Words to Live By

“Everybody loves quotes.” — Me

Quotes are powerful; little snippets of knowledge passed through time. They are easily digested and easily shared, especially through social media. They offer insight of the person who spoke them and the best ones are well loved because they share some universal truth that resonates. They can serve as mantra or reminder, helping us stay the course when in the thick of things, or giving us the courage to start over when we have faltered.

But being easily remembered does not mean they are easily acted upon. We hyper-consume information, with incoming data running through our brains like a stock ticker, rarely taking time to reflect on the deeper meaning of the words. Yet through the noise the strongest memories will always rise to the surface, shaping who we become and guiding us on the path.

Listening to a forgotten interview a while back the question was asked, “Do you have any quotes that you live by?” Immediately, a phrase popped into my head; something I’ve used as a guide for many years. Switching off the car radio, I used the rest of the drive to think about that question and my own answers to it. What quotes or phrases do I fall back on? Where did they come from? Why do they resonate with me?

These are my words to live by.

“What one man can do, another can do”

This comes from the movie The Edge with Anthony Hopkins and Alex Baldwin. It is a man vs. nature plot where the characters are lost in the wilderness, and also being pursued by a man-eating bear. In it, Baldwin’s character is giving up the will to live, and Hopkins yells those words at him.

I must have been 18 when I first saw that movie but the words have stuck with me to this day. Looking back over my life I am amazed at many of the things I have accomplished, but have always held the belief that if somebody else has done it, I can do it too. When viewed through that lens it makes success in any venture seem, if not inevitable, then at least attainable.

“If it is important, do it every day. If it isn’t then don’t do it at all”

Attributed to Dan Gable, the famous wrestling coach, I came to this through the writings of strength coach, author, and philosopher Dan John. An excellent writer, Dan’s philosophies on training and life resonate with me, but none more so than this.

In the context of physical training the idea is that you work the movements every day. Some days you’ll take it easy, others you’ll go for broke. But you practice the skill.
 It works equally well for identifying your priorities. Is what I am doing important enough to commit time to, each and every day? If the answer is no, then consider why you are doing it at all. I have been known, on occasion, to go off on tangents; looking at major projects and spending hours researching them, yet have backed off on actually going ahead with them. This is the question that grounds me.

There are many things we could do, but what should we do? Just because you can do something does not mean it is the best decision, or the best use of your time. What skills have you already built? Would you not be better served staying the course on something you have already begun?

Success is the result of unflagging dedication to a small number of things. If it is truly important then you’ll find a way to work on it every day.

“Use your eyes and ears, not your mouth”

This advice came from my father and was repeated to me many times throughout my childhood.

What began as instruction for an energetic kid with a big imagination eventually morphed into method for interacting with the world. It requires patience, and allows time for judgement and decision making. It encourages both observation and introspection. It provides space to assess the situation.

And it helps you avoid putting your foot in your mouth!

We cannot learn anything new if our mouth is moving; only by carefully observing our surroundings do we gain new insight.

Your Words to Live By

Feel good quotes abound but when asked, most people only have a one or two ready to go. Those are the words that have stuck with us through the years and serve as the philosophical underpinnings on which we base many of our actions. They act as a quick reference to ensure our personal moral compass is pointed in the right direction.

What quote or phrase does that for you?