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Ego is the Enemy – Book Review

We have all come across people who appear cocky and arrogant. People with massive high opinions of themselves.  People who seek the attainment of superiority and ascendancy above making a real difference to others in this world.   When I come across people like this, they always rub me up the wrong way. As an artist, at times I can get overly focused on my work, like most people who enjoy what they do.  However, I don’t want my confidence to turn into arrogance. I am very mindful that I don’t allow my focus to lead me to be self-absorbed and egocentric.


Luckily, I have come across the excellent author, Ryan Holiday.  In Holiday’s previous book, ‘Obstacles the Way’ I discovered Holiday’s deep interest in the lessons that can be learnt from Stoic philosophy.  So when I saw his book, ‘Ego is the Enemy’ I knew I wanted to read it.

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In ‘Ego is the Enemy’ Holiday begins by explaining about the ego and uses a Freudian definition to describe it as; “an unhealthy obsession with the self”.  Later, Holiday goes on to explain that we need a purpose, “Purpose is about pursuing something outside yourself as opposed to pleasuring yourself.”

The book is a fascinating read.  It discusses deep questions about what we are really here to do?  Plus it investigates why do we do what we do? Holiday argues that “All of us regularly say yes unthinkingly, or out of vague attraction, or out of greed or vanity. Because we can’t say no – because we might miss out on something if we did. We think ‘yes’ will let us accomplish more when in reality it prevents exactly what we seek. All of us waste precious life doing things we don’t like, to prove ourselves to people we don’t respect, and to get things we don’t want.”

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I especially enjoyed his chapter about ‘Anteambulo’. A model used by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, of serving somebody else in order to navigate the art system of the 1600s and keep grounded. The idea is that by clearing the path for other people above you, you will eventually learn to clear a path for yourself.


Towards the end of the book, Holiday talks about the premise that training is like sweeping the floor.  Our minds are like the floor, they need to be maintained and kept in good condition. Just because we have swept the floor once, it doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever.  Dust is always accumulating and our own unhealthy belief in importance and power needs to be regularly aligned.


Rather than a practical guide, ‘Ego is the Enemy,’ is a book that makes you think by using a collection of anecdotes from history. Holiday shows us that, “Any fool can learn from experience. The trick is to learn from other people’s experience.” Ryan Holiday’s impressive ability to address many stoic philosophies and condense them into an enjoyable read helps us to keep our passions in check.


What I take away from this book is a reminder about the obvious!  That we are all equal and the same as everyone else.  While on the way to contributing something special, success doesn’t mean we are different, or that we deserve better.  As we develop our own mastery it is important to keep a distance from our ego. We sometimes need to get out of our own heads and remind ourselves of the ‘real’ purpose.


My rating 5/5.


External links to Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Ego is the Enemy - Amazon UK
Ego is the Enemy - Amazon US


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