Posted in Money on November 28th, 2017
When we look at great leaders throughout history, Caesar Augustus (referred to as Octavius in this post) ranks as one of the top leaders in history. Born and raised during a challenging transition in the Roman Era, as Rome devolved from a republic to an empire and faced numerous civil wars and challenges, Octavius worked to fight the decline of the Roman Era, even though decline is inevitable after a period of prosperity. Octavius succeeded in his lifetime by preventing Rome’s decline and leading to a period called Pax Romana. Unlike Marcus Aurelius, Octavius helped return Rome to its glory for a significant period after his death (over 200 years), while Aurelius and his policies were responsible for the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.
1. Difficulty creates advantage. The Roman Empire existed only as part of the larger Roman Era. Rome grew from a small agricultural community of young outcasts to a kingdom (at first under the control of non-Roman leaders) to a later Republic. Octavius’ life saw the decline and end of the Republic – no system lasts forever. Octavius became the first emperor of the Roman Empire after the conflict grew between the former aristocracy and the general public. The aristocracy did not want to lose, while the general public grew tired of the aristocratic oppression. While the Roman Republic had offered a superior system for its time, no system lasts forever, and the transition from Republic to Empire resulted in civil war. Initially, Octavius battled aristocratic families from the Roman Republic before facing off against Mark Antony. While the times challenged Octavius – as he was the underdog in the conflict, it also helped him grow to become one of history’s most respected leaders.
Difficulty sucks, or it seems to suck, but it forces us to grow character that we wouldn’t grow on our own. We don’t succeed because we have advantages; it’s the lack of advantage that encourages us to press on beyond our capacity. Were you born in poverty? Good news – you have an advantage because you see what most people need that others from wealthier backgrounds can’t. Do you have a massive amount of student loans? Good, because when you pay them off quickly, your story will carry more power than a story about a person who had very little. The more you struggle, the more your story will connect and resonate with others. Your difficulty becomes your advantage.
2. Mentor with people better than yourself. Octavius learned many skills from Julius Caesar, one major lesson which came from Caesar’s death. Octavius started further ahead of most leaders in his time because he learned skills at a young age from a mentor. When we look at what he accomplished and how he was able to overcome major problems, consider the early impact of having a mentor who had also faced difficult challenges (Octavius succeeded further than Julius Caesar).
A conversation or answer from a wise man can be better than a book on the entire topic. In some cases, the answer is a better use of time. Consider that some people will spend 10 to 20 hours trying to answer a personal challenge in their life, when a discussion with a mentor might cost them less than 10 minutes. If they made median individual income, 10 hours alone researching a solution for their problem would have cost them more than $100. Most people do not consider their time this way, which is why many people waste decades of their life “learning” when it would have only taken a year or so. If you want to make your time go further, find and use mentors, as the cost may be less than the time you spend without them.
3. Your friends reflect an image of you. Octavius befriended and was fiercely loyal to one of the great generals in history – Marcus Agrippa. Agrippa didn’t just help Octavius in battle by defeating numerous enemies while being the underdog, he shared Octavius’ vision of Rome returning to its glory. Agrippa helped build numerous structures in Rome while he wasn’t fighting. In other words, unlike what we expect in a military industrial complex (“we need enemies!”), Agrippa wanted to contribute to Rome outside of empire expansion and battle victories. Roman infrastructure increased, which increased Roman’s standard of living, helping them be more satisfied with Octavius.
Let’s take an honest look at who we befriend: these people speak volumes about who we are. Octavius chose Agrippa who shared his vision and values while being loyal to him. Consider two opposite people: one person who values his time and one person who doesn’t value his time – how can these two different people accomplish things together when they don’t share the same values? This is especially true with close and intimate relationships, such as marriage. If one spouse is frugal while the other spouse is a spendthrift, we can expect to see a significant amount of conflict.
Remember, money reflects vision because money always follows character. How do your friends value their money? How does your significant other value his money? How do the people you’re closest to value their money?
4. Success requires the basics. Like the Chinese civilization, the early Roman Era emphasized marriage and family as a requirement for success. When Rome began its decline, it stepped away from the basic unit and Octavius was quick to return marriage and family to the front of Roman life by adjusting laws that encouraged both. Marriage and family give people a buy-in to the culture where they live. In the desire to see their children succeed, people work to make their culture succeed. Octavius understood this, as did the early Romans. We can even see this today when we compare married people with children to single people – married people are much more productive than single people, and the competition isn’t even close. Even the anti-marriage WaPo saw this with married men versus single men:
This translates into a substantial marriage premium for men. On average, young married men, aged 28-30, make $15,900 more than their single peers, and married men aged 44-46 make $18,800 more than their single peers.
That’s even after controlling for differences in education, race, ethnicity, regional unemployment, and scores on a test of general knowledge.
Marriage makes a bigger difference for success than education. Family also increases this financial premium. This highlights the brilliance of Octavius: while being strong and wise, he still grasped the value of the basics, which are easy to overlook as a society becomes more complex and successful. If productivity in a society is declining, the reason is obvious: the society has moved away from the basics.
We will never succeed in finance without the basics: these are basic for a reason. As we develop ourselves, we may engage in a self-delusion that the basics don’t matter, but they actually matter more, since we’re not fighting our own nature. A basic principle of financial success is discipline: just because we become billionaires doesn’t mean we can now act undisciplined – we must continue the basics of discipline throughout our life. Like Octavius understood, we must never think we are wiser than the basics. A fool becomes self-deluded with knowledge whereas a wise man humbly recognizes the values of the basics.
We find it ironic that Western academics praise Marcus Aurelius, even though he and his destructive policies contributed to the collapse of his empire and the rise of the Eastern Roman Empire. For an example, his hostility toward the Judeo-Christian religious tradition led to the migration of Judeo-Christians East, which later helped contribute to the rise of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine). By contrast, Octavius faced more challenges than Aurelius and yet lead the Roman Empire to one of its greatest periods in the Roman Era. When people think of Roman’s greatness, they often imagine a period during or right after Octavius. Considering that the Roman Republic could have easily collapsed to never return, Octavius’ work made Rome one of the greatest eras in human history as far as lengthening the time the Roman Era lasted.