Perhaps because we all wish we were billionaires, we tend to listen closely when they tell us their success secrets. Last week, I shared the wisdom of America's first billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, whose advice rings true nearly a century after he died.

How much more, then, should we value the advice of the world's first billionaire, especially considering that he was the true founder of the self-help movement. His name was Seneca and he lived in early years of the Roman Empire.

In addition to being fabulously wealthy (he was at least worth a billion of today's dollars), he is also one of history's most famous philosophers and, because of that, the founder of the modern self-help movement.

Here's how it happened. Seminal motivational gurus like Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich) and Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) attended school systems where they taught "the classics," a canon that very much included Seneca.

The influence of Seneca (as you'll see by the quotes below) permeate their writing and, through them, the writing of nearly every motivational and inspirational writer and speaker since then.

The really interesting part of the Seneca story, however, is that... well, I'll save that little tidbit for the end of the post. Meanwhile, here some astoundingly relevant advice from a billionaire who made his swimming pool full of money almost two thousand years ago.

  1. A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor an individual perfected without trials.
  2. A great mind becomes a great fortune.
  3. A happy life is one which is in accordance with its own nature.
  4. A kingdom founded on injustice never lasts.
  5. A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer's hand.
  6. Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it.
  7. As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.
  8. As long as you live, keep learning how to live.
  9. Consider, when you are enraged at any one, what you would probably think if they should die during the dispute.
  10. Constant exposure to dangers will breed contempt for them.
  11. Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.
  12. Expecting is the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow, it loses today.
  13. For most people, the acquisition of wealth does not end their troubles, it only changes them.
  14. Genius always gives its best at first; prudence, at last.
  15. If you do not prevent a crime when you can, you're encouraging it.
  16. If you have great power, you should use it lightly.
  17. Health is the soul that animates all the enjoyments of life, which fade and are tasteless without it.
  18. If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.
  19. If you wished to be loved, love.
  20. In war there is no prize for runner-up.
  21. It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.
  22. It is more fitting to laugh at life than to lament over it.
  23. It is not the one who has too little, but the one who craves more, that is poor.
  24. It is the sign of a great mind to dislike greatness, and to prefer things in measure to things in excess.
  25. If you suffer before it is necessary, you suffer more than is necessary.
  26. Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.
  27. Night brings our troubles to the light, rather than banishes them.
  28. No evil propensity of the human heart is so powerful that it may not be subdued by discipline.
  29. No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.
  30. Nobody has ever become wise by chance.
  31. Nobody is laughable who can laugh at themselves.
  32. Nothing becomes so offensive so quickly as grief. When fresh it finds someone to console it, but when it becomes chronic, it is ridiculed, and rightly.
  33. Nothing is so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness is it to be expecting evil before it comes.
  34. One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.
  35. People are as miserable as they think they are.
  36. Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
  37. See how many are better off than you are, but consider how many are worse.
  38. Success is not greedy, as people think, but insignificant. That is why it satisfies nobody.
  39. The bravest sight in the world is to see a great soul struggling against adversity.
  40. The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.
  41. The first and greatest punishment of the sinner is the conscience of sin.
  42. The greatest remedy for anger is delay.
  43. The heart is great which shows moderation in the midst of prosperity.
  44. The mind unlearns with difficulty what it has long learned.
  45. There are more things to alarm us than to harm us, and we suffer more often in apprehension than reality.
  46. There is no person so severely punished, as those who subject themselves to the whip of their own remorse.
  47. Those who boast of their descent, brag on what they owe to others.
  48. True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.
  49. True praise comes often even to the lowly; false praise only to the high and mighty.
  50. We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.
  51. We become wiser by adversity; prosperity destroys our appreciation of the right.
  52. Whatever one of us blames in another, each one will find in his own heart.
  53. Whenever the speech is corrupted so is the mind.
  54. Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.
  55. While we are postponing, life speeds by.
  56. Wisdom does not show itself so much in precept as in life - in firmness of mind and a mastery of appetite.
  57. You must live for another if you wish to live for yourself.

Now, I promised you a tidbit and here it is. Seneca was so renowned in his time as a philosopher that he was appointed tutor to the future emperor Nero. Indeed, some of his wealth came from somewhat shady business deals that he made while in that position.

He doesn't appear to have inspired much loyalty in his erstwhile tutee, because when Nero, now emperor became paranoid after a bungled assassinated, he decided that Seneca was an unacceptable risk and commanded him to commit suicide. 

Seneca stoically took poison and cut his wrists but as the blood was flowing slowly out, he decided to wrap up some last minute correspondence. The soldiers who'd been sent to ensure he followed Nero's orders became impatient and stabbed him to death.

Which perhaps accounts for the somewhat woebegone expression on the statue of Seneca in the photo accompanying this column.

Published on: Aug 21, 2018
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