Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

I’ve been listening to Ego is the Enemy off and on for a while now. I don’t know how many lessons I’ve gleaned from it over the years, but most recently, in the midst of my frustration with and exodus from social networks, I began to analyze myself, my content, my reactions to how it was received and how many views it acquired, among other things.

I reflected on whether my actions were to help others or for egotistical reasons, like attention-seeking behavior, for instance. Often, I find a bulk of the content I’ve published to be self-serving, made to get something from the viewer, even if it’s just a like or a comment. It’s something to satisfy this strong hunger for attention I had been cultivating over the years without realizing why I was doing it.

A long time ago (it feels like at this point), I made a daily vlog called “Living Off Autopilot” where it was my goal to not let my life just happen, but to actively participate in the day-to-day. At the time, I was severely dissociated from myself, nearing the end of my marriage, and grasping for handholds as I fell down the cliff face towards what I assumed was rock-bottom.

I had read plenty of books that were useful by that point where I wasn’t willing to feel like it was the end of the world. I wasn’t in a prisoner of war camp being tortured or in a concentration camp wondering which day might be my last, grasping onto hope from the sense of purpose derived from unfinished business awaiting me if I survived till the allies arrived. It was a situation of my own making.

I believed at the time that if money was an issue, it was because I wasn’t doing a good enough job saying no when requests for spending came up. I wasn’t able to see that it was used as a way to belittle my character, my self-worth, and force me into a spiraling depression. I had read so many books on becoming wealthy, saving money, investing, sales, etc., that I thought I could earn my way out of my situation.

But whenever money came available, I found it had already been spoken for and promised away. I contemplated hiding money to find some bit of hope in gaining freedom from what had by that point become a crippling hole of debt, right as I lost my job, right as family members were passing away from cancer, as we were shuffling from one place to another as our leases ran out. It was a life of constant and perpetual stress.

I lost essentially all of my connections with friends, and most of my family, during those years.

I wonder if that is what led to my insatiable desire to get recognition and admiration from my peers. Looking back through journals, it hasn’t always been there. It seems to have been a smoldering desire for a long time to become famous. But I never actually thought it would happen. I assumed I would be a successful businessperson, however. My misguided youth believed I’d be a millionaire by 25 and proclaimed as much to many people throughout the years.

It’s funny looking back from 33, knowing I’m only eight years past a deadline set by someone who didn’t know why they were setting that goal at the time. Seeing it from my current perspective, especially after just finishing Ego is the Enemy again for who knows how many times now, makes me wonder why I picked that number. Because at the time, that number meant success to me. At that time, money, and a large sum of it, was what I believed to be success.

Throughout my twenties, I was guided by that and many other arbitrary goals I set to reach certain amounts of viewers, students, sales, and even cars. I don’t know why, looking back, I wanted most of these things aside from the recognition and attention I attributed to their acquisition. I would listen to podcast interviews with entrepreneurs building SaaS companies, apps, social websites, e-commerce stores, and more, and think, “I can and want to do that.” I technically could do a lot of the actual work, like building a website and setting it up for e-commerce.

Back then, I wasn’t mature enough to run a store, though. I would start and stop in fits. I would have a flurry of activity and then burn out. That is a recurring pattern across my life. But I was immersed in this world of entrepreneurship, authors, public speakers, and achievers. I wanted to be a successful young entrepreneur. I wanted to do it by a particular time. I had a vague idea of how I would do it. But every time the rubber hit the road, I would quickly find out that whatever the daily tasks required for something to eventually become successful were not what I wanted to do with my life.

Or a bad day would register particularly hard, and I would let that ruin everything for me. I probably was using the hard day as an excuse to quit. Steven Pressfield calls this “Resistance” in The War of Art. Truth be told, any one of my business ideas might have probably eventually found some footholds and garnered progress, and with that, the elusive success I was chasing at the time.

I have a corkboard on my wall that says, “Do more of what makes you happy.” I got it a few years before the end of my marriage. It sticks around wherever I am at this point because I realized when I saw it, when I was surviving a psychologically intense ordeal, that I was largely unhappy with my daily existence at that time because my daily reality was nothing like what I thought I wanted to be doing. That in itself can cause issues, the longing for what you don’t have or can’t do right now can bring about depression and stress. But I was being kept from doing things I wanted to do, and could do, and was being sent out as a gopher non-stop until it led to my being fired from more than one job, and being let go of by a sponsor.

I feel like several books worth of happenings went down in the past decade, for myself, and I know it’s a rather tame timeline compared to a lot that I’ve witnessed over the years, but I want to get better at writing. I want to grow by processing what I’ve gone through and think about it through the lens of these books I seem attracted to. Maybe someone may find some insight or useful anecdotes at some point from my wandering ramblings.

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