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Two Thousand Years of Life Lessons and How They Apply Today, from Marcus Aurelius

Two Thousand Years of Life Lessons and How They Apply Today, from Marcus Aurelius

Okay, so you’re probably wondering what someone in the 21 st century can learn from a Roman emperor from nearly 2,000 years ago. And that’s understandable.

But hear me out here, because as well as being an emperor, Marcus Aurelius was also a stoic philosopher, and stoicism has plenty of lessons that are still relevant to woman today.

He was also super quotable, and so we’re going to take a look at some of his quotes and see how they can teach us to live our best lives. Let’s get started.

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1) You’re in charge.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you’ll find strength.

It can be easy to feel as though our life is out of control and dictated by  external factors, and there’s an element of truth to that. If you’re balancing work with your family life and one of your children falls sick, that’s an external factor that you don’t have any control over.

But Marcus Aurelius teaches that we do have power over our own minds. We might not be able to control these external events, but we can control the way that we think about them and how we react to them. By realizing this, we can learn that we’re all in charge of our own destinies, and only we can decide what we think and do. It’s one of the most empowering realizations you can possess.

2) Opinions aren’t facts.

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

In our society, we’re bombarded by fake news and opinions masquerading as ultimate truths. We’re told what makeup to wear and  how to dress, and we’re told what societal roles we’re expected to fulfill and even how we’re supposed to think.

Marcus Aurelius provides a much-needed reminder that these are opinions and perspectives, not facts and truths. Women can all decide upon our own truths, and that can be hugely liberating. If you want to try to reach those unattainable beauty goals that we see from photoshopped models in fashion magazines, that’s fine – as long as we decide that that’s what we want.

3) Every day is an opportunity.

When you arise in the morning, think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.

There’s a thought experiment that’s designed to make us realize just how lucky we are to be here in the first place. For us to exist, every single one of our ancestors had to survive and reproduce. The odds of that are astronomical, and you’re much more likely to win the lottery ten times in a row.

Because the odds of us existing in the first place are so low, we should look at every day as the opportunity that it is. It can be easy to feel dragged down by the ennui of everyday life or the discrimination we face from an imperfect society. We should remember that even if the decks of life are stacked against us, we’re still lucky to be playing the game in the first place.

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4) Revenge is for losers.

The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.

The desire for revenge is only natural, because we want to believe in karma and to see bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. Because of that, when somebody wrongs us, we can be tempted to take karma into our own hands.

The problem is that then we become what we hate. To borrow from Star Wars, we turn to the Dark Side. Instead of giving into those negative feelings, we should pour their energy into turning the other cheek and being the better person.

5) The future isn’t scary.

Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.

Anxiety is an increasingly common problem amongst people from all different walks of life, and it’s often caused by fears about the future. Marcus Aurelius teaches that we should try not to worry about it, because we might not even need to face it. As morbid as the thought is, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, and if that happens then all that anxiety about the future will have been for nothing.

It’s far more important for us to focus on arming ourselves with those weapons of reason. That way, when the future comes, we’ll be  ready to deal with anything.

6) Life is finite.

Don't act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it's in your power, be good.

Even with the average life expectancy much longer than it was back in Marcus Aurelius’ day, nobody lives forever. We only have a limited number of days on this earth, and death could strike at any time. If women want to make the most of our lives, we need to acknowledge our own mortality.

It’s all about seizing the day (“carpe diem,” as Aurelius would have said) and living our best lives at every moment. And it goes without saying that you should follow your morals and be a good person.

Now that you know just a few of the lessons that we can learn from Marcus Aurelius, it’s up to us to put them into practice and to become the best version of ourselves on all levels.

[Related: Want to Be a Better Manager? Sweat the Small Stuff]


Pichi Bellingrath McClure is a resilience expert. She helps people strengthen their personal leadership and overcome the impossible through her content, tools, and strategies. Subscribe to her biweekly Resilience Tips and follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.

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