at tough-love style motivation media as being out of touch with current understandings of inequality. However, that being said, Ego is the Enemy does an extraordinary job of taking the work-hard message and expanding the context to be usable by anyone at any place in life. By bringing it back to the basics we receive much more useful tools to work with:
What about all those famous, successful people in the world who are self absorbed? Who have larger than life personalities? Holiday cautions us that while it's true that those people undoubtedly exist, with all their fame and riches, that making it big on sheer force of personality alone is a dangerous road. How many of the people living in that way have drug addictions and/or alcoholism? How many are abusive to their loved ones?
The rewards they have accrued may be spectacular, but do we really want to be like them? The closer you look, the more clearly you will find that the answer is probably no.
Not everyone's sacrifice looks the same, especially in underprivileged communities. Ego is the Enemy takes us through the lives of successful public figures in history and describes their paths (and often great struggles) to achieve the honors and recognitions they have now. What boosts this book out of trite dusty old adages and into the realm of fresh thought is that it takes the time to illustrate the struggles towards greatness experienced by black leaders like Jackie Robinson and Malcolm X, and how their ability to persevere through racism on top of all the other challenges they faced put them in a position that was extraordinarily unfair in addition to the strain experienced by anyone striving towards their own monumental ambition.
This is a book for anyone that needs a little extra focus, a little hard truth. Don't be the kind of person that's always making plans but never doing anything. Diving in head first is the easy part. Finishing once you start can be excruciatingly difficult or downright boring. The circumstances holding you back may be your fault, or they may not be your fault at all, but you have to keep going. Reliability, perseverance, and good old fashioned hard work will carry you closer to your dreams than any amount of boasting and ego ever will. Opportunities are waiting for you. Do you have what it takes to reach for them?