The Enemy Of Success
*This piece is adapted from my book Roots: Success and Greatness Starts Within You.
“Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called 'Ego'.”
Who is the enemy of success? It's not the competition or the economy it is the “Ego.” We’ve seen so many successful people rise to the top of the mountain and call themselves the “best” and the “greatest”. Unfortunately for them, they brought “Ego” on their journey to success, which can lead to their downfall. Some of these people who fell from the mountaintop will say they failed because their fellow entrepreneurs or businessman accomplished more than them, which is true because the people who stay on top are never self-centered, arrogant or egotistical. They believed in “We” rather than “Me.”
Look at all the successful people right now. They are full with kindness and humility because they know that once they listen to their ego, all the things they’ve worked so hard for could disappear in the blink of an eye. How many entrepreneurs out there have gotten kicked out by the board members of the company they built from the ground up because they lost track of their purpose and got blinded by money and fame?
This situation happens every day because we believe that “success” means having the material things like money, or even fame. However, this meaning of success we're taught is what I call the “ego-driven success”—a version of success that took the path with ego.
What is ego? In this book, I will define ego using two meanings. There is the ego that identified as arrogance and selfish ambition. The other definition of ego you’ll read in the latter part of this chapter is your identity or “self.”
Ego (Arrogance and Self-centeredness)
Everyone has the ambition to achieve. That’s what life is all about. Maybe you’re young or old. Maybe you just signed your five or six-figure contract in your area of specialization. Perhaps you are lonely on the top of the mountain. You always have your enemy, which is your ego. We are born with it. The moment you wake up, it is within you. Even as kids sometimes we prioritize our ego, but we don’t know that.
Remember when you were a kid, and you liked to boast about all your fancy toys to your friends? “I’m sure you enjoyed getting everyone’s attention by talking about your dreams for your adulthood.”. I’m not saying doing that as a kid is not bad. As kids, when we get the attention everyone around us, it gives us a sense of fulfillment. However, when we turn into adults and realize who we are, boasting is bad because the people around you know what you’re trying to do. I’m sure you’ve encountered these people, whether it's your schoolmate or workmate, or maybe you are that person.
The person who’s always proud and arrogant thinks everything they do is correct. A person like this doesn’t listen to anyone’s suggestions because they have that “Me” mindset. This person always wants to be the first because he/she thinks they are much more important than other people. This egoistic person is dangerous and reckless in doing tasks that matter most. When you spot a person like this, I want you to be careful, because they are dangerous and some characteristics they possess might rub off onto you.
The late NFL coach Bill Walsh explained that “players self-confidence turns into arrogance;
assertiveness turns into obstinacy and self-assurance becomes reckless abandon.” As a former athlete from my school, I’ve seen the rise of ego among my teammates. Before our season started, they have a humble attitude. And then when we won games and championships, their level of arrogance increased, while their humbleness decreased, after we won four championships in a row.
You can even see it every time you walk through our school's hallway. Students look at the athletes like they were at the top of the pyramid. Some teachers gave them special treatment for academic purposes. I’m not saying what the students and professors did was wrong, but what they did fed the athletes’ egos, especially when teachers gave the athletes recognition. It put them above the hierarchy and that could lead them to break the law of their establishments. What teachers don't realize is this: It makes the athletes delusional and gives them power.
When I felt this was happening, it led me to a decision to quit and leave the team. I became a fulltime student, and later I learned that ordinary students had a lot of negative things to say about our team, from our attitudes to our extra-curricular activities. When I heard those comments, I realized that: I never wanted to be a part of a group of people who were selfcentered and often took advantage of other people. I didn’t care about the trophies, fame, and recognition I’d get because I knew that outside of that establishment, I would be a nobody, and there were people out there who were doing much better than us.
Soon you’ll become leaders, and five to ten years from now you’ll be handling these young adults who will have just gotten out of college. These people will be thirsty for success, and to prove to their friends, family and doubters they’ve made the right choices in life. What they don’t realize is that if they work in a humanity plus company (companies working on solutions and products that push humanity forward.), business owners and their employees will work toward a common goal. They don’t care about getting recognition and fame. All they care about is fulfilling their mission.
However, an egoistic employee can “make or break” your company or team. They can “make” your company rise to the top faster than predicted because of the way they show ambition and competitiveness, or “break” your company in the sense of taking uncalculated risks that affects the company’s overall performance. What you will need to do is balance it out by telling them what’s important and giving them a “scorecard” that they should maintain. What I mean about saying “what’s important” is that you should explain your mission or purpose. Once you do, they will fall in line with you and become a student like everybody else.
Just because the future ego-driven employees got out of school doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be a student anymore. Life is all about learning from your mistakes throughout your journey towards success. Any person in a leadership position will teach, and teachers should always be learning. However, you and your group should learn and fail together in your quest for success and that is when “maintaining a scorecard” comes from.
You might be familiar with the phrase “maintaining a scorecard”, and it came from Ryan Holiday’s bestselling book Ego is the Enemy. That book changed my perspective regarding achieving success and I recommend reading it. That phrase means that when we win in life, sometimes we celebrate too much and get filled with pride. Also, it means a way of measuring what our own version of standards. What if you won because of luck? What if you cheated? Anybody can win. Whatever your attitude is, you can win. But when you won, were you the best version of yourself? Or are you the best version of what society and standards dictate you to be? As ugly as it sounds, when we win we shouldn’t stop improving our abilities.
