11 Quotes from Marcus Aurelius to Inspire You to Get Things Done

June 11, 2014
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Marcus Aurelius, best known by his portrayal in Russell Crowe’s epic film, Gladiator, was actually a real-life Roman Emperor. In the film, we only saw Marcus as a dying old man who served mostly as a plot device to initiate Russell Crowe’s journey from beloved Roman legionnaire general to a slave gladiator. But in history, Marcus was one of the most acclaimed Roman rulers.

During his reign from 161 – 180 CE, he crushed the resurgent Parthian Empire (modern day Middle East), tussled and checked the barbaric Germanic tribes in Central Europe, and quelled a revolt by his Eastern regent Avidius Cassius. In a time of struggle and conflict, Marcus maintained some semblance of order and peace in the Empire. But he was much more than just a war leader. In fact, he was a prolific writer and thinker, and best known by philosophers as a leading voice in the Stoic school of thought.

Stoic ethics can perhaps be crudely chopped down to a few basic tenets: 1.) apply self-discipline and logic to become free from emotion in decision-making and judgment, 2.) happiness is a choice of free will and don’t let the world’s rigidity make that choice for you, and 3.) actions and behavior speak louder than words. Let’s take a look at Marcus’ writing to tease out the nuances of his stoic philosophy:

On getting things done:

  1. “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
  2. “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

On Happiness:

  1. “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
  2. “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”
  3. “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.”

On Change:

  1. “Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature’s delight.”
  2. “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.”
  3. “Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

On Winning:

  1. “The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.”
  2. “Execute every act of thy life as though it were thy last.”

I recommend that you check out his full Meditations to grok into the mind of a Roman Emperor. But at the end of the day, apply what you read and make great things happen in the world. I’ll leave you with one last Marcus tidbit:

  1. “Perhaps there are none more lazy, or more truly ignorant, than your everlasting readers.”
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