Book Reviews

Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday -Book Notes, Summary, and Review

6. Ego Is The Enemy - Ryan Holiday

Get it on Amazon

Rating: 9/10

Date of reading: 25th – 29th of January, 2017

Description: How can the Ego destroy us in three phases of our lives. The first one is when we are climbing toward success. The second one is when we are already successful. And the third one is when we are going downhill from it. The three-part book structure is something you can find in every single Ryan Holiday’s books.  

My notes:

 

THE PAINFUL PROLOGUE

 

“With success comes the temptation to tell oneself a story, to round off the edges, to cut out your lucky breaks and add a certain mythology to it all. You know, that arcing narrative of Herculean struggle for greatness against all odds: sleeping on the floor, being disowned by my parents, suffering for my ambition. It’s a type of storytelling in which eventually your talent becomes your identity and your accomplishments become your worth.” ( :10)

“The wheels were coming off, or so it felt. To go from wanting to be like someone your whole life to realizing you never want to be like him is a kind of whiplash that you can’t prepare for.” ( :11)

“seen over a long enough timeline universal issues begin to emerge. These are the topics I had long been fascinated with. Foremost among them was ego.” ( :11)

“When I, like everyone else, was called to answer the most critical questions a person can ask themselves in life: Who do I want to be? And: What path will I take? (Quod vitae sectabor iter.)” ( :12)

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. —RICHARD FEYNMAN” ( :13)

“In this way, 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.” ( :13)

“The performance artist Marina Abramović puts it directly: “If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity.”” ( :14)

“Ego is the enemy every step along this way. In a sense, ego is the enemy of building, of maintaining, and of recovering. When things come fast and easy, this might be fine. But in times of change, of difficulty . . .” ( :15)

“Humble in our aspirations Gracious in our success Resilient in our failures” ( :15)

“As the Quaker William Penn observed, “Buildings that lie so exposed to the weather need a good foundation.”” ( :15)

“Some learn humility. Some choose ego. Some are prepared for the vicissitudes of fate, both positive and negative. Others are not. Which will you choose? Who will you be? You’ve picked up this book because you sense that you’ll need to answer this question eventually, consciously or not.” ( :16)

“Well, here we are. Let’s get to it.” ( :17)

 

PART ONE: ASPIRE

 

“Constantly train your intellect, he told him, “for the greatest thing in the smallest compass is a sound mind in a human body.”” ( :21)

“What’s interesting about Sherman is that despite his connected father, almost no one would have predicted much more than regional accomplishments—least of all that he would one day need to take the unprecedented step of refusing the presidency of the United States. Unlike a Napoleon, who bursts upon the scene from nowhere and disappears in failure just as quickly, Sherman’s ascent was a slow and gradual one.” ( :22)

“At this point in time, Sherman felt more comfortable as a number two. He felt he had an honest appreciation for his own abilities and that this role best suited him. Imagine that—an ambitious person turning down a chance to advance in responsibilities because he actually wanted to be ready for them. Is that really so crazy?” ( :22)

“during the siege at Fort Donelson, Sherman technically held a senior rank to General Ulysses S. Grant. While the rest of Lincoln’s generals fought amongst themselves for personal power and recognition, Sherman waived his rank, choosing to cheerfully support and reinforce Grant instead of issuing orders. This is your show, Sherman told him in a note accompanying a shipment of supplies; call upon me for any assistance I can provide. Together, they won one of the Union’s first victories in the war.” ( :22)

“Grant, “Be natural and yourself and this glittering flattery will be as the passing breeze of the sea on a warm summer day.”” ( :23)

“Among men who rise to fame and leadership two types are recognizable—those who are born with a belief in themselves and those in whom it is a slow growth dependent on actual achievement. To the men of the last type their own success is a constant surprise, and its fruits the more delicious, yet to be tested cautiously with a haunting sense of doubt whether it is not all a dream. In that doubt lies true modesty, not the sham of insincere self-depreciation but the modesty of “moderation,” in the Greek sense. It is poise, not pose.” ( :23)

“As Irving Berlin put it, “Talent is only the starting point.” The question is: Will you be able to make the most of it? Or will you be your own worst enemy? Will you snuff out the flame that is just getting going?” ( :23)

“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.” ( :24)

“It was an untraditional move from an untraditional campaign, intended to leverage Sinclair’s best asset—as an author, he knew he could communicate with the public in a way that others couldn’t. Now, Sinclair’s campaign was always a long shot and hardly in good shape when they published the book. But observers at the time noticed immediately the effect it had—not on the voters, but on Sinclair himself. As Carey McWilliams later wrote about his friend’s gubernatorial bid as it went south, “Upton not only realized that he would be defeated but seemed somehow to have lost interest in the campaign. In that vivid imagination of his, he had already acted out the part of ‘I, Governor of California,’ . . . so why bother to enact it in real life?”” ( :25)

