Book review: Ego Is the Enemy

Book cover for Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

One of my favorite books from last year was The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. It’s similar to a daily devotional. There is a passage for each day from an ancient Stoic philosopher, such as Marcus Aureilius, Seneca, and Epcitetus, followed by a short interpretation of it. I liked it so much that I decided to read through it a second time this year with The Daily Stoic Journal. I had wanted to start journaling daily, and this was a good way to kick-start the habit. The Journal has a prompt that follows along with the daily reading to inspire and direct my thoughts and writings.

Ryan Holiday has written other books based upon Stoic philosophies as well. Since I enjoyed his work on The Daily Stoic, I decided to read Ego Is the Enemy.

Ego Is the Enemy is broken into three parts: Aspire, Success, and Failure. Holiday’s premise is that life is an endless loop that starts with what we aspire to do, followed by success, which creates adversity leading to failure and, hopefully, new ambitions. Adversity and failure creates aspiration, which starts the loop over again.

He uses this premise as the foundation to lay down numerous insights throughout the book, all which build upon one another. Below are a just a few of the many insights that I took away.

It’s about the doing, not the recognition. We can either be somebody or do something.
There is a choice we have to make in life – to be or to do. If being is all that matters, then you just tell people what they want to hear. You seek attention over the work. Being somebody mean our success is defined by external validation, which one doesn’t control. Doing, on the other hand, is where you make a difference. Doing allows us to control our destiny, be self-contained, be self-motivated, and ruled by principle.

The takeaway – life is about doing, not about being.

We can’t keep learning if we think we know everything
Success is based on doing, which requires constant learning. Whether it takes 10,000 or 20,000 hours to achieve mastery doesn’t matter. There isn’t an end to learning. To get where we want isn’t about brilliance. It’s about continual effort. We can always be and get better.

The takeaway – always be a student.

The path to really big things starts with deceptively small things
Media glamorizes the great story – the big ending that appears to happen overnight. Rarely do overnight successes occur. Instead of pretending we are living the “great story,” one must focus on execution, executing every task, even the small ones, every day, with excellence.

The takeaway – ignore the narrative and do everything well, especially the small things.

You must manage yourself in order to maintain your success
We will get knocked down in life. Stuff happens. We survive and rise again by reorienting ourselves, by building self-awareness. Pity, our own or anyone else’s, won’t help. What we need is purpose, poise, and patience.

The takeaway – life throws stuff at us, what matters is our response, how we make it through.


There are so many great insights in Ego Is the Enemy. Perhaps Holiday’s most important point is that at any given time in the circle of life, we may be aspiring, succeeding, or failing. With wisdom, we understand that these positions are temporary, not statements about our value as a human being. The way we fail is by giving in to what other people think, by abandoning our principles. We must measure ourselves by our own standards, which need to by higher than what society’s expects from us, what society considers to be success. Bottom line, our potential, the absolute best we are capable of, is the metric to measure ourselves against.

So yes, Ego Is the Enemy is a Must Read. It is going into my expanding library of self-improvement books. As I’ve said before, there isn’t one single book that I consider the best of the bunch. Each of them are good in their own way. It’s the overall collection that matters. The books build on one another, and taken together, they can help you become a better (if not the best) version of you.

I’ve enjoyed the readings this year, and I have another list that I’m putting together for the upcoming year. At some point, I’ll need to start adding my own thoughts and insights to Stoic philosophies and wisdom. As Seneca stated in his Moral Letters, 33.7, “Take charge and stake your own claim – something posterity will carry in its notebook.” I’m certainly glad that Holiday has decided to stake his own claim, and I’d like to, or should I say plan to stake my own at some point in the future as well.