The Road Ahead
Quotes can have a wonderful way of reminding you of what is deep and important in your life. I like to think of quotes as guiding principles – reflections of values – actively lived or lying dormant waiting to be rekindled. We put quotes on walls and desks for a reason. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the new Queen of the block, Pinterest prominently feature quotations to address every facet of life. Quotes are snippets of borrowed stories we’d like to realize in our lives. Using quotations to inspire and enrich our work lives can energize and revive our sometimes weary spirits.
Here are 10 of my favorites:
1. “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Albert Einstein
There are several variations of this well-known quote by Albert Einstein, but this one is my favorite. It’s been a long-time mantra for my work because it reminds me that the process of learning is continuously evolving. Of that we can be sure. Even when we are stuck in old mindsets, life’s experience will undoubtedly show us sometime new. But I believe Einstein was aiming for something else with this idea. We don’t have to sit still and wait for our consciousness to evolve, but can actively seek the knowledge and experience to broaden our thinking – and feelings – within the course of every daily interaction with the world. Curiosity is the key and imagination is the guide. Certainly the good professor would agree.
2. Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Ghandi
Ghandi’s towering yet humble advice often leads me to search for the best within myself, especially when circumstances are difficult. This simple yet challenging thought reminds us to look within first and walk our talk. I find this centering quote helps me to act with greater empathy and compassion towards others, listen more deeply and model the patience, understanding and kindness I seek in the world. While Ghandi’s quote, like those of many famous cultural icons, has been “tweaked” to suit a bumper sticker culture, I extract the essence of his idea and find I am still – inspired.
3. “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind.” William James
Like many other psychology students, I was presented with the colossal task of making my way through William James’ classic 1200 page tome, The Principles of Psychology, written in 1890. James, a philosopher trained in physiology and psychology, was one of the pioneers in questioning the nature of emotion. Writing about James’ prescient 1884 article, What is an Emotion? neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux wrote, “There were no psychology journals yet. He conceived of an emotion in terms of a sequence of events that starts with the occurrence of an arousing stimulus and ends with a conscious emotional experience.” The question, then, as now, is what occurs between the stimulus and the response. James’ brilliance gave a clue that the choice-point is our cognitive thought process. The more we understand how we think – the more we build the capacity to direct our feelings.
4. “Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.” Hafiz
Ralph Waldo Emerson called the Persian born Sufi poet Hafiz, “the poet’s poet.” Of the estimated 5,000 poems that Hafiz wrote, none were ever written down. It appears that Hafiz, like William James, understood that fear – the common emotional response to most stimulus – weighs us down. It gnaws at our spirit. He’d like to see us living in better conditions. Choose another room. Because fear is still such a predominant emotional response in the workplace, we’d be wise to heed Hafiz’s warning. Settling for fear is all too common. It’s not inevitable, even if it’s easy.
5. ‘To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
We all wish to succeed in our work. At the deepest level, we all seek meaning through our work. Although this quote doesn’t speak directly to work, because of its prominence in most people’s lives, our work is a place where our impact can be significant. While few of us are solving the world’s big problems through our work, each one of us has the opportunity, in simple ways, to help others to breathe easier. There are many ways to do this. Everyday interactions with others give us endless opportunities to extend our consideration and empathy. And even if we are not engaged in work that shakes the world we can try to engage in what the Buddhist called Right Livelihood – that our work, at least, does no harm.
6. “The price of anything is the amount of life that is exchanged for it.” Henry David Thoreau
Clearly, the 19th century transcendentalist, Thoreau lived an intentional life. In 1845 he moved to land owned by his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, to a small, cottage he built near Walden Pond, in Massachusetts. In his famous book Walden he wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Every activity we choose exacts some cost of our life energy. Some of it yields great rewards – like engaging in a loving relationship. Other expenditures of our time and energy cannot be said to produce a sufficient ROI (return on investment) in terms of life’s meaningful rewards and memories. Choose wisely.
