AKA: What I Learned From a 3000-Year-Old Emperor
I spent most of August indulging my nerdier roots by reading philosophy and social psychology. The books were fascinating reading, but realizing most of you aren’t into these topics as much as I am, I’m not going to bore you with minute details.
I am however, going to share five lessons I learned from the most useful book that I read: Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations.
Marcus Aurelius is considered one of the last great Roman emperors, thus his Meditations have been around for 3000. However, originally Meditations wasn’t meant for public consumption. Rather, the book is a collection of notes Aurelius wrote himself about how to live his best life according to Stoic principles. Stoicism is an ancient philosophy that emphasizes reason and understanding of the natural order.
As a result, many of Aurelius’ notes were about staying focused on the bigger picture. So much of the advice is applicable to our lives today. Therefore, without further ado, here are the top five lessons I learned from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.
Lesson 1: Success is awesome, but your value as a human being is more important.
In other words, don’t buy your own hype. Marcus Aurelius was emperor of Rome, yet he believed living a truthful, unselfish authentic life should be a person’s main objective, not the pursuit of power. His emphasis on fairness and humility made him one Rome’s greatest leaders.
Lesson 2: Success is fleeting. No one stays a star forever.
This is another one of those “keep perspective” things.
Everything has a life cycle, including success. Careers rise and careers fall. Today’s big names will be replaced by tomorrow’s big names. Even Marcus Aurelius had a successor. That’s why it’s better to measure success on something other than your career achievements or sphere of influence.
And if you are lucky enough to hit the top? Enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts, but be humble so when you hit the downside, there won’t be people celebrating your fall.
Lesson #3: Jealousy is a wasted emotion because we all end up equal in the end. Forgotten and dead.
Gloomy, I know, but also true. All these external rewards we place such huge importance on, what do they matter in the bigger scheme of things? So much of what we obsess over will be forgotten fifty years from now. Why then, get upset if someone has something you don’t?
Death, as Marcus Aurelius knew, is the great equalizer. If my bestie signs a major contract tomorrow and I don’t, it’s not going to change the fact that when our time comes, we’ll both end up six feet under. (Sorry Bestie, not trying to prematurely kill you.)
One of my favorite quotes in the entire book was this: “Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died, and the same thing happened to both. They were absorbed alike into the life force of the world or dissolved alike into atoms.”
If facial tattoos weren’t such a bad idea, I’m print that quote on my forehead as a reminder.
Lesson #4: Don’t take negative opinions personally.
I soooo need to work on this one. In fact, I’ll probably work on it for the rest of my life. However, my man Marcus makes a very good point. If someone takes issue with something you did or mischaracterizes you as something you’re not, let the insult roll off your back. By all means, apologize if you made a legitimate mistake. If you know in your heart that you acted authentically and with the best intentions, then the issue is the source’s problem, not yours. then insults or pettiness is the source’s problem. No need getting in the mud with them.
Lesson #5: What stands in the way becomes the way.
This one is straight out of the Stoic playbook. Just because we set a goal does not mean getting there will be easy. In fact, often the path towards a goal is fraught with obstacles. However, obstacles are not roadblocks. Instead, we need to see them as part of the path.
For example, your historical fiction proposal is rejected by several agents (true story). This does not mean quit writing historical fiction. It means look at what the agents are saying, learn and adapt so that you may move forward. The obstacle (rejection) is part of the learning process.
I’m very fond of quoting Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture in which he says, “Brick walls aren’t placed in your path to block you, but to see how badly you want to move forward.” If a goal is important, you will see every rejection, every delay as a lesson rather than a punishment.
There are a ton more lessons in this little book – I’m only hitting on my five favorites. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy at the library and read it yourself.
Keep An Eye on this Space!
I’ll be making an extremely cool announcement regarding my recommended reads very soon. (Hint: It involves YouTube!)
I hope you have a terrific weekend. Here’s a virtual cocktail on me.