There’s a lesson to be found in how the Romans celebrated victory.
Courtesy of the Daily Stoic:
After a major military victory, the triumphant military generals were paraded through the streets to the roars of the masses. The ceremonial procession could span the course of a day with the military leader riding in a chariot drawn by four horses. There was not a more coveted honor. The general was idolized, viewed as divine by his troops and the public alike.
But riding in the same chariot, standing just behind the worshipped general, was a slave. The slave’s sole responsibility for the entirety of the procession was to whisper in the general’s ear continuously, “Respice post te. Hominem te esse memento. Memento mori!”
“Look behind. Remember thou art mortal. Remember you must die!”
But you’re not a Roman General, so how is this relevant to you?
We are often seduced by excitement, and duped into fantasising about the future, a future that is not yet in our possession. Nothing makes us more vulnerable.
The ego becomes inflated, and it becomes a barrier to doing.
After you win a promotion, remember, memento mori
After sales start coming in, remember, memento mori
After things start going well, remember, memento mori
Homo sapiens love extrapolating. If our team scores three goals in the first ten minutes of a football game, we expect a landslide victory. If 3-0 after 10 minutes, will it be 6-0 at 20 minutes, and 9-0 at 30 minutes, and so on?
Rarely so. In most cases, complacency sneaks in and performance starts to soften. Your team begins to concede. You cannot celebrate and focus on the present at the same time.
Therefore, after a football game, do not celebrate a victory any longer than you need to. Just because you have won five games in a row does not mean you will win the sixth. Draw confidence, sure, but not misplaced excitement.
Scored a goal? Remember, you must die.
If I were a coach, then after each goal I would have my players go up to the goalscorer, celebrate with him or her, and then whisper in the scorer’s ear ‘memento mori’. Yes, I would have them remind the goalscorer that they must die.
Then after the victory, in the locker room, we would spend time celebrating victory — for five minutes. After this I would stand up in front of them all and exclaim ‘memento mori’. Then, we would begin focusing on the next game, disregarding all that has come before.
We are most vulnerable when we are swept up in our own achievements or failures. Whilst we must always think long-term, we must always be able to focus on the present task. The best way I can see to do that, systematically, is through memento mori. Remembering that we must die.
So, how will your living count?