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Be lesser, do more

How many times this week have you viewed things through a personal lens? Experiences, opportunities, accomplishments, failures…


Our ego has an incredible ability to make it all about us. For self-made leaders especially, it’s easy to get into the habit of putting yourself at the heart of everything and to listen to the voice that tells us that we are special and should be loved and recognised for that.

It’s a single-mindedness that can result in a degree of success, at least for a while. But could a laser focus on self actually be slowing you down and making you less content?

Is ego your biggest nemesis?

It’s a subject that Ryan Holiday looks at in ‘Ego is the enemy’. It’s a great book that explores how and why ego is a tough internal opponent that has brought down even the brightest of minds.


As Holiday puts it:

“Ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Of repeating and retaining your success. It repulses advantages and opportunities. It’s a magnet for enemies and errors. It is Scylla and Charybdis.”

Loosely inspired by Holiday’s Stoic belief that ‘you don’t control the world around you, you control how you respond’ Ego is the Enemy has some interesting lessons on taming the ego within.

Always look to learn

Holiday talks about adopting a student mindset and how to be an eternal student is key to staying humble. As Epictetus put it: “It is impossible for a man to learn that, which he thinks he already knows.” 

When we achieve success it’s easy to believe we’ve learned all we need to know, but “A student is self-critical and self-motivated, always trying to improve his understanding so that he can move onto the next topic, the next challenge”. Holiday points out that while students are open to feedback and advice on how to improve, the ego avoids feedback at all costs. The message is clear: stay open to learning and growth to keep the ego at bay.

Put purpose before passion

Are you driven by purpose or driven by a passion for gratification – the next payout, promotion, new car or house? If it’s the latter there’s a good chance you’ve asked yourself why you’re never happy. Those who are ‘passionate’ about something usually spend a lot of time talking about the things they are going to do but don’t actually achieve much progress. If you’re not sure why you do what you do, now is the time to figure it out. Because while ego loves a secure job and the trappings that brings, purpose will bring you real joy.

Keep on track

When you’ve found your purpose, keep on track. As Holiday puts it, “It’s about being what you are, and being as good as possible at it, without succumbing to all the things that draw you away from it”. Think you can have it all? That’s your ego talking. Try to stay focused on what’s important to you and don’t get your head turned by newer, louder, shinier distractions. When you know what matters most it’s easier to stay on course.

Don’t be afraid to delegate

Getting involved with the groundwork, asking for regular updates, showing up when there’s a crisis… great ways to support your team, right? Not necessarily. There will be times when your help and support is needed on the ground but getting involved in the minutiae and being on hand to ‘save the day’ is often another ego trip. You have been and will continue to be integral to the success of your business but empowering your team will help them be their best – and let you concentrate on the bigger picture.

Your efforts are enough

The ego is motivated by external validation. By the outcome, not the effort we put in. All aspects of our lives will have ups and downs but by focusing on the efforts not the outcomes adversity can be endured, and the rewards are a bonus. As Holiday says: “We have only minimal control over the rewards for our work and effort–other people’s validation, recognition, rewards. So what are we going to do? Not be kind, not work hard, not produce, because there is a chance it wouldn’t be reciprocated? C’mon.”


Focus on humility and confidence

“Suppressing ego will make us humble in our aspirations, gracious in our success and resilient in our failures.”

Living without ego is a challenge. But let it run riot and accomplishment becomes about status, rather than impact. Paychecks become a point of comparison rather than compensation. Credit becomes more important than contribution.

When we have our ego in check we can live with humility and authentic confidence. Give Holiday’s pointers a try and see if it brings more contentment to you and those around you.