Sunday, August 4, 2013

Lessons from the Greeks: Just Do It

I finished a riveting biography of Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency earlier this week, so I've been looking for a new book to dive into.  While perusing a used bookstore, I stumbled over a copy of HerodotusThe Histories

Though I was familiar with the author’s name (I knew he was a classic Greek writer), I had little to no idea what the book was about.  As I’ve been trying to build the depth and breadth of my personal library for a while now, and this copy was a particularly nice looking hard-cover, I picked it up.  Paging through the introduction late last night, I was hit by an epiphany; Nike is right!

Yep, this Nike.
Now, if you’re familiar with ancient Greek literature, you might think I mean Nike (pronounced NEE-kay), the goddess of victory, but you’d be wrong.  I actually mean the sportswear company with everyone’s favorite logo, the “swoosh.” Nike’s motto, and the reason for my epiphany, is “Just Do It.”

Whoa… Tying 20th century marketing to classic Greeks?  Either this post is going to be incredibly insightful, or a huuuuuge stretch of the imagination.  Hopefully the former, probably both.  In either event, I’m convinced there’s a valuable lesson to be had.

The original Mustang.
Exactly 1 horsepower.
Herodotus was borne into a particularly interesting period of history.  Sophocles, Socrates, Plato and Zeno all lived and labored in and around the Mediterranean.  Persia fought wars against the Greek states, and was told off by Gerard Butler (ahem, I mean, Leonidas of Sparta) before being defeated at Plataia and Mycale.  In the Orient, men known as Buddha and Confucius died, leaving their followers to wonder if the goat they took to the market was actually their leader, reincarnated.  In this time, more than 400 years before the birth of Christ, Herodotus traveled to lands that are now Iran, Egypt, North Africa, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.  He traveled across the known world in an age when a fast ride was a surefooted horse.  And, he did this all in his mid-to-late-20’s.

Makes me wish I had gone further than this coffee shop today…

How does this tie into Nike’s advertising?  Well, he was borne into a prominent family, and could have whiled away his afternoons drinking wine and lounging in the beautiful sunshine that pervades the region.  But he didn’t.  He could have followed the traditional, respected intellectual path of the time and written plays which would be performed for the citizens of his locale.  But he didn’t.  Instead, he trekked and sailed and journeyed further than many others of his day.  More importantly, he recorded his and others accounts of the world, accidentally installing himself as the “father” of historical studies.  He just went out and “did”, without concern for his image or reputation (In fact, Herodotus studiously avoids any references to himself in his History).

How often do we stop ourselves from pursuing our goals out of concern for others’ reactions, or for any number of reasons?  And, after limiting ourselves over and over again, how can we be surprised when we find our lives stagnant, unfulfilling?  We can end up in a vicious cycle, perpetuating Newton’s First Law of Motion*, as stagnation begets itself.  The major difference between us and the particles studied by Newton is that we can act upon ourselves and, as Nike would have us, just do it.
*Summarized, the law states that an object at rest will stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force.

A 25 year old Herodotus crossed the world and changed the way we recorded history without aid from the internet, modern transportation, or an iPhone… 

What is it you wanted to do today? 

Just do it.

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