In a world full of self-help gurus like Tony Robbins, Suze Orman and even Stuart Smalley, it can be hard to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to finding a wise voice to guide us through the minefield of life. Thankfully, true wisdom is timeless and few words have stood the test of time better than those of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. His stoic philosophy emphasized practical application that is as relevant today as when first uttered from the great man’s mouth. Here are ten ways Marcus Aurelius can help us live an examined life in the 21st century.
1. “Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.”
Stop selling yourself short. If Richard Simmons can sweat to the oldies, you can get off the couch and take the first step to better health. You are not a slave to your circumstances, addictions or imaginary limitations. If war veterans with missing limbs can show phenomenal athletic prowess in the Warrior Games, then you can do whatever you need to – you just have to start believing the "cans" instead of the "can’ts."
2. “Begin - to begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou will have finished.”
Similar to eating the proverbial elephant one bite a time, if you break down any daunting endeavor into smaller, more manageable pieces, it is as good as finished. Whether it’s a graduate degree, remodeling the kitchen or writing the great American novel, getting started is half the battle. Once that first mighty step is taken, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and before you know it you’ll be crossing the finish line.
3. “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
Hardly a better word could be said for the social media age than this. In a world of cyber-bullying, gossip-mongering and inflammatory, extremist politics, it is vital to remember that just because Jane posted it on Facebook, doesn’t make it real.
4. “I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”
In an age that often bases worth on physical beauty and fitness, it can be devastating to hear a critical word regarding our physique. The constant scrutiny that stars endure is a prime example. The twisted tabloid that calls a size two Jennifer Love Hewitt fat screams much louder than her inner-voice that tells her she feels vital, healthy and even sexy. To stay healthy, safe and sane we need to turn up the volume on that still, small voice inside.
5. "Let it be your constant method to look into the design of people's actions, and see what they would be at, as often as it is practicable; and to make this custom the more significant, practice it first upon yourself."
No one wakes up in the morning with the intention of doing their absolute worst. People generally set out to do their best and make their day worthwhile, however those good intentions are often derailed by the lowered expectations of our fellow travelers. Imagine if we approached each other – and ourselves – as if we expected the very best. Might we be more patient with the harried mother driving slowly in front of us or more trusting of our co-worker who swears they’ll meet the deadline? Giving one another the benefit of the doubt might go a long way to lowering blood pressure and cutting down on road rage.
6. "The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing."
We’d all like to imagine ourselves as powerful and in command as the dancers we watch on “So You Think You Can Dance,” but very few of us carry ourselves with such grace or have the advantage of a choreographer as we muddle through this thing called life. But digging in and never giving up despite the sweaty armpit in our face is just as beautiful when it comes to not just surviving, but thriving, as we face the daily struggles that always worm their way in.
7. "Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away."
In “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” the optimistic curator of the run-down hostel is always saying, “Everything will be all right in the end, so if it isn’t all right, then it isn’t the end.” That’s a less poetic way of echoing Marcus Aurelius’ sentiment that nothing is forever. Today’s pains and pleasures will not be here tomorrow. Tomorrow is for something entirely new, so don’t waste time filling it up with leftovers that are nothing more than ghosts.
8. “Anger cannot be dishonest.”
Perhaps, neither can sarcasm. We’ve all heard there’s a little bit of truth behind every sarcastic remark, and while we often shrug it off, that is something worth thinking about the next time we sling what we think is a witty barb. Is our sarcasm hiding something that would benefit from being brought to light in a direct, honest way? Consider what that grain of truth is the next time you get your sarcasm on and see if you can find a more productive outlet.
9. “Confine yourself to the present.”
Could it be that Marcus Aurelius practiced yoga and sought to follow the practice of living in the now? These familiar words are evidence that this concept is more than just a bunch of new age hooey dressed up in incense and crystals.
10. “Be content to seem what you really are.”
If the current economic climate hasn’t been a big enough wake-up call, listen to your Uncle Marcus and stop keeping up with the Joneses already! No one is keeping score but you. A bigger house, nicer car or fancier title doesn’t make you a more worthwhile person. If you’re really a Toyota Camry instead of a BMW then save yourself (and your bank account) the heartache of looking like something you’re not and throw the money you’re saving into an account for a rainy day – or your retirement. Stop over extending yourself and you might just find time to breathe.
When not losing himself in quotes from great people, Edwin is a writer and content strategist at USDish.com