7. “People will forget what you said; people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
I often use this quote in my work on emotional intelligence. It can act to motivate us to remember that our interactions with others are felt. This can work both ways. People can remember the hurt they felt when slighted by peers dozens of years after the fact. An insensitive or unkind boss can leave a bitter taste in our mouths even when they are long gone. We can also fondly remember small acts of civility and kindness, even from lost acquaintances or strangers. How do people remember you? How do you want them to remember you
8. “Talk to yourself like you would someone you love.” Brene Brown
Brene Brown burst on to the social media scene with her 2010 TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability. 8.5 million views later, the talk has injected Brene’s long time research topics – courage, worthiness and shame – into conversations where such feelings were previously taboo. Brene wisely explains that our lack of self-love is often predicated on fear. We are often as unforgiving with ourselves as we are with the world – and much of it stems from fear, “I think people don’t understand that anxiety is fear. Jealousy is fear. Greed is fear. All of those are elements of a fear-based culture.” Self-compassion is the starting point for driving out fear from all the nooks and crannies of our lives, where in many cases, it’s been parked for a long time.
9. “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” C.S. Lewis
More than fifty years ago, C.S. Lewis wrote these words in a letter to his god-daughter. It precedes the first chapter of his classical story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lewis, a writer, poet, academic and Christian theologian, authored the famous Chronicles of Narnia. He believed that fairy tales survive because they transcend age and time. We all grown up enthralled and mystified by the tales and myths we absorbed in childhood. But soon we put “childish things away,” and enter the world of rationality we call – adulthood. Lewis believed we give away important pieces of our inner life when we do so, but that wonder, however faint, continues to live on as we age. While the stories that regaled us as children may not hold the same magic, we must find new ones as adults that restore our sense of wonder and awe in the world.
10. “Love the questions themselves.” Rainer Maria Rilke
Born in the late 19th century, Rainer Maria Rilke is considered to be one of the greatest poets to have written in the German language. This abbreviated quotation comes from Rilke’s longer verse in Letters To a Young Poet, “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.” Rilke understood that uncertainty is the nature of human life. At any moment, things can, and will, change. We act as if periods of uncertainty are temporary in our lives. We anxiously refer to the times we live in as uncertain, as if there was ever a time in human history where that was not true. Rilke’s antidote to permanent uncertainty and the fragile human condition is to learn to love the mysteries of life.
Writing about Rilke’s evolution as a poet, the great Hermann Hesse wrote, “His mastery of form increases, penetrates deeper into his problems. And at each stage now and again the miracle occurs, his delicate, hesitant, anxiety-prone person withdraws, and through him resounds the music of the universe.” Each one of us must make peace within ourselves in what we perceive as a chaotic world. Rilke’s prescription of patience and love of our mysterious journey through this “chaotic world” is worthy of our aspirations.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. It’s appreciated.
Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants
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Related articles: Letting Go of The Illusion of Control, The Starting Point for Empathy-You!, Anxiety and the Quest for Certainty
Photo credit Flickr knfk’s photostream
All the quotes are inspiring and relevant. My favorite is #3 the William James quote because now that we have the evidence of the neuroplasticity of the brain we can see what a visionary James was. Unfortunately too many people, especially in business, don’t yet understand how everything we think, feel and do shapes and reshapes the brain.
What really struck me about many of these quotes is how completely relevant they are for every aspect of life – and especially work.
Our essential challenges of living haven’t changed much since Gandhi, Emerson or even Hafiz spoke their famous words, only the context.
Great post & very beautiful quotes, most favorite of mine. Kindly allow me to add two of my other favorite to this nice list.
“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” – Albert Einstein.
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Thank you for the lovely article.
So glad you appreciated this post. The quotes you added are also wonderful, especially the Einstein. In fact I often use the Einstein quote when I work with beliefs. If we believe the world is a hostile place, one set of experiences will spring from that. This is not magical thinking but the mindset we create to look at the world. What we see is filtered through our perception with beliefs playing a major role in forming those filters. I think quotes often reflect essential beliefs we can about ourselves, others and the nature of