Ego Is The Enemy: An Interview With Ryan Holiday

IG: ryanholiday

IG: ryanholiday

Ryan Holiday hit the real world hard and fast. At 19, he decided to drop out of college because he was offered an opportunity any ambitious would-be writer would pounce on: a job as a research assistant to Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power. This would lead him to working with and advising several bestselling authors and multiplatinum musicians.

He kept the ball rolling from there and became the marketing director of American Apparel, where he put into place a very successful campaign that produced both big profits and heavy criticism. But he grew disgusted with the state of online media and released a book that put his name on the map, Trust Me, I’m Lying. The book detailed how easy it was to manipulate online media because of its lack of source verification and its traffic-driven outrage-porn business model.

After reading that book, I discovered and devoured all of his writings. I studied and applied a lot of his stoic principles about business, life, and writing into my own thought process and actions. He is one of the most unique, practical, and highly respected contemporary thinkers.

In his new book, Ego Is The Enemy, he seeks to advise the reader through the lives of notable and not-so-notable historical and current figures about what havoc an untamed ego can have on a person’s life and how one goes about controlling it.

Raul Felix: Ryan, in this book, you analyze how the ego can have destructive effects on people. You even mentioned seeing one of your mentors transform from someone you aspired to be like to never wanting to be like that person. Egos don’t only exist in people of high achievement or celebrity; it is also quite common in the general population. What common examples do you see today of people with high egos yet little substance to back it up?

Ryan Holiday: Yes, exactly. It is precisely because we see this type of behavior in a lot of prominent public figures that we try to reverse-engineer their success and manufacture the right pose. There are plenty of “wantrepreneurs” out there acting like mini-Steve Jobs and plenty of musicians who think that behaving like Kanye West is acceptable. We falsely assume that ego—manifested in their entitlement, arrogance, braggadocio, and swagger—is what drove success. In fact, it was the talent that compensated for the ridiculous, destructive ego. We don’t think about the survivorship bias that hides from view all the people who’ve failed and flamed out because of their own ego-driven sabotage. What is also hidden is the huge subset of successful people who are not clamoring for the limelight.

We also live in a culture that actively promotes constant self-promotion and grandiosity—all of it magnified by a thousand by social media. It is also hard not to think you’re the greatest if that is the message you’ve been hearing constantly from your parents since you were born. Combine these factors, and you see why we have a downright epidemic of ego.

Part of why I initially wanted to write this book is because I would get a lot of emails from really overconfident and brash young people who would send me all these ridiculous emails. And then at large, you see it for instance with people who are not willing to take entry-level positions—But I went to college! But it was the Ivy League! —or people who are not willing to listen or take any sort of feedback because they think they’ve already figured it all out. You see it with people bragging and boasting about what they’re going to do—their ego craving for validation and applause before the fact.

Raul Felix: A line that really stuck out to me was, “If you start believing in your own greatness it is the death of your creativity.” I’m sure any artist who has produced a piece or two of topnotch work has fallen into that trap—even gloating to themselves or others about their creative genius. I’ve done it a few times when I wrote some really good stuff. How does one avoid falling prey to that part of the ego while keeping the fortitude to drive on?

Ryan Holiday: I love that line, too; it’s actually from Marina Abramović, the performance artist. There is another quote from UFC champion Frank Shamrock that I try to think of on a regular basis: “False ideas about yourself destroy you.”

The second you start gloating and letting success get to your head—that you’ve figured it all out—that’s precisely when you make some critical mistake or miscalculation. In that moment of self-satisfaction, learning grinds to a halt. What I love about writing, actually, is that those feelings are constantly elusive. You can’t get a big head with a craft which requires decades and decades of work before you even begin to approach mastery. There is no “graduation.” If you think like a craftsman, become an eternal student, and adopt a beginner’s mindset, ego is suppressed and you can go on working and working.

The problem is when you start to listen to other people. My last book has started to sell very well, so I could let that puff me up. I’ve gotten some very kind and generous reviews. It would be a mistake to listen to those things too closely. For the next book, you have to continue to approach it with humility and self-awareness. Essentially you have to start from zero.

