Ego is the Enemy Book Summary


3-Sentences Summary

Ego is both a constructive and destructive force. It can push you to create something new and realize your vision and dreams, but if not controlled it can lead you to self-destruction. In this book, author Ryan Holiday teaches how to harness this force for good.

Who Is Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday For?

  • Ambitious individuals;
  • People who feel stuck, that they want more than what they have.
  • Those who have succeeded but now feel stuck.

Ego is the Enemy Book Summary: Introduction

Ryan Holiday, the author of this book, knows a thing or two about success. He became an executive for American Apparel at just 21 years old, and over the course of the past years, he has published several best selling books, while working as a consultant for many other successful individuals like Tim Ferriss and James Altucher.

In his up-and-coming life, Ryan has recognized early on in himself and in his own mentors the risks of a driving force, taled by history: ego.

In all the greatest battles, histories and decline of nations and civilities, ego plays at least a minor part as the fuel of both destruction and creation.

For its pervasiveness, that’s probably why this book had so much success. Whether we like it or not, we all have dealt with ego in our life, directly by dealing with our own one, and indirectly with one of the other people.

What You’ll Learn

  • What Is Ego and How to identify It
  • How to Control Your Own Ego to Achieve Long-Lasting Success

Big Ideas

Don’t fake it until you make it—just make it.

In the past decades, several self-help books and speakers have narrated the tale and power of “faking it, until you make it.” This can be excruciatingly dangerous.

Imagine being an insecure person that never had a partner and is afraid of expressing himself. If he would “fake” being confident, this would prove again in his psyche that he isn’t.

What he could do instead is speaking to people of the opposite sex that he finds attractive, and becoming better at expressing himself and managing his fear every day.

Same for an ambitious wannabe-entrepreneur. He would like to become wealthy as Bill Gates or Elon Musk, but instead of focusing on building hard-skills he focuses on “visualizing” himself rich, do you think it will work out?

Sure, defining your vision, and your plan to realizing, it is key. However, one of the means how ego shows up is when we aspire to achieve something and reach a certain goal. 

Because our ego is so obsessed with how other people will be thinking of you, it will push you to talk more than you’re actually doing.

That's the reason why we find so many people who are just really good at giving advice and talking about fields of expertise where they haven't proven any success. I'm sure you have some social media guru in mind now, or your single friend that gives you advice on how to get laid.

But this isn't just a theory. It has been proven with hard-numbers by the author of the book ‘The Outsiders’, in which it is detailed how the best CEOs in terms of return on the investment, weren’t those who spent most of their time under the limelights releasing interviews, but those who were more reclusive and focused on what was moving the needle.

Don’t aim to be somebody, but of doing things that matter.

“Achievement’s foundation lay on realism, not daydreaming”


Inside Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holidays details the story of writer Emily Gould. She had to write a new book back in 2010, however, she spent most of the time posting on social media, without actually doing deep work, struggling to complete her book.

Beware of Achievement

ego is the enemy summary

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Paradoxical as it might sound, often the people who did achieve a good chunk of success are the ones that get self-destructed by their own ego overtime.

How many artists are there in the world with just one successful song, painting, or book released?

It’s easy to get lost in what doesn’t matter. In the spotlight. After a decent amount of success.


Howard Hughes was an innovator that came out with remarkable success in the movie industry, beating all odds. However, the image depicted by biographers is different from the sparky Hollywood film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. He spent the latest years of his life battling lawyers and investigations, ultimately trying to protect the empire he has built.

Don’t Annihilate All Ego

A good dose ego is a positive thing to have. Like bacteria in our gut, a small chunk of “bad” bacteria determines a good balance in our organism.

To say this with an example: imagine you’re a startup founder and want to pitch your idea to an investor.

Your product is really good but no-one seems to understand it because it’s so revolutionary and disruptive.

In this case, a healthy dose of ego it’s good to help you push forward initial obstacles and nay-sayers, however, it doesn’t have to blind you from feedbacks coming from your customers, investors, and the overall market.

The Moment You Stop Listening Is the Moment You’ll Fail

Think about a person you know with a big ego. How do you recognize one?

He almost never listens to feedback, shying away from them, and get immediately upset when someone criticizes him.

You can’t learn if you think you already know. You must solicit harsh feedback.

That’s why learning is what will help you control your ego. In the “Your Takeaway” paragraph in this article, you’ll soon learn a special technique to make sure you keep learning every day.

What Is Really Important to You?

