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Let This Humble You

Daily Stoic Emails

Here’s a humbling thought: Even if your life is amazing and successful, even if you mind your own business and are kind to everyone you meet, somebody, somewhere is going to be happy when you’re dead. Somebody who wants to buy your house, somebody who you pissed off in high school, an up and comer looking to enter the job market, some hater who doesn’t like your work—they’re going to smile when they hear the news that you’ve passed. At the very least, there are some worms who are going to be glad to get to work on your corpse. 

It’s true for you and it’s true for everyone. It was as true for Gandhi and Mother Teresa as it is true for Anthony Bourdain and David Bowie and Kate Spade and the countless others who we say have left us too soon. Marcus Aurelius knew it would be true for himself, even though he was one of history’s few examples of a good king. As he wrote:

It doesn’t matter how good a life you’ve led. There’ll still be people standing around the bed who will welcome the sad event. Even with the intelligent and good. Won’t there be someone thinking “Finally! To be through with that old schoolteacher. Even though he never said anything, you could always feel him judging you.” And that’s for a good man. How many traits do you have that would make a lot of people glad to be rid of you? Remember that, when the time comes.

Really though, that’s something to remember now—hopefully long before your time comes. Because it helps prevent ego from creeping in. It prevents you from getting too caught up in trying to please everyone all the time. In a way, it’s a relief to accept that not everyone is rooting for us, and that no matter how successful we are, we can’t win over the whole world. 

Be true to who you are, Marcus said. Be kind and caring to the people who matter to you. And don’t be too attached to life or your reputation, because, at the end of the day, we all get knocked down to the same level when we die. Whether we’re Alexander the Great or Mr. Rogers or a mule driver, we get buried in the ground and chewed up by bugs until there’s nothing left. And some people are glad to hear of it. 

It’s a humbling thought.

P.S. This was originally sent on October 23, 2019. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.