This is going to be a short post. Meditations, from Marcus Aurelius (He touched me on the shoulder once), is one of those books I've read dozens of times and refer to with regularity. It's a treasure trove of profound and useful thoughts. Here is one of those thoughts:
This post was written because I overheard a few guys talking about various conspiracy theories about who really rules the world. It was fun to listen to, and I noticed that the Rockefeller family came up more than once. As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite biographies is Ron Chernow's fascinating portrait of the man, the myth, and the legend, John Rockefeller. Curiously (or not so curiously) the things that I find most interesting about the man, weren't discussed in the conspiracy theory conversation.
I don't know if a select few families rule the world and I don't really care. Say they do, how does that affect my life? The answer is not at all. What can affect my life are the things I learn and apply from the books I read. I will leave the conspiracy theories and the Illuminati to other people and focus on the fascinating and useful aspects of John Rockefeller's life.
Rockefeller started working at 16 as a book keeper after one of the most famous job searches in American history. He walked around Cleveland, OH for almost 2 months going from business to business looking for work, until someone gave him a shot. Once he got his job, he attacked it with vigor - starting work at 6:30 am and working well into the evening. In a journal entry from this time, he resolved to himself to start going home earlier, so he set 10 pm as a cut-off time - and had trouble sticking to it.
When his church was faced with foreclosure, the twenty year old Rockefeller jumped into action. In recalling the ordeal he said, "The plan absorbed me, I contributed what I could, and my first ambition to earn money was aroused by this and similar undertakings in which I was constantly engaged." In a few months he raised the $2,000 and saved the church.
Few men in American history have been as hated as John Rockefeller. Most of the bad things said about him are either true or have bits of truth in them. The one thing that never changed in his 98 years was his mental toughness under extreme scrutiny. He said, "You can abuse me, you can strike me, so long as you let me have my own way."
Cool Under Pressure:
Chernow writes, "As always, the greater the tumult, the cooler Rockefeller became, and a strange calm settled over him when his colleagues were most disconcerted." Rockefeller's greatest strength might have been keeping clear thinking in chaotic situations. No incident illustrates this as well as the depression of 1873. In this econominc down turn the price of oil was plummeting, but because of Rockefeller's stewardship Standard Oil had significant cash reserves. While other companies were struggling and looking to sell at extremely low prices, Rockefeller was there ready to buy. In this time of turmoil he began the most aggressive expansion of his business.
Work Life Balance:
While Rockefeller was no stranger to hard work, as his family and business grew, he made sure to take time for both and avoid burn-out. He apparently, "worked at a more leisurely pace than many other executives, napping daily after lunch and often dozing in a lounge chair after dinner." While his later accounts of his leisurely existence were almost certainly overstated, there's no doubt that he placed great importance on rest, relaxation, and physical exertion. He was quoted as saying, "It is remarkable how much we all could do if we avoid hustling and go along at an even pace and keep from attempting too much." That sounds like it could've been written on a blog post today. He was living proof that real consistency day in and day out were more powerful than sporadic bursts of inspiration.
At twenty nine years old, Rockefeller was visiting New York City to meet with various heads of the railroads to secure the terms for shipping his oil. When seventy four year old O.G. Cornelius Vanderbilt summoned Rockefeller and his partner to his office, Rockefeller declined and didn't go to the meeting. Instead, he sent a reply message to the seventy four year old "emperor of the railroad world," to come to him. He knew that Vanderbilt needed his business more than he needed Vanderbilt's railroad and he wanted to flex his muscles. I don't care what century it is - being a young twenty-something upstart, demanding the preeminent businessman of your era to come to you to discuss terms takes some balls.
Rockefeller is an interesting case study because he was the ultimate robber baron as well as the ultimate philanthropist. The common thought is that he began to give his money away later in life to atone for his sins in business, but there's no evidence to support that theory. As a young man he was a staunch abolitionist and as a dedicated church-goer, he consistently gave a percentage of his income to his charity. He wrote, "I have my earliest ledger and when I was only making a dollar a day, I was giving five, ten, or twenty-five cents to all these objects [charitable causes]." In 1859, at the age of twenty, he contributed money to a black man in Cincinnati so he could buy his wife out of slavery. At twenty, Rockefeller was not a rich man, but he gave to the causes he believed in - he also loved his business and the making of as much profit as possible. He never saw these two things as being mutually exclusive. In fact, he viewed his wealth as a means to do God's work and to help as many people as he could.
Maybe after all of these things, the Rockefeller family did in fact take over the world. Maybe they are an evil family with secret motives that we common folk will never understand. Maybe. What's certain is that if you study and apply the positive aspects of John Rockefeller's life and personality you will undoubtedly see a positive change in your life and financial situation. That's what I care about - everyone else is welcome to keep conspiracy theories.
