A Good Reminder From History

Here’s a humbling exercise, whenever you read an old book that speaks about contemporary events, look at the names. How many of these people—who were important enough to warrant a mention at the time—seem important now, a decades or centuries later? How many of them have you even heard of? How silly does the author’s reverence seem? How ridiculous does their assumption–that future readers would obviously know who and what they were talking about—that they didn’t bother to provide much context, seem?

Well, this timeless process is happening right now, as we speak. The things we feel are important, the names we toss out with familiarity will be utterly foreign just a few clicks down the road.

Marcus Aurelius knew this. In his Meditations, he points out how the emperors who came before him were barely remembered just a few years later. To him, this was a reminder that no matter how much he conquered, no matter how much he inflicted his will on the world, it would be like building a castle in the sand—soon to be erased by the winds of time.

The same is true for us. The same is true for the celebrities and statesmen and billionaires we might read about or even work for. All of us will be humbled by the passage of time. All of us will be humbled by irrelevance.