How “Positive Thinking” Destroyed Rome

In 527 Petrus Sabbatius succeeded his uncle and adoptive father to the Eastern Roman Empire’s throne to become Emperor Justinian I, and would, through his long reign, completely destroy what was left of the Roman empire in Italy and Africa.

I have been listening to the first season of an amazing podcast called Tides of History by Patrick Wyman in which he discussed the fall of Rome and the rise of the modern world. These historic stories are surprisingly relevant to our modern challenges.

Justinian wanted to restore Rome to a former greatness that dubiously actually existed. He was committed to this goal with a single minded dedication.

At the time North Africa, Italy, and other parts of the former Western Roman Empire were ruled by various Germanic tribes under the “authority” of the Eastern Roman Empire. They continued to follow Roman customs, laws, and traditions. They used Roman imagery and titles, and Roman aristocrats were still prominent.

But Justinian felt that things were not as great as they had once been, and he would be the great emperor to restore it. It was a close advisor of his who would first write that Rome had “fallen” in 476. This would start a movement in thinking in Constantinople that the West had been “lost” and needed to be “restored.”

Justinian was focused. He was dedicated. He knew his Why. He was committed.

He deployed the armies of the Empire first to Africa then to Italy after various succession issues provided provocations for military action.

Ultimately, his forces prevailed, but in the process, the fighting, combined with famine and plague, killed nearly half of the population of Italy and completely destroyed what remained of Roman custom, tradition, trade, and technology in the region.

This was partly due to the war, but it was also because he kept on fighting even when the climate cooled and disease spread. He was too focused on the victory he sought to realize that the conditions had changed and the cost of the war was growing too high.

We often talk about “knowing your Why” and “being focused on your goal” and “commitment” as though that alone will make everything come out well.

In the coaching world, we are often speaking to people who do not have the power of an Emperor or even a billionaire. As such, the result of such didactic thinking is unlikely to collapse an entire way of life.

However, I believe that it is a valuable object lesson to look at Emperor Justinian I. He was all the things that we encourage a good entrepreneur to be. He was highly effective. He was organized and focused. He had a strong sense of purpose and was able to share it with others. He knew his goals, drove towards them, and achieved them as stated. He reconquered the West.

He also destroyed the West in the process.

I don’t think we spend enough time encouraging people to fully evaluate their goals. Focusing on your goals and working with the end in mind is all well and good, but if they are the wrong goals, or if they are incomplete goals, all the focus in the world will not bring true success.

This is why in my goal setting process, I added the first step of “dream.” I ask people to imagine their perfect life with no restrictions. Too often, people choose expected goals like “money”, “power”, or “fame”. Plenty of people achieve these goals only to find themselves more miserable than they were before they achieved them.

What are your goals? Do they truly align with your dreams?

The greatest tragedy is to sacrifice everything needed to achieve your goals only to discover they were the wrong goals.

Are you worried that your goals might destroy the legacy of Rome? Or perhaps you just want to make sure you’re on the right path to success? Schedule a free, no obligation half hour coaching call with Michael Whitehouse.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.