This article is about an event that happened more than 2000 years ago. The principal behind it is still every bit a part of the human experience now as it was then. It’s about our goals, our aspirations, and our struggles and shortcomings. It’s about personal reflection, and finding your way through the world, even when the odds don’t seem likely.
If you’ve ever felt like you just can’t get ahead, or if you like history, read this.
First published June 29th, 2014. Edited, updated, and republished on December 29th, 2015.
Greatness and the Struggle
Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard. – Colin Powell
My closest friends are four of the most successful mid-twenty-something-year-olds that I know. Two of us bought our first properties at 23 years old. Four of us are full-time or part-time entrepreneurs who set our own work hours and work rates. We all come from humble backgrounds, mostly immigrant parents, and work in different industries. We’re young, hyper-ambitious, and we work fiendishly.
The world is yours.
The world really is yours, but we’re never satisfied. My friend Coco (not her real name) is a phenomenal worker, leader, and a fixer for a large international company. Coco is paid more and receives more weeks of vacation than most 26 year olds can imagine. Despite that, she confesses: “I’m not exactly where I saw myself being a few years ago.”
I suspect it’s that attitude that separates the complacent from the rebels, the sheep from the sharks. We’re always planning on doing even better, always planning on being even more, so we keep working.
A 2,000 year old story about a Roman you might know…
A Roman found himself in Alexandria, Egypt before the ancient grand statue of Alexander the Great. The Roman was 32 years old, the same age as Alexander at the time of Alexander’s passing. When Alexander passed he left behind an empire that spanned across most of the “known world.”
The Roman reflected on his own life at 32 years old. The Roman had no empire. In fact, in comparison to Alexander, the Roman had nothing. He began to cry as he looked at the statue. He cried because despite his own personal achievements, when standing before the statue of Alexander, the Roman felt insignificant. He thought history would never remember him the way it would remember Alexander the Great.
That Roman lives in all of us.
We’ve all seen greatness and wanted to achieve it. We’ve all wanted to take ourselves up a notch. We’ve all compared our accomplishments to those of others. We’ve all fallen short in our comparisons, and fallen short in our goals.
… but sometimes hard work pays and dreams come true.
So who was the 32 year old Roman crying in front of Alexander’s statue 2,000 years ago? You may have heard of him. His name was Julius Caesar. Like Alexander he would go on to change world history. Like Alexander he would set in stone a legacy that would last until the end of time. What did Caesar do after crying in front of Alexander’s statue? He hopped on a ship, went back to Rome, got to work, and made his dreams come true.
More importantly, Caesar, the crying Roman, not Alexander, was the greater man.
Why was Caesar greater than Alexander? Legacies, reformations, and political and military triumphs aside, we have two men of great achievement, but they did not start off equally. Alexander was able to accomplish so much at such a young age because he was the son of an Emperor. He inherited an empire. All Alexander had to do to be successful was grow his empire and maintain the status quo. Julius Caesar was not so fortunate. He had to take out huge debt, defy the odds on countless occasions, and literally risk everything to fight like a dog through war fields and political arenas to gain and expand his empire.