If you’ve seen the movie Gladiator, you may have an idea of who Marcus Aurelius was. Marcus Aurelius was an incredibly powerful man, with a level of authority that doesn’t really exist in the world today. He became the leader of the Roman Empire in 161 and ruled for nearly two decades, during which time the empire included all the countries surrounding the Mediterranean and England.
The reason I’m bringing Marcus to your attention is because in most ways, he was just like you or I. Stay with me.
He was a human being with two arms and legs, occasional stomach aches, favourite foods, crushes, ailments and fantasies. Sometimes he felt hungry, sometimes horny, sometimes too cold or too hot. Where Marcus differed from us really was in the amount of power and control he had over the lives of other people. While your mood swings and decisions mainly impact you, and the people close to you, his impacted hundreds of thousands. That volume of people is essentially like being responsible for the course of human history.
Marcus Aurelius was very aware of the importance of his own decision making, something we know from a series of private journals he kept during his reign, and he tackled this by constantly striving to evolve and improve himself.
“Learn to ask of all actions, “Why are they doing that?” Starting with your own.” – Marcus Aurelius
Now, whilst you don’t share quite the same level of responsibility for other people, you are responsible for something of the utmost importance. Your own life. And whilst I think most of us would say we know this, do we actually believe it?
Throughout the course of a day, think how many times we pin responsibility on something else?
“I’m wet because it rained” – but you picked your journey, outfit and lack of umbrella.
“I’m late because my alarm didn’t go off.” – but you rely on an alarm clock to wake you up and… you probably didn’t set it right.
“I haven’t been promoted because my manager doesn’t understand my working style” – or you haven’t learnt how to manage up or made the move to work with a different person.
Apologies if the above sounds a little accusatory, because of course we all feel our plans get obstructed by those things. BUT, the point is, we have a lot more control over every aspect of our lives than we often think. This is something that can be really empowering if you embrace it.
One area where this idea of control can become a bit challenging, is when it comes to things we relate to our personality or identity.
You may have heard friends say the following: “that’s just who I am!”. You may have even used it yourself. And whilst owning who you are is a great thing, I really think this phrase should be banned.
Why? Because people tend to use it to justify things they don’t like about themselves, as though they have no power over them. There is a disconnect between who we think we are and who we would like to be and this is where our insecurities thrive.
It’s true that we all have a core personality, certain traits and ambitions which supersede the people who raised us.
What is not true though, and what is implied as a defence mechanism, is that habits, things we enjoy, or things we find more challenging are programmed into us like some sort of micro-chip.
“If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance.” ―
A fundamental part of our identity is how we change. Unless you’re Peter Pan, change will happen, and it is up to you to embrace it and be in the driving seat of how and in which direction you grow.
Tim Urban is the founder of ‘Wait But Why’. A blog so successful Elon Musk invited him as one of a select few journalists to write a series of posts about the entrepreneur. The blog wasn’t Tim’s first successful venture. He previously founded ArborBridge, an education focused company.
Tim did a Ted Talk titled ‘The Art of Procrastination’ which has been viewed over 20million times [Link Here]. In it he jokes about how he managed to make the little sketches he did to procrastinate, part of the success story of his blog.
I’m bringing Tim’s story to your attention because a tendency to procrastinate is a common obstacle, which can get in the way of your progress on something. But if you’ve ever though “that’s just who I am: I’m a procrastinator” I’ve got some news for ya. Being a procrastinator isn’t who you are, it’s who humans are. We all procrastinate. It is part of the luxury of a modern Western life that we can procrastinate and not die!
The way to overcome procrastination isn’t to wistfully wish it wasn’t a part of you. It’s to uncover what is actually driving that tendency. It might actually be the fear that you’ll fail putting you off starting. Or it could be that you haven’t actually knuckled down how you should be spending your time to get to where you want. Once you understand the driver then you know what to tackle. For example if it’s that you aren’t sure exactly what to put your time towards, instead of just trying to do, start by taking time to work out exactly what ‘doing’ looks like.
This “that’s just who I am” complex, can also plague us when it comes to our social selves.
You openly declare how you wish you could just have a couple of drinks and leave the party at midnight, but that “just isn’t who you are!” You are the party girl ordering Tequila, chasing down the after-after party, rolling out of bed the next day at 3 for a tactical vom before your Deliveroo arrives, wishing you could be three-drink-Thea but “that just isn’t you”.
Being the party girl is a great thing if that is who you want to be, and are cool with the consequences. However, if you are in a place where you want to evolve from this, that is fine too and very possible.
Back in 2006, a 22year old Sophia had decided to leave her tenth retail job. It was unfulfilling, tedious and she was a rebel. She had a good work ethic but from the outside she was a community-college dropout who’d picked up a habit for shoplifting, and a boyfriend who lived in a treehouse. She did like clothes, and so began selling vintage ones on ebay. Eight years later, her brand Nasty Gal had sold over $100 million in clothing and accessories both new and vintage, occupied a 65,000-square-foot office space in Los Angeles, employed over 350 people, and had over one million fans on Facebook and Instagram.
That’s the story of Sophia Amoruso. Someone who had to undergo another intense period of transformation in 2016 after Nasty Gal went bankrupt. She’s now back on top as the CEO of “GirlBoss”. A brand which includes events, a publication, a best-seller, and a Netflix series.
Only you should determine which characteristics you want to develop and which you want to monitor. In embracing this you welcome into your life a solution to one of the 21st Century’s Greatest plagues. Self-loathing. Because no matter how many times you dismiss things publicly, if you really would rather they were another way, you owe it to yourself to uncover the insecurities and kick them out.
That is true self-love. Loving yourself enough to be who you truly want to be.