Imagine what it must have been like to be Marcus Aurelius. He was the Emperor of Rome. People traveled from all the known corners of the world to pay him obeisance. Temples are erected in his honor. He led the Roman army to victory and was celebrated for it. He knew, even in his own time, that he was basically a member of a club that only about a couple hundred people had ever been in in history. His peers were Alexander the Great. Augustus. Cyrus. Pericles. Caesar.
And yet what do we find in his writings? Is it celebration of this fact? Congratulating himself for being so special? No. In fact, all he seems to do is to remind himself how ephemeral it all is. How quickly the power and fame can and will go away—especially after he dies. It wouldn’t become a saying until more than a thousand years later, but in Latin, that idea translates to “Sic transit gloria mundi.” All worldly glory is fleeting.
It’s true! How many of us know how to pronounce the name of Marcus’s adopted father and predecessor Antoninus Pius? Or Vitellius? These men were emperors too—yet most people have never even heard their names aloud. Can we name one of their accomplishments? One of their grand victories or honors? If Marcus Aurelius hadn’t been featured in the movie Gladiator, would the average person in 2017 even think his name sounded familiar?
The same goes for movie stars, millionaires, and whatever success we are able to cobble together ourselves. None of it will last. All of it will collapse and begin to fade away. To chase it is silly and meaningless. It is to build a sandcastle next to an incoming ocean.
Better to simply be a good person—because you can feel good about that right now. And it won’t need to “last” because you can renew it every second you remain on this planet by more goodness.