Ego is the Enemy

By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

Here’s a summary of the famous book of the same title by best-selling author Ryan Holiday.  First, Mr. Holiday tells us about the Three Areas in Life when the problematic ego appears.  First area is aspiring.  Aspiring in the wrong way means we are more of talking than doing.  Or we end up not walking our talk.  The author says, “It’s a temptation that exists for everyone—for talk and hype to replace action.”  It is that constant concern of what people would think of us, making comments on social media of what we plan to do, instead of doing it.  Mr. Holiday made the example of Emily Gould, a famous novelist and blogger who was constantly posting on the plans she had for her book and what her followers on Twitter would say about it that she ended up wasting her time on her comments and replies to her fans instead of working on the book.

The second area in our life that makes the problematic ego rear its ugly head is when we experience success, and let it get into our head and stop improving.  Mr. Holiday says, “We stop learning, we stop listening, and we lose our grasp on what matters. We become victims of ourselves and the competition.”  This could happen to us for example when we have acquired a college degree and think that our schooling life is finally over, and it’s time to enjoy that lifetime vacation and stop learning.   And lastly the third area is the opposite of the second, that instead of experiencing success, we undergo failure.  We then start blaming others for our mishap, or blame it on circumstances in life and stop picking up ourselves after a failure and basically give up on life.  Mr. Holiday says, “If success is ego intoxication, then failure can be a devastating ego blow—turning slips into falls and little troubles into great unraveling. We have many names for these problems: Sabotage. Unfairness. Adversity. Trials. Tragedy.”

Mr. Holiday then recommends three methods to counter this problematic ego, by the so-called “Plus, Minus and Equal” methods he got from Frank Shamrock, a retired four-time undefeated UFC Middleweight Champion.  Here’s a quote from Shamrock on his three methods, “For each fighter to be great they need to have someone better they can learn from, someone lesser they can teach and someone equal they can challenge themselves against.”

The Plus Method:  Find a Plus or Someone Who is Better than You.

To combat that disordered pride because of your success, you need a dose of humility by finding someone who have achieved greater success than yourself and perhaps make that person a mentor.  It is to remind you that you still have much to accomplish compared to the achievements of this role model person of yours and thus keep you grounded.

This is the only instance that comparing ourselves to others will helps us with our attitude.  Usually, it’s not attitudinally healthy to compare ourselves to others because it will just make us envious, which is one of the seven capital sins, but in this case, it helps us practice humility.  Under this method we could also reflect on the immensity of the world around us and how small we are.  And that when we die, the world will not stop and eventually we would be forgotten and only a few would remember us.

The Minus Method: Who Can I Teach?

When we encounter failure, the ego wants to have a pity party or seek revenge, both of which slow our progress. Instead, identify how we can use the failure to teach others by capturing the lesson in a journal that you will share with your kids one day.  Or conduct a ‘lessons learned’ team meeting with your colleagues at work, and share three things you could have done differently.  Another activity could be to write a blog post of your failure and share it on social media or online forum.  When you force yourself to teach others about your failure, you’re forced to adopt an objective view of failure and begin again.

The Equal Method: Who are at My Level?

An equal could be an ambitious person or a peer group that is at your current skill level.  An equal could also be a competitor that pushes you to improve or constantly challenges your abilities and force you to grow and to remain equal with this person.  When you have an equal, you have no time to obsess over public opinion because doing so would be wasting your time and would risk falling behind in your skills.  For example, if you aspire to be a great athlete, surround yourself with athletes having the same goals and constantly compare notes with them and encourage each other to improve in different areas.

In the end, to defeat our pride, we need to practice humility that makes us acknowledge and learn from our mistakes, always try to improve ourselves, and to remind us that everything good that we have are gifts that we are supposed to share with others and glorify God who gave us all those skills and abilities that we have.