If Marcus Aurelius’ only accomplishment in life were to choose a capable heir, it would have outweighed the almost 20 years he spent administering a massive Roman empire.
Rome never recovered from his choice of Commodus as his heir. He wrote philosophy and went on campaigns but his legacy truly hinged on one thing: the succession. In neglecting the succession all his virtues were in vain. He could have spent 20 years lying around smoking pot and come out ahead if only he had chosen the right heir. This is Marcus Aurelius’ error.
There are chokepoints in life. All the stuff that happens in between is just filler while just a few things decide everything—whether we are successes or failures for all time.
I notice in most people I meet in America an utter disregard for the greater game of life. They mindlessly attend parties and have legions of facebook friends but not one person they could call upon in a time of dire need. Nor do they have a plan for family or progeny. They just serve out their days like assembly line robots. Yet the robots serve a pure purpose for which they were made. The torment of modern Americans is the torment of constant busyness without purpose.
They grind away obediently at relentless jobs never seeming to care about the things that will actually matter. On their death beds they invariably realize that maybe a fraction of 1% of their time alive went into anything meaningful.
Like Marcus Aurelius they were seduced away from the meaningful life by colorful distractions.
If we distance ourselves for a moment from the noise of our lives, we will see that only a few things will ever really matter. If we can just get those few things right, the rest takes care of itself.