How Right You Were

Solomon, the philosopher king, said over 2,500 years ago, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  Of course we have new technology, new approaches to problems, as well as new problems to solve, but the human factor has changed little. Shakespeare’s intriguing plots and rich characters are as recognizable and relevant today, with a change of costume and updated dialogue, as they were to his Elizabethan audiences.

I suppose that is what amazed me about these six timeless mistakes that people make, penned by Julius Caesar’s great contemporary, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC). I have to thank Ray Watson of CEO Nexus for introducing me to them.

1) The illusion that personal gain is made by crushing others.

Vince Lombardi is famous for the maxim, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” Though the quote is often attributed to the famous coach, he never said it. His actual words were, “Winning is not everything, but making the effort to win is.” Certainly everyone wants to win, but in the game of life we don’t always win by assuring someone else loses, and we never win when our goal is not to just win, but to humiliate our competitor.

2) The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected.

The wise Nazarene said, “Who by being anxious can add a single foot to their lifespan.” Or my high school chorus instructor who used to sing, “Worry, worry is like a rocking chair; it keeps you busy, but it gets you nowhere.” Indifference is a scourge, but anxiety about what we have no power or ability to correct will drain your life and relationships.

3) Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it.

Who among Cicero’s contemporaries could foresee cell phones, television, computers, automobiles, jet aircraft, electric appliances or walking on the moon? We take these for granted, but for the ancient Roman it was unimagined. Someone suggested the motto, “No one knows enough to be a pessimist!” Limiting others because of our own inabilities, fears or failures is the worst form of tyranny, not to mention the fact that it destroys innovation.

4) Refusing to set aside trivial preferences.

Winston Churchill once said, “A fanatic is someone who won’t change their mind and can’t change the subject!” Mind you, Churchill was a man of bedrock convictions. But often we turn the application of an important principle into orthodoxy, which we then defend against all threats, foreign and domestic. We have to differentiate between the principle and how we apply it, which may be a personal preference.

5) Neglecting development and refinements of the mind and not acquiring the habit of reading and study.

You would be amazed at the number of people who haven’t read a single book since they left school. Yet, the one characteristic I have seen in every successful leader is they are lifelong learners. Quit complaining about the traffic and use the time to take in a great book. I read several that I might never have read, Virgil’s Aenied, Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Pickens’ The First Billion is the Hardest during my commute time last month.