From an early age, Marcus Aurelius seemed destined to become a philosopher-king.
The emperor Hadrian called him verissimus, meaning “most true and truthful.”
Adopted into the line of succession of the Roman Empire at the age of 17, Aurelius pursued knowledge of the truth with undying passion.
He’s often regarded as one of the wisest men to have ever lived, often ranking in second after Socrates, and one of the few virtuous and humble emperors of ancient Rome. Evidence of Aurelius’ pursuit of the truth lies in the image that is painted through a series of notes he wrote to himself, known by the name of Meditations.
In 336 B.C., a brash 20-year-old prince visited the Greek city-state of Corinth. During his stay, the prince visited the philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, one of the founders of the Cynic philosophy.
The philosopher was quite a controversial character, infamous for his open criticism of Plato and his rather shocking lifestyle; he begged for a living and often slept in a large ceramic jar, or pithos, near the gymnasium in Corinth.
The young prince decided to meet this eccentric character. He found the philosopher lying in the sun. The prince addressed him and asked if he wanted anything at all from him, to which Diogenes replied, “Yes, I just want you not to stand in the sun.”
The young prince was so impressed by the philosopher’s nonchalant demeanor that he stated, “But truly, if I were not Alexander, I wish I were Diogenes.”
Two years later, now a king in his own right, Alexander set out to conquer his way to the edge of the known world.
During the following decade, nothing stopped him. Nothing. Vastly superior armies, impregnable fortresses, mountains and rivers and deserts, hunger, thirst, the sea itself, the uttermost extremes of physical hardship and war. His body was littered with scars; everywhere that is, except his back. He never retreated, and he never lost a battle.
In AD 65, Seneca the Younger was ordered to take his own life by the Roman Emperor Nero. Seneca followed tradition by severing several veins in order to bleed to death, while also ingesting poison.
This order was a response to Seneca’s supposed involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate Nero. Former consul and advisor to the emperor and one of the richest and most powerful men in Rome, Seneca decided to embody the stoic philosophy to the very end. He accepted his fate with calm, even though those around him urged him to beg for his life.
While Seneca’s words of wisdom touched on countless aspects of life, he is perhaps best remembered for his piercing thoughts on the value of time.
This wisdom is relevant to this day, or maybe even more so, as we live in a world that makes it easy to lose track of time as we immerse ourselves in countless micro-distractions.
Carpe diem, as the Romans used to say, is an art that needs tinkering with as we do our best to seize time rather than waste it.
They say we are capable of experiencing millions of different mental states, yet we waste most of our life cycling through the same five or six of them.
There are around 200 countries in the world, yet one in five people never travel to another country. They also tend to die within a fifty-mile radius of where they were born.
The average person spends eight hours per day sleeping, six hours watching television, and more hours than I’d care to count rewatching the same movies and TV shows, reading the same books over and over again.
The average woman will kiss 15 men, enjoy two long-term relationships, and have her heartbroken twice before she finds someone she can settle with. The average woman will have seven sexual partners, while the average man ten.
I have wasted three years of my life wishing for someone who didn’t love me to come back.
I only ever traveled to England for a total of ten days. Once.
I, too, have rewatched the same movies, over and over again, with different people or all by myself.
And I, too, have been reading The Great Gatsby once a year ever for the past decade or so.
But more tragically than all of that, I have wasted an awful lot of time vacationing on Someday Island.
“Someday I’ll be a published author. Someday I’ll find the love of my life. Someday I’ll be financially free.”
And you know what makes someday such a perverse word? We often couple it with “if only.”
We lose hope before we even embark on the journey.
And that’s how we waste our time.
The truth is that life’s a beautiful thing. Yeah, life’s pain. But it’s the kind of pain that reminds you that you are alive.
It would be quite terrible to live forever because then we’d all be kings and queens of procrastination.
You’re going to die. And I don’t say this to make you panic or anything. The panic will grow inside you, as your time runs out, as you grow tired and weary and unable to do what you’ve always wanted to do but postponed.
Nine years ago, just as my father declared bankruptcy, I went through a sort of mid-mid-life crisis; the kind you often have to fight against when you’re twenty-something and lost.
Nothing made sense. I struggled with depression and feelings of insecurity. I was a bunch of good intentions held back by a set of limiting self-beliefs, anxieties, addictions, all stitched together with a lot of hope.
I was so desperate for a way out of hell that I couldn’t see the fact that hell was something I had built for myself, hell was something I was carrying with me wherever I went.
During these years, as I slowly descended into darkness, I’d often stumble upon quotes that I’d deeply resonate with. They’d offer a bit of comfort, a bit of clarity, and I’d ponder and ponder about them.
The ones I never forgot about are the ones that defined my mindset and allowed me to escape the hell of my existence.
Here are five quotes that defined my mindset and allowed me to fight for my dreams.