Rutilius Rufus, as we detail in Lives of the Stoics was incorruptible. And what was his reward for this? He was indicted on trumped up charges and driven into exile. Marcus Aurelius was good and decent and fair. And for this? Fate handed him a plague and floods...and then his best friend attempted a coup. And how do modern historians recognize this? Well, Mary Beard recently called him a fascist.
This is how it goes. Life is not fair.
Dr. Katalin Kariko spent years grinding away in academic obscurity. She came to America with $900. Despite her hard work and brilliant theories, she never made more than $60,000 per year. She had to fight to keep her positions on countless occasions. And then suddenly, in 2020, her mRNA research was of paramount importance to the health and welfare of humanity. Her research directly led to the vaccines that have now saved hundreds of millions of lives from debilitating illness, long-term health problems, and death. The reward for all this quiet struggle and persistence? Well, she was just snubbed for a Nobel Prize.
Again, this is how it goes. It’s stupid and unjust, but hardly a surprise. Still, her husband told reporters a few months ago that we shouldn’t feel too sorry for his wife. Because she loved going to work everyday. She wasn’t motivated by awards, or any other kind of tangible reward. She did it because it was the right thing to do. It was her duty, her purpose.
So it went for Marcus Aurelius and Rutilius Rufus. Decency and a commitment to the common good? These weren’t strategies for getting ahead. It was getting ahead. It was the best way to live. For them, it was the only way to live.
Don’t work for the external rewards. Because they will not come. Or worse, what does come will not be a reward at all. Instead, do your work because it’s right. Because it’s who you are. Because the alternative is even more unthinkable. The Daily Stoic.
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