Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.

Worksheet: Download the interactive sheet for taking notes.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

No matter what others are saying, we’re all selfish bastards who’s only thoughts are about saving our own skin. In Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday explains why loving yourself too much, can be toxic. He describes very vividly, through stories and quotes, why your worst enemy lives inside you and how to fight it.

The Core Idea:

To see the ill effects ego has on all of us. A way to put your higher goals above your desire for recognition. To mitigate your desire for individual greatness with a willingness to help others, first.


  • You won’t get far if you rely solely on your talent. You need to do/learn a lot more to stay competitive;
  • Though ego might help you in a lot of occasions in your life, in most of the cases is this insidious sense that quite often sabotages you;
  • Numb down your sense of self-importance to keep improving;

5 Key Lessons from Ego is the Enemy:

Lesson #1: Why Do You Do What You Do?

So, why do you do what you do?

The answer to the following question will help you understand what matters most in your life and what doesn’t. Consider the following questions:

  • Why did you read that last book?
  • Why did you buy that dress?
  • Why do you go to the gym?
  • Why are you working the job you’re working?
  • Why do you wake up in the morning?

A lot of people don’t put a lot of sense in their actions. They’re living on autopilot and they are used to doing things only because they are commonly accepted by society. They buy new gadgets to show off in front of their friends and boost their ego. They will watch a TV show just because someone else mentioned it in a conversation.

If your answer to: “Why do you do what you do,” is “to keep up with the Joneses,” then stop what you’re doing. Learn to say No to things more often. Opt-out from the stupid race for more that doesn’t matter. Don’t read, watch, do, or buy stuff only because other people are buying them. Do them only if you really want or need them.

The more you have and the more you do, the harder it will be for you to maintain all these things. For instance, if you have two cars, you will have two tanks with gas to fill; Change 8 tiers when the winter comes; Pay for 2 car washes… and so on.

So, instead of keeping two cars, ask yourself: “Do I really need two cars?” Maybe you do, but that’s not my point.

We all occasionally find ourselves in the middle of some project, obligation, a pile of junk, and we can’t understand how we end up in this situation. We say Yes to too many things without first asking ourselves “what’s the point,” or “do I really want to do this.”

Find out why you’re doing the things you’re doing daily. Ignore everyone and everything that is messing with your pace.

Lesson #2: Talent Is Only The Starting Point

Do you know how to paint stuff? I’m happy for you. People all over the world will pay good bucks for a good painting. However, talent can bring you only to a certain stage.

There are a lot of great artists who are less famous than your mom on Facebook. The reason? Some of them have really high self-esteem and consider their work unique. Even more, beyond excellent. According to them, the reason they are not selling any paintings it’s because “others are stupid and they can’t understand their art.” How convenient.

Becoming well-known in your field requires a lot of work. And talent is only a part of the cocktail. If you want to be a painter, besides the obvious need of knowing how to actually draw, you will also need to understand how to present yourself, market yourself, explain to people why they need to buy your art.

Some people are so confident in their skills that they either forget to practice or simply their ego tells them that they don’t need to, that they’re already “perfect.” This behavior can be observed in people all over the world. Also, in different fields. Artists with one song. Painters with one drawing. Writers with one book published. They break the charts but after the initial fame, they are quickly forgotten. Their ego gets so boosted that they stop putting the needed effort.

Talent is not the sole ingredient for becoming successful. Like all of us, if you want to be remembered for years to come, if have to be humble. To keep learning and honing your craft. No matter how good you think your work is, there’s always room for improvement.

Lesson #3: Few Fundamental Realities

  1. You’re not nearly as good or as important as you think you are: Regardless of what your mom told you while you were younger, you’re most probably not as good as you imagine. A man who believes he’s perfect is one who will stop pushing, stop learning, stop improving. This inevitably leads to degeneration and early retirement.
  2. Adjust your attitude: Don’t try to please everyone. Don’t agree with people only because this will make them feel good. Practice being yourself. Since we only live once, the best way to spend your limited time on earth is by doing what you please.
  3. Most of what you know is out of date or wrong: When we graduate we think that we’re ready for a corner office. For above average salary and a personal assistant. We think that what we’ve learned during our school years is 100% applicable in every company. Of course, this is not even close to reality. You will probably use around 5% of what you’ve learned in college. The rest you will learn along the way.

Lesson #4: Wherever You Are. Whatever You’re Doing. Your Worst Enemy Already Lives Inside Of You

The majority of the people living don’t even know it exists. They’re not aware of this insidious evil living inside of them. That’s how sneaky and dangerous it is. It pretends to be our friend, but secretly undermines everything we do: our ego.

“Not me,” you might think. “I’m well aware of my persona. I’m a well-balanced guy.” Perhaps you’re right. But yet again, you’re probably not.

Ego is the nasty side effect of frenzy ambition and talent. In a lot of occasions, our ego is our driving force. The push we need to keep going. That’s why it’s so devilish. We need it so we can talk in front of others and keep our cool when we pitch our product to strangers. But it’s also the thing that makes us arrogant and blind to future problems that later can sabotage the whole operation.

Lesson #5: Stay Vigilant

As John Wheeler, famously said, “As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.”

If we can’t take or receive feedback. If we are incapable of, or uninterested in hearing from outside sources. We’ll fail to progress. That’s exactly what happens when our ego is steering the wheel.

To recognize opportunities – or create them – we should see ahead. Not live inside our own fantasy world. However, often the high opinion of yourself is blocking all of your senses. Creating a false understanding of the world around.

Without an accurate accounting of our own abilities compared to others, what we have is not confidence but delusion.

In order to keep going and keep improving. To lead and motivate others, we should stay vigilant. Become a vivid observer of the outside world and apply what we see to our daily actions. That’s the only way to keep moving forward.

Actionable Notes:

  • Practice self-control: Being in control of your emotions is easier said than done. Is what you should practice if you want to stay in the game.
  • Win hearts and minds: The best way to “conquer more land” is by winning people’s hearts. How can you do this? Simple. Listen to them. Talk about them. Put their feelings and desires on a pedestal. All of this can happen when you mute your own desires.
  • Good inner self: Why empires always fall? They collapse from within, that’s why. If you’re a bad person, you’ll surely slip at some point. Have a strong personality to endure after your final days.

Commentary And My Personal Takeaway

Your ego is your worst enemy. If you don’t do something about the march of your self-love, you’ll suffer.

Arrogance and self-centered ambition are rarely good qualities. The opposite attributes, however, are – modesty and being respectful to others.

But the need to be better than other people. More than others is a drive for many people. That’s exactly what the book is all about. Ryan Holiday is explaining why your constant desire to be recognized and appreciated is devilish.

The title of the book says it all – Ego Is The Enemy. And there is only one way to stay ahead. To remain modest and vigilant. That’s how you’ll undoubtfully win.

Notable Quotes:

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

“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.” Ryan Holiday

“He explained that training was like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep.” Ryan Holiday

“When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win.” Bill Bradley

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