It’s pretty incredible to think that Hadrian was able to see the potential in Marcus Aurelius. Hadrian somehow, even though Marcus was just a boy, could tell that this kid had something. That he might be able to withstand the stress and temptation and pressures of the empire. What did he see? How did he know?
It’s a mystery. We know that at some point he nicknamed him Verissimus, a pun on his new name M. Aelius Aurelius Verus, meaning truest. But Marcus was a teenager then and there are plenty of “true” teenagers…that doesn’t mean they’ll all be good heads of state. In fact, what’s so impressive about the man that Marcus became is that he was selected so young and he stillturned out to be good. Imagine if you had been told that you would one day be king, imagine if the current king selected you as his favorite—what would that do to your head? (Just look at Marcus’s own son Commodus for a hint)
The point is: A great destiny—which all of us have in our own way, since we are all capable of great things—is no trifling matter. It can be corrupting and distracting. It can be a burden. To fulfill it is not a simple matter of sitting back and waiting for it to happen. No, it must be worked for. It must be earned. We must fight against all the temptations and the entitlements. We must make good on what the world sees in us.
Ultimately, that is what we can learn from Marcus Aurelius and what we should be most inspired by. Hadrian predicted that Marcus could become something special, but Marcus went out and proved him right. Hadrian put Marcus under nearly inhuman pressure and stress by choosing him, but Marcus is the one who decided that he would thrive in spite of it, that he would rise to the challenge and emerge stronger and better for it. Marcus went out and seized his destiny, and earned his crown.
So must we.