Just because you won doesn’t mean you are a Hall of Famer. Winning should allow you to reflect on what went well and what didn’t go well, so you can improve yourself. This is what ego or being self-centered blocks all the time: the ability to humble yourself when you get fame and recognition.
The great British philosopher Alan Watts once said, "Ego is a social institution with no physical reality. The ego is your symbol of yourself. Just as the word ‘water’ is a noise that symbolizes a certain liquid without being it, so too the idea of ego symbolizes the role you play, who you are, but it is not the same as your living organism."
Have you ever wondered where your thoughts came from? Why do you have so much emotional pain? Are you depressed? Are you so worried about your future? Why you can’t move on from the past? It’s the ego. Ego transforms us, and it allows us to form our personality and thoughts. It divides us human beings, which causes wars and conflict. Ego doesn’t allow us to stay in the present moment. You can hear these thoughts in your head, and that is ego.
We have listened to our ego for so long and look at what has happened to us. People can’t move on from political and personal issues. We numb ourselves with liquor and entertainment because we thought: if we keep numbing ourselves, our personal problems will fade away. In our modern society, there’s a common saying which is, “Do you have a problem? Let’s just drink so that the problem will fade away.” When people say this don’t realize that they are using liquor and numb themselves to escape their own reality and responsibilities. They don’t want to face their problems sober because fear and pride prevent them from facing their challenges in the present moment. Because once they let go of the pride, their personality changes, which the ego doesn’t want. Ego doesn’t want you to become your true self. Ego wants you to be what society and environment dictate you to be.
So where does fear come from? Our ego built fear; it stops us from reaching the next step of our life. Fear is what I like to call the dream killer. Fear comes from the mind, especially if we had a lot of negative experiences when we were growing up. It is where anxiety, depression, nervousness, unease, and worry come from. Fear is just psychological; it isn’t real. Fear is part of our human nature. It gives us the fight-or flight response when we sense danger. It’s the sensation we feel when we are not in our comfort zone.
Now you might say, “if fear isn’t real, then why am I afraid to touch the fire?” Because you know that you might burn your hand as this is common sense.
In psychological fear, we sense that something bad might happen, but what we don’t realize is something is already happening in the present moment. I remember when my classmates and I were about to defend our theses, much felt fear of what would happen. This is where fear of rejection comes in. Most of us felt anxious of being rejected by our teachers, boss, coaches and society, but if we are proud of our work, why should we sense rejection? Rejection is normal in life. It means you need to put in more work and effort. Accept it. Work harder and wiser next time, because that is the only way we learn.
Fear comes in because we are defending an image that doesn’t exist; it is a fictious entity just made up in your mind. Once you open your mind to stay in the present moment, the unconscious pattern will dissolve right away. This is the power of us human beings—our ability to focus on the moment and disregard the illusionary image or the ego that is just made up in our mind. The power is within you.
Have you ever felt being incomplete, and the emotional pain this causes? You feel that sometimes you’re not good or worthy enough for anyone in your life. This is the pain made by the ego that will lead to ego-gratification desires like money, fame, power, recognition, or a special relationship. You follow that desire because of an assumption that material things can fill your sense of incompleteness. Look at the people who have so much money. They buy all the exotic cars, branded clothing, and so on but they are still incomplete. These people thought possessing and chasing materialism would make them happy, but it turned out it made their incompleteness worse. They fell into a rabbit hole of buying more and more things they don’t need because they listen to their ego.
As long as you let your ego run your mind, you cannot attain peace. Since ego needs an identity defined with external things, it needs constant attention. That is the reason most of us crave social status, fame, recognition, materialistic desires, physical appearance, belief systems and so on. We human beings should not be like this. Our ego divides us, and we need to learn to control it. The only way to do that is to take the path to enlightenment.
There’s a phenomenon about ego death: It is the loss of subjective self-identity. As crazy as that sounds, it might be real. Just look at what happened to Jim Carrey, he realized that his life was all about playing a character, and things are just happening. Jim Carrey could be a perfect example of ego death. He even said in a red-carpet interview, “This is the most meaningless thing I’ve come to and joined.” That interview shocked everyone and they accused him of being crazy or taking a psychedelic drug. But what he’s saying is true, there are a lot of things that are more important than entertainment.
I experienced my version of ego-death. My emotional pain and family problems caused me depression. And then I realized that none of those things mattered. The labels, reputation, money, and all the external stuff are just made up in our mind by the ego. The feeling I had the day of that realization is the best feeling I ever had. Not to sound crazy, but I felt whole again. I felt like I had been asleep the full twenty-one years of my life. That is why made this book, for you to know that learning the true meaning of success doesn’t require external things. It is just a distraction made up by ego so you won’t serve your purpose in life.
I want you to sort things out in your life. Make a list of what matters most to you deep within. To detach yourself from external desires you must learn to have a different perspective on life. I want you to feel grateful and content with what you have. You don’t need all the freshest stuff to look cool just because that is what society tells you. Learn to live in each moment.
Keep in mind: Don’t listen to the things that your mind is telling you. Be aware of your thoughts. If you do this, you can lessen the ego that is destroying your life.
“Detachment is not that you should own nothing. But that nothing should own you.”
Ali Ibn Abi Talib
*The Second Edition of Roots( paperback and ebook) was just released. You might want to include it in your summer reading list. (I just used the Amazon link, it is available everywhere books are sold)