Ego is the Enemy

I made a late-night, possibly intoxicated, impulse buy off of Amazon last week (one-click ordering is a blessing and a curse), but I’m glad I did it. One of the books I ordered is “Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday, I can’t remember where I got the recommendation but I am really enjoying it so far. The book is part stoic philosophy, part real-world advice and pushes us all to ignore our ego and just create, create, create. There are also lots of historical examples throughout the book to back up the techniques and philosophy discussed.

I’ve only read Part 1 (of 3) but here are some of the quotes that stood out to me, mostly because they spoke to my own struggles becoming a writer. I don’t think I am an egotistical person (I’d actually say the opposite, I lack confidence), but I do have some habits that are harmful to my goals. The bolded ones are my top quotes.

  • For your work to have truth in it, it must come from truth. If you want to be more than a flash in the pan, you must be prepared to focus on the long term.
    We will learn that though we think big, we must act and live small in order to accomplish what we seek. Because we will be action and education focused, and forgo validation and status, our ambition will not be grandiose but iterative – one foot in front of the other, learning and growing and putting in the time.
  • Those who know do not speak.
    Those who speak do not know. – Lao Tzu
  • The empty text box: “What’s on your mind?” Facebook asks. “Compose a new tweet,” Twitter beckons. Tumblr. LinkedIn. Our inbox, our iPhones, the comments section on the bottom of the article you just read.
    Blank spaces, begging to be filled in with thoughts, with photos, with stories. With what we’re going to do, with what things should or could be like, what we hope will happen. Technology, asks you, prodding you, soliciting talk.
    Almost universally, the kind of performance we give on social media is positive. It’s more “Let me tell you how well things are going. Look how great I am.” it’s rarely the truth: “I’m scared. I’m struggling. I don’t know”
  • “Mere gossip anticipates real talk, and to express what is still in thought weakens action by forestalling it” – Kierkegaard
  • Talk depletes us. Talking 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 shown to significantly decrease insight and breakthroughs. Afters spending so much time thinking, explaining, and talking about a task, we start to feel that we’ve gotten closer to achieving it.
  • Success requires a full 100 percent of our effort, and talk flitters part of that effort away before we can use it.
  • The greatest work and art comes from wrestling with the void, facing it instead of scrambling to make it go away.
  • The only relationship between work and chatter is that one kills the other. 
  • “To be somebody or to do something. In life, there is often a roll call. That’s when you will need to make a decision” – John Boyd
  • “A man is worked upon by what he works on,” – Frederick Douglass
  • The power of being a student is not just that it is an extended period of instruction, it also places the ego and ambition in someone’ else’s hands. There is  a sort of ego ceiling imposed – one knows that he is not better than the “master” he apprentices under. Not even close. You defer to them, you subsume yourself. You cannot fake or bullshit them. An education can’t be “hacked”; there are no shortcuts besides hacking it ever single day. If you don’t, they will drop you.
  • The pretense of knowledge is our most dangerous vice, because it prevents us from getting any better
  • Passion typically masks a weakness.
  • Those who have subdued their ego understand that it doesn’t degrade you when others treat you poorly; it degrades them.
  • “A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts, so he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions. – Alan Watts
  • Living clearly and presently takes courage. Don’t live in the haze of the abstract, live with the tangible and real, even if – especially if – it’s uncomfortable. Be part of what’s going on around you. feast on it, adjust for it.
    There’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned, in all that is around us.
  • Is it ten thousand hours or twenty thousand hours to mastery? The answer is that it doesn’t matter. There is no end zone. To think of a number is to live in a conditional future. We’re simply talking about a lotl of  hours – that to get where you want to go isn’t about brilliance, but continual effort. While that not a terribly sexy idea, it should be an encouraging one. Because it means it’s all within reach – for tall of us, provided we have the constitution and humbleness to be patient and the fortitude to put in the work
  • Make it so you don’t have to fake it.
  • Every time you sit down to work, remind yourself: I am delaying gratification by doing this. I am passing the marshmallow test. I am earning what my ambition burns for. I am making an investment in myself instead of my ego. Give yourself a little credit for this choice, but not so much, because you’ve got to get back to the task at hand: practicing, working, improving. 
  • Work doesn’t want to be good. it is made so, despite the headwind.

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