Ego is one of those things that’s very hard to define, but easy to spot when you see it. Even as someone who spent years researching and then writing a book about the dangers of ego, I have trouble nailing it down exactly. Here’s a shot: Ego is that outsized sense of self-importance, that malignant self-absorption, a belief that one is somehow inherently better and entitled to more than everyone else. It’s the voice whispering in our ear, alternatively, that we’re invincible and that we’re a piece of shit who should make everyone pay. Ego is that toxic force that makes teamwork, empathy, vulnerability and artistry impossible.
We know this…and yet all of us are guilty of it. Perhaps that’s because the real insidious part of ego is that while we can immediately recognize it in other people, when it comes to our own behavior and our own thoughts, ego whispers once again that we’re different.
Below are some of my favorite quotes about ego — quotes I’ve written down in moments of battling my own ego — as well the awesome books from which they came. I hope you can find a use for them in your own writing, on social media, or better yet, use them in your real life.
“Ego is an evil thing. Confidence is important but ego is something false. Humility is the way to build confidence, and ego is hugely dangerous in this sport, because if you’re running on ego you aren’t running on good clean emotions or cause and effect. You bypass it to support a false idea. It’s all garbage, the ego is garbage.” Frank Shamrock The Fighter’s Mind ;
“Your ego can become an obstacle to your work. If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity.”Marina Abramovic Interview in The Economist
“William Burroughs always talks about the world is nothing but allies and enemies. And it’s important to understand what things around you are the enemies and a lot of the time your worst enemy is your ego.”John Frusciante (Source)
“At any moment in life you can convert to realism, which is not a belief system at all, but a way of looking at the world. It means every circumstance, every individual is different, and your task is to measure that difference, then take appropriate action. Your eyes are fixed on the world, not on yourself or your ego.”Robert Greene & 50 Cent The 50th Law
“You don’t make it far if you have a big ego. The guys that come in here with huge egos get smashed until they learn. Verbal reasoning won’t work, that’s where those guys live…you just gotta smash them until they get humble. And build them back up, if they can stand it.” Greg Jackson The Fighter’s Mind
“Whenever the world throws rose petals at you, which thrill and seduce the ego, beware. The cosmic banana peel is suddenly going to appear underfoot to make sure you don’t take it all too seriously, that you don’t fill up on junk food.” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”Stephen King On Writing
“‘Your job is to get on base,’ says my son’s baseball coach. Ego likes a line drive, resulting in a double or triple, but, end of day, the goal of getting on base eclipses the how of getting on base. Just get there.”Callie Oettinger on Steve Pressfield’s blog (Getting on Base and the Long Game post on Steve’s blog)
“From my very first real fighting experience in Thailand, I saw that the best fighters were the most humble. But much like jiu-jitsu, you start to see it as a ‘chicken-and-egg’ problem. Is it that great fighters lose their ego? Or is it that you cannot become great unless you lose your ego? Your ego keeps you out of the zone? Guys who can naturally control big egos do better?” Sam Sheridan The Fighter’s Mind
“Thus, a great deal of time and energy in the world of the New England Patriots went into selecting players who were at least partially immune to displays of ego and self. This did not mean Bill Belichick was without ego — far from it. His ego was exceptional, and it was reflected by his almost unique determination. He liked being the best and wanted credit for being the best, a quiet kind of credit. But his ego was about the doing; it was fused into a larger purpose, that of his team winning. It was never about the narcissistic celebration of self that television loved to amplify.” David Halberstam The Education of a Coach
“Perfectionism is the ego’s wicked demand. It denies us the pleasure of process. Instead, we are told by the ego that we must have instantaneous success — and our perfectionism believes it, lock, stock and barrel.” Julia Cameron (Source)
“[Bill Belichick] was a man for better or for worse, remarkably without artifice. He had little gift or interest in modern public relations — if anything, he seemed almost uniquely resistant to it for someone so much, however involuntarily, in the public eye. He was about one thing only — coaching — and wary of anything that detracted from hit, and in his mind, much of the modern media, especially television, did precisely that — not just because it took up time that could be better spent doing other things, like watching a bit of film for the tenth or eleventh time and working with assistant coaches, but because it was singularly dangerous, it fed egos, and swollen egos detracted from the essence of football, which was the idea of team. Modern media created a Me-Me-Me world, whereas he insisted on a We world.”David Halberstam The Education of a Coach
“I don’t want to see you. I don’t like you. I don’t like your face. You look like an insufferable egotist. You’re impertinent. You’re too sure of yourself. Twenty years ago I would have punched your face with the greatest of pleasure.” Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
“[Level 5 leaders] are somewhat self-effacing individuals who deflect adulation, yet who have an almost Stoic resolve to do absolutely whatever it takes to make the company great, channeling their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious — but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and its greatness, not for themselves.”Jim Collins (Source)
“Our job, as souls on this mortal journey, is to shift the seat of our identity from the ego to the Self. That’s it.” Steven Pressfield (Source)
“Resistance seems to come from outside ourselves. We locale it in spouses, jobs, bosses, kids. “Peripheral opponents,” as Pat Riley used to say when he coached the Los Angeles Lakers. Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.” Steven Pressfield War of Art
