“Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday
Ego and arrogance is such a big disease in the field of international relations. It is surprising how many people you will meet in this industry who are the complete opposite of humble. When people talk about wanting to become a diplomat, the colours of prestige and rank blinds them from what the work really means. You get to meet royalty, be given a very impressive title, and represent your country on the world stage as an official authority chosen by your Head of State. Being a diplomat shouldn’t be about getting access to this high society privilege. Being a diplomat is about serving the people, keeping them safe, and protecting values that are embodied by all, not just a few. But titles and such flourishes that come with these privileges can have a horribly negative effect on us, particularly when starting out fresh on the ground. You come across button-nosed graduates who act like they “made it” because they managed to get an entry level position in Parliament and are strutting the corridors of power in their suits. That air of arrogance is not attractive and more importantly, it is counter-productive to the work done by hardworking people who are fighting against poverty, disease, environmental destruction, social injustice, and outright hate.
Emotional intelligence is a very important component to doing well in international relations because you are likely to deal with a whole host of people who hail from various traditions, cultures, upbringing and difficult pasts. As part of your emotional intelligence training, we recommend the book “Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday to support Chapter 3 - “Enhancing Emotional Intelligence” as part of the “Diplomatic Planner”. The book outlines the dangers of egotism and provides strategies on how we can rein in our pride using historical and cultural examples.
Taming our ego is a skill rather than an inherent characteristic. A moderate, healthy ego helps us to engage in competition, convince others of our strengths and surpass our past achievements. But when we fail or suffer some sort of embarrassment, our ego becomes deflated and with it, our confidence disappears. Our perception gets clouded by our self-image and this can distort how we relate with others. An ego can be dangerous when we start to rise above our view of others which is completely counterproductive to the nature of work in international relations. We can become so confident that we overextend ourselves and we end up paying the price.
Ego is the desire to get game and recognition without doing the good deeds that are required for us to get the recognition we deserve. While recognition may the result from being successful, many people try to become rich, famous, powerful before they achieve success. The author Holiday uses former US president Ulysses S. Grant as an example for further illustration. President Grant was a well recognised general of the US Army and won the presidency due to his popularity after the American Civil War. Although his popularity won him the seat of power, it was clear that he lacked experienced in the political sphere but his desire for power outweighed his desire for what the job actually entailed, and so his ego got the better of him and overshadowed his entire presidency. Unlike ego, ambition is based on a solid foundation of real achievements. The difference between egoists and ambition is that egoist chase things like fame, whereas those who are ambitious are driven by the will to excel. We can see clear parallels of this example in today’s modern times with President Trump currently in power. Sometimes a more humble step is to work behind the scenes where you are able to see your work make a positive difference rather than taking to stage and gaining recognition for something you didn’t even work for.
Rein in your ego by reminding yourself that there is always more to learn. Greek philosopher once said: “It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows”. The ego makes us believe that we know everything and learning is just a waste of time. When you reach a certain point in your career, ego becomes your best friend, forcing you to believe that there is nothing else you can learn and you have all the knowledge to share. Even if you are incredibly good at what you do, the ego can get the better of you and stops you from learning from others. You can prevent this by reminding yourself that there is always someone who is better than you, a great way to keep your ego in check. If you want to remind yourself that you always have something more to learn, find yourself a highly-skilled mentor. You can also consider being a teacher yourself to help you stay grounded. In order to stay humble in your work, you must not only learn from the best but also from peers at lower levels.
Pride and ego aren’t the same thing but they do go hand-in-hand. Pride makes us deaf to warnings and blind to things we can improve. Very often, people who are proud are prone to being defensive or aggressive because they are trying to protect their ego, reputation or success. Rather than face the fact that they aren’t the best in the world, they are more willing to fight anything that hurts their pride and ego. Training in emotional intelligence teaches us to stay humble and see things from other people’s perspective. Be open to feedback and listen to what others are trying to tell you.
As you move up the career ladder and take on more managerial role, conflicts with your ego will emerge. It is always good to remember that we owe much of our success to other people and those praise shouldn’t be kept away in silence. The key takeaway from this book is that an ego is not something you develop on purpose. Ego is part of everyone’s personality and develops naturally the more you experience success. Sometimes an ego that is unchecked can cause emotional instability and steer you in the wrong direction, so finding ways to remain humble and grounded is important particularly when operating on the international field.
“Ego is the Enemy” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Diplomatic Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register