In the rush we call modern-day society, you know what we love?
Speed and convenience.
Fast food, fast money, fast success. The faster it is and the less work you have to put in, the more we like it.
It’s no wonder, then, when searching for inspiration to fuel our work, we also seek what’s fast. What’s convenient.
Quotes are just that. They’re fast and convenient. Read a simple one liner from some great mind of past, receive a temporary boost of inspiration to go off and do the work you need to do. Seems like a win win, right?
Well, it is. Until it isn’t.
The problem is that a quote is a singular distillation of context. Oftentimes you don’t understand the context, the history, or the foundation surrounding the quote. That’s okay, but what tends to happen is that speed and convenience kick in and you associate a deep, profound insight into something suits your situation right now – and that’s a problem. It doesn’t last.
The benefit starts with the process
One of the great benefits of a quote is that it provides you a glimpse into the thinking process of the person behind the quote.
A quote is infinitely more powerful when you understand how someone arrived at that resolution. With that realisation, you understand how to change your approach to thinking about that particular problem, and you can then start to apply it in your life in a more meaningful, long-lasting way.
And that’s the key takeaway here — quotes (and the thinking behind them) should be long-lasting insights you can apply to change how you live. Not a quick fix.
So how do we achieve that if we aren’t able to go back in time and interview Albert Einstein and ask him how he came to a quote’s conclusion?
We percolate the profound into our own insight. We literally stop and think about what that quote really means, and we break it down into logical, actionable chunks. Chunks that change the way you live.
That’s the real magic of quotes.
One of my favourite quotes of all time is actually a bastardisation in the form of a game of Chinese whispers, passed through time with no trace of origin that has been agreed upon.
That quote is: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”
It’s been attributed most famously to Winston Churchill, but also to Abraham Lincoln, probably Albert Einstein, and probably a thousand more — But that doesn’t matter.
What matters here is that we don’t take this quote for its surface value, because we’ll forget it in a weeks time and it’s kind of gone forever. What matters here is that we stop, think, and try to break down and understand both what we like about this quote, and how we can apply it to our lives.
So in pondering over this line, I continually return to 3 core themes about this quote that resonate with me, so I break down each theme and describe it, detailing the meaning behind the attraction.
The first theme is optimism
Failing is hard. It’s trendy to read quotes about failing time and time again, however, the classics are classic for a reason. You need to fail a lot in order to succeed. You need to try a lot in order to win — and it’s hard. Above all, you need to be net positive about the direction you’re heading in, otherwise, you’ll poison yourself along the way and the victories you experience won’t make the journey worth it.
The second theme is iterative success
I love that ‘success’ is not defined here as some haven of effort; a final destination devoid of work. But rather, stages – steps, even – of incremental events that guide you in the relative direction of where you want to go. Success to me, in this definition, is putting yourself on the journey and facing the moment to moment battles along the way — I love the idea of that.
The last theme is persistence and unwavering determination
Realistically, it doesn’t really matter how skilled or talented you are at a particular thing. What matters most is that you persist in understanding, performing, and learning the thing you’re interested in. Keeping at it and sticking to your resolve is the most important skill for reaching your goals, in my opinion. Without it, everything you do, learn and say becomes a fragmented mess over time. And with it – with constant, deliberate, daily practice – you’re sure to pick up the tools and skills you need along the way. A patient, persistent mind will be your shepherd to where you want to go.
As a side thought, I define these 3 things as skills, because they are things you can learn, cultivate, and mature over time. Talent is over-rated and not something you should care about (unlike skill). The only things that matter are the things you have an influence of control over. Talent and luck are not such things.
The themes of optimism, iterative success and persistence are large themes in my life. In fact, I often seek out quotes that are of a similar avenue to these 3 themes. That’s why I like the quote so much – regardless of where it came from, its bastardised history, or its time-aged words.
The point here is that there is now meaning behind this quote. There are pillars I can launch from, themes I can come back to, and internal tenants I can build. This quote is sticky, it’s long-lasting, and most importantly, now, it really means something.
If I’m honest, I found this quote years and years ago, and it’s one that I’ve recited time and time again. But that’s exactly it. It’s not about the simple regurgitation of quotes. It’s about giving them meaning to guide and shape your life in the way you want it to be, which is why short-term quotes aren’t useful until they have meaning and longevity behind them. And after that, they’re some of the most useful things you can think about.
What’s your favourite quote? Let me know what it is, but more importantly, why it is, in the comments below.
P.S: My second favourite quote is:
“Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”
- William Jennings Bryan
This quote constantly reminds me of the psychology book called “Mindset” by Carol Dweck – A fantastic read about the two typical mindsets people have when approaching any path of success in life. That book has an overabundance of meaning and insight to substantiate this quote, I won’t spoil it for you. It’s great – go read it.