This semester is a wonderful affirmation of the leader I’ve become, and a stark reminder of all that I’m yet to be. You see, I’ve taken my share of leadership courses growing up, served in a dozen different leadership roles and have generally worked, sweat and bled my way to the present day. I KNOW I’m a leader–tried, tested and not found wanting. Little did I realize 99 short pages would transform my leadership priorities and even my worldview.
Becoming content is my first step.
It all started with what seemed like a conversation with the stoic Roman philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius… which caught me completely by surprise. Google “leadership theory books” and your screen is filled with academic articles and books that treat leadership as an object of research and science. Now, those books all have a place but they’re dense and not easy to apply. Same thing goes for the thousands of books about military, business and political leadership. I’ve read many of them and sure, they do contain gems, but they’d be a lot more useful if I actually was an officer, CEO or President. Even as emperor of “the world” (by Roman standards), what Marcus journaled about was not his dozens of military campaigns, Roman economy or senate intrigue, but his inner workings as a philosopher and human.
“It is not right to vex ourselves at things,
For they care nought about it,
To the immortal gods and us give joy,
Life must be reaped like the ripe ears of corn:
One man is born, another dies.
If gods care not for me and for my children,
There is reason for it.
For the good is with me and for my children,
There is reason for it.
For the good is with me, and the just.
No joining others in their wailing, no violent emotion.”
~Book VII, 38-43~
Reflecting his musings about the universe, man and happiness, I’ve come to terms with the entire idea of “Leadership from the Inside Out.” Basically, every man is first and foremost the leader of himself. We’re social beings, yes, but that obligation runs second. If we cannot control ourselves and live out our destiny, how can we serve others and help them do the same? That said, the true measure of a leader may never be known, if the most important leadership occurs invisibly. And I should be okay with that.
I think a lot about dying… I don’t think I’m the only one. I have this innate desire for meaning… to leave an immortal mark on the earth that proclaims: “he lived, he died, and he did both damn well.” I’ll use the average kindergartener as an example. Nobody dreams that they’re grow up to be a burger-flipper or a boring office drone–they want to be superheroes, firemen, soldiers, doctors, people who DO things… people who change the world. But ain’t reality a kick in the head? I’m one man in a world of billions, on a funny rock orbiting a small star in a forgettable system in an insignificant galaxy in a massive universe… all in a fraction of eternal time. The universe blinks and <poof> I’m gone. If I’m lucky, I’ll get my name on a blockbuster film or in a wikipedia article, but that’s as good as most of us can hope for (myself included). Why waste my life trying to be a fractionally bigger piece of space dust?
“Let it make no difference to you whether you are cold or warm; if you are doing your duty; whether you are drowsy or satisfied with sleep; and whether ill-spoken or praised; and whether dying or doing something else. For it is one of the acts of life, this act by which we die; it is sufficient then in this act also to do well what we have in hand.” ~Book VI, 2~
Capture the day, my friends!
Don’t get me wrong, just because our names won’t echo for eternity doesn’t mean we can give up! If life isn’t about posthumous fame and recognition, than life is all we have, and we better make a good go at it. For Marcus, his best attempt was to ride the roller coaster of fate decreed as the child of an Emperor and later the Emperor himself. Though I can’t say I’m in the same spot, I can certainly embrace his spirit, and live, fail and grow. When I’m 90 and looking back at my life, I don’t want to look at me today and wonder: “Wow! Those really were the good days. Everything went downhill from there.” On the contrary, I hope I’m a much better person near the end of my life. I can die broken, penniless and alone but with honor and peace if I’m content with the other 99 percent of my life.
Maybe I’ll never reach this “nirvana”, but does it make it any less worthy?