From the outside, it can all seem very impressive. Think of Marcus Aurelius, marching into Rome in triumph. Think of him looking down at the crowds in the coliseum. Think of him looking up, as they erect a 39 meter marble column to his accomplishments.
But those who have had these things, they know. They know what Lyndon Johnson—a man who chased power harder and more desperately than just about anyone—knew when he described a life “filled with trips… chauffeurs, men saluting, people clapping… in the end it is nothing.”
In the end it is nothing. Money. Power. Fame. It doesn’t mean anything and it does not last. That’s what Marcus Aurelius reminded himself constantly. Who cares now of Alexander the Great’s victories, he said? Who remembers Vespasian? Who will care how fancy my house is? Who will be impressed at how many servants I had? Or how much the crowds cheered for me?
The only thing that mattered to the Stoics was “good character, good intentions, and good actions.” Right now. The only thing that should matter to us is whether we were acting rightly in the moment, whether we were striving for that summum bonum—towards and for virtue.
Just do the right thing, Marcus said, the rest doesn’t matter.