Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday


The history books are filled with tales of obsessive, visionary geniuses who remade the world in their image with sheer, almost irrational force.

The orator Demosthenes once said that virtue begins with understanding and is fulfilled by courage.

What is scarce and rare? Silence. The ability to deliberately keep yourself out of the conversation and subsist without its validation. Silence is the respite of the confident and the strong.

Strategic flexibility is not the only benefit of silence while others chatter. It is also psychology. The poet Hesiod had this in mind when he said “A man’s best treasure is a thrifty tongue.” 

Talk depletes us. Taking and doing fight for the same resources. Research shows that while goal visualization is important, after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress. The same goes for verbalization. Even talking aloud to ourselves while we work through difficult problems has been shown to significantly decrease insight and breakthroughs. After spending so much time thinking, explaining, and talking about a task, we start to feel that we’ve gotten close to achieving it. Or worse, when things get tough, we feel we can toss the whole project aside because we’ve gotten closer to achieving it. Or worse, when things get tough, we feel we can toss the whole project aside because we’ve given it our best try, although of course we haven’t. The more difficult the task, the more uncertain the outcome, the more costly talk with be and the father we run from actual accountability. It’s sapped us of the energy desperately needed to conquer what Steven Pressfield calls the “Resistance”—the hurdle that stands between us and creative expression. Success requires a full 100 percent of our effort, and talk flitters part of that effort away before we can use it.

The only relationship between work and chatter is that one kills the other.

“To be or to do? Which way will you go?”

The choice that Boyd puts in front of us comes down to purpose. What is your purpose? What are you here to do? Because purpose helps you answer the question “To be or to do?” quite easy. If what matters is you—your reputation, your inclusion, your personal ease of life—your path is clear: Tell people what they want to hear. Seek attention over the quiet but important work. Say yes to promotions and generally follow the track that talented people take in the industry or field you’ve chosen. Pay your dues, check the boxes, put in your time, and leave things essentially as they are. Chase your fame, your salary, your title, and enjoy them as they come. 

If your purpose is something larger than you—to accomplish something, to prove something to yourself—then suddenly everything becomes both easier and more difficult. Easier in the sense that you know now what it is you need to do and what is important to you. The other “choice” wash away, as they aren’t really choices at all. They’re distractions. It’s about the doing, not the recognition. Easier in the sense that you don’t need to compromise. Harder because each opportunity—no matter how gratifying or rewarding—must be evaluated along strict guidelines: Does this help me do what I have set out to do? Does this allow me to do what I need to do? Am I being selfish or selfless? In this course, it is not “What do I want to be in life?” but “What is it that I want to accomplish in life?” Setting aside selfish interest, it asks: What calling does it serve? What principles govern my choices? Do I want to be like everyone else or do I want to do something different? In other words, it’s harder because everything can seem like a compromise.

This about this the next time you face that choice. Do I need this? Or is it really about ego? Are you ready to make the right decision? Or do the prizes still glitter off in the distance? To be or to do—life is a constant roll call.

The pretense of knowledge is our most dangerous vice, because it prevents us from getting any better. Studious self-assessment is the antidote. 

False ideas about yourself destroy you.

Roosevelt was above passion. She had purpose. She had direction. She wasn’t driven by passion, but by reason.

Passion typically masks a weakness. Its breathlessness and impetuousness and franticness are poor substitutes for discipline, for mastery, for strength and purpose and perseverance. You need to be able to spot this in others and in yourself, because while the origins of passion may be earnest and good, its effects are comical and then monstrous.

How can someone be busy and not accomplish anything? Well, that’s the passion paradox.

What humans require in our ascent is purpose and realism. Purpose, you could say, is like passion with boundaries. Realism is detachment and perspective. When we are young, or when our cause is young, we feel so intensely—passion like our hormones runs strongest in youth—that it seems wrong to take it slow. This is just our impatience. This is our inability to see that burning ourselves out or blowing ourselves up isn’t going to hurry journey along.

Purpose deemphasizes the I. Purpose is about pursuing something outside yourself as opposed to pleasuring yourself. More than purpose, we also need realism. Where do we start? What do we do first? What do we do right now? How are we sure that what we’re doing is moving us forward? What are we benchmarking ourselves against?

A deliberate, purposeful person operates on a different level, beyond the sway or the sickness. They hire professionals and use them. They ask questions, they ask what could go wrong, they ask for examples. They plan for contingencies. Then they are off to the races. Usually they get started with small steps, complete them, and look for feedback on how the next set can be better. They lock in gains, and then get better as they go, often leveraging those gains to grow exponentially rather than arithmetically. 

Passion is form over function. Purpose is function, function, function. 

