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Insights From Ego Is The Enemy Pt. 3 - Failure (#22)

Part 3 of 3 of these insights deals with it in relation to failure.


  • We all deal with setbacks along the way. Ego not only leaves us unprepared for these circumstances, it often contributed to their occurrence in the first place. The way through, the way to rise again, requires a re-orientation and increased self-awareness. We don’t need pity - our own or anyone else’s - we need purpose, poise, and patience. 

  • Failure and adversity are relative and unique to each of us. Almost without exception, this is what life does; it takes our plans and dashes them to pieces. Sometimes once, sometimes lots of times. 

  • “Almost always, your road to victory goes through a place called ‘failure’. - Bill Walsh, successful American football coach in the 80s

    •  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. 

  • Narcissistic injury ⇒ when we take personally totally indifferent and objective events. This happens when our sense of self is fragile and dependent on life going our way all the time. 

  • The great failing is “to see yourself as more than you are and to value yourself at less than your true worth”. - Goethe

  • (Successful people) adhere 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. 

Alive Time Or Dead Time

  • There are two types of time in our lives: dead time, when people are passive and waiting, and alive time, when people are learning and acting and utilizing every second. 

  • Every moment of failure, every moment or situation that we did not deliberately choose or control, presents this choice.  - Robert Greene

  • What have you been putting off? Issues you declined to deal with. Systemic problems that felt too overwhelming to address. Dead time is revived when we use it as an opportunity to do what we’ve long needed to do. 

    • Setbacks can be blessings because they allow us to steer the ship to figure out what’s right and give us clarity. 

  • That’s what so many of us do when we fail or get ourselves into trouble. Lacking the ability to examine ourselves, we reinvest our energy into exactly the patterns of behavior that caused our problems to begin with. 

  • It comes in many forms. Idly dreaming about the future. Plotting our revenge. Finding refuge in distraction. Refusing to consider that our choices are a reflection of our character. 

  • But what if we said. This is an opportunity for me. I am using it for my purposes. I will not let this be dead time for me. 

The Effort Is Enough

  • What matters to an active man is to do the right thing; whether the right thing comes to pass should not bother him. - Goethe

  • 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. 

    • The inventors whose ideas languish “ahead of their time”. According to society’s main metrics, these people were not rewarded for their work.

  • 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.” - John Wooden, famous American college basketball coach

Fight Club Moments

  • “We cannot be humble except by enduring humiliations.”

  • It was in those moments - when the break exposes something unseen before - that you were forced to make eye contact with a thing called Truth. No longer could you hide or pretend. 

  • A look at history finds that these events seem to be defined by three traits: 

    • They almost always came at the hands of some outside force or person. 

    • They often involved things we already knew about ourselves, but were too scared to admit.

    • From the ruin came the opportunity for great progress and improvement. 

  • “A team, like men, must be brought to its knees before it can rise again.” - Vince Lombardi, NFL football coach

Draw The Line

  • “It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character.” - Marcus Aurelius

  • 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.

  • Ego asks: “why is this happening to me? How do I save this and prove to everyone I’m as great as they think?

  • You’ve done this. Fighting desperately for something we’re only making worse. 

  • He worked until he’d not only proven himself again, but significantly resolved the flaws that had caused his downfall to begin with. (Steve Jobs on being fired from Apple and then moving to start his next company Pixar).

  • Ego kills what we love.

  • Most trouble is temporary...unless you make that not so. Recovery is not grand, it’s one step in front of the other.

  • When we lose, we have a choice. Are we going to make this a lose-lose situation for ourselves and everyone involved? Or will it be a lose...and then win?

  • Ego says we’re the immovable object, the unstoppable force. This delusion causes the problems. It meets failure and adversity with rule-breaking - betting everything on some crazy scheme; doubling down on behind-the-scenes machinations or unlikely Hail Marys - even though that’s what got you to this pain point in the first place.

  • “He who fears death will never do anything worthy of a living man.” - Seneca

  • The only real failure is abandoning your principles. Killing what you love because you can’t bear to part from it is selfish and stupid. If your reputation can’t absorb a few blows, it wasn’t worth anything in the first place. 

Maintain Your Own Scorecard

  • You’re not as good as you think. You don’t have it all figured out. Stay focused. Do better. 

  • The scorecard was not the judge of whether he or the team had achieved success - that wasn’t what constituted “winning”. 

  • 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. (New England Patriots)

    • A characteristic of how great people think. It’s not that they find failure in every success. They just hold themselves to a standard that exceeds what society might consider to be objective success. Because of that, they don’t care much about what other people think; they care whether they meet their own standards.

  • For us, the scoreboard can’t be the only scoreboard.

  • Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of - that’s the metric to measure yourself against. 

  • Winning is not enough.

  • When you take ego out of the equation, other people’s opinions and external markers won’t matter as much. 

  • It’s not about what you can get away with, it’s about what you should or shouldn’t do. 

  • A person who judges himself based on his own standards doesn’t crave the spotlight the same way as someone who lets applause dictate success. A person who can think long term doesn’t pity herself during short-term setbacks. A person who values the team can share credit and subsume his own interests in a way that most others can’t. 

Always Love

  • Thus the paradox of hate and bitterness. It accomplishes almost exactly the opposite of what we hope it does. 

  • Attempting to destroy something out of hate or ego often ensures that it will be preserved and disseminated forever. 

  • You know what is a better response to an attack or a slight or something you don’t like. Love. 

  • Instead of hating your enemies, feel pity and empathy for them. 

  • 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. 

  • Take an even wider inventory. Where has hatred and rage ever really gotten anyone?

  • Behaviors that have pissed us off in other people - their dishonesty, their selfishness, their laziness - are hardly going to work out well for them in the end. Their ego and shortsightedness contains its own punishment. 

  • Ego embodied is obsession with the past, with something that someone did or how things should have been, as much as it hurts.

  • People learn from their failures. Seldom do they learn anything from success.

  • Wisdom or ignorance? Ego is the swing vote. 

  • Aspiration leads to success (and adversity). Success creates its own adversity (and, hopefully, new ambitions). And adversity leads to aspiration and more success ⇒ which is an endless loop.

  • “Any fool can learn from experience. The trick from other people’s experience.” - Bismarck

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