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You're reading: Triumphant tales of heartbreaking desperation

Today, it invokes the power of Rome’s famous emperor. However, at the time, it was uttered by an ambitious young Julius Caesar in order to sweep an adulterous scandal under the carpet, lest it hinder his upward rise.

Posterity is often like that. Stories of incredible success, told in retrospect, always carry an air of inevitability. So it is not surprising that we sanitize the stories of heroes, which often contain privation, hardship and humiliation. I, however, like the full versions, warts and all. They might not be as pleasant, but they are far more instructive.

Near the turn of the century, the son of a well-to-do industrialist, recently graduated from university, found himself poorly married, with a young child and unemployed. He fell into a deep depression, became nearly suicidal and wrote to his sister in a letter:

" What depresses me most is the misfortune of my poor parents who have not had a happy moment for so many years. What further hurts me deeply is that as an adult man, I have to look on without being able to do anything. I am nothing but a burden to my family…It would be better off if I were not alive at all."

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