These Quotes Won’t Change Your Life, But They Will Point The Way

to the life worth living

Diana Demco
7 min readAug 18, 2022
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

One of the central question of philosophy, explored since Plato an Aristotle, is “how should one live?”

I thought about sharing a collection of quotes belonging to bright minds, from philosophers to psychologists, or even ancient texts, that can illuminate the potential answers to this question.

These words spoke to me on different levels and helped me get a glimpse of what it might mean to live a more fulfilled life.

No, reading these won’t change your life, but maybe they offer inspiration, food for thought and even wisdom. These can only afford a new way of seeing your existence, but they can’t substitute the work that needs to be done in order to embody these thoughts and attitudes.

My hope with this post is that you take at least one of these quotes and keep it somewhere you can refer to it over and over (maybe print it), and let it speak to you and allow it to unfold its transformational powers.

“Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals. How long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your nobler self cannot wait any longer. Put your principles into practice — now. Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This is your life! You aren’t a child anymore. The sooner you set yourself to your spiritual program, the happier you will be. The longer you wait, the more you’ll be vulnerable to mediocrity and feel filled with shame and regret, because you know you are capable of better. From this instant on, vow to stop disappointing yourself. Separate yourself from the mob. Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do — now.”
(Epictetus)

This passage belongs to Epictetus one of the most influential stoics. It’s found in his The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness.

I resonated with these words so much, that I put them on my wall, so I can see them whenever I lose sight of what’s important. I have it stare me in the face and remind me of the commitments I made to myself. It’s such a powerful quote which can help snap anyone out of undesirable behaviors and existential ruts. If I ever need a nudge back in the right direction, I know Epictetus has my back.

“If the path before you looks clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”

I’ve seen this quote attributed to either C. G. Jung or Campbell. I couldn’t exactly pin it down, but the message is more important than the author, at least in this context.

This idea will always reassure me of the madness of comparing your journey to someone else’s. Each of our paths is going to unfold in an unique way, unpredictable and messy.

When uncertainty and doubt never enter your equation, you’re either relying too much on what you think your life should be, or are one of the lucky ones who have everything figured out.

When we’re chasing a certain goal, we can get too caught up in the stories of other successful people who achieved what we’re trying to do. Releasing expectations can set us on our individual journey. It may be a bit hazy at times, we at least it’s truly ours.

“Whatever we do — cooking, cleaning, shopping, or walking — can be a lesson in mindfulness. When washing dishes don’t think what to do next when this boring task is done, but keep the mind totally together with the physical action. When cleaning floors don’t think how to get out of doing it, but be attentive to each movement; that’s mindfulness.”
(Ayya Khema)

These words belong to Ayya Khema, who was a Buddhist nun and spiritual teacher. It’s from her book Being Nobody, Going Nowhere.

This quote resonated with me because it encompasses so graciously the practice of mindfulness. It’s powerful reminder to appreciate each moment and task, no matter how dull or uninteresting it may seem, without making plans about the future. Bringing our mind to whatever we’re doing is the first step to a more peaceful existence and this quote, along with the book it’s found in, helped me appreciate the importance of each moment.

“Attention, on the other hand, just is life: your experience of being alive consists of nothing other than the sum of everything to which you pay attention. At the end of your life, looking back, whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment is simply what your life will have been.”
Oliver Burkeman

This little passage is from Oliver Burkeman’s incredible book Four Thousand Weeks. I love it because it drives home one of the most important realizations we can ever have about our life: where we direct our attention ends up shaping our existence. So the things we focus on, literally create our life. So if attention is life, we should be more intentional with what we dedicate attention to.

“What good is intellectual life? It is a refuge from distress; a reminder of one’s dignity; a source of insight and understanding; a garden in which human aspiration is cultivated; a hollow of a wall to which one can temporarily withdraw from the current controversies to gain a broader perspective, to remind oneself of one’s universal human heritage.”
(Zena Hitz)

This paragraph was extracted from Zena Hitz’s Lost in Thought, a wonderful exploration of what it means to lead a rich intellectual life. I come back to these words whenever I feel the loud voices of the world messing with my mind: “what’s the points of reading ancient philosophy?,” or “focus on the actions that will actually make a difference!”

As someone who’s more introverted, withdrawing from the world in the company of a wisdom-filled book sounds like heaven. This quote puts me back at ease and helps me be content with continuing to cultivate an intellectual life. Because this is my way of coming into contact with the quintessential human nature of curiosity and wonder. Although it may seem that I’m withdrawing from the world, I’m actually getting to know it deeper.

“The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interests upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance. Thus we demand that the world grant us recognition for qualities which we regard as personal possessions: our talent or our beauty. The more a man lays stress on false possessions, and the less sensitivity he has for what is essential, the less satisfying is his life. He feels limited because he has limited aims, and the result is envy and jealousy.”
(Carl Jung)

This quote is from Jung’s autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
Jung speaks here very powerfully about something that reminds me of Socrates’ teachings. We’re often pursuing things (such as wealth and status) without first having the wisdom to assess whether they’re worth pursuing. Jung also alludes to something transcendent, a big picture view of the world, and how we’re connected to it.

This quote stood out to me because it encapsulates one of the goals that I hold most closely: to have the right knowledge of what’s actually worth seeking. Letting go of goals that are irrelevant and walking a path of meaning, connected to something bigger than myself.

“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
(Viktor Frankl)

This quote can be found in Viktor Frankl’s exceptional book Man’s search for Meaning. It spoke to me and I continue to come back to it because it has a clear manner of inviting us to step into our own journey and embody the ideals we set for ourselves. It calls us to live up to our standards and potential.
The emphasis is put on the action. We can be agonizing about the meaning of our life, instead of recognizing all the opportunities presented to us, each day, to act in appropriate ways; these would be our answers to the questions life poses us.

So, whenever I feel stuck, I am reminded to look at life as a question that needs my right answers, and all ambiguity dissolves, leaving me with the next step to take.

“Self is everywhere, shining forth from all beings,
vaster than the vast, subtler than the most subtle,
unreachable, yet nearer than the breath, than heartbeat.
Eye cannot see it, ear cannot hear it nor tongue
utter it; only in deep absorption can the mind,
grow pure the silent, merge with the formless truth.
He who finds it is free; he has found himself;
he has solved the great riddle; his heart forever is at peace.”

These verses are from the ancient text “The Upanishads,” belonging to the Hindu philosophical and spiritual tradition. Authorship is unknown (obviously). The aim of these texts is to investigate the nature of the self.

Out of all the quotes, this is the most demanding. It asks us to abandon preconceived notions of what we think we know, and receive this message, not blindly, but as an invitation to experience it ourselves. It needs to be read with reverence and patience. It can teach us valuable lessons, if only we’re receptive to it.

It speaks of the ubiquitous nature of the self, which is both ever-present, and can be easily missed, if we don’t know the right way to look. It points to a formless truth, that can only be grasped by experience, not by studying it from afar.

I am both humbled and inspired by this quote and every time I come back to it, different parts of it stand out to me.

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