And in the book I talk about how ego separates us from reality—we start living in our heads. This sort of intoxication with positive feedback and success makes us forget that there are people in our field who are infinitely more successful than we are. Someone recently mentioned that one of the best things about attending TED is how humbling it is to be in a room with all these people. It doesn’t take away what you’ve accomplished, but it puts things into perspective—it grounds you back to reality.

Raul Felix: You also mention the incubation process, that period where you must trudge through a long period of obscurity as you wrestle with a topic or a paradox. What would the incubation process look like for the normal person, who can’t really drop everything and live in a cabin cut away from society as they hone their skills?

Ryan Holiday: I’ve mentioned the incubation process, which is what the strategist John Boyd called his ‘draw-down’ period. It is the time after we’ve had what we think is a brilliant idea and then take the time to process it and think it through before we embark on it.

I do not think it requires you to drop everything and go live in a cabin away from society—I certainly didn’t do that (although living on a ranch helps!). It’s simply the moment after you’ve had the idea, after you’ve put the first round of thinking into the project and then have to step back and say: “OK, what do I really have here?” “Do I actually have something?” “What is this really going to be?”

Otherwise, we have ego telling us that we have the best idea ever and blinds us to all the components that we need to work on. Ego Is the Enemy ended up being different from the initial book proposals precisely because there was time between conception and execution.

And wrestling with a topic or a paradox requires you to invest a serious amount of time in a state of what the author Cal Newport calls “deep work”—that place of intense concentration and cognitive focus where real progress is made. Two examples for me are walking and running, during which I wrestle with ideas. I also have an article on this site on how to accomplish more deep work in our lives where I give some other examples that can be helpful.

Raul Felix: You made an a sharp distinction of how the ego affected two Civil War generals: Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. Grant sought the high office of the presidency and chased after big money, causing him to have one of the most corrupt administrations in our nation’s history and going publicly bankrupt, while Sherman chose to be content and lead a private life afterwards. How can a person distinguish if what they’re chasing after is genuine or if it’s their ego yearning for more?

Ryan Holiday: It’s funny because I really admire both of them. This country we live in would not be possible without the personal heroism and bravery of both of them—probably Grant most of all. At the same time, I find the end of his life to be very sad. I wish he could have enjoyed the success he had.

In my view, the main reason doing that is so hard is because we try to have it. We want what we want and what other people have, too. We want to do our own thing but not be left out, either. We want a quiet life but also want to be the center of attention.

It’s our ego telling us to always say yes to more things, more projects, events, meetings. It will also always say yes to more money if given the opportunity. (Ego doesn’t care whether that’s the right decision for us.) Ego rejects trade-offs. It wants it all. It’s incredible how hard it is for us to say no to anything—again, especially money.

The solution? Really ask yourself: Why do I do what I do? What is important to me? What is the one goal or thing I want more than any other? That’s the question you need to answer. Stare at it until you can. It’s not easy by any stretch, and I am telling you that from my personal experience. I’ve had to do so in my own life and it’s why I have an entire chapter dedicated to that idea. Understand what’s important to you and know your priorities.

The goal is to make decisions with clarity and purpose—not ego. Only after spending time alone and asking ourselves these tough questions can we know which way we are swaying.

Raul Felix: Hitting rock bottom, whatever that may be for a person, is one of those humbling experiences that can make or break you depending on how your ego responds to it. I’ve been through a couple of hard times in my life where I needed to fight for every bit of progress while I got back on my feet. Along the way I learned some lessons. Yet I remember being warned that my actions would lead to that. What do you feel it is about our nature that makes it so we don’t always learn from others but have to fuck up big time in order to drive consequences of our actions through our skull?

Ryan Holiday: Nobody gets very far or lives very long without getting their ass kicked a few times. It’s not pleasant at the time when in retrospect we tend to appreciate those experiences—because we learned so much from them. The problem is that those lessons tend to fade over time, because we start to feel like we’ve moved past them—that we’ve got it. When I got Ego Is the Enemy tattooed on my forearm it is exactly this part of human nature that I wanted to warn myself against on a daily basis. It is this part of us that says that we know better, that makes us unwilling to listen to others, to remember to be objective and clear-headed and honest. I have made those mistakes myself, and having a daily reminder is one way to prevent it from happening again.

