Any good biography humanizes the legend. No matter who its written about, be it Napoleon or Theodore Roosevelt or Alexander the Great, a good biographer will highlight both the strengths and the weaknesses of the man that history sees in an almost mythical light. He’ll bring him down to our level, first, before explaining how and why he rose to heights that, even in our wildest dreams we don’t dare climb.
When you read a book about a legend that’s written by a great writer and an even better researcher you begin to see the humanity in the man, you begin to see that, with a few exceptions, he’s no different than you or I.
Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, is possibly the greatest success story of all time. Here’s a man born not into wealth or prestige in a time when family name determined your place in the world and yet who rose to the highest of heights as the emperor of one of the most powerful nations on the planet.
In The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, Robert Asprey writes about the environment in which Bonaparte was born; one of turmoil, in a place recently conquered by the French, where Italian was the native language and an identity was something they lacked, but power something he longed for. Being born on Corsica when they were conquered by the French gave Napoleon a massive chip on his shoulder.
Some would call it an inferiority complex, as Napoleon’s hunger for power would eventually be labeled, but as Asprey brings you into Napoleon’s world through his personal letters and letters about him, you see it as something more, as a young man’s desire for justice and for the power that his family and his homeland had taken from them.
As Napoleon grows into a man you see his distaste for the rich, but not just the rich, that is, anyone given a position based on wealth or family name and not merit because he had to work for everything he earned. While others were partying and spending their family’s money, he was reading. Books were to him, what young, supple, beautiful women were to the other cadets in his military school.
You see the work, the obsession, the passion for war and for power and for knowledge that the young Bonaparte had and you think, “If this guy started where he did, yet rose to the heights he eventually rose to in a time when rising above the place in society that you were born in to was almost unfathomable, why can’t I?“
There has never been a time in our history when the reigns of our life and our destiny are so firmly placed in our own hands. It’s never been more possible to rise above, yet excuses and weakness still stand in our way.
In The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Edmund Morris, tells you in painstakingly precise detail not of a man who rose from nothing, but a man who started with money and even title, but accomplished more with that name and title than any man before him and any man since.
A rancher, a war hero, a police commissioner, a boxer, an author, and finally a President, Theodore Roosevelt’s life story inspires any man to do more, but also shames us into realizing how little we actually do with our time.
We spend more time asking Why me? Rather than asking the far more powerful and pertinent question: Why NOT me? (Click here to tweet this!)
Have You Excused Yourself from Greatness?
Study any success story and you’ll find not birthright, but passion and persistence and a work ethic that could not be slowed or stopped as the reason for their success.
Ironically, you usually won’t find some innate extraordinary ability or talent given by God beyond discipline and focus and an unwillingness to quit or listen to those who say that what they’re aiming to accomplish is impossible simply because it has yet to be done.
You can look at the richest men in the world or the “greatest men in history” in a few lights.
You can look at them with envy, thinking that “If only I had what they had my life would be better.” This, of course, is the view that most people take. They think success is something we’re given, not something we take. They ignore the self-made billionaire’s that make up 70% of the lot, instead focusing on the 30% who had their money given to them. Even if 5% of the world’s billionaire’s were self-made, the strong and the ambitious will see that 5% as motivation, while the weak will quit because the odds are stacked far too high.
They’d fail to see the odds, no matter which way the pendulum swings, as motivation, but rather as a deterrent.
You can also see the greatest people in history as they actually were: people who worked hard, who made their own breaks, who fought for a cause greater than themselves, and who did what all others weren’t willing to do: persist. There are many others who had the stuff of greatness flowing through their veins but lacked the toughness to see it realized.
There’s something inspiring about this: It’s possibility.
If you want something so bad that you’re willing to do as Theodore did, or as Napoleon did, or as Alexander did, then the only thing standing in your way is your own self-doubt, your own limitations; your own weakness.
The beauty lies in the fact that you have control over ALL off the above.
You can control the hours you work, the adventures you embark on, the faith you have in yourself and in your mission. If you choose to take the reigns, as the aforementioned fellas did, you can live the life you want to live. If you have that glorious thing called ambition flowing through your veins, you can rise to whatever heights you dare climb. Just be sure to dare mighty things, don’t dare to do the known, but the unknown.
The only question you have to answer is, “Why not me?”