5 Shocking Secrets That Made Napoleon Emperor

I have been listening to a biography of Napoleon written by Frank McLynn. I have always heard of Napoleon, but I realized I knew very little about him. I am not done with the book, but I am impressed by the young Napoleon. I have even written a Facebook post discussing it. You can find it on my profile. My profile name is Fritz Kwaku Gyamfi Kyei. This is an expansion of that post.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769, in Ajaccio, France. It was upon reading the book that I learnt that he wasn’t a native French; France had annexed a part of their state of Genoa a few years before Napoleon was born. Ajaccio was found in Corsica, and most people in the province considered themselves Corsican, rather than French. It was same with Napoleon in his early adult years.

At the age of 9, he was sent to France to study in a religious school. A few months later he won a scholarship to study in the French Military Academy. Napoleon is known for his mathematical prowess, which helped him in his military career as he was in charge of the artillery. Let’s now look at the qualities the young emperor possessed that endear me to him.Discipline : The most impressive period of Napoleon’s life was when he lived alone in France after completing his military education. In the biography I have already mentioned, his younger brother stayed with him for sometime in order to reduce the financial burden on his mother. Then he was poor, yet he sent money to support the family back in Corsica. His brother observed that Napoleon worked under a very strict regimen. He ate twice a day in order to save money, and was cognizant of how he used his time. He would usually study and write the whole day, and sleep for exactly six hours each day. This led him to depression and suicidal ideation, therefore I don’t encourage it in the way Napoleon did it. If you have a big hairy audacious goal, and you have to devote an enormous amount of time to it you need a support system that will shield you from depression. You need to recharge by interacting with friends and family.

1. Discipline : The most impressive period of Napoleon’s life was when he lived alone in France after completing his military education. In the biography I have already mentioned, his younger brother stayed with him for sometime in order to reduce the financial burden on his mother. Then he was poor, yet he sent money to support the family back in Corsica. His brother observed that Napoleon worked under a very strict regimen. He ate twice a day in order to save money, and was cognizant of how he used his time. He would usually study and write the whole day, and sleep for exactly six hours each day. This led him to depression and suicidal ideation, therefore I don’t encourage it in the way Napoleon did it. If you have a big hairy audacious goal, and you have to devote an enormous amount of time to it you need a support system that will shield you from depression. You need to recharge by interacting with friends and family.

2. Family: Napoleon’s devotion to his family is exemplary. Like I already wrote, he would send remittances to his family, and let young family members live with him. If I remember correctly, he hosted two younger brothers, and perhaps a nephew. Of course when he became an emperor the luxurious lifestyle of his family was over the top. This however doesn’t belie the fact that he cared deeply about his family. It actually confirms it as a negative example. I don’t know how familiar Napoleon was with Confucius but I am sure he would love his teachings on filial piety. Filial piety is again observed in his nationalist feelings toward Corsica.

3. Working on several projects concurrently: This in the end became a bane in his military career because he would fight several wars simultaneously, leaving his army fatigued and spread too thin. However, when done right, doing several things at the same time increases one’s chance of success because if one project doesn’t work the other will. However if you are not careful you won’t have enough time to fully immerse yourself in the various projects you are embarking on. One should be able to block large amounts of time for the various goals, and do a deep dive. Napoleon after his military education and before he was made an officer wrote articles for newspapers and authored a few books. He was putting himself in a position where his world wouldn’t fall apart if his prospective military career was failed.

4. Reflection: The young Napoleon was very meditative. This is the kind of meditation I like. It’s another word for blocking time to think. With all the busyness and pretend busyness of modern life, we can go a long time without having quality time for us to think- to think about what we are doing and whether it is right and worth our time, to think about how we feel and why we feel the way we do, and to think about new things we should be doing. Napoleon’s notebooks show that he spent a lot of time thinking. Though most of the records of his reflections show evidence of nihilism, it was a productive exercise.

I contrast this conscious way of thinking or meditation to the one where you empty your mind of everything. I have done the latter a few times. It has its advantages as it can put one in a very calm state, and lead to fulfillment if one is able to slug through it even for a few minutes. The contrast was made clearer for me by a story Lee Kuan Yew shared in From Third World to First of a former Asian prime minister who felt so complete meditating that he no longer wanted to involve himself in his country’s affairs although his intervention could lead to positive change. I think this kind of meditation that leads us into another world is not beneficial. There are problems in the real world we have to deal with. If we don’t address such problems reality will bring them to our door step.

Conscious meditation is a highly productive exercise as it helps us rethink our lives. In rare moments it gives us epiphanies. Deliberately thinking about a problem for a long time can lead to insights who can’t imagine, after the fact, we would have thought of. It also helps us with fear setting. Fear setting is a term popularized by the entrepreneur and podcaster Tim Ferris. It involves analyzing your fears to find out the worst that can happen. Ironically fear setting gives great relief.Voracious reading: This is a quality I have observed in a lot of admirable individuals; they read wholesale. This means they devour great loads of information. They do this predominantly by reading newspapers and books. Some good examples will be Warren Buffet and his pal Charlie Munger. I will also add Peter Thiel, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. It was same with Napoleon. He invested a lot of money in books even when he was poor. His favorites included Rousseau, Plutarch, Plato, Cicero, Montaigne and Homer. This broadened his scope of thinking. It helped him to think critically, introduced him to great ideas and exposed him to a world beyond his environs.

5. Voracious reading: This is a quality I have observed in a lot of admirable individuals; they read wholesale. This means they devour great loads of information. They do this predominantly by reading newspapers and books. Some good examples will be Warren Buffet and his pal Charlie Munger. I will also add Peter Thiel, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. It was same with Napoleon. He invested a lot of money in books even when he was poor. His favorites included Rousseau, Plutarch, Plato, Cicero, Montaigne and Homer. This broadened his scope of thinking. It helped him to think critically, introduced him to great ideas and exposed him to a world beyond his environs.

Thank you for reading.

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