And it will always be the case that the hardest lessons are learned from direct experience. Plutarch says that we don’t “so much gain the knowledge of things by the words, as words by the experience [we have] of things.” That shouldn’t be an excuse to not study and learn to prevent those from occurring. Reading books—especially biographies—becomes helpful here. Whatever situation you are currently facing, others have gone through that and written about it.

There’s a quote from Bismarck that says, in effect, any fool can learn from experience. The trick is to learn from other people’s experience. It is why the book is full of cautionary tales—so that we see what ego-driven choices and decisions others made in history and how that led to their downfall. Still, though, I understand that we’re often going to need to experience some of that directly. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is.

~Raul Felix

Read: Teaching Men How To Mate: An Interview With Tucker Max
Read: Keep Moving, Young Man
Read: An Army Ranger Interviews A Navy SEAL On Resilience

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Two Bros Smoke Weed And Compare Notes About Women

When you spent enough time working alongside someone, you tend to develop a good understanding of them. Sometimes you like them, sometimes you hate them. Usually, it’s a healthy mix of both. Yet when that former coworker who became your friend comes to visit you for a couple of weeks, you can’t help but get back to the old shit-talking routine. When my crabby and grumpy security contractor buddy, “Grumps”, came to visit, that’s exactly what ensued.

Grumps: “That chick from last night won’t text me back, fucking cunt.”

Raul: “That’s because she’s getting a train run on her by a bunch of black dudes.”

Grumps: “No, she’s my little white angel. We had such a deep connection. I’m fucking serious, Raul; I would have married that bitch.”

Raul: “You only talked to her for thirty minutes.”

Grumps: “So? I felt it, man. We were made to be together. Why is she being such a bitch and ignoring my texts?”

Raul: “Because she’s currently getting triple-rodded by Tyron and his buddies.”

Grumps: “Fuck, you’re probably right.”

Raul: “It doesn’t matter. You probably would’ve taken her out on a nice, fancy date and only gotten a peck on the lips as you dropped her off. What was her name again?”

Grumps: “Sammy.”

Raul: “Then Tyron would’ve called her up and been like, ‘Yo Sammy, I’m comin’ over. I’m bringing my boys, too. You better have some good weed this time, not that weak bullshit of full seeds and stems like last time. ’”

Grumps: “That white boy feed you good? You gonna need dat energy.”

Raul: “Speaking of weed, roll us another fucking blunt.”

Grumps: “Goddamn it, hold on.”

Grumps rolls us a nice blunt.

Raul: “These are fucking good days we’re living, Grumps.”

Grumps blows smoke into the air.

Grumps: “Mmmmmhmmmm. Dude, I’m having so much fun. Listening to music, smoking green, drinking, and hanging with my boy Raul.”

Raul: “Yep. You see how many hot bitches there are out today?”

Grumps: “Yeah, man. It’s like as soon as I stop checking out the ass of one, another fine bitch passes by. Too bad they’re all a bunch of libtards.”

Raul: “Hey, man, liberals ain’t that bad. Sure, they’re annoying as fuck, but they’re pretty cool and nice if you avoid political conversation with them.”

Grumps: “Oh man, don’t fucking get me started on these fucking liberals, you know what the fuck I saw on Fox News…”

Raul: “No, no, no. We’re not getting into your simpleminded Midwest rhetoric. All you do is fucking get on Facebook and hate-read whatever the conservative propaganda machine wants you to be pissed off about that day.”

Grumps: “All right, fine. Oh man, did I tell you about that fight I saw earlier?”

Raul: “No, what happened?”

Grumps: “Oh, fuck, man. It was hilarious. These two fat bitches start yelling at each other in the middle of the street. One of them was pushing a baby stroller, too. Then one of them starts screaming some shit about the other being a gossipy, shit-talking slut. Then they start slapping one another until a few dudes broke them up.”

