Ego is the Enemy - Notes

‘Virtue begins with understanding and is fulfilled with courage’ Demosthenes

Ego = an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Defined by arrogance and self serving ambition.

The book argues that ego is at the root of most of our problems.

The book is organized into 3 sections representing the states we find ourselves in. Aspiring, Success and failure. The aim is to help us be:

Humble in our aspirations

Gracious in our success

Resilient in our failures


Ego is replaced by humility, which in turn rests upon true self-confidence. Poise not pose.

Isocrates letter of advice to a young man named Demonicus.

‘No adornment so becomes you as modesty, justice and self-control; for these are the virtues by which , all men are agreed, the character of the young is held in restraint’.

‘The ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill or all. Without it improvement is impossible.’

‘What is rare is not raw talent, skill or even confidence, but humility, diligence and self-awareness.’

‘Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.’ Lao Tzu

Talk, talk, talk. Too much noise, too little listening. ‘Silence is the respite of the confident and strong.’ Talk can get in the way, it intrudes and gets in the way of taking action.

To be or to do. Example of John Boyd and the OODA loop. He never wrote a book or published a paper was never promoted above Col, but was one of the most influential strategists of the post war era. He effected widespread change because of his influence on a wide number of pupils he taught, mentored and influenced. Choice to be someone or do something. (Play the game become an acceptable member of the club or serve your principles and convictions. ‘in life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. Boyd

Impressing people is utterly different to being truly impressive.

Boyd used to write on the board during an exercise with Air Force Officers:

DUTY HONOUR COUNTRY and then PRIDE POWER GREED. Values can corrupt.

The historian Will Durant quips. ‘A nation is born stoic and dies epicurean.’

Let no mans ghost come back to say my training let me down.’ Sign in New York Fire Dept trg academy.

Continual learning. Uses the example of Kirk Hammett lead guitarist of Metallica continued to take lessons with Joe Satriani. Weekly lessons which had to be learnt or don’t bother coming back. He got drilled in music theory and technique.

Mixed Martial Arts Champion and coach Frank Shamrock has a training system called plus, minus and equal. To become great he explains a fighter needs someone better they can learn from, someone lesser they can teach and someone equal they can challenge themselves against. Aim is for best possible feedback.

‘It is impossible to learn what one thinks one already knows’. Epictetus

Don’t be passionate. Chapter debunking the value of passion. People fail with passion or even because of passions just as often as they succeed with it. Passion often fails to show progress, all too often about what will be or what was started but rarely has the patience for the sustained effort needed to accomplish difficult things.

Kareem Abdul-Jabar world famous basketball player described his college coach John Wooden as dispassionate (He won 10 National championships in 12 years).

‘Great men have almost always shown themselves as ready to obey as they were afterwards proved able to command’ Lord Mahon.

Realities of starting out: Neither as good or important as you think, you have an attitude that needs to be readjusted, most of what you think you have learned in books or school is out of date or wrong.

Sublimate yourself to others when starting out – Roman concept of anteambulo – one who clears the path. Example of Benjamin Franklin writing anonymously for his brothers paper and Bill Belichick 4 time super bowel winning coach of New England Patriots who started out by mastering the things nobody else wanted to do. His first job with the Baltimore Colts he did as a volunteer without pay.

Self-control. ‘Those who have subdued their ego understand that it doesn’t degrade you when others treat you poorly; It degrades them.’

Example of Jakie Robinson, 1st black player in the pro basketball league, endured endless humiliations and indignities but rose above it and was bigger than those who sought to diminish him.

Get out of your own head.

The first product of self-knowledge is humility’ Flannery O’Connor. Pride gets in the way.

‘The best plan is only good intentions, unless it degenerates into work.’ Peter Druker

Materiam Superabat opus – The workmanship was better than the material. We cant control the material but the workmanship we can.

John Wheeler who helped develop the H Bomb, ‘As our Island of knowledge grows so does the shore of our ignorance’. Life long learning is essential to long term success and humility is the essential prerequisite to an open mind willing to learn.

Businesses often struggle to change and adapt because they have lost the willingness and ability to learn. Not enough to want to learn also have to know how we learn.

Be careful of success, it too easily breeds presumption, entitlement and mythology about how this came about. ‘he strongest poison ever know came from Caesar’s laurel crown’. William Blake

Manage yourself – example of DeLorean and his car company, left GM convinced he could do better company goes bankrupt after a series of errors and calamities which at root can all be traced back to DeLorean’s ego.

Part III – Failure

Almost always your road to victory, goes through a place called failure’ Bill Walsh

Have to be able to see through and past failure. ‘The great failing is to see yourself as more than you are and to value yourself at less than your true worth’ Goethe

Alive time or dead time? Vivre sans temp mort, live without wasted time. Example of Malcom X in prison, choosing to educate himself.

The effort is enough. Belisarius was a Roman General under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. He saved western civilization on at least 3 occasions. Winning stunning victories at Dara, Carthage, Naples, Siciliy & Constantinople. Got no thanks only endless suspicion from his paranoid emperor. Stripped of his wealth and titles he never complained.

‘Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best you are capable of becoming’.

Threatened egotism is a dangerous force.

‘It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character.’ Marcus Aurelius