“Kierkegaard warned, “Mere gossip anticipates real talk, and to express what is still in thought weakens action by forestalling it.”” ( :26)

“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” ( :26)

“problems has been shown to significantly decrease insight and breakthroughs.” ( :27)

“It’s a song, it’s a speech, it’s a book—the volume of work may be light, but what’s inside it is concentrated and impactful.” ( :27)

“They work quietly in the corner. They turn their inner turmoil into product—and eventually to stillness. They ignore the impulse to seek recognition before they act. They don’t talk much. Or mind the feeling that others, out there in public and enjoying the limelight, are somehow getting the better end of the deal. (They are not.) They’re too busy working to do anything else. When they do talk—it’s earned.” ( :27)

“On the other hand, his theories transformed maneuver warfare in almost every branch of the armed forces, not just in his own lifetime but even more so after. The F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, which reinvented modern military aircraft, were his pet projects.” ( :28)

“”Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road,” Boyd said to him. “And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.” Using his hands to illustrate, Boyd marked off these two directions. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd paused, to make the alternative clear. “Or,” he said, “you can go that way and you can do something—something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision.”” ( :29)

“”To be or to do? Which way will you go?”” ( :29)

“Appearances are deceiving. Having authority is not the same as being an authority. Having the right and being right are not the same either. Being promoted doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing good work and it doesn’t mean you are worthy of promotion (they call it failing upward in such bureaucracies). Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.” ( :29)

“here’s a quip from the historian Will Durant, that a nation is born stoic and dies epicurean. That’s the sad truth Boyd was illustrating, how positive virtues turn sour.” ( :29)

“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.” ( :30)

“yourself—then suddenly everything becomes both easier and more difficult. Easier in the sense that you know now what it is you need to do and what is important to you. The other “choices” wash away, as they aren’t really choices at all. They’re distractions. It’s about the doing, not the recognition. Easier in the sense that you don’t need to compromise. Harder because each opportunity —no matter how gratifying or rewarding—must be evaluated along strict guidelines: Does this help me do what I have set out to do? Does this allow me to do what I need to do? Am I being selfish or selfless?” ( :30)

“Joe Satriani, the man Hammett chose as his instructor, would himself go on to become known as one of the best guitar players of all time and sell more than 10 million records of his unique, virtuosic music. Teaching out of a small music shop in Berkeley, Satriani’s playing style made him an unusual choice for Hammett. That was the point—Kirk wanted to learn what he didn’t know, to firm up his understanding of the fundamentals so that he might continue exploring this new genre of music he now had a chance to pursue.” ( :31)

“multi-title champion Frank Shamrock has a system he trains fighters in that he calls plus, minus, and equal. Each fighter, to become great, he said, needs to have someone better that they can learn from, someone lesser who they can teach, and someone equal that they can challenge themselves against.” ( :32)

“”It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows,” Epictetus says. You can’t learn if you think you already know. You will not find the answers if you’re too conceited and selfassured to ask the questions. You cannot get better if you’re convinced you are the best.” ( :33)

“Today, books are cheaper than ever. Courses are free. Access to teachers is no longer a barrier— technology has done away with that. There is no excuse for not getting your education, and because the information we have before us is so vast, there is no excuse for ever ending that process either.” ( :34)

“”When student is ready, the teacher appears.”” ( :34)

“Roosevelt was above passion. She had purpose. She had direction. She wasn’t driven by passion, but by reason.” ( :35)

“A young basketball player named Lewis Alcindor Jr., who won three national championships with John Wooden at UCLA, used one word to describe the style of his famous coach: “dispassionate.” As in not passionate. Wooden wasn’t about rah-rah speeches or inspiration. He saw those extra emotions as a burden. Instead, his philosophy was about being in control and doing your job and never being “passion’s slave.” The player who learned that lesson from Wooden would later change his name to one you remember better: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.” ( :36)

“Passion typically masks a weakness. Its breathlessness and impetuousness and franticness are poor substitutes for discipline, for mastery, for strength and purpose and perseverance. You need to be able to spot this in others and in yourself, because while the origins of passion may be earnest and good, its effects are comical and then monstrous.” ( :37)

“Passion is seen in those who can tell you in great detail who they intend to become and what their success will be like—they might even be able to tell you specifically when they intend to achieve it or describe to you legitimate and sincere worries they have about the burdens of such accomplishments. They can tell you all the things they’re going to do, or have even begun, but they cannot show you their progress. Because there rarely is any.” ( :37)