Raul: “Holy fuck. I wish I would’ve seen that. Did you get it on video?”

Grumps: “No, it happened way too fast for me to record it.”

Raul: “What time did it happen?”

Grumps: “About three or so.”

Raul: “Oh yeah, that’s when all that welfare trash starts walking around town after going to their appointments or picking up their kids or whatever the fuck people on welfare do.”

Grumps: “They did look ratchet as fuck.”

Smoke fills the room as Grumps swipes through his Tinder.

Grumps: “Oh Raul, so many bitches want my cock.”

Raul: “No, they don’t.”

Grumps: “Yes, they do. I got all these hoes I’m working all over the place. I take them on a date to get some good food, then I let in my fucking rags-to-riches life story and their mouth drops.”

Raul: “Bitches only want you for your money, Grumps.”

Grumps: “They ain’t going to get shit. Making them sign a prenup.”

Raul: “That’s good that you think you got some game. Remember, I ain’t no broke piece of shit either, motherfucker. Sure, I ain’t contractor-rich like you, but I do decent.”

Grumps: “Fine, you’re a mini-baller.”

Raul: “Damn straight. Plus, you need money to get bitches. You’re not a fucking artist like me, Grumps, where you can just work a low-paying gig while waiting for genius to surface.”

Grumps: “Raul, your writing sucks. I could write better shit than that without trying.”

Raul: “Like I really respect your opinion regarding literature. What the fuck is the last book you read?”

Grumps: “Hell if I know.”

Raul: “See Grumps, I play the long game. Using my words, stories, and shit to show chicks I’m a deep, thoughtful soul and not just a Latin stud.”

Grumps: “Well, I got a Mercedes SLR and my own house paid for. Bitches’ panties get drenched for that shit. Maybe one day you’ll be rich like me. I hope that for you.”

Raul: “Awwww…you’re sweet. Whatever happened with that one college chick you took out on a date the other night?’

Grumps: “I took her to the mall and bought her some lingerie. Had her little tight twenty-one-year-old ass model it for me. Then I tore that puss up and filled it full of freedom!”

Raul: “Smash that puss! You know she is going to be wearing that lingerie for one of her college boys, right?”

Grumps: “Pfff, I don’t give a fuck. She was just a random piece of pussy to me.”

Silence fills the room for a few minutes as we relax.

Raul: “These are good days we’re living, Grumps.”

Grumps: “Mmmmmhmmmm.”

~Raul Felix

Read: Four Things Only Mexican-Americans Will Understand
Read: Guy Talk: Hot Tranny
Read: 3 Winning PR Strategies For Muslim Extremists

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4 Things That Are Awesome About Riding A Motorcycle

IG raulfelix275

IG: raulfelix275

Despite the possibility of getting killed by an absentminded undergrad who is Snapchatting herself singing along to the latest hit pop song as she makes a left turn while you’re crossing the intersection, causing you to hit the side of her car at 45MPH, riding a motorcycle is pretty damn sweet. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a speed demon going nearly twice the speed limit on a crotch rocket with no intention of pulling over if the cops chase you because if you get one more ticket you’ll get your license suspended…or a grizzled biker covering vast distances on a tight time hack with several of your brothers on cruisers…or a cute liberal chick or skinny gay guy on a Vespa putt-putting about town…the thrill of the ride is incomparable to those who decide to forgo the cage-like safety of the car, even if just for the weekend. Why is that? Because there are many reasons why a rider’s life is way more awesome.

1. Kids Are Crazy About You

IG: raulfelix275

IG: raulfelix275

Remember when you were a kid and you would see a motorcycle passing by on the freeway? Maybe your mom would comment on how dangerous they are. You didn’t care because the cool guys on TV rode the shit out of them, wearing badass leather jackets, jeans, and sticking it to the man. You’ll fantasize about being one of those dudes when you got older as you played with your Hot Wheels and always had the motorcycle do insane stunts that defied the laws of physics as it was shooting its machine gun.