“The great corrupter of public men is the ego — corrupter because distracter.”Dean Acheson Fragments of my Fleece
“There’s no ego. Ego is the enemy, really. Being able to communicate in clear, concise fashion and make decisions as quickly as you possibly can. Knowing that first and foremost, we’re looking out for what’s best in the organization.”Seahawks GM John Schneider (Source)
“Ego says ‘I can do no wrong’, whereas confidence says ‘I can get this right.’ Confidence says ‘I’m valuable’ while ego says ‘I’m invaluable.’“ Todd Henry (Source)
“The challenges they had faced together had taught them humility — the need to subsume their individual egos for the sake of the boat as a whole — and humility was the common gateway through which they were able now to come together and begin to do what they had not been able to do before.” Daniel James Brown The Boys in the Boat
“I believe that the biggest problem that humanity faces is an ego sensitivity to finding out whether one is right or wrong and identifying what one’s strengths and weaknesses are.” Ray Dalio (Source)
“Leaders must free their subordinates to fulfill their talents to the utmost. However, most obstacles that limit people’s potential are set in motion by the leader and are rooted in his or her own fears, ego needs, and unproductive habits. When leaders explore deep within their thoughts and feelings in order to understand themselves, a transformation can take shape.” Michael Abrashoff It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy
“So here’s what you do: You say, “I have no ego at all.” Let’s start that way. “I have no ego, no cause to puff myself up.” Now let’s learn about the cosmic perspective. Yeah, we’re on a planet that’s orbiting a star, and a star is an energy source and it’s giving us energy, and we’re feeling this energy, and life is enabled by this energy in this star. And by the way, there’s a hundred billion other stars that have other planets. [..] So those who see the cosmic perspective as a depressing outlook, they really need to reassess how they think about the world. Because 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.”Neil deGrasse Tyson (Source)
“Steve Jobs had a remarkable knack for letting go of things that didn’t work. If you were in an argument with him, and you convinced him that you were right, he would instantly change his mind. He didn’t hold on to an idea because he had once believed it to be brilliant. His ego didn’t attach to the suggestions he made, even as he threw his full weight behind them. When Steve saw Pixar’s directors do the same, he recognized them as kindred spirits.”Ed Catmull Creativity Inc.
“Fight your own pride and ego and be open-minded and always learning new techniques, new things from anyone.” Sam Sheridan A Fighter’s Heart
“The hallucination of separateness prevents one from seeing that to cherish the ego is to cherish misery. We do not realize that our so-called love and concern for the individual is simply the other face of our own fear of death or rejection. In his exaggerated valuation of separate identity, the personal ego is sawing off the branch on which he is sitting, and then getting more and more anxious about the coming crash!” Alan Watts The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
“But there is another side [of ego] that can wreck a team or an organization. That is being distracted by your own importance. It can come from your insecurity in working with others. It can be the need to draw attention to yourself in the public arena. It can be a feeling that others are a threat to your own territory. These are all negative manifestations of ego, and if you are not alert to them, you get diverted and your work becomes diffused. Ego in these cases makes people insensitive to how they work with others and ends up interfering with the real goal of any group efforts.” Bill Walsh Interview (Source)
“We’re all the stars of our own movies, but cutting back on the number of Do you know who I am? thoughts made my life infinitely smoother. When you don’t dig in your heels and let your ego get into entrenched positions from which you mount vigorous, often irrational defenses, you can navigate tricky situations in a much more agile way. For me humility was a relief, the opposite of humiliation.” Dan Harris 10% Happier
“The most striking features of the ego are three cognitive biases, which correspond disturbingly to thought control and propaganda devices that are to be defining characteristics of a totalitarian political system. The three biases are: egocentricity (self perceived as more central to events than it is), “beneffectance” (self perceived as selectively responsible for desired, but not undesired, outcomes), and conservatism (resistance to cognitive change).”Tony Greenwald, Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington (Source)
“But what about the huge egos of guys like Michael Jordan, who needed control over the court? Or Kobe Bryant? Their monstrous egos obviously don’t keep them out of the zone — Jordan’s the defining athlete of the concept. I can imagine it’s because they can compartmentalize and, in the moment, remove any trace of self-consciousness from what they do. They control it, like they control everything else. And they’re at peace with it, with taking the pressure shot.” Sam Sheridan The Fighter’s Mind
“[Bill Belichick] was completely dedicated to fighting off the virus caused by too much ego, all too aware of what it could do to his dominating purpose — playing championship-level team football. But a man like that, who was so driven to win, and who excelled again and again at such a high level, was hardly without ego. Instead, he had learned how to make his ego work for him, and to keep it from being a negative force.” David Halberstam The Education of a Coach
“When ego is gone, you wake up in the middle of the circle and now you’re a part of — not apart from — Life, Good, God.” Chuck C. A New Pair of Glasses
“The egotist does not stumble about, knocking things off his desk. He does not stammer or drool. No, instead, he becomes more and more arrogant, and some people, not knowing what is underneath such an attitude, mistake his arrogance for a sense of power and self-confidence.” Harold Geneen Managing
I’ve created a list of 15 books you’ve never heard ofthat will alter your worldview and help you excel at your career.