The first year I launched my startup, I was referred to a client that was interested in the services I was offering back then.

We closed a contract that was more than remarkable for me. I was fresh out of college and with this deal I was now earning per month more than the vast majority of my peers earned per year.

After a month of excruciating work, with no time for a nice dinner with my girlfriend, to spend with my family, or taking care of my health. I obviously started asking myself if this even mattered.

I ended up withdrawing from the contract some months after. The truth is, I realized I didn’t even need that much money because with my other clients I was earning already a healthy monthly salary paired with the possibility of traveling the world and all the freedom I wanted.

It’s crazy how often we are drawn to do things without asking ourself “why?” Why do we really want to do this? When we stop and ponder, often the answer is to look good at the eyes of people we don’t even respect or care about.

The thing is. Remaining true to your values gets harder the more successful you are because more profitable opportunities will appear at your disposal. How many artists have “sold their soul” becoming testimonials for crappy products? How many people entered in politics and got lured by corruption once they entered in Parliament?

That’s how talent and life get wasted.

Note: Sure, I still think back about my decision of withdrawing from the contract when things get tough for my business or I’d like to buy something expensive, but I don’t regret the choice.

Beware The Narrative You Tell Yourself

I was born in a relatively poor place in Europe. It isn’t third-world, but the youth unemployment rate is at 49%. Most of the people scrap by. 

When doing voluntary work for poor families in high-school, I met many other teenagers from different social conditions of the mine. Many of them didn’t end up well in life, many of them are now either in jail or still desperately poor. Sure, I know it isn’t as easy it sounds to work on this when you're in such an extreme situation, but I do believe that it is because of the narrative that these kids told themselves every day, which can be summarized: “I’m a street-boy and always will be”, it’s what limited them from getting in a better place in life.

Or I have a childhood friend that because he was adopted and bullied in school, justify his lack of physical exercise, self-care, and ambition.

We all have our demons from the past to confront. Don’t let them define who you are and who you are and will be in the present and future. 

Find Purpose, Not Passion

Have you ever noticed how most gurus and life coaches will preach you that you have to follow your passion in life? How nice!

Sure, a life spent doing things you don’t like doing it’s not pleasurable. However, if you live by the mindset of following your passion, guess what will happen the first time you are confronted with something you don’t like doing? You’ll give up.

That’s what happens with countless wannabe-entrepreneurs or artists that remain wannabe. They start something because they’re passionate about it, whether it is a blog or playing the guitar. Both things involve not only writing or playing, which are the most enjoyable part but also dealing with other people, your managers, getting feedback, improving constantly, having schedules and timelines to respect.

Most advocators of the “passion mindset”, remind the famous Steve Jobs's speech at Stanford where he remarks on the importance of passion. However, Steve Jobs happened to be incredibly passionate about creating valuable and useful consumer products.

Approval Seeking

“Ego: The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility.”

Team Destruction

Beware of hiring or working with people with a huge ego. It doesn’t go along with working in a team. 

Even worse, a fantastic team can be destroyed long-term by ego. Think about how many bands have dissolved because of the strive to go solo and have more attention from some members of them.

Your Takeaway: How to Control Your Ego

  • Spend 33% of your time with people better than you, 33% with those who are more or less as good as you, and the rest teaching to those who are beginning. It’s impossible to feed a huge ego if you do so. You can’t be arrogant with those who have accomplished more than you in your field, nor with your peers, while by teaching you’ll constantly remind yourself of the importance of learning and that it’s fine making mistakes.
  • Live in Reality: “Live with the tangible and real, even if—especially if—it’s uncomfortable.” If you keep pouring the work, results will come.
  • Delegate more. If somebody else can do it as well as 80% of how you would have done it, and you can afford it, consider delegating it. It will help you to go out of your own control and respect others' work and perspective outside of yours.
  • Mastery is an eternal pursuit. It requires to show up and do the work, every day.

Best Quotes from The Book

  • Just because you got the start, don’t lose your head. – John D. Rockefeller
  • Achievement’s foundation lay on realism, not daydreaming – Ryan Holiday

Reading Suggestions

  • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (not to be confused with The Art of War) (not to be confused with The Art of War)
  • Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday

How would you improve this book summary? Comment below and let us know so that we can serve you better.

P.S. If you want to share your own life experiences related to this, let everybody know!

P.P.S. This book summary it's related to what I've learned from the book, it doesn't exactly correspond to the content of the book and might be different from the ideas of the author.

  1. Love it, Thanks for such a great article

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