Review of Ryan Holidays ‘valuable book for those in positions of authority’.

I bought this book together with Amy Branns Make Your Brain Work in late July. While I was purely curious about the other, I’ve heard about Ryan Holiday before, and read reviews about this book. Noticing that I am facing something of an ego myself, I wanted to up my inner fighting strength.


Ego is everything that is:

  • an unhealthy belief in own importance
  • arrogance
  • self-centered ambition
  • a need to be better than, more than, recognized for, past reasonable utility
  • a sense of superiority and certainty exceeding bounds of confidence and talent

Part I: Aspire

Success will only last if it is based on humility and confidence instead of ego. Talking about what we’re going to do will diminish our interest in actually doing so. Appearances are deceiving, true success usually comes from parts that are invisible to most. Don’t compromise yourself, and do instead of attempt to be.

It’s about doing something, not about the recognition. Being a student places ego and ambition in someone else’s hand. You need someone better to learn from, someone lesser to teach, and someone equal to compete with and challenge against. Being, and staying a student is the only sustainable way of continuous self-improvement.

Passion is form over function, while purpose is purely function. Be intimidated by what lies ahead. Humbled by its magnitude and determined to see it through regardless.

Starting out, you can be sure about multiple things:

  • that you’re not as good as you think you are
  • that you have an attitude that needs to be readjusted
  • that most of what you think you know or learned in books and schools is out of date or wrong

Be someone to create paths for others, this will reduce your ego at a critical point in your career, allowing you to absorb and learn. Help yourself by helping others, forget about the credit.

Those who have accomplished the most are always calm, self-possessed, patient and polite. Take whatever life throws at you, because you can’t change it anyways. But make the best out of it.

For leading, it is required to have confidence. But ego will deprive us of the ability to lead, to act when it is necessary. Be part of what is going on around you. There is work to be done and lessons to be learned.

Don’t boast. There is nothing in it for you. And put in the actual work. No one, when looking back, was glad about their monstrous ego.

Part II: Success

Success is possibly the worst thing that can happen to you, and it ruined many a great people. Someone is only truly humble if they consistently observe, listen and improve. Deliberately put yourself in situations where you are forced to learn, where you are the least knowledgeable person.

Stop with stories and focus on the task at hand. Don’t start to believe you are special. Refrain from using labels, as they put you at odds with reality, with what made you successful in the first place.

Do not attempt things that are not cut out for you, or you will fail miserably. Know what you want.

An inability to manage and prioritize might not just ruin yourself, but also others in the same team, company, country, or world. Doing things differently is sometimes a good idea, but it is important to know when.

Managing your image might be important early on, but focus on it will only increase your ego. Being human - having ego, ambition, self-interest, pride, dignity - is normal, but you need ways to keep them in check. Find a balance, or they will get the better of you. Have something more important to you.

Seeing that you are only a small part of something gigantic, and that there is some deeper meaning behind it will give you a better sense of yourself and your purpose.

You don’t know about most successful people. You want it that way. Prosperity holds no guarantees.

Part III: Failure

Sometimes, the only way out of a situation is through failure. According to Robert Greene there is dead time and alive time. We are passive about everything during dead time, and actively in control and learning during alive time.

Our choices (and their results) are a reflection of our character. Make use of your surroundings, and don’t let stubbornness make a bad situation worse. Even in failure, ego accepts nothing less than full appreciation.

Fulfilling our own standards fills us with pride and self-respect. With ego, effort is not enough - it needs recognition and compensation for effort. But you will be unappreciated, sabotaged, and experience failures. We can’t let externals determine the worth of something - it is on us. Doing the work is enough - has to be enough.

Every truly successful person has hit rock bottom at some point prior to success. Reality clashed with their unsuspecting grand expectations. Often, ego causes the crash, and then blocks us from improving. These crashes seem to be defined by almost always coming through the hands of some outside force or person and often involve things we already knew about ourselves, but were too scared to admit. But from ruin came the opportunity for great progress and improvement.

Threatened egotism is possibly one of the most dangerous forces on earth. For them, it is the same as being driven in a corner.