“Passion is about. (I am so passionate about ______.) Purpose is to and for. (I must do ______. I was put here to accomplish ______. I am willing to endure ______ for the sake of this.)” ( :37)

“Passion is about. (I am so passionate about ______.) Purpose is to and for. (I must do ______. I was put here to accomplish ______. I am willing to endure ______ for the sake of this.) Actually, purpose deemphasizes the I. Purpose is about pursuing something outside yourself as opposed to pleasuring yourself.” ( :37)

“More than purpose, we also need realism. Where do we start? What do we do first? What do we do right now? How are we sure that what we’re doing is moving us forward? What are we benchmarking ourselves against?” ( :37)

“Passion is form over function. Purpose is function, function, function.” ( :38)

“It’d be far better if you were intimidated by what lies ahead—humbled by its magnitude and determined to see it through regardless. Leave passion for the amateurs. Make it about what you feel you must do and say, not what you care about and wish to be. Remember Talleyrand’s epigram for diplomats, “Surtout, pas trop de zèle” (“Above all, not too much zeal”). Then you will do great things. Then you will stop being your old, good-intentioned, but ineffective self.” ( :38)

“We see kids more willing to live at home with their parents than to submit to something they’re “overqualified” to work for.” ( :39)

“It’s not what a Harvard grad expects—after all, they got that degree precisely to avoid this supposed indignity.” ( :40)

“Most of what you think you know or most of what you learned in books or in school is out of date or wrong.” ( :40)

“Bill Belichick, the four-time Super Bowl-winning head coach of the New England Patriots, made his way up the ranks of the NFL by loving and mastering the one part of the job that coaches disliked at the time: analyzing film.” ( :41)

“Greatness comes from humble beginnings; it comes from grunt work. It means you’re the least important person in the room—until you change that with results.” ( :41)

“There is an old saying, “Say little, do much.” What we really ought to do is update and apply a version of that to our early approach. Be lesser, do more. Imagine if for every person you met, you thought of some way to help them, something you could do for them? And you looked at it in a way that entirely benefited them and not you. The cumulative effect this would have over time would be profound: You’d learn a great deal by solving diverse problems. You’d develop a reputation for being indispensable. You’d have countless new relationships. You’d have an enormous bank of favors to call upon down the road.” ( :41)

“Maybe it’s coming up with ideas to hand over to your boss. Find people, thinkers, up-and-comers to introduce them to each other. Cross wires to create new sparks. Find what nobody else wants to do and do it. Find inefficiencies and waste and redundancies. Identify leaks and patches to free up resources for new areas. Produce more than everyone else and give your ideas away” ( :42)

“Except sometimes they do. Are there not goals so important that we’d put up with anything to achieve them?” ( :43)

“Do you have the guts? “I’m looking,” Rickey told him, “for a ball player with the guts not to fight back.”” ( :43)

“player with the guts not to fight back.” In fact, in their famous meeting, Rickey playacted the abuse that Robinson was likely to experience if he accepted Rickey’s challenge: a hotel clerk refusing him a room, a rude waiter in a restaurant, an opponent shouting slurs. This, Robinson assured him, he was ready to handle.” ( :43)

“In his career, he was hit by more than seventy-two pitches, nearly had his Achilles tendon taken out by players who aimed their spikes at him, and that says nothing of the calls he was cheated out of and the breaks of the game that didn’t go his way. Yet Jackie Robinson held to his unwritten pact with Rickey, never giving into explosive anger—however deserved. In fact, in nine years in the league, he never hit another player with his fist.” ( :44)

“It doesn’t matter how talented you are, how great your connections are, how much money you have. When you want to do something—something big and important and meaningful—you will be subjected to treatment ranging from indifference to outright sabotage. Count on it.” ( :44)

“It is a timeless fact of life that the up-and-coming must endure the abuses of the entrenched. Robinson was twenty-eight when he started with the Dodgers, and he’d already paid plenty of dues in life as both a black man and a soldier. Still, he was forced to do it again. It’s a sad fact of life that new talents are regularly missed, and even when recognized, often unappreciated. The reasons always vary, but it’s a part of the journey.” ( :45)

“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.” ( :46)

“The Civil War general George McClellan is the perfect example of this archetype. He was chosen to command the Union forces because he checked all the boxes of what a great general should be: West Point grad, proven in battle, a student of history, of regal bearing, loved by his men. Why did he turn out to be quite possibly the worst Union general, even in a crowded field of incompetent and self-absorbed leaders? Because he could never get out of his own head. He was in love with his vision of himself as the head of a grand army. He could prepare an army for battle like a professional, but when it came to lead one into battle, when the rubber needed to meet the road, troubles arose.” ( :47)

