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10 Lessons in Life and Business from a Roman Emperor

Image of Roman Forum in Rome, Italy during sunrise.

Looking for the answers on how to lead a good, successful life is nothing new to the modern business age. The greatest thinkers since the dawn of time have been questioning and guiding people on how to lead a better life. Somewhere along that journey came Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD. Aurelius was the modern equivalent of a good journal writer, and wrote many philosophical statements to himself, to help him as a person and Roman leader, at a time of great conflict. These writings were collected after his death and later became known as the book Meditations, which has been held in high esteem as a classic ever since. It is a great book of personal development from the ancient world.

Whilst each passage of the 12 chapters can be carefully analysed, I have identified 10 key passages from Meditations that can help people in their personal and business lives:

1. If you set yourself to your present task along the path of true reason, with all determination, vigour and goodwill……then you will lead a good life. And nobody is able to stop you.

The ending to that statement is so key: “You will lead a good life. And nobody is able to stop you”. The message is clear; the power lies with you. All the aspects that make up a good life cannot be taken away by anyone. They have to be achieved by you of course, but if you focus on the task at hand with an uplifting and determined attitude, then the good life is what will result. The good life is an attitude, not a place.

2. Most of what we say and do is unnecessary: remove the superfluity, and you will have more time and less bother. So in every case one should prompt oneself: ‘Is this, or is it not, something necessary?’

Jim Rohn also used to say ‘Make sure you don’t major in minor things’. So much of what we say and do is unimportant and leads to nothing. If you want to live a more purposeful life, then question everything you are doing, and what the result will be. For instance, if you are speaking to people in a business sense, cover the key points and benefits of what you are saying, without the waffle on the side. Attention spans are much shorter than most people think, and you will lose people quickly if there is no understanding where a certain speech or conversation is going. Be more clear and concise with your words and tasks, and you will gain back a lot of time to concentrate on other things.

3. In this world there is only one thing of value, to live out your life in truth and justice, tolerant of those who are neither true not just.

There are bad people around. Simple as that. People with few morals, self-centred and with a lack of care for the results of their words or actions. The answer is to be a good person in spite of the bad people we will encounter. Few people change much during their life, and it is asking a lot for us to think we can make bad people good overnight. Being confident in yourself by leading an honest and just life, is a great armour to have in the world.

4. Imagine you were now dead, or had not lived before this moment. Now view the rest of your life as a bonus, and live it as nature directs.

This is a common theme throughout Meditations; the shortness of life and the struggle against time. We must be grateful for the time we have on this Earth, and not forget that it can be over at any moment.  Whilst I don’t believe we should live everyday as it if was our last (those flights to the tropical beach will shred any savings plan pretty quickly), we must realise that every day we have is a day to make a difference to the world and our life. Align yourself with your true ambitions, that show who you are at your best, and time need never be wasted.

5. Dig inside yourself. Inside there is a spring of goodness ready to gush at any moment, if you keep digging.

You know you are good. But have people really seen how good? Personal development should be important to everyone. There are great talents and skills within you, but they must be worked on, they don’t appear for free. After planting the seed, the flower still needs water. And not just once. Again and again and again. Only by continual work on yourself, by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone on a regular basis, will your true abilities and talents emerge.

6. Always remember this: remember too that the happy life depends on very little.

 Happiness is rarely ‘out there’. It’s not a case of having more, but being content with what you have. Studies have shown time and time again that money is not a key driver of happiness and in fact only contributes to your mental well-being up to a certain amount (a household income of around $75,000 a year on average if you’re interested). The real difference in happiness is created by who you are and what you do. Leading an altruistic lifestyle, with a sense of integrity and justice, and positive family and friend relationships, contribute far more to your level of happiness.

7. Every living organism is fulfilled when it follows the right path for its own nature.

Wayne Dyer used to call this concept ‘alignment with source’. In essence, it means that if you are bold and pursue your own ambitions and talents, then great things seem to happen easily. Your success is likely to be far greater if you follow the things you want to do and are good at, than if you choose a life of conformity and security. It requires a bit of faith and determination, but following your natural path is the key to your success moving to autopilot.

8. You must compose your life action by action, and be satisfied if each action achieves its own end as best can be: and no one can prevent you from that achievement.

Whilst it is essential to have a vision of where you want to be, you achieve that vision by focusing on what is right in front of you. Every action you take has a desired result, and the best thing to do at any moment is to complete the task at hand. It is important that the actions taken to accomplish a particular goal or vision are clear. Without the plan as to how you are going to achieve the goal, you are setting yourself up for failure. It would be like having a map showing your end destination but without the roads leading up to it.

9. Someone despises me? That is his concern. But I will see to it that I am not found guilty of any word or action deserving contempt. I will be kind and well-intentioned to all, and ready to show this very person what he is failing to see – not in any criticism or display of tolerance, but with genuine good will.

Being a good person means being good to good people and good to bad people. We cannot let ourselves be distracted or knocked off course by other people’s opinions. Whilst it is human to be sensitive to criticism, especially unjust criticism, we must have the strength to be true to ourselves and not let any unjust treatment allow us to respond in ways inconsistent with our own morals and values. If there is any way to change a bad person, it must be to show the value of being a good person and all the rewards that go with it.

10. The good and honest man should have the same effect as the unwashed – anyone close by as he passes detects the aura at once.

I was at a training session recently regarding anti-corruption laws, and the trainer said that a company can pay fines and improve its practices going forward but it cannot buy reputation. Your reputation is the accumulative effect of all the actions you have taken in life. It does not come quickly and easily, and can be lost in an instant. People will know a good company or person by the way they consistently act. It should not be a question whether someone is good, effective or trustworthy, it should be clear to see.

Recommended reading: Marcus Aurelius – Meditations

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