Work Hard – Like an Ant.

The famous stoic, Marcus Aurelius – Roman emperor – 161 to 180 A.D. in his book of meditations/thoughts, has the following conversation, (it’s unclear if the conversation occurred just in his mind, or if he recorded an actual talk that he had with someone),

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm? 

– But it’s nicer here….”

So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their daily tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

– But we have to sleep sometime…

Agreed. But nature set a limit on that – as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You have had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota.

You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what that demands of you. “

You can hear the sense of sarcasm in his voice. I think that most of the people I come across have got this area of their lives right. Here is why:

  • You can’t be lazy and be an endurance athlete. Well, it’s unlikely.
  • Athletes needing to balance out family, career, and training certainly don’t sleep too much.

Aurelius invites us to look at nature. The Old Testament book of Proverbs touches on this point too, “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, Which, having no captain, Overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest.” Prov 6:6-8.
hard working ant

It would seem as if both Aurelius and the writer of Proverbs both looked down one day and watched a group of ants. Ever seen an ant leaning against a leaf, ever spotted an ant taking a nap?

The two thinkers mentioned above invite us to look at nature. To understand that this life requires effort from us. Work and training are good. In fact, according to Aurelius, work is required of us. We obviously need to balance things out: family, work, training and rest all need a place in our lives.

I have been following Jocko Willink on Instagram and have watched a few of his talks on Youtube. Jocko, according to Wikipedia, “…is an American podcaster, author and retired United States Navy SEAL, who received the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his actions in the Iraq War.” He takes a photograph of his watch every morning as he wakes up for his workout, this he says helps him accountable to those around him.


You can find his Instagram feed here.

The take-home point from this is that he is prepared to work hard – ants, birds, spiders, bees – all work hard. You and I should too. Don’t get sucked into the narrative that says that you are just one good app idea away from becoming a billionaire. That might just happen, but the chances are slim. Most of the millionaire/ billionaire stories that I have heard has the hero working like a slave behind the scenes for years on end, suffering setback after setback and multiple idea rejections – and then suddenly the success comes. Eddie Cantor put it this way, “It takes 20 years to make an overnight success”.

  • Well done to the athletes that we deal with. You show a daily appreciation for the principle spoken about here.
  • If you are reading this and realizing that you have always been looking for the short cut, this may help redirect your thinking.
  • If you are involved in HR, ask your job applicant if they are regularly involved in sport or training. A yes might just indicate that you have someone who only stops when the job is done.




Mike Roscoe.






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