“Consider a thirteen-year-old so embarrassed that he misses a week of class, positive that the entire school is thinking and murmuring about some tiny incident that in truth hardly anyone noticed. Or a teenage girl who spends three hours in front of the mirror each morning, as if she’s about to go on stage. They do this because they’re convinced that their every move is being watched with rapt attention by the rest of the world.” ( :48)

“A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. —C. S. LEWIS” ( :50)

“As the famous conqueror and warrior Genghis Khan groomed his sons and generals to succeed him later in life, he repeatedly warned them, “If you can’t swallow your pride, you can’t lead.” He told them that pride would be harder to subdue than a wild lion. He liked the analogy of a mountain. He would say, “Even the tallest mountains have animals that, when they stand on it, are higher than the mountain.”” ( :52)

“The question to ask, when you feel pride, then, is this: What am I missing right now that a more humble person might see? What am I avoiding, or running from, with my bluster, franticness, and embellishments? It is far better to ask and answer these questions now, with the stakes still low, than it will be later.” ( :52)

“The best plan is only good intentions unless it degenerates into work. —PETER DRUCKER” ( :53)

“The investor and serial entrepreneur Ben Horowitz put it more bluntly: “The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. . . . The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard” ( :53)

“big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.”” ( :53)

“That’s the reality. Where we decide to put our energy decides what we’ll ultimately accomplish.” ( :54)

“As a young basketball player, Bill Bradley would remind himself, “When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win.” The Bible says something similar in its own way: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” You can lie to yourself, saying that you put in the time, or pretend that you’re working, but eventually someone will show up. You’ll be tested. And quite possibly, found out.” ( :54)

“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 in 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.” ( :55)

“Work is finding yourself alone at the track when the weather kept everyone else indoors. Work is pushing through the pain and crappy first drafts and prototypes. It is ignoring whatever plaudits others are getting, and more importantly, ignoring whatever plaudits you may be getting. Because there is work to be done. Work doesn’t want to be good. It is made so, despite the headwind. There is another old expression: You know a workman by the chips they leave. It’s true. To judge your progress properly, just take a look at the floor.” ( :55)

“The internal debate about confidence calls to mind a well-known concept from the radio pioneer Ira Glass, which could be called the Taste/Talent Gap.” ( :56)

“All of us who do creative work . . . we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good . . . It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste—the thing that got you into the game—your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you.” ( :56)

 

PART TWO: SUCCESS

 

“It was a bold move for a young man with essentially zero experience in business. And it was with similar boldness that over his career he would create one of the most embarrassing, wasteful, and dishonest business track records in history. In retrospect, his years at the helm of the Hughes empire resemble a deranged crime spree more than a capitalistic enterprise.” ( :62)

“”Man is pushed by drives,” Viktor Frankl observed. “But he is pulled by values.” Ruled by or ruling? Which are you?” ( :64)

“we have to build an organization and a system around what we do—one that is about the work and not about us.” ( :65)

“”a persistent cycle of pragmatic learning, experimental adaptation, and constant revision driven by his uniquely disciplined and focused will.”” ( :66)

“powerful victories came from the reorganization of his military units, splitting his soldiers into groups of ten. This he stole from neighboring Turkic tribes, and unknowingly converted the Mongols to the decimal system. Soon enough, their expanding empire brought them into contact with another “technology” they’d never experienced before: walled cities. In the Tangut raids, Khan first learned the ins and outs of war against fortified cities and the strategies critical to laying siege, and quickly became an expert. Later, with help from Chinese engineers, he taught his soldiers how to build siege machines that could knock down city walls. In his campaigns against the Jurched, Khan learned the importance of winning hearts and minds. By working with the scholars and royal family of the lands he conquered, Khan was able to hold on to and manage these territories in ways that most empires could not.” ( :66)

“The Mongol Empire was remarkable for its religious freedoms, and most of all, for its love of ideas and convergence of cultures. It brought lemons to China for the first time, and Chinese noodles to the West. It spread Persian carpets, German mining technology, French metalworking, and Islam. The cannon, which revolutionized warfare, was said to be the resulting fusion of Chinese gunpowder, Muslim flamethrowers, and European metalwork. It was Mongol openness to learning and new ideas that brought them together.” ( :67)

“”as our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.”” ( :67)

“advancement that made Khan smarter also bumped him against new situations he’d never encountered before. It takes a special kind of humility to grasp that you know less, even as you know and grasp more and more. It’s remembering Socrates’ wisdom lay in the fact that he knew that he knew next to nothing.” ( :67)

