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Ego is the Enemy

The Fight to Master Our Greatest Opponent

By Ryan Holiday
  • Read in 12 minutes
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  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Ego is the Enemy (2016) outlines the dangers of egotism and the strategies we can use to rein in our pride, using historical and cultural examples. From finding a mentor to learning how to delegate tasks, these blinks show us why staying grounded can secure future success.

Key idea 1 of 7

Ego is the desire to gain recognition without working for it.  

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. But if that’s true, why do we love to feel popular or get praise from others, even for things we haven’t done?

We’ve got our ego to thank for that.

Ego is the desire to get fame and recognition without doing the good deeds that are required for us to deserve it. While recognition may result from being successful, many people try to become famous before they achieve success.

Consider the story of former US president Ulysses S. Grant, once a well-known general in the US Army. After the American Civil War, he ran for president and won. But while Grant may have been popular in the army, he didn’t have much experience in the political sphere. His desire to win the highest political office despite his lack of experience makes Grant the perfect example of an egoist.

Unlike ego, ambition is based on a solid foundation of real achievements. Take the example of William Tecumseh Sherman, a general serving in the military alongside Grant. Sherman was also successful in his post, but, unlike Grant, he wasn’t an egoist.

As the end of Abraham Lincoln's second term drew near, Grant and other egoistic military leaders were determined to use their reputations to push into politics and compete for the role of president.  

Sherman, on the other hand, was ambitious. While egoists chase after fame, ambitious people are driven by the will to excel in their field, regardless of whether they are congratulated and celebrated for their successes.

During talks with Lincoln, it became clear that Sherman simply wasn’t interested in becoming president. He preferred to keep working hard in his field of expertise: military leadership. He was determined to be successful without focusing on gaining recognition for it, and he also knew that success in one field didn’t necessarily mean it could be transferred over to others.

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