I once despised motivational quotes, probably because my wrestling coach liked to say, “If you’re not puking or passing out, then you’re not trying hard enough.”
(Feel free to bask in the glow of that little gem.)
Now I think inspirational quotes can be inspirational, but only if we actually apply and live those words.
So instead of just pulling together some famous quotes—besides, I’ve done that before—I’ve chosen things people told me that caused me to act differently.
I probably won’t remember what, say, Ben Franklin once said, no matter how poignant or witty, but I definitely remember what certain people said to me at critical moments in my life.
Statements like these:
1. “Only a genius can do things his own way. You? You’re no genius.”
I worked a construction job one summer and kept questioning what I was told to do. The foreman finally, in no uncertain terms, set me straight. It’s OK to reinvent the wheel, but only after you know how the current wheel works. Never assume you know better when you don’t really know anything.
2. “If you want to know how much you’ll be missed when you are gone, put your finger in a bucket of water and then remove it. The hole that’s left will be how much you are missed.”
No one is irreplaceable. No one. Not even this guy. Instead of depressing, the thought you’re professionally replaceable is liberating. You may not leave a hole, but you can leave a mark on a person, a team, or a culture that lives on after you’re gone.
You may not be missed, but you can be remembered—in the best possible way.
3. “We all have limits. Almost no one reaches theirs. You definitely haven’t.”
You could swim faster if a shark was after you. You could run faster if your child was in danger. You could work harder if the payoff was truly exceptional.
What you think you can do is always—always—less than what you can do if you really, really try. You always have a little more in you. Find your true limits and you may find that success is limitless.
4. “Unless you’re the lead dog of the sled, the view never changes.”
Following the crowd means living the same life as the crowd. You don’t want that.
5. “There are two types of pain you will go through in life: the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. Discipline weighs ounces, while regret weighs tons.”
(Original to Jim Rohn.) The worst words you can say are, “I just wish I had…” Push yourself to do what you hope to do so you will never have to regret not having tried.
6. “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”
(Gotta love Dean Wormer.) I haven’t overcome the stupid part, but I’m trying.
7. “The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one.”
(Original to Ernest Hemingway.) Think about easing into a cold ocean; every inch is excruciating. Dive in and it sucks big time, but then it’s over. It’s even worse to turn away from what scares you, because when you do, deep inside, a little piece of you withers and dies.
Dive in. It’s never as cold, or as bad, as you think.
8. “Today’s pain is tomorrow’s power. The more you suffer today, the stronger you are tomorrow.”
Self-pity is self-defeating. Tomorrow’s success is based on today’s discomfort. Plus, willpower is like a muscle: The more you exercise it, the stronger your will gets.
And the easier it is to call on when dedication and persistence make all the difference.
9. “Bravery means finding something more important than fear.”
Courage without meaning is just recklessness. Brave people aren’t fearless; they’ve simply found something that matters more to them than the fear they’re facing. Say you’re scared to start a business. Find a reason that has greater meaning than the fear: your family’s future, your desire to make a difference, or your dream of a more fulfilling life.
When you find a greater meaning, you’ll find the courage to overcome your fear.
10. “Do it or not. There is no try.”
(Original to Yoda, philosopher and avant-garde sentence constructor.) A boss once gave me what I thought was an impossible task. I said, “OK. I’ll try.” He explained that I would finish as long as I didn’t quit. Trying didn’t enter into it. Persistence was all that mattered.
Often someone says, “I’ll try…” because it gives the person an out. Once the person says, “I will,” his or her perspective changes. What previously seemed insurmountable is no longer a matter of luck or chance but of time and effort and persistence.
When what you want to do really matters, never say, “I’ll try.” Say, “I will,” and keep that promise to yourself.
11. “Stop waiting for the ‘right time.’ Success is a numbers game: the number of times you take a shot.”
You’ll never create the perfect business plan, never find the perfect partners, the perfect market, the perfect location, but you can find the perfect time to start.
That time is now.
Talent, experience, and connections are important, but put your all into enough new things and some will work. Take enough shots, and over time you’ll grow more skilled, more experienced, and more connected. And that will mean a greater percentage of your efforts will succeed. Take enough shots, learn from what didn’t work, and in time you’ll have all the skills, experience, and connections you need.
Ultimately, success is all about taking your shot, over and over again. Sometimes you may win, sometimes you will definitely lose, but the more things you try, the more chances you have of succeeding. Put the power of numbers on your side. Take as many shots as you can. There’s no guarantee of success, but when you don’t take a shot, there’s a definite guarantee of failure.
12. “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other guy to die.”
The same holds for bitterness. And jealousy. And dislike. Let it go. If you don’t, the only loser is you.
13. “The extra mile is a vast, unpopulated wasteland.”
(Me.) People say they go the extra mile, but almost no one actually does. Most people think, “Wait, no one else is here. Why am I doing this?”
That’s why the extra mile is such a lonely place. That’s also why the extra mile is a place filled with opportunities. Be early. Stay late. Make the extra phone call. Send the extra email. Do the extra research. Help a customer unload or unpack a shipment. Don’t wait to be asked; offer. Every time you do something, think of one extra thing you can do—especially if other people aren’t doing that one thing. Sure, it’s hard.
But that’s what will make you different—and over time will make you incredibly successful.
14. “It’s just a flesh wound.”
And neither should you.
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