“The solution is as straightforward as it is initially uncomfortable: Pick up a book on a topic you know next to nothing about. Put yourself in rooms where you’re the least knowledgeable person. That uncomfortable feeling, that defensiveness that you feel when your most deeply held assumptions are challenged—what about subjecting yourself to it deliberately? Change your mind. Change your surroundings.” ( :68)

“When people asked Walsh whether he had a timetable for winning the Super Bowl, do you know what his answer was? The answer was always no. Because when you take over a team that bad, such ambitions would have been utterly delusional.” ( :69)

“”Standard of Performance.” That is: What should be done. When. How. At the most basic level and throughout the organization, Walsh had only one timetable, and it was all about instilling these standards. He focused on seemingly trivial details: Players could not sit down on the practice field. Coaches had to wear a tie and tuck their shirts in. Everyone had to give maximum effort and commitment. Sportsmanship was essential. The locker room must be neat and clean. There would be no smoking, no fighting, no profanity. Quarterbacks were told where and how to hold the ball. Linemen were drilled on thirty separate critical drills. Passing routes were monitored and graded down to the inch. Practices were scheduled to the minute.” ( :69)

“Walsh was too caught up in minutiae and had no goals to win. Walsh fired that coach for tattling.” ( :70)

“Narrative is when you look back at an improbable or unlikely path to your success and say: I knew it all along. Instead of: I hoped. I worked. I got some good breaks. Or even: I thought this could happen. Of course you didn’t really know all along—or if you did, it was more faith than knowledge. But who wants to remember all the times you doubted yourself?” ( :70)

“Only when the team returned wholeheartedly to the Standard of Performance did they win again (three more Super Bowls and nine conference or division championships in a decade). Only when they stopped with the stories and focused on the task at hand did they begin to win like they had before.” ( :70)

“”The way to do really big things seems to be to start with deceptively small things.” He’s saying you don’t make a frontal attack out of ego; instead, you start with a small bet and iteratively scale your ambitions as you go. His other famous piece of advice, “Keep your identity small,” fits well here. Make it about the work and the principles behind it—not about a glorious vision that makes a good headline.” ( :71)

“These labels put you at odds not just with reality, but with the real strategy that made you successful in the first place. From that place, we might think that success in the future is just the natural next part of the story—when really it’s rooted in work, creativity, persistence, and luck.” ( :71)

“only way you have value is if you’re better than, have more than, everyone everywhere.” ( :74)

“All of these are perfectly fine motivations. But you do need to know. You need to know what you don’t want and what your choices preclude. Because strategies are often mutually exclusive. One cannot be an opera singer and a teen pop idol at the same time. Life requires those trade-offs, but ego can’t allow it.” ( :75)

“The more you have and do, the harder maintaining fidelity to your purpose will be, but the more critically you will need to. Everyone buys into the myth that if only they had that—usually what someone else has—they would be happy. It may take getting burned a few times to realize the emptiness of this illusion. We all occasionally find ourselves in the middle of some project or obligation and can’t understand why we’re there. It will take courage and faith to stop yourself. Find out why you’re after what you’re after. Ignore those who mess with your pace. Let them covet what you have, not the other way around. Because that’s independence.” ( :75)

“One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. —BERTRAND RUSSELL” ( :76)

“Right before he destroyed his own billion-dollar company, Ty Warner, creator of Beanie Babies, overrode the cautious objections of one of his employees and bragged, “I could put the Ty heart on manure and they’d buy it!” He was wrong. And the company not only catastrophically failed, he later narrowly missed going to jail. It doesn’t matter if you’re a billionaire, a millionaire, or just a kid who snagged a good job early.” ( :77)

“It is not enough to have great qualities; we should also have the management of them. —LA ROCHEFOUCAULD” ( :79)

“His job was to set the priorities, to think big picture, and then trust the people beneath him to do the jobs they were hired for.” ( :79)

“Though probably not on purpose, DeLorean created a culture in which ego ran free. Convinced that continued success was simply his by right, he seemed to bristle at concepts like discipline, organization, or strategic planning. Employees were not given enough direction, and then at other times, overwhelmed with trivial instructions. DeLorean couldn’t delegate—except to lackeys whose blind loyalty was prized over competence or skill. On top of all this, he was often late or preoccupied.” ( :80)

“It turns out that becoming a great leader is difficult. Who knew?!” ( :80)

