The Secret to Getting Anything You Want

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History’s Greatest Quest

“TELL ME, O MUSE, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home; but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them…”

(BOOK I, The Odyssey, Homer ca 800 BC)

Before embarking on the journey you are about to take, some self-doubt is normal and healthy. But it shouldn’t hold you back. The very nature of self-discovery resides in your blood.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll reveal how and why this is so. I’ll explain to you why your mind is wired the way it is.

You might not know it now, but by the end of this historical interlude, you’ll see why capturing your Lifetime Dream lies within your innate abilities and isn’t as hard as some make it sound.

As with all things, we begin with the Greek. Homer’s Odyssey captures the classic adventure of the trials faced by Odysseus on his twenty-year voyage back home following the conclusion of the Trojan War. The dictionary, at least the American Heritage one I looked at, defines the word “odyssey” as “an extended adventurous voyage or trip; an intellectual or spiritual quest: an odyssey of discovery.”

So, an odyssey is not just a journey, but an epic journey. In fact, it’s more than a journey at all, it’s a trek. An odyssey, therefore, is an ambitious, some would say heroic, trek.

Since the average person may have more familiarity with Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey than the original Greek saga, I thought you might be interested to know this. Clarke chose the name David Bowman for his protagonist as homage to Homer’s epic poem. Odysseus, you see, was an expert archer (or “bow-man”).

The movie based on Clarke’s novel used Richard Strauss’ music, which in turn was based on Friedrich Nietzsche’s book Also Sprach Zarathustra. Nietzche’s work concerned the teachings of the Persian prophet Zoroaster and included the idea that someday man would evolve into a “superman” or higher being – a journey representing the central theme in 2001.

Homer also sought to display the human model of a superman through the character of Odysseus as he defeats supernatural forces in what amounts to a serial adventure. Odysseus even has his own version of Kryptonite – his pride! (Comparing Superman with Odysseus, by the way, is a favorite essay assignment of 9th grade English teachers.)

Here are History’s Top Five Greatest Odysseys:

  1. Homer’s Odyssey – we’ve already talked about this.
  2. Virgil’s Aeneid – Rome’s answer to the above.
  3. Columbus’ Voyage of Discovery – unlike the first two, this one was a real adventure.
  4. Apollo 11’s “Man on the Moon” Moment – Ironically, “Odyssey” was the name of the command module on Apollo 13, which represented a wholly different sort of adventure.
  5. You.

Wait. You?

Yes, you! Indeed, you might argue, at least in your own eyes, your life’s journey stands out as the most important odyssey for you. It is your own personal quest to become a Superman (or Superwoman) – an ideal that may only mean something to you, but it’s a something that transcends all else. It will take you to the top of the mountain – and beyond!

But, before you can begin this journey, there is one simple two-word command you must follow.

It’s amazingly easy to get everything you want out of life. It only requires you know one thing. Unfortunately, man has been aching to discover this one thing for centuries. Surprisingly, thanks to the experiences of others, searching for this one thing has never been easier.

Once again, we return to Ancient Greece to find the secret to getting anything. It stands (or should I say, “once stood”) at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It is from this perch Greeks (and later Romans), would come listen to some old priestess lady who delivered sound advice in the vein of – and I paraphrase – “300 Spartans against, like, a million Persians? C’mon! What did you expect?!” (q.v., Thermopylae), “You stink, now go home and die!” (to Nero) and “Socrates? The one who keeps saying he knows nothing? Yeah, that probably makes him the wisest guy in all of Athens.”

But the secret didn’t come from the mouth of the Oracle. It was etched in stone on the very Temple itself. Indeed – and again I paraphrase – when told the compliment bestowed upon him by the Oracle, Socrates, after vehemently denying he was the wisest in all of Athens, basically said all he ever learned he learned by reading this one phrase inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple.

And it is this same phrase which reveals the secret to getting anything you want: “Know Thyself.”

We don’t know who carved it or who originally said it, but Socrates sure did take a shine to it. At least according to Plato, a student of Socrates and one of the main sources of all we know about Socrates, only because this wise guy refused to put anything to parchment. (Socrates was old school – literally. He was opposed to the written word because he thought it might cause people to forget. Remember, at that time all learning was passed down orally.)

In no less than six of Plato’s dialogues can we find Socrates yapping about “know thyself.” It’s in Plato’s Phaedrus and Philebus, though, that we see the classic Socratic reason to “know thyself.” In the former, Socrates says, “I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.”

Socrates here refers to other intellectual pursuits. He says it’s a waste of time to try to understand anything else if you first don’t try to understand yourself. If you think about this, it makes sense. We describe all things – our thoughts, our beliefs, what we had for dinner the night before last – in terms of our own experiences. If we don’t have a good handle on those experiences, we’ll have a difficult time translating our thoughts in terms of experiences others can understand. So, before anything else, “know thyself.”

If your life’s journey is to take you anywhere you want, you must first “know thyself” before you even commit to a single step. If you really, deep down, know yourself, you’ll know how to get almost anything you want. You’ll know how to capitalize on your strengths and how to overcome your weaknesses. You’ll know what goals to focus on and what tasks are nothing more than time wasters. You’ll become a lean mean Lifetime Dream achieving machine. It only requires one thing: you must “know thyself.”

Like Ben Franklin, you might think this is pretty hard to do. Franklin once quipped in his Poor Richard’s Almanack “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”

If it was so difficult for such wise guys like Socrates and Ben Franklin, how can someone like you “know thyself”? Luckily for you, today it’s a whole lot easier to “know thyself.” All you need is a little discipline, a little honesty, and a little help from a familiar ancient friend.

Oh! There he is right now in next week’s column.

…to be continued…

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  1. […] far enough for your own ambitions. What am I talking about? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “The Secret to Getting Anything You Want” and you’ll take another step on the journey towards your Lifetime […]

  2. […] far enough for your own ambitions. What am I talking about? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “The Secret to Getting Anything You Want” and you’ll take another step on the journey towards your Lifetime […]

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