Many years down the line, you are at a red light thinking about how much of a total badass you are ’cause you’re finally on a motorcycle. A car pulls up next to you and out of the corner of your eye you see a hand flailing. You look to your right and in the backseat you see a kid seven or eight years old waving at you with a missing-tooth smile. You wave back at him and he starts laughing. You rev the throttle a bit and he goes ape shit from excitement. The light turns green and you speed away.

Kids love motorcycles, plain and simple. Whenever you make appearances to any family event, all the little kids are going to see your bike and want to sit on it. You will be one of the cool grown-ups, not one of those who drives a soul-crushing minivan.

 

2. Chicks Dig You, Too

As much as it may frighten them, few things are more effective at drenching the panties of a female than a man who rides a motorcycle well. It’s not as simple as getting your ass on a bike and going to places where girls hang. First, you must prove that you aren’t some idiot who is going to try to impress her by riding dangerously. You must recognize that riding on the backseat is quite intimate. She is signaling: I trust you with my life. Sadly, a lot of men these days aren’t capable of handling that sort of responsibility.

Also, the seat positioning will have her body in constant contact with yours. Most chicks aren’t willing to do that with whatever chode on two wheels, either. Only after gaining her respect and trust will you be able to get her to take a ride with you. As the ride happens, the breeze in her face, the revving of the engine as you twist the throttle, and the utter freedom of it all will make her lady parts tingly. Don’t forget the vibrations of the engine, too. You’ve displayed your competence as a man.

Riding a motorcycle is not something that can be done by any random dude. Thousands of people—even long-time riders—kill themselves each year on bikes. But the fact that you ride one puts you in the niche class of “bad boy” that nearly every woman has a few sultry fantasies about.

 

3. You Instantly Have A Connection With Fellow Riders

 

IG: raulfelix275

IG: raulfelix275

Men form bonds by sharing knowledge and conducting activities together. Riding a motorcycle is one of the manliest hobbies in modern times. A man on a motorcycle represents the images of glory reminiscent of galloping knights and cowboys on horseback—as opposed to the simplicity of driving a cage that requires no more from you other than grabbing your keys and hopping in the driver’s seat.

Mounting your iron steed has the aura of prepping for combat. You look at the weather report and adjust the amount of cold weather gear you’ll need to wear. You put on your vest, grab your helmet, gloves, and glasses. You approach your baby waiting for you in her spot.

“Hello, beautiful,” you say.

You fire her up to warm her up a bit while you don your protective gear. You give her a quick little rev to make sure she purrs all right. She does. Away you go.

If you can relate to this feeling, then you’re a fellow motorcycle rider. You get it; others don’t. That’s why you always have an immediate connection with those who also ride. You’ll make small talk with fellow bikers and make friends with fellow bikers. And at times, you party hard as fuck with fellow bikers.

 

4. There Is No Better Way To Travel

 

MC4

IG: raulfelix275

The world is a gorgeous place. We become immune to the wonder of it all during the routine of our daily lives. Yet when you’re on a motorcycle, you can’t help but notice. You feel everything…the feeling of needles poking your face when you’re riding through rain at 80MPH…the blazing furnace that is Arizona…the smell of countryside…the fresh breeze. Everything, good or bad, is a part of your journey. Back to our primal roots, before the windshield and air-conditioning of the cage shielded us from it all.

I’ve traveled a vast majority the United States at some point or another on my motorcycle. I’ve also ridden it to Mexico and Canada. I rented one for three weeks and traveled the whole of Italy. I had one as my sole means of transportation for a year and half last time I lived in Cali. I ride one now when it’s not snowing or freezing over in Upstate New York.

It’s a wondrous love affair. Every journey feels like an adventure, like that rare lover you can share you life with. Whether to the neighborhood bar to have a beer or across the country, the saddle of a motorcycle puts you closer to the elements and the world.