“What matters is that you learn how to manage yourself and others, before your industry eats you alive. Micromanagers are egotists who can’t manage others and they quickly get overloaded. So do the charismatic visionaries who lose interest when it’s time to execute. Worse yet are those who surround themselves with yes-men or sycophants who clean up their messes and create a bubble in which they can’t even see how disconnected from reality they are. Responsibility requires a readjustment and then increased clarity and purpose. First, setting the top-level goals and priorities of the organization and your life. Then enforcing and observing them. To produce results and only results. A fish stinks from the head, is the saying. Well, you’re the head now.” ( :81)

“When they start—before they have won—a team is innocent. If the conditions are right, they come together, they watch out for each other and work together toward their collective goal. This stage, he calls the “Innocent Climb.”” ( :82)

“It’s Shaq and Kobe, unable to play together. It’s Jordan punching Steve Kerr, Horace Grant, and Will Perdue—his own team members. He punched people on his own team! It’s Enron employees plunging California into darkness for personal profit. It’s leaks to the media from a disgruntled executive hoping to scuttle a project he dislikes. It’s negging and every other intimidation tactic.” ( :82)

“Ego needs honors in order to be validated. Confidence, on the other hand, is able to wait and focus on the task at hand regardless of external recognition.” ( :83)

“There was a general who treated Marshall poorly—essentially banishing him to some obscure postings in the middle of his career. Later, Marshall surpassed him and had his chance for revenge.” ( :83)

“Except—he didn’t take it. Because whatever the man’s flaws, Marshall saw that he was still of use and that the country would be worse off without him. What were the thanks for this quiet suppression of ego? Just another job well done—and not much more.” ( :84)

“There is a balance. Soccer coach Tony Adams expresses it well. Play for the name on the front of the jersey, he says, and they’ll remember the name on the back. When it comes to Marshall, the old idea that selflessness and” ( :84)

“In this moment, he was experiencing what the Stoics would call sympatheia—a connectedness with the cosmos.The French philosopher Pierre Hadot has referred to it as the “oceanic feeling.” A sense of belonging to something larger, of realizing that “human things are an infinitesimal point in the immensity.” It is in these moments that we’re not only free but drawn toward important questions: Who am I? What am I doing? What is my role in this world?” ( :85)

“The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has described this duality well—it’s possible to bask in both your relevance and irrelevance to the cosmos. As he says, “When I look up in the universe, I know I’m small, but I’m also big. I’m big because I’m connected to the universe and the universe is connected to me.” We just can’t forget which is bigger and which has been here longer. Why do you think that great leaders and thinkers throughout history have “gone out into the wilderness” and come back with inspiration, with a plan, with an experience that puts them on a course that changes the world? It’s because in doing so they found perspective, they understood the larger picture in a way that wasn’t possible in the bustle of everyday life. Silencing the noise around them, they could finally hear the quiet voice they needed to listen to.” ( :86)

“Merkel is the embodiment of Aesop’s fable about the tortoise. She is slow and steady. The historic night the Berlin Wall fell, she was thirty-five. She had one beer, went to bed, and showed up early for work the next day.” ( :88)

“But as Merkel supposedly said, “You can’t solve . . . tasks with charisma.” She is rational. She analyzes. She makes it about the situation, not about herself, as people in power often do.” ( :89)

“We must avoid what the business strategist Jim Collins terms the “undisciplined pursuit of more,”” ( :91)

“The crowd roots for the underdog, and roots against the winners.” ( :92)

 

PART THREE: FAILURE

 

 

“Though tragic, these events were not exactly a cataclysmic failure. Graham was still rich, still white, still privileged. Still, it was not what she thought life had planned for her. That’s the point. Failure and adversity are relative and unique to each of us.” ( :97)

“Gilgamesh: He will face a battle he knows not, he will ride a road he knows not.” ( :98)

“”natural firmness in some minds which cannot be unlocked by trifles, but which, when unlocked, discovers a cabinet of fortitude.” Graham seems to have possessed a similar cabinet.” ( :98)

“The leaked documents Katharine Graham published became known as the Pentagon Papers and were one of the most important stories in the history of journalism. The paper’s Watergate reporting, which so incensed the Nixon White House, changed American history and took down an entire administration. It also won the paper a Pulitzer Prize. The investor others had feared turned out to be a young Warren Buffett, who became her business mentor and an enormous advocate and steward of the company. (His small investments in her family’s company would one day be worth hundreds of millions.)” ( :99)

“Bill Walsh says, “Almost always, your road to victory goes through a place called ‘failure.'” In order to taste success again, we’ve got to understand what led to this moment (or these years) of difficulty, what went wrong and why.” ( :99)

