Ego Is The Enemy

By Aaron Ayers

This is the book I wish I had read 20 years ago.  If I had been able to read it and willing to heed its warning, it would have saved me from a number of mistakes.  When I was younger, I would routinely be working hard both personally and professionally and seemingly doing well only to suddenly fall flat on my face.  I always struggled to understand why I was unable to sustain my success.  This book explains why.

The premise of the book begins with the author’s definition of ego- “an unhealthy belief in our own importance (pg. 2).”  We have all been guilty of it ourselves and seen a similar belief by others. The author traces the cycle into three (3) parts- Aspiration, Success and Failure.  During the Aspiration phase, we are in the beginning of our journey where we come up with a goal and diligently work toward it.  Then the Success phase occurs where the hard work pays off.  We make progress towards our goal but because of our ego, there are cracks in the foundation.  We tell ourselves a grand story that our success was inevitable.  We shift our attention from the process which produced the results and associated success to the byproducts of success, i.e. money, fame and power.  This then leads to our Failure.

This book is a quick read which serves as a guide to help one ideally prevent but more likely minimize mistakes of hubris.  The book is composed of a series of anecdotes to demonstrate his points.  There are examples of both what not to do (John DeLorean, Howard Hughes, and post-Civil War Ulysses Grant) as well as leaders who were able to keep their ego in check (General George C. Marshall, Colonel John Boyd, General William T. Sherman, and Angela Merkl).

As much as I enjoy this book, the ideas in it aren’t necessarily new.  He pulls ideas from such historical figures as Epictetus and Benjamin Franklin all the way to Pat Riley.  While the ideas aren’t new, this book is still worth reading.  Rather, his book distills the ideas of centuries into a handy reference.  I know I’ve seen plenty of people fall from grace both personally and professionally and when you get down to it, it all boils down to their ego. 

Thought provoking quotes:

“When we remove ego, we’re left with what’s real.”- pg. 8

“Appearances are deceiving.  Having authority is not the same as being an authority (pg. 32).” – pg. 32

“The mixed martial arts pioneer and multi-title champion Frank Shamrock has a system he trains fighter in that he calls plus, minus and equal.  Each fighter, to become great, needs to have someone better that they can learn from (+), someone lesser who they can teach (-) and someone equal that they can challenge themselves against (=).”- pg. 39

 “When you are starting out, we can be sure of a few fundamental realities: 1. You’re not nearly as good or as important as you think you are; 2. You have an attitude that needs to be readjusted; 3. Most of what you think you know or most of what you learned in books or in school is out of date or wrong.”- pg. 53

“Pride blunts the very instrument we need to own in order to succeed: our mind.”- pg. 74

 “When we are aspiring we must resist the impulse to reverse engineer success from other people’s stories.  When we achieve our own, we must resist the desire to pretend that everything unfolded exactly as we’d planned.  There was no grand narrative.”- pg. 111

“As you become successful in your own field, your responsibilities may begin to change.  Days become less and less about doing and more and more about making decisions.  This transition requires reevaluating and updating your identity.”- pg. 130

“What matters is that you learn how to manage yourself and others.”- pg. 131

“The less attached we are to outcomes the better.  When fulfilling our own standards is what fills us with pride and self-respect.  When the effort- not the results, good or bad- is enough.”- pg. 178

Interesting note:

This book is what I consider a “quake book,” a book that shakes you to your core.  I routinely read this book every six months to help me keep my own ego in check.  I still stumble, but by returning to this book on a regular basis, I become aware of my ego and am able to recover more quickly.  The popular podcast host, Tim Ferriss, will often ask “What book do you gift the most?”  My response would be this book because its message is universal and powerful in its simplicity.

Ten words or less takeaway: Ego is the enemy of all we aspire to achieve.

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