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It’s Good That You’re Scared

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It is said that Marcus Aurelius cried when he was told he would be a future emperor. The whole idea scared him. Most kings were terrible. Most had done terrible things. He was more comfortable in the company of his books, not in the court of a king. He would have much rather followed than led.

There are things that scare all of us. Maybe we’re intimidated by public speaking. Maybe we’re scared to quit our jobs and start our own thing. Maybe we don’t want to be the one who steps forward and blows the whistle. Maybe we’re reluctant to really go for it.

Marcus Aurelius was lucky that he had mentors and advisors who saw his potential and pushed him, as we depict in The Boy Who Would Be King. They didn’t let him linger and languish down at the level of his fears. No matter how much you study Cleanthes and Zeno, one of his mentors would tell him, “against your will you must put on the purple cloak, not the philosopher’s tunic of coarse wool.”

Meaning: You have to be emperor. It’s your destiny. You can’t run from it.

Perhaps it was a good thing that Marcus was scared. It meant he took the job seriously. It meant he was aware of its magnitude, and its risks. It meant he was aware of his own limitations too. But it was an even better thing that he did not let this fear rule, that his study of philosophy taught him the courage to rise above it—to push ahead, to meet the time as it sought him.

And so must you. It’s ok that you’re scared. Now you’ll need to be brave. Brave like Marcus, brave like all the people who have ever met their destinies. Against your will, against your fears, you must step forward. You must put on the cloak.