Deep Thoughts

Why its better to be useful than original

It’s said that we process over 6,000 thoughts a day!

Now, to each of us, they all feel original. As we are the stars of our own movies, we look at everything from our own unique points of view. 

Yet, you might not feel it, but most of what comes into our minds is rarely original. And someone, somewhere across any point in time has most certainly thought and felt the same thing.

This is not a bad thing.

Originality in my opinion is overrated! Personally, I tend to not worry too much if my ideas and thoughts are original. I believe there is comfort in the sound of connected thoughts and feelings. No one wants to be the only person who has ever thought or felt a certain way. 

So, why am I banging on about the (un)originality of thoughts and feelings, and this being a good thing?

Well, two reasons.

First, becoming more self-aware of our connected human experience is imperative for our growth as a human and for our professional development. And secondly, there’s some comfort in understanding that you’re not alone in the way you think and feel.

The first one is something I experience more of as I move past different stages of life and now find myself in the role of my predecessors in a position of leadership. Funny how that happens too.

I spend more days now watching and listening to peers 10 and 15 years younger than I talk to me about their own thoughts and ideas. I always find this exciting to witness the unique first-time capture of a moment of eureka when one stumbles upon something new and revolutionary to them  

What I find of most interest is when they present an idea to me like it’s the most revolutionary thing the world has ever known and that no one anywhere could have thought of this before.

This always makes me chuckle because I’m sure this is what people saw in me in my early to mid 20’s.

This is not a bad thing though. It is always heartwarming to see younger generations so inspired, by what to them is an original thought, that they want to shout it from the rooftops.

A beautiful moment, I’m sure we could all agree.

I now understand with hindsight, as my predecessors before me, that this was another new interpretation of a thought or idea that has existed for hundreds of years. 

And in this case, something I had once thought was a eureka moment of genius of my own a decade before this younger person talked to me. This is the beauty of ageing in my opinion. The ability to blend new and old, and appreciate the joy of discovery in one’s own thought process. 

It now makes me recognise more than ever that none of us are here to exclusively create new ideas or thoughts. Instead, we can improve on what has come before and leave each place we pass through a little better as well.

That’s happened before, trust me

Still, it never ceases to surprise me how some things never change in this world, especially when it comes to human behaviour and the suffering we put ourselves through at times.

I regularly turn to words from interesting figures in years gone by to understand the mindset and approaches they developed in dealing with what the world threw at them. 

A book (it’s technically a journal that was never meant for public eyes) that I read every year, buy consistently as presents for others and recommend to everyone. Comes by the way of a great leader of the once-powerful Roman Empire. 

I share this with you as it’s been a constant reminder to me about how everything is pretty much the same when it comes to our experiences, thoughts and fears.

The book I’m referring to is called Meditations, which is the personal journal of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. And no, the book has nothing to do with meditating!

This book contains personal insight into Marcus’ life. It details his experiences and is basically a running conversation with himself on a variety of topics such as power, mental health, love, business, finances and ultimately trying to be a good person.

This writing has served me in evolving and humbling myself in so many ways. You could say it has been pivotal in designing my thought and mental process to face life’s challenges to this day.

For those not in the know, let me share a quick intro to Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus was the emperor of the colossal Roman Empire and he faced many great challenges during his life. The book we now know as meditations were actually Marcus’ personal journal, where he would remind himself of his own thoughts, what makes a good man, and confront his struggles. It was basically his own source of guidance. 

It was never intended for other eyes apart from his own, but thankfully his work has been shared with the world and it’s one of the greatest pieces of philosophy in known human existence.

Often referred to as the philosopher-king, Marcus’ writing has been widely adopted by many people and has experienced a somewhat resurgence in recent years as more of us seek meaning in these fast-paced times.

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

What we can learn about the originality of thoughts

I could honestly write a book of my own about what you can learn from Marcus’ writing, yet I’ll try to condense it to this next section.

I personally feel these journals provide insight into all too common themes that we all encounter to this day. The overarching theme is one of a human that is trying to do his best and be better against a backdrop of a world that wants to make him anything other than that.

Across the pages, we find regular entries where Marcus reminds himself of who he is, what he believes in and how he must prepare his mind to deal with the people and culture around him. 

What the book highlights well is that Marcus regardless of his position in the world was just another human and he reminded himself of that daily. 

Throughout it can be clearly seen that the problems we have today aren’t too dissimilar to what a man of 2000 years ago was also facing. He has similar anxieties about family, wealth and the uncertainty of the path ahead. I’m sure there are many of you reading this that have the same thoughts as Marcus did, it’s just that he was leading an empire. 

In many ways I wish this book was given to everyone, so we could all see that no matter the time in history, we all face similar experiences, fears and epiphanies.

I look at this book as a teaching resource and one of comfort.

I found comfort in the fact that a lot of the same stuff I think about now was also being faced by a leader of one the greatest empires the world has ever known. And guess what? He was just trying to navigate it all too. 

Personally, I love to revisit this book 2 – 3 times a year. It’s a continual reminder that we all feel the same and in many ways, it calms my own anxieties to know that I’m not alone in my sometimes irrational way of thinking. 

Over 2000 years ago, Marcus was experiencing the same issues and would remind himself through his diary and everyday practices to live in the moment, and to appreciate what is here now.

Plus, these journals have been around way before all these self-help gurus popped out of the woodwork with their, on some occasions, snake oil for the 21st century.

What is this all about?

This is a simple reminder that not everything has to be original and nor should it be.

Thoughts come and go. We have at some point in our lifetimes all felt and thought the same things. That I have no doubt. So don’t worry about trying to be original or feeling as if you’re the only one that feels a certain way.

Like I said earlier, original is overrated. Find ways to contribute to what exists today and make it better for those that come next. I shall finish off this post with a few of my favourite quotes from Marcus. Hopefully, you too may find some connection with these.

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”

“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”

“Failure to read what is happening in another’s soul is not easily seen as a cause of unhappiness, but those who fail to attend to the motions of their own soul are necessarily unhappy.”

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

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