Regularly ask yourself if this is who you want to be. No scoreboard can be the judge of success. Ego can only see the validation, it can’t get better. Winning is not enough - Your potential, your absolute best is the metric to measure yourself against. While it is more difficult, it is ultimately a formula for resilience.

It is easy to hate and natural to lash out. But hate and bitterness tend to accomplish the opposite of what we want them to.

Ego makes all the steps hard, but failure will make them permanent.


I’m really glad I read it. I notice my own and other people’s ego much more often now, preventing my ego to control me.

Main Takeaways

The biggest takeaway is probably that I’m noticing my own ego much more often. Or, maybe more specifically, my habits regarding ego. Noticing them helped me to not react, based on my ego, but to actually consider the situation and make better decisions.

I thought I didn’t have much of an ego, but boy was I wrong. I literally noticed it everywhere. And it sure explains some of my past failures. I considered myself being humble, and to a degree I was. But certainly not as much as I’d wished to be.

I have made significant progress to lessen the influence my ego has on me, but it will be an ongoing fight. It will only get harder, as more success follows.

While it doesn’t seem like much, it is worth more than the takeaways of some other books.


While the book is well-structured, I’m not sure if these short chapters were the best way structure the content. While they got their point across, it seemed like there was more to the facets than was being mentioned. On the other hand, the book was intense already, so maybe the shorter chapters are better for the amount of content.

There was only one thing that was really weird: Chapter three is all about doing rather than being something, and yet there are multiple more chapters that you should be something: a student, an anteambulo, and certainly not passionate. While I do understand where this comes from - don’t do things to be something, but be a humble student to do the open-minded learning.

The examples given were good as well. It was easy to follow the stories and explanations, and easy to understand what they were trying to convey. And yet, I wished for more details, more depth.

It was by no ways an easy read, even though everything was easy to understand. That’s because it regularly confronted me with ugly parts of my inner self, and facing them was not exactly easy all the time.

I would absolutely recommend this book to every human. It certainly gave me a better understanding of myself.

Favorite Quotes

[But] for people with ambitions, talents, drives, and potential to fulfill, ego comes with the territory. Precisely […] what drives us to the top of these fields, makes us vulnerable to this darker side of the psyche.

ego is there at the root of almost any conceivable problem and obstacle

Having authority is not the same as being an authority. Having the right, and being right are not the same either.

If your purpose is something larger than you - to accomplish something, to prove something to yourself - then suddenly everything becomes both easier and more difficult.

False ideas about yourself destroy - Frank Shamrock

Because we only seem to hear about the passion of successful people, we forget that failures shared the same trait.

It doesn’t matter how talented you are, how great your connections are, how much money you have. When you want to do something […], you will be subjected to treatment ranging from indifference to outright sabotage. Count on it.

the tightrope he walked would tolerate only restraint and had no forgiveness for ego. Honestly, not many paths do.

You need only care about your career to understand that pride - even in real accomplishments - is a distraction and a deluder.

We must prepare for pride and kill it early - or it will kill what we aspire to.

You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do. - Henry Ford

We want so desperately to believe that those who have great empires set out to build one. Why? So we can indulge in the pleasurable planning of ours.

We must shun the false crown and continue working on what got us here. Because that’s the only thing that will keep us here.

He who indulges in empty fears earns himself real fears - Seneca

Sobriety is the counterweight that must balance out success. Especially if things keep getting better and better.

Men of great ambition have sought happiness … and found fame. - Napoleon

failure always arrives uninvited, but through our ego, far too many of us allow it to stick around.

Lacking the ability to examine ourselves, we reinvest our energy into exactly the patterns of behavior that caused our problems to begin with.

It is far better when doing good work is sufficient. In other words, the less attached we are to outcomes, the better.

When success begins to slip from your fingers - for whatever reason - the response isn’t to grip and claw so hard that you shatter it to pieces.

If your reputation can’t absorb a few blows, it wasn’t worth anything in the first place.

Are we going to be miserable just because other people are?

People learn from their failures. Seldom do they learn anything from success. - Harold Geneen

any fool can learn from experience. The trick is to learn from other people’s experience. - Bismarck