For Marcus Aurelius, becoming powerful was not a measure of success. Neither was defeating invading tribes, or even becoming a philosophical genius.
To him, the criteria for success were simple: displaying good character and doing good works. The fruit of this life, the fruit of the study of philosophy, he said, was just that: “good character and acts for the common good.”
This is a wonderful mantra worth repeating to ourselves always. It’s so easy to get distracted by other things, by other definitions of success. We see other people getting recognition and we want it. We see them making money and suddenly what we have is not enough. We see them getting away with things and think, maybe we should try that too.
Oh, how this leads us astray! Making money, getting recognition, getting away with things? These require things outside your control to go right. And even when they do, they still won’t matter.
What matters, always, is whether we’re cultivating our character. What matters is whether, by our actions, we are part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Are we helping, contributing, being a positive difference maker, even if only in the tiniest way? Good character and good deeds. Those are up to you, always. And you can do it right, right now. We all can, always.