Someone asked me why I was reading this book. They asked because shes a female UFC star - not someone I have a lot in common with. I don't really care what she does to be honest. I picked up the book because I know how good she is at what she does. She's the best in the world in her profession. So when I saw she had a book coming out, it was a no-brainer to give it a shot.
To put things in perspective, she began training for MMA in 2010 (after taking a year off from Judo) while she was working three jobs just to make ends meet. Since then she's 11-0 and has dominated women's MMA. She's been in movies like The Expendables, Fast 7, and the new Entourage movie, and she was called the world's most dominant athlete on the cover of a recent Sports Illustrated. All of this in 5 years. In a field where there was no proven track record for success. Anyone who's done that, I want to know more about.
This isn't a review, I just think there was a lot of great insight into the mind of a top performer. I'm just going to share some of my favorite parts:
For those who don't know, Bruce Lee was an Asian-American martial artist and actor. He died in 1973 at the age of 33 right before the release of the film that cemented his legend, Enter the Dragon. He considered himself an "artist of life" and focused on cultivating all areas of his life. He came of age in a time when Americans were not particularly friendly to Asians and coming from nothing, became and international icon. He trained people from all walks of life from college friends to famous actors like Steve McQueen. He was just an amazingly dynamic human being which is why his likeness is still being used all over the place from video games to car commercials. I obviously never met the man, but his example and his writings have had a huge impact on my life.
One of my favorite books of all time is his Tao of Jeet Kune Do. I picked it up when I was about 12 years old and it truly changed me. Before I bought it, I was a chubby kid going through the most awkward phase of my life just looking for a way to grow up faster.
I don't think I appreciated the full depth of the book at 12, but I understood the sections on daily exercise and the basic philosophy behind his art form and I ran with it. I started exercising every day between 6th and 7th grade while also going through a major growth spurt. When I came back to school, people literally didn't recognize me.
The physical benefits of following Lee's protocols were great, but going through the process is what stuck with me. The idea of consciously transforming yourself and putting in the work so that your actions can be executed unconsciously was profound to me.
I've read and re-read this book many times over the years, here are my favorite quotes from the book.
Art reaches its greatest peak when devoid of self-consciousness. Freedom discovers man the moment he loses concern over what impression he is making or about to make.
Eliminate "not clear" thinking and function from your root.
Art calls for complete mastery of techniques, developed by reflection within the soul.
The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement; you ought not to be thinking of whether it ends in victory or in defeat. Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment.
When there is freedom from mechanical conditioning, there is simplicity. Life is a relationship to the whole.
Understanding oneself happens through a process of relationships and not through isolation.
If emotional control is not well-learned, critical moments in the fight when the emotional tension is highest will result in loss of skill by the fighter. His muscles suddenly must work against his own over-tense antagonistic muscles. He becomes stiff and clumsy in his movements. Expose yourself to various conditions and learn.
Experience shows that an athlete who forces himself to the limit can keep going as long as necessary. This means that ordinary effort will not tap or release the tremendous store of reserve power latent in the human body. Extraordinary effort, highly emotionalized conditions or a true determination to win at all costs will release this extra energy. Therefore, an athlete is actually as tired as he feels and, if he is determined to win, he can keep on almost indefinitely to achieve his objective. The attitude, "You can win if you want to badly enough," means that the will to win is constant. No amount of punishment, no amount of effort, no condition is too "tough" to take in order to win. Such an attitude can be developed only if winning is closely tied to the practitioner's ideals and dreams.
A practitioner must learn to perform at top speed all the time, not to coast with the idea that he can "open up" when the time comes. The real competitor is the one who gives all he has, all the time. The result is that he works close to his capacity at all times and in so doing, forms an attitude of giving all he has. In order to create such an attitude, the practitioner must be driven longer, harder, and faster than normally would be required.
Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just a punch, a kick was just a kick. After I'd studied the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick.
Intelligence is sometimes defined as the capacity of the individual to adjust himself successfully to his environment - or to adjust the environment to his needs.
The more aware you become, the more you shed from day to day what you have learned so that your mind is always fresh and uncontaminated by previous conditioning.
So, we acquire a sense of worth either by realizing our talents, or by keeping busy or by identifying ourselves with something apart from us - be it a cause, a leader, a group, possessions or whatnot. The path of self-realization is the most difficult. It is taken only when other avenues to a sense of worth are more or less blocked. Men of talent have to be encouraged and goaded to engage in creative work. Their groans and laments echo through the ages.
We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. Yet, it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents as well.
If it is true, as Napoleon wrote to Carnot, "The art of government is not to let men grow stale," then, it is an art of unbalancing. The crucial difference between a totalitarian regime and a free social order, is perhaps, in the methods of unbalancing by which their people are kept active and striving.