“Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, your worst enemy already lives inside you: your ego.”
This is the third of Ryan Holiday books I’ve just finished reading. This one I was particularly interested in purely from the perspective of psychotherapy and the human mind. “This book is deeply influenced by Stoic philosophy and indeed all the great classical thinkers. We must begin by seeing ourselves and the world in a new way for the first time. Then we must fight to be different and fight to stay different- that’s the hard part.”
The writer clarifies at the beginning that ego in the book will not be based on the Freudian concept of ego, where it resides in our unconsciousness. Ego in the book will be seen more of something along the lines of “an unhealthy belief in our importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition.” (page 2)
Don’t we all know someone who fits that definition of ego? Haven’t we all said something like his ego is too big? Perhaps, we may see this kind of person in our own self.
The book is split into three parts: 1. Aspire; 2. Success; and 3. Failure.
“The aim of that structure is simple: to help you suppress ego early before bad habits take hold, to replace the temptations of ego with humility and discipline when we experience success and to cultivate strength and fortitude so that when fate turns against you, you’re not wrecked by failure. In short, it will help us be:
a. Humble in our aspirations
b. Gracious in our success
c. Resilient in our failures.” (page 6)
The chapters are pretty much self-explanatory so I will just give a brief summary of each part of the book.
Aspire basically covers the concept of how we can understand our ego, take control of it in our minds, and get out of developing pride. Success follows on from this and tells us how to maintain our humility and avoid falling into the ego trap. The last part Failure talks about how in case we fail and allow ego to overtake us, we can always find ways out to take back control, and how to best prepare for our next adversity.
I liked how the writer talks about in one section of how if you start believing in your greatness, that will be the death of your creativity. It is so easy to cross that fine line between humility and pride. When we allow our pride to take over, we block our minds from achieving more because we revel in our greatness and don’t feel the need to achieve more because you are already so great.
Humility, in my opinion, is one of the sexiest things a person can have. However, to achieve that humility and kill our ego is hard work. “Most of us can’t handle uncomfortable self-examination.” (page 211). In my work as a psychotherapist, this issue of ego, arrogance, and pride has come up several times. It becomes increasingly hard for my clients to sit down and self reflect on where this comes from, but when they make a breakthrough, it is a sight to behold.
There are enough stories of thinkers, philosophers, and historical figures to demonstrate how ego can hurt us and impede us, and how when we kick the ego out, how much further we can actually progress in life.