The critical work that you want to do will require your deliberation and consideration. Not passion. Not naïveté. It’d be far better if you were intimidated by what lies ahead—humbled by its magnitude and determined to see it through regardless. Leave passion for the amateurs. Make it about what you feel you must do and say, not what you care about and wish to be.  

Clear the path for the people above you and you will eventually create a path for yourself.

Greatness comes from humble beginnings: it comes from grunt work. It means you’re the least important person in the room—until you change that with results.

“Say little, do much.”

Be lesser, do more. Imagine if for every person you met, you thought of some way to help them, something you could do for them? And you looked at it in a way that entirely benefited them and not you. The cumulative effect this would have over time would be profound. You’d learn a great deal by solving diverse problems. You’d develop a reputation for being indispensable. You’d have countless new relationships. You’d have an enormous bank of favors to call upon down the road.

Let the others take their credit on credit, while you defer and earn interest on the principal. 

  • Maybe it’s coming up with ideas to hand over to your boss. 
  • Find people, thinkers, up-and-comers to introduce them to each other. Cross wires to create new sparks.
  • Find what nobody else wants to do and do it.
  • Find inefficiencies and waste and redundancies. Identify leaks and patches to free up resources for new areas. 
  • Produce more than everyone else and give your ideas away.


In other words, discover opportunities to promote others creativity, find outlets and people for collaboration, and eliminate distractions that hinder their progress and focus. It is a rewarding and infinitely scalable power strategy. Consider each one an investment in relationships and in your own development. 

The first thing which gods bestow on one they would annihilate is pride.

Privately thinking you’re better than others is still pride. It’s still dangerous. “That on which you so pride yourself will be your ruin, you who think yourself to be someone.”

As a young man, Bill Clinton began a collection of note cards upon which he would write names and phone numbers of friends and acquaintances who might be of service when he eventually entered politics. Each night, before he ever had a reason to, he would flip through the box, make phone calls, write letters, or add notations about their interactions. Over the years, this collection grew—to ten thousand cards (before it was eventually digitized). It’s what put him in the Oval Office and continues to return dividends.

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

Without the right values, success is brief.

As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.

Humility engenders learning because it beats back the arrogance that puts blinders on. It leaves you open for truths to reveal themselves. 

No matter what you’ve done up to this point, you better still be a student. It you’re not still learning, you’re already dying.

Instead of pretending that we are living some great story, we must remain focused on the execution—and on executing with excellence. We must shun the false crown and continue working on what got us here. Because that’s the only thing that will keep us here.

To know what you like is the beginning of wisdom, and of old age.

It’s time to sit down and think about what’s truly important to you and then take steps to forsake the rest. Without this, success will not be pleasurable, or nearly as complete as it could be. Or worse, it won’t last. 

You do need to know. You need to know what you don’t want and what your choices preclude. Because strategies are often mutually exclusive. 

Why do you do what you do? That’s the question you need to answer. Stare at it until you can. Only then will you understand what matters and what doesn’t. 

The more you have and do, the harder maintaining fidelity to your purpose will be, but the more critically you will need to. 

“He despises the nation whose applause he seeks.”

In the end, we all face becoming the adult supervision we originally rebelled against.

We never earn the right to be greedy or to pursue our interests at the expense of everyone else. To think otherwise is not only egotistical, it’s counterproductive.

In this moment, he was experiencing what the Stoics would call sympatheia—a connectedness with the cosmos. The French philosopher Pierre Hadot has referred to it as the “oceanic feeling.” A sense of belonging to something larger, of realizing that “human things are an infinitesimal point in the immensity.” A sense of belonging to something larger, of realizing that “human things are an infinitesimal points in the immensity.” It is in these moments that we’re not only free but drawn toward important questions: Who am I? What am I doing? What is my role in this world?

The way through, the way to rise again requires a reorientation and increased self-awareness. We don’t need pity—our own or anyone else’s—we need purpose, poise, and patience.

There is a “natural firmness in some minds which cannot be unlocked by trifles, but which, when unlocked, discovers a cabinet of fortitude. 

“Almost always, your road to victory goes through a place called ‘failure.’”

Vivre sans temps mort. (Live without wasted time).

Dead time is revived when we use it as an opportunity to do what we’ve long needed to do. As they say, this moment is not your life. But it is a moment in your life. How will you use it?

What matters to an active man is to do the right thing: whether the right thing comes to pass should not bother him. - Goethe

Do your work. Do it well. Then “let go and let God.” That’s all there needs to be.

Duris dura franguntur. Hard things are broken by hard things.

“He who fears death will never do anything worth of a living man.”

People learn from their failures. Seldom do they learn anything from success.