“What we do in life echoes in eternity.”
~ Maximus Aurelius (Gladiator)
Gladiator is my favorite movie. It’s a hero-to-zero-to-hero tale of perseverance, redemption, and revenge. Here’s are five powerful life lessons I’ve learned from it:
There are movie spoilers down yonder, so please watch this great movie before you read a sentence further!
1. Real Leadership Is More Powerful Than Having A Title
In the beginning of the film, we’re shown Maximus Aurelius lead his Roman army in war. Throughout the scenes, the respect and loyalty the men have for Maximus is palpable. And like usual, they are victorious in battle. Later in the movie, when Maximus is betrayed to the point that he becomes a slave, his powerful leadership qualities emerge even in the lowest human social rung on the ladder (slave). In the arena battles, the slaves are set up to be slaughtered—their enemies are better equipped and outnumber them in order to reenact a battle. But against stunning odds, Aurelius leads his ragtag team of slaves to victory!
Later in the movie, his fellow slaves defend him to their death. On the evil side, unrightful Emperor Commodus uses his position of power poorly, and you get the sense that his only power is in his title; he is not a great leader. This feeling is proven true late in the movie when he loses his sword in a fight with Maximus and asks his second in command for a sword—and he is denied. People would die for Maximus, but they wouldn’t even give their Emperor Commodus a sword when asked!
There is a component of good and evil at play, but it’s also a part of leadership. People follow Maximus because he is a good, noble, and courageous man. They can trust him. They can follow his lead without sacrificing their integrity. This is what good leadership is all about—leading others into a better place.
In the poetic ending, Maximus and Commodus have both been killed. The men carry away Maximus to honor him; they leave the emperor’s body there in the sand, further demonstrating the power of leadership over title. If you strive to be a great leader, you’ll likely get the title, too. But even if you don’t, you’ll still be greater as a leader.
2. The Future Is Unpredictable (Act Accordingly)
One theme of the movie is that life is unpredictable. Against all odds, a roman general somehow becomes a slave, and then rises again to become a hero and a legend. Who could predict that? Sure, the movie is scripted, but real life can throw equally outrageous curveballs. I didn’t think I’d fail to get a job with my college degree and instead write a book (Mini Habits) that’s become an international bestseller, but that’s what happened.
The way this works in life is like walking out into the ocean. At times, the current is pulling you, and at other times, the waves are crashing in your face, pushing you back. Life’s unpredictabilities may hurt or help you at different times. The only thing you can do is choose to keep walking forward and control what you can control. It certainly beats passively hoping for the best!
3. Nobody Wins Alone
Maximus was well-liked and developed several important connections throughout his journey; they helped him when he needed help. While the story was about Maximus’s fall and rise, he couldn’t have made it without the other slaves who helped him win battles in the arena. They also battled the guards and died trying to help him escape.
The strongest you can be is when you’re a part of a team. Even solo sports players like boxers have trainers that help them push their limits. It’s not weakness to accept the help of others, it’s the best way to get stronger! Think about an area of your life that you need help in, and there’s somebody out there who can help you with it.
4. Most Of Us Have It (Relatively) Easy
Have you had to fend off lions in an area today? When’s the last time you fought someone to the death? The evolution of modern culture has thankfully moved beyond slavery and deadly arena fighting. We also have better healthcare, amazing technology, and more.
The next time you think about your problems such as being angry with your significant other or having a cavity (I had five recently!), remember that your problems could be much worse! It helps us to be thankful when we put our lives in perspective.
5. Life Isn’t Fair, But That’s Not What Matters
Maximus had a final showdown with the corrupt emperor Commodus. Just before they stepped out into the arena, Commodus stabbed Maximus in the side with a poisoned blade. The crowd didn’t know, but not only was Maximus severely injured before the fight began, he was going to die from the poison either way. It was the definition of unfair, and the crowd had no idea about, making it that much worse. It’s one of those moments you want to scream at your TV to tell someone what happened.
Maximus had unfair things happen to him for his entire life. His family was murdered. He ended up a slave for being loyal to Rome. And here he was with a poisonous knife wound just before the battle with the man who ruined his life. He did the only thing he could. He battled against Commodus and killed him to end his rule over Rome. He died a hero.
“Nothing happens to anyone that he is not fitted by nature to bear.”
~ Maximus Aurelius (Gladiator)
Due to the success and impact of my book mentioned earlier, Mini Habits, I’ve had some unfair things happen. A direct competing author left me a one star review. Another competitor planted a review that links to his book and upvoted it artificially (it’s still in the #2 most helpful spot). And my mini habits idea has been copied in dozens of other books now, often without attribution. It doesn’t seem fair to me, but that’s the nature of our world (and of business).
I’ve slowly realized that my best move is always to focus on what I do, and less so on the unfair things that others do. That’s been hard for me because I’m so passionate about the mini habits concept, but it’s been immensely helpful the more I’ve done it. I’m moving forward by releasing my next book, How to Be an Imperfectionist, on May 22nd.
Victims think about what’s unfair in life. Heroes like Maximus think about what they can do next. Be like Maximus!
I’m the author of Mini Habits and How to Be an Imperfectionist (available for pre-order and releasing on 5/22/15). If you liked this article, you’d love the Tuesday emails I send to subscribers. You can sign up here to see how you like it.