~Raul Felix

Read:29 Things I Learned By Age 29
Read: The Gay Meth Story
Read: 6 Things I Learned About Israel While Living and Working There

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Buffalo Hill Will Make A Man Out Of You

“I’m a fucking beast,” I say to myself,
I take those first steps running up Buffalo Hill.
There is always some college student slowly walking up it,
Occasionally, it’s a chick whose glorious ass I get lost in,
I’m reminded of what I want in my life.
More often, it’s a scrawny nerd unaware of the world around him,
I’m reminded of what I don’t want to become.
Buffalo Hill will make a man out of you.

When the body is in pain, it’s best to let the mind wander.
Halfway up, my mind runs rampant.
Thoughts of women past, family, friends, war, motorcycle trips,
Parking tickets, writing, money, and schemes for pussy.
Buffalo Hill will make a man out of you.

I’m approaching the final incline,
My stride becomes faster, eyes focus, bellowing grunts.
I reach the peak, smile as I stare down on conquered land.
Nice warm up. I continue my run.
Buffalo Hill will make a man out of you.

~Raul Felix

Read: She Was Traveling Through My Country
Read: Becoming A Beast May Help You Win The Beauty
Read: Keep Moving, Young Man

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Oh Well, We’re Off To War Again

“Ones!” yells the private as he opens the door of my hooch.
It mildly annoys me.
It’s a pretty fucking good episode of Scrubs, damn it.
I quickly slip on and tie up the laces of my boots.
Oh well, we’re off to war again.

I zip up my top as I speed walk to the ready room,
I make a quick detour to grab a couple of Rip Its and Pop Tarts from the MWR.
From my cubby, I slip on my kit, Peltors, and MICH.
I test my NODS, grab my M4: clear it, pop in a magazine.
We’re off to war again.

The gunner and I begin our respective duties.
The gunner turns on the comms and loads the .50 cal,
I hop in the Stryker driver’s seat, fire up the engine,
I stand on the seat, looking out the hatch.
The TC approaches us after the hasty mission brief,
A steady flow of men, the tip of America’s spear soon follow.
Sixty-seven men, six Strykers, two Little Birds, and a military dog will descend Tonight on some poor souls’ door step.
Fuck yeah, we’re off to war again.

~Raul Felix

Read: Eager To Pop My Cherry On The Battlefield
Read: Jumping Out of Airplanes: How It’s Really Like
Read: The Military’s Parasite Problem

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I Look At Your Dead Blog

I look at your dead blog,
Not a single update in over two and a half years.
You were so avid about it,
Writing those juicy sex stories,
Some fact, some fiction,
Other’s a combination of the two.
Writing was your dream.

I look at your dead blog,
As I am reading over your old entries,
I am reminded of how much more talented I thought you were than me.
The biting jokes,
The shameless sultriness of your words,
The glorification of promiscuity,
Your potential still glows.

We began exchanging e-mails,
Instant messages and video chats.
We would talk every morning.
You believed in my writing,
You would proof read my posts,
You taught me the difference between than and then.

I fell hard.
We made plans for me to fly out to Toronto to see you.
You grew angry with me when I told my ex-girlfriend I was going to see you.
Your unreasonable, female jealousy took hold.
You told me you wouldn’t see me.
I went anyway to prove how serious I was.
Your Eastern European coldness was unmoved.

I walked the streets of that fucking city a broken man,
Holding my hand out, imagining I was holding yours.
Every moment felt like a fucking waste.
I ate those lonely, silent meals.
I drank beers at bars staring into my glass,
I smoked weed at the Hot Box Cafe while writing shitty poetry.
I cried myself to sleep in my cheap hostel room.

I returned to California,
With a tattered heart,
Embarrassed that I was so naive to believe I could prove myself.
A bit of my romantic innocence forever lost.
I wrote motivational pieces to give myself hope.

I hated you for a long time.
I was quickly forgotten by you.
I couldn’t even look at your pictures without the pain returning.
Now when I open that folder,
There’s the merciful feeling of indifference.

A picture of your first baby is your default on Facebook now.
Your priorities have changed.
You have found your happiness.
I look at your dead blog.
Writing was your dream,
Yet, I’m the one who is still pounding away at the keyboard.

