“Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure”
I’ve been reading “Meditations,” by Marcus Aurelius the last few weeks. It is a compilation of journal entries and notes that Marcus wrote to himself to meditate on and encourage continuous self-improvement. They served as reminders to the ideal person he would work to emulate with each rising sun. Section I first goes through many of the individuals in Marcus’ life and the positive impressions they left on him. He acknowledged 17 people that possessed a certain quality or character trait that he admired and wished to incorporate into his own being.
There are a few key takeaways from those first pages in “Meditations.” First, that Marcus was fully accepting that simply trying to emulate one individual would not be beneficial. There are many wonderful traits and attributes to offer to the world, and an “ideal” person would be the complete set of them. But humans aren’t ideals, we can only strive to become our ideal selves. This implies that we must continuously be refining and working on becoming the person we would have the utmost respect for. Identifying traits in people that you admire will help you understand the ideal you are pursuing for yourself (each person is one their own).
Secondly, a person can have flaws/faults, but still have a trait you admire. That again, is just a product of us being human beings. To think one person can have all the answers, do no wrong, and have no troubles is a ludicrous analysis and a misconception of reality. Identifying a flaw in another person should only be a reminder that we ourselves have flaws to improve upon. And to think that our character is defined only by our flaws would be a grim outlook on the value we bring to ourselves and the world around us.
When you’re aware of your own flaws, you have empathy toward’s those displayed by others. You don’t see a flaw as a judgement of their character, but rather you question what troubles they have endured in life that left the scar that you currently see. You appreciate that we all have struggles, and that they are probably not intentionally trying to emit negative energy towards you. Remember, you can’t control other people, you can only control your reactions to the stimulus presented.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”—Matthew 7:3-5
None of us are born with a playbook on how to be our best selves. Some are blessed with certain freedoms or opportunities that other’s aren’t, which can create environments to develop and refine specific character traits, but we are all confined to the laws of physics. Having a firm grasps on what is truly in your control, and what’s not actually starts to simplify your life, and creates a calmness in your demeanor. There is a saying in the military, “Calm is contagious.” Constantly getting worked up over a situation that’s out of your control will only escalate emotions and inhibit forward progress. When’s the last time you found that complaining about a circumstance you were in, actually alleviating the tension and stress that the circumstance was causing you. Say you get cut off in traffic, does honking your horn and flipping the driver the bird actually make the situation better. Or did you let your emotions dictate your actions? Again, control what you can control, and acknowledge that a lot of our experiences and circumstances in life aren’t within that sphere. That driver might have just gotten news that a loved one was in an accident and quickly heading to the hospital. Be kind, to others and yourself. We are more similar than we think.
Tool to Highlight: Identify a Person You Admire.
One man that I’ve come to admire is Jordan Peterson. Dr. Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist, YouTube personality, author, and a professor at the University of Toronto. I came across his work through reading his book “12 Rules of Life,” and continued to explore the messages he put out to the world via podcasts he appeared on, and lectures he posted online.
Why I admire him is because he is willing to have the uncomfortable conversations, to make controversial claims, and have an opinion in a matter to spark continuous exploration of philosophical concepts and understanding of human behavior. He does this all in a manner that imparts no aggression towards the opposing party. Dr. Peterson is completely aware that he can’t control how other’s think, but he can offer an opinion to let them think on. This is the key to allowing him to stay calm when engaging with others that disagree with him, while continuing to expand and develop new ideas and frameworks to understand the world around him.
In a world so decisive and polarizing, it’s rare to see informed debates not spiral into attacks on a person’s character or an action they committed in their past. Our politicians care more about their reputation than their character. With each passing critical issue, they focus on the negatives of the opposing party rather than the strengths they could incorporate into their own or the cooperation they could achieve through mutual respect. Individuals that can have control of their emotions, and speak from a grounded respect for the opposing party are the ones that help drive innovation and collaborations.
Think of someone you admire and ask yourself why you value them. Or think of qualities you admire in people. It will open the door to more internal questions and explorations to get to know yourself and the path you want to pursue. The reverse is also constructive. Identify a person you wouldn’t wish to emulate or qualities you dislike, and identify why. This will serve as your counter ideal, which is just as important to note.
Action Item: Find people willing to attack life with you and be sympathetic to your flaws
In his lectures and conversations, Dr. Peterson often mentions “Conscientious People.” And many times it is followed with statements correlating them to long-term life success. This was one of the influencing factors behind the name of this website. When elaborating on that success, Dr. Peterson explained that conscientious people have lower rates of divorce, more satisfaction in their lives, and more stability in a world ever changing. Notice that success in Dr. Peterson’s eyes mentions nothing about money, career, fame, or legacy. It’s based around relationships, experience, and responsibility. He believes that there is no success without moral success. If you cut corners or step on toes to get ahead in your career, chances are you know deep down that you’re not happy with those choices. Although you may be richer in pure monetary wealth for those actions, the mental torture that you bear for performing them weighs much heavier on your conscience. And thus, you don’t feel successful.
Instead, surround yourself with people that cheer for you success, and help you in times of trouble. Find people that you want to experience life with, regardless of the circumstances or scenarios. Conscientiousness is rooted in the belief that you don’t get a free pass for natural abilities or gifts, it must be coupled with effort and work to yield successful results. Be with people that accept you for who you are, but also help you explore ways to be a better version of yourself. That know your flaws, but help you improve upon them as opposed to holding them against you.
There is a concept developed by an Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, that states once you begin to succeed at one thing, you start to exponentially increase your chance of succeeding at other things. If you surround yourself with people that are succeeding in their lives, chances are you will as well. I titled this article “Eulogy Qualities,” because it reminds me of the important things in life. Those things help shape what I consider success in my life, and thus aide in identifying the individuals I want along side me. Below is quote that embodies that line of thought.
“Your heroic willingness to encounter the unknown and articulate it and share that with people, there is no nobler vision than that! Speech, vision and ability to confront the terrible unknown—that’s what should rule.”—Jordan Peterson
Resources for Further Discovery:
12 Rules of Life-Jordan Peterson
Maps of Meaning-Jordan Peterson