The General Fox Connor would tell his young protege Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Always take your job seriously, never yourself.” It’s a paradoxical truth: The responsibilities thrust upon you are important and your duty to those you lead or serve is everything, yet where these roles take you—be it to power or wealth or fame—says nothing about you.
Think about Eisenhower and why this advice would come to be so important. He would come to command one of the largest armies ever assembled. As president, he would possess the capacity to destroy civilizations at the touch of a button. He looked at these responsibilities with grave seriousness. Yet with himself and with friends, he was just Ike, a fallible human being doing the best he could. He was willing to give up that military power to become a civilian when the time came. At one point, he offered not to run for president if the parties in power would simply agree to a few basic commitments to the ideals he had just fought so hard to defend. And his rule as a politician? “Never engage in personalities.” Meaning he never attacked anyone personally and never got into pointless battles of ego.
Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself to avoid the “imperial stain” or “to avoid imperialization.” It was the same advice as Fox Connor: to not be changed by the seriousness of one’s job or the prestige of one’s office. We would be wise to follow—whether we’ve accumulated life-changing wealth or just been promoted to assistant store manager. Take the responsibility seriously but don’t let it make us an asshole. Work very hard and hold ourselves to the highest standards of excellence…but at the same time, don’t let it change us, corrupt us or make us forget that we are fallible humans, trying to do our best.
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