~Raul Felix

Read: Empty Chair
Read: She May Have Given Up On You
Read: Heartbreak

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The Patience Of A Waitress

A little after 2 AM on a Tuesday night I walk into a twenty-four-hour diner. I have just finished a solid writing session where I wrestled with words and harnessed them into decent prose. I find my way to an empty booth and take a seat.

“I’ll be with you in just a moment,” says the waitress as she delivers meals to their tables. It’s quite busy considering it’s a random weekday night. She’s gracefully hustling throughout the restaurant with the utmost efficiency. I look around and notice that she’s the only server.

“Hello, my name is Elizabeth. May I take your drink order while you look at the menu?” she says with a tender smile as she places the menu on the table.

“Sure, I’ll just take a water, please,” I say.

I flip through the pages of the menu and decide on my order. She returns with my water.

“Here’s your water,” she says. “Are you ready to order?”

“Yeah, I would like the club sandwich, please.” As she writes down my order, I notice her black hair has a few streaks of grey in it.

“Would you like regular or seasoned fries?”

“Seasoned please,” I say as I examine the little crow’s feet near her eyes.

“All righty then, I’ll have your order in a few moments.”

She picks up the menu and scurries off to her other duties.

Despite her cheerful demeanor, she looked tired and overworked. She must have been in her mid to late thirties yet possessed more spunk and enthusiasm than a waitress half her age.

I begin to wonder if she has kids and is working at this late hour to provide for them. Maybe she also works at another restaurant and she’s pulling a double.

“That was my mom,” I think to myself.

Twenty-eight years ago: She made the difficult decision to leave me, her only child, with my grandparents in Mexico so she could make the long trek into the United States with the help of a couple of her siblings that blazed the trail a couple of years earlier. She found a nook for herself in their small apartment and then found an employer who was willing to overlook her lack of documentation.

Twenty-four years ago: A few years of waiting tables, long hours, sweat, tears, frustration, broken hearts, and longing for her son to be with her at last. She finally was able to muster enough cash and resources to be able to send off for her niño quierdo. After a daylong bus ride with my grandfather, I awoke to the kisses of my aunt.

“He’s awake,” she exclaimed. “Go get gorda!

Mi baby, mi niño,” my mom cries as she’s kissing and hugging me.

I later throw a tantrum when I find out I’m not going back to Mexico.

Twenty years ago: Her English is spoken with a heavy accent, yet her natural sweetness always shines through. She would become a favorite of her patrons. Her work ethic ensured she got tipped well. Her beauty would have many men competing for her attention. Her only bad habit would be to take a cigarette break. She would drive a beat-up ’75 Camaro to work. Her big heart would have her taking her mother, father, and little sister into an apartment she shared with a friend and her daughter.

Thirteen years ago: I, her sweet boy, turn into a typical spoiled American teenage shithead, ungrateful of the sacrifices she’s made for me to be able to live without serious wants. The long hours she works for me to have a roof over my head, food in my belly, gas in my car, and clothes on my back. She works doubles so I can grow up in a nice city. She confronts an older woman with the wrath of a mama bear when the woman makes not-so-subtle sexual gestures at me. She buys me books, CDs, video games, and a gym membership. She is proud when I get my first job at a fast-food joint. She cries and wonders how she’s failed as a mother when she sees my terrible grades in school.

Six years ago: She gets fired from the restaurant where she spent fifteen years working. A jealous coworker trumps up a reason to get rid of her. Her feet are tired. She no longer desires the headaches caused by cooks who slack on her orders because she won’t date them. She’s annoyed with the cheap patrons who stiff her on tips. She gets a job as a clerk at Chevron. I am freshly out of the Army and I pick her up on my motorcycle and take her on a ride.

“You have really turned into a man, mi amor,” she says as she gives me a kiss on the cheek after our ride.

The lone cook peeks his head through the window as he rings the bell to indicate an order is ready. The waitress delivers it to me without hesitation. I chow down. I ask for my check. I leave her a good-sized tip. I wonder whose mom she is.

~Raul Felix

Read: Ode To La Doña: The Linchpin Of The Mexican Family
Read: Keep Moving, Young Man
Read: Four Things Only Mexican-Americans Will Understand

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