By Michael J. Zappa, MD, FACEP
Imagine any advice that could be considered wisdom; whether it seems like common sense or a profound revelation, it is probably not complex. Now think about how long it may be applicable…wisdom actually has no expiration date.
My sisters and I are the abundant beneficiaries of my father’s wisdom, from the sayings that were uniquely his such as “there’s no grass growing under my feet” – reminding us not to idle or move so slowly that seeds of grass had time to sprout, to his personal translations of great historical philosophers. Recently we came upon some notes he used when he was lecturing to adults looking to improve their status in life. These notes highlighted a saying from Socrates – pushing me to revisit the works of this ancient philosopher from Athens. As you read further, I’m sure you’ll agree that true wisdom lasts for generations and centuries.
Socrates said: “I cannot teach anyone anything…I can only make them think.” If you want to be a better person and leader, start by thinking about the following seven things.
Seven Pillars for a Good Life
Be by Doing
Avoid False Words
Beware of a Busy Life
Know yourself: discover and pursue your life’s purpose. You must believe in yourself and recognize the difference between a naysayer and a friend. A naysayer is often just a jealous competitor or a lazy individual who wants to keep your company, while a friend is someone who will tell you the truth, even when it hurts. Although it starts with believing in yourself, you must be open to the pain of hard work and improving in the areas critical for your success.
Be content: it is a conscious decision; it starts on the inside. Things cannot make anyone happy, nor can any person make another happy. In the words of Socrates: “he who is not content with what he has, will not be content with what he would like to have.”
Study: reading, cultivating, and exercising the mind is as essential to humans as eating and sleeping. Learning from mistakes is essential to the growth of a person, but isn’t it easier to learn from other people’s mistakes? The father of western philosophy said: “Employ your time in improving yourself by other’s writings so that you shall easily gain what others labored hard for.”
Be by doing: be the change you want to see. This is as relevant now as it was 2500 years ago; it takes more than just talk; it requires action – do it! “Let him who would move the world first move himself!”
Live rightly: behave in private just as you would if everyone were watching. Remember that there is a true difference between right and wrong. Doing something because others do, or because you can easily get away with it, doesn’t make it okay. Reputation is important, “A good name is worth more than wealth” continues to ring true even in our often materialistic modern world.
Avoid false words: whether minor inaccuracies, exaggerations, or blatant lies – all of these have a negative impact on you, those around you, and the world. Socrates professed: “False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.”
Beware of the busy life: frequently ask yourself “What are you accomplishing?” Be sure to take the time for the important things in life: your health, your family, your friends, and the beauty of the world around you. Work will be there even after your mortal body has left this earth. I appreciate these life changing words of Socrates that my father shared with me: “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”
It’s always valuable to reflect on fatherly wisdom; clearly the secrets to a meaningful life have not changed since 400 BC!
Dr. Michael J. Zappa is the president of Highsmith-Rainey Specialty Hospital, and Cape Fear Valley Health System Vice President and Associate Chief Medical Officer. He balances business acumen with clinical expertise, and shares his thoughts on leadership and the healthcare industry at mikezappa.com.
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