Holmes has always been intense and pragmatic, and one book that she read in her formative years helped harden her resolve.
When she left Houston for Stanford University in 2002 to study chemical engineering as an undergraduate, her parents sent her with a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations,” according to a New Yorker profile by Ken Auletta.
The book, a collection of personal writings from the chaotic last decade of the ancient Roman emperor’s life, is the philosopher king’s interpretation of Stoic philosophy, focusing on accepting things out of one’s control and maintaining mastery over one’s emotions.
About a year after enrolling, Holmes dropped out of Stanford to build Theranos, a blood test company based on the premise that an analysis of a single drop of blood could replace the costly and uncomfortable current blood tests.
While many in the scientific community have expressed scepticism over the efficacy of the tests due to the current lack of (but upcoming) peer-reviewed trials of the technology, the promise of the company and the trust in Holmes as a leader has resulted in $US400 million in venture capital raised and a deal with Walgreens, resulting in Holmes’ $US4.6 billion estimated net worth, according to Forbes.
To find out what may have inspired Holmes, we’ve gone through Gregory Hays’ translation of “Meditations” and selected some of its most important lessons.
Understand that people exist to help one another.
Marcus believed that even though there will always be people who live selfishly and those who want to destroy others, mankind was meant to live in harmony. “That we came into the world for the sake of one another,” he writes.
And within society, leaders such as himself emerge. And it is their duty to be the guardian of their followers.
Be mindful of others’ humanity.
Remember that every one of your followers, every one of your superiors, and every one of your enemies is a human being who eats and sleeps and so forth. It sounds obvious, but it is easy to belittle or to magnify the importance of others when you are making a decision about them.
Remember that every person has dignity and pride.
Realise that many mistakes, even egregious ones, are the result of ignorance.
When a person makes a decision that offends you, Marcus writes, first consider whether they were “right to do this” in the sense that they are acting in a way that is morally acceptable, even if it is against your own self-interest. In that case, do not spend energy complaining about it.
If, however, they are behaving in a reprehensible way, consider their actions to be based in ignorance. It’s for this reason that many of these offenders “resent being called unjust, or arrogant, or greedy,” Marcus writes. When dealing with your followers, punishment or chastisement should thus be done in an educational way.
Do not overly exalt yourself.
It is true that leaders should take their leadership roles seriously, but not in a way that makes them feel godlike in some way.
Remember, “you’ve made enough mistakes yourself,” Marcus writes. “You’re just like them.” And if you’ve managed to avoid some of the mistakes your followers make, then recognise that you have the potential to falter and do even worse.
Avoid quick judgments of others’ actions.
Sometimes what you initially perceive as your followers’ or your competition’s mistakes are more wise and deliberate than you think.
“A lot of things are means to some other end. You have to know an awful lot before you can judge other people’s actions with real understanding,” Marcus says.
While it is natural to react to an offence by losing your temper or even becoming irritated, it is in no way constructive. To maintain control over your emotions, Marcus writes, remember that life is short.
You can choose to spend your time and energy languishing over things that have already happened, or you can choose to be calm and address any problems that arise.
Recognise that others can hurt you only if you let them.
Think about a time when someone insulted you, for example. You made the decision to let their words hurt you, when you could have instead pitied them for being ignorant or rude.
The only actions that should truly hurt you, Marcus writes, are things you do that are shameful, since you are in control of your own self-worth and values.
Know that pessimism can easily overtake you.
It is common to have strong emotional reactions to disasters, but behaving in this way only keeps you from addressing the challenges that arise and fills you with powerful negative thoughts.
“How much more damage anger and grief do than the things that cause them,” Marcus says.
Live in the present.
“Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see,” Marcus writes.
Refrain from imposing your feelings onto reality.
Your company collapses, your house burns down, you lose all your money — none of these are “bad” (or “good” for that matter), according to Marcus’ philosophy. When you see things as they really are, you’re able to avoid succumbing to your emotions and accept what has happened.
Turn an obstacle into an opportunity.
Ryan Holiday’s book “The Obstacle Is the Way” is based off this Stoic fundamental, which says that we should use inevitable challenges as a chance to become a stronger person. Holiday likes “The Black Swan” author Nassim Taleb’s definition of a Stoic, which is someone who “transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.”
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