“The year before Walsh took over the 49ers, they went 2 and 14. His first year as head coach and general manager, they went . . . 2 and 14. Can you imagine the disappointment? All the changes, all the work that went into that first year, and to end up in the exact same spot as the incompetent coach who preceded you? That’s how most of us would think. And then we’d probably start blaming other people. Walsh realized he “had to look for evidence elsewhere” that it was turning around.” ( :100)

“”to see yourself as more than you are and to value yourself at less than your true worth.”” ( :100)

“What both Graham and Walsh were doing was adhering to a set of internal metrics that allowed them to evaluate and gauge their progress while everyone on the outside was too distracted by supposed signs of failure or weakness. This is what guides us through difficulty.” ( :101)

“He faced what Robert Greene—a man who sixty years later would find his wildly popular books banned in many federal prisons—calls an “Alive Time or Dead Time” scenario. How would the seven years ultimately play out? What would Malcolm do with this time?” ( :102)

“As he said later, “From then until I left that prison, in every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading in my bunk.” He read history, he read sociology, he read about religion, he read the classics, he read philosophers like Kant and Spinoza. Later, a reporter asked Malcolm, “What’s your alma mater?” His one word answer: “Books.” Prison was his college. He transcended confinement through the pages he absorbed. He reflected that months passed without his even thinking about being detained against his will. He had “never been so truly free in his life.” Most people know what Malcolm X did after he got out of prison, but they don’t realize or understand how prison made that possible. How a mix of acceptance, humility, and strength powered the transformation.” ( :103)

“Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that became the national anthem of the United States while trapped on a ship during a prisoner exchange in the War of 1812. Viktor Frankl refined his psychologies of meaning and suffering during his ordeal in three Nazi concentration camps.” ( :103)

“”Many a serious thinker has been produced in prisons,” as Robert Greene put it, “where we have nothing to do but think.” Yet sadly, prisons—in their literal and figurative forms—have produced far more degenerates, losers, and ne’er-do-wells. Inmates might have had nothing to do but think; it’s just that what they chose to think about made them worse and not better.” ( :103)

“In life, there will be times when we do everything right, perhaps even perfectly. Yet the results will somehow be negative: failure, disrespect, jealousy, or even a resounding yawn from the world. Depending on what motivates us, this response can be crushing. If ego holds sway, we’ll accept nothing less than full appreciation.” ( :106)

“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.” ( :106)

“It’s far better when doing good work is sufficient. In other words, the less attached we are to outcomes the better. When fulfilling our own standards is what fills us with pride and self-respect. When the effort—not the results, good or bad—is enough.” ( :106)

“Well, get ready for it. It will happen. Maybe your parents will never be impressed. Maybe your girlfriend won’t care. Maybe the investor won’t see the numbers. Maybe the audience won’t clap. But we have to be able to push through. We can’t let that be what motivates us. Belisarius had one last run. He was found innocent of the charges and his honors restored—just in time to save the empire as a white-haired old man. Except no, life is not a fairy tale. He was again wrongly suspected of plotting against the emperor. In the famous Longfellow poem about our poor general, at the end of his life he is impoverished and disabled. Yet he concludes with great strength: This, too, can bear;—I still Am Belisarius!” ( :107)

“How do you carry on then? How do you take pride in yourself and your work? John Wooden’s advice to his players says it: Change the definition of success. “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 that you are capable of becoming.” “Ambition,” Marcus Aurelius reminded himself, “means tying your well-being to what other people say or do . . . Sanity means tying it to your own actions.” Do your work. Do it well. Then “let go and let God.” That’s all there needs to be.” ( :107)

“John Kennedy Toole’s great book A Confederacy of Dunces was universally turned down by publishers, news that so broke his heart that he later committed suicide in his car on an empty road in Biloxi, Mississippi. After his death, his mother discovered the book, advocated on its behalf until it was published, and it eventually won the Pulitzer Prize. Think about that for a second. What changed between those submissions? Nothing. The book was the same. It was equally great when Toole had it in manuscript form and had fought with editors about it as it was when the book was published, sold copies, and won awards. If only he could have realized this, it would have saved him so much heartbreak. He couldn’t, but from his painful example we can at least see how arbitrary many of the breaks in life are. This is why we can’t let externals determine whether something was worth it or not. It’s on us. The world is, after all, indifferent to what we humans “want.” If we persist in wanting, in needing, we are simply setting ourselves up for resentment or worse. Doing the work is enough.” ( :107)

“If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way. —EMILE ZOLA” ( :108)

“We surround ourselves with bullshit. With distractions. With lies about what makes us happy and what’s important. We become people we shouldn’t become and engage in destructive, awful behaviors. This unhealthy and ego-derived state hardens and becomes almost permanent. Until katabasis forces us to face it.” ( :108)

“katabasis forces us to face it. Duris dura franguntur. Hard things are broken by hard things. The bigger the ego the harder the fall.” ( :108)

“1. They almost always came at the hands of some outside force or person. 2. They often involved things we already knew about ourselves, but were too scared to admit. 3. From the ruin came the opportunity for great progress and improvement.” ( :109)

“In 12-step groups, almost all the steps are about suppressing the ego and clearing out the entitlements and baggage and wreckage that has been accumulated—so that you might see what’s left when all of that is stripped away and the real you is left.” ( :109)

“Vince Lombardi said this once: “A team, like men, must be brought to its knees before it can rise again.” So yes, hitting bottom is as brutal as it sounds. But the feeling after—it is one of the most powerful perspectives in the world. President Obama described it as he neared the end of his tumultuous, trying terms. “I’ve been in the barrel tumbling down Niagara Falls and I emerged, and I lived, and that’s such a liberating feeling.”” ( :110)

“We take risks. We mess up. The problem is that when we get our identity tied up in our work, we worry that any kind of failure will then say something bad about us as a person. It’s a fear of taking responsibility, of admitting that we might have messed up. It’s the sunk cost fallacy. And so we throw good money and good life after bad and end up making everything so much worse.” ( :111)

“”He who fears death will never do anything worthy of a living man,” Seneca once said. Alter that: He who will do anything to avoid failure will almost certainly do something worthy of a failure.” ( :113)

“If your reputation can’t absorb a few blows, it wasn’t worth anything in the first place.” ( :113)

“So you’d think that the Patriots’ front office would be ecstatic with how it turned out, and indeed, they were. They were also disappointed—deeply so—in themselves. Brady’s surprising abilities meant that the Patriots’ scouting reports were way off.” ( :114)

“For years, Scott Pioli, director of personnel for the Patriots, kept a photo on his desk of Dave Stachelski, a player the team had drafted in the 5th round, but who never made it through training camp. It was a reminder: You’re not as good as you think. You don’t have it all figured out. Stay focused. Do better.” ( :114)

“Because of that, they don’t much care what other people think; they care whether they meet their own standards. And these standards are much, much higher than everyone else’s.” ( :115)

“o one would say the Patriots—or any team in the NFL—are without ego. But in this instance, instead of celebrating or congratulating themselves, they put their heads back down and focused on how to get even better. That’s what makes humility such a powerful force—organizationally, personally, professionally.” ( :115)

“For us, the scoreboard can’t be the only scoreboard. Warren Buffett has said the same thing, making a distinction between the inner scorecard and the external one. Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of—that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.” ( :115)

“Because it’s not about what you can get away with, it’s about what you should or shouldn’t do.” ( :116)

“Thus, the paradox of hate and bitterness. It accomplishes almost exactly the opposite of what we hope it does. In the Internet age, we call this the Streisand effect (named after a similar attempt by the singer and actress Barbra Streisand, who tried to legally remove a photo of her home from the Web. Her actions backfired and far more people saw it than would have had she left the issue alone.) Attempting to destroy something out of hate or ego often ensures that it will be preserved and disseminated forever.” ( :117)

“RKO film—the company producing Citizen” ( :117)

“Kane—period.” ( :118)

“You know what is a better response to an attack or a slight or something you don’t like? Love. That’s right, love. For the neighbor who won’t turn down the music. For the parent that let you down. For the bureaucrat who lost your paperwork. For the group that rejects you. For the critic who attacks you. The former partner who stole your business idea. The bitch or the bastard who cheated on you. Love.” ( :118)

“ting. In one of his most famous sermons, he took it further: “We begin to love our enemies and love those persons that hate us whether in collective life or individual life by looking at ourselves.” We must strip ourselves of the ego that protects and suffocates us, because, as he said, “Hate at any point is a cancer that gnaws away at the very vital center of your life and your existence. It is like eroding acid that eats away the best and the objective center of your life.”” ( :119)

“There is no way around it: We will experience difficulty. We will feel the touch of failure. As Benjamin Franklin observed, those who “drink to the bottom of the cup must expect to meet with some of the dregs.”” ( :121)

“It’s why the old Celtic saying tells us, “See much, study much, suffer much, that is the path to wisdom.”” ( :121)

 

EPILOGUE

 

“My friend the philosopher and martial artist Daniele Bolelli once gave me a helpful metaphor. He explained that training was like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep.” ( :123)

“There’s a quote from Bismarck that says, in effect, any fool can learn from experience. The trick is to learn from other people’s experience.” ( :125)


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