When The Whole Damn World Is a Cage

It was Juvenal who said of Alexander the Great that while he was alive the world was not big enough to contain his ambition. There are many extraordinary individuals like this. Caesar followed Alexander and Genghis Khan followed them both. Mozart had it, Lyndon Johnson had it, Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton both had it. Perhaps you too know this feeling, to have this urge to do enormous things, to make your mark and leave your legacy and you feel almost claustrophobic in your small town, in your youth, with your limited time, as you try to plot your efforts to achieve greatness.

It’s the second part of Juvenal’s quote about Alexander that is so great. He said that while Alexander chafed at the confines of the world in life, in death, “a coffin was enough.”

There is another story, one favored by a conqueror even greater than Alexander, not only in scope but in how he did it and what he did after. That man’s name was Dwight D. Eisenhower. He literally won a world war. He saved Western Civilization from the worst threats it ever faced. Yet he carried around in his wallet a clipping of a short poem, with a kicker almost as potent as the line from Juvenal, as way to humble himself. We’ll leave one of the verses here for you as a reminder for today, as you feel the pull of your ambition or the gravitational pull of the ego that accompanies it:

Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining
Is a measure of how you’ll be missed.

P.S. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.