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Somewhere between 29-19BCE, the Greek poet and philosopher Virgil is said to have written his finest work the Aeneid. In it comes the first reference to the famous cautionary phrase based upon the Trojan War described in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad;

“Beware of the Greeks, even when they bring gifts.”

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Then, during the second half of the 1st century CE (though historical estimates range from around 33AD – up past 150AD) the Apostle Matthew is said to have written the Gospel According to Matthew. In chapter 15, he expands upon this theme with verse 7 where he warns that one should be weary of anyone too eager to give you the right answers or lead you down the path to excellence. Well ok, it was actually the path of spirituality but I think you know where I’m going with this.

“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, for inside they are hungry wolves.”

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Much later in the early 1500’s, the use of the phrase, “Caveat Emptor” (Latin for; “Buyer Beware”) began to be used in the formation of common law and would continue to this day. Webster’s Dictionary defines the phrase as;

“A principle of commerce; that in the absence of warranty the buyer assumes the risk of purchase. The buyer is responsible for making sure that the goods and services are legitimate and of good quality.”

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A little over a century later (around 1645AD) in feudal Japan, legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi suggested that you don’t need gurus to guide you or the latest gadgets to help you find excellence. He wrote that the formula for mastery of any kind, whether specific skills or total self-mastery was intrinsic, not extrinsic.

So in today’s search for the formula for sustaining excellence, there is certainly no shortage of; prophets of professional success willing to guide you, gurus of self-help willing to lead you, products and gadgets willing to tell you what to eat and when to exercise, academic institutions willing to ‘certify’ your knowledge and experience as legitimate. All you need do is provide them with your credit card number…

But do you really need any of that? Do you really believe that excellence, of any kind, is something that you can buy or complete in ’10 easy lessons’? Do you really believe that you can lose 30lbs. in 30 days and keep it off for the next 3 years? Do you really believe that real education is found in a piece of paper you buy for $60k from your local university, because they tell you it is?

  • There is nothing wrong with finding inspiration in the work of others
  • Mastering new skills, does in fact, often require the instruction of a master teacher
  • New tools and technology can be great assets when used properly
  • Time and relentless action, with purpose, will in fact yield results
  • There is true benefit in periodic reminders of time-tested wisdom
  • Higher education certainly does open up whole new worlds of opportunity

The good news is that the map for sustaining excellence does not end, but begins in the mirror. You need only look, decide, act, repeat.

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