In the fifth century BC the Greeks and Persians had a series of major battles which basically determined the lasting success of a new idea called “democracy.” At the heart of the struggle was the city of Athens, the “birthplace of democracy.”Athens had become a major power in Greece and a melting pot of cultural ideas from all over the Mediterranean. Its art, architecture, and culture was a mix of the best from all around.
Even though the Greeks eventually won the war with Persia, the city of Athens was abandoned and later burned by the Persian king Xerxes. This struggle has been recently depicted in the movie: 300 – Rise of an Empire.
When the war ended, the Athenians returned and began to rebuild their once-great city. But instead of rebuilding and restoring their old statues, monuments, and temples, they decided to start anew with their own culture. They believed they could make the city better than it was by before by drawing from their own talents. In fact, they even took some of those old, amazing statues and used them as fill dirt in the foundation of the new buildings! Can you imagine? Priceless works of art buried in the dirt and used merely to strengthen the foundation of a new building! Many of these discarded statues have survived and are the prize possessions of the museums of Athens today.
The Athenians believed so much in who they were and their own abilities that they decided to move on from what had already made them a good, strong city. They wanted to be great.
The next 75 years are called the Golden Age of Athens. There is an explosion of art, philosophy, architecture, and thinking. Almost every famous Greek you’ve ever heard of came around during this era including Pericles, Hippocrates, Sophocles, and Socrates. The legacy they left behind produced Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great and even Cleopatra in Egypt. The Roman Empire would send many of its young people to study in Athens, the center of learning. The greatness of Athens is in some way a part of every major country or empire that has existed since then.
What is the lesson?
The Athenians had a really good city with a strong culture; but they wanted to be a great city with an unparalleled culture. They had everything taken from them when their city was destroyed. It would have been easier to rebuild what they had before. But they wanted to be great and they knew they had the vision and commitment to do it. When they buried those old glorious statues they were essentially saying, we were good but we can be better. They used their past as the foundation for their future, both figuratively and literally.
Jim Collins said, “Good is the enemy of Great.” That means that people who are good at something tend to get comfortable with where they are and stop looking to be better. Who would you rather see for your brain surgery, a good doctor or a great doctor? Who do you want watching your kids, a good babysitter or a great babysitter? Do you want to be a good parent or a great parent?
Whatever you are doing in life right now, you’re probably pretty good at it. Is there room to be great? Is there an opportunity to say, “I want to do better.” Ask yourself, “Am I willing to take my successes and bury them into the foundation of something better?”
I think the purpose of life is to keep moving forward. Don’t stop at good, great is just on the other side of a little hard work and vision. It is worth the effort to bury the good statues in order to go after the great accomplishments.
May you enter your own Golden Age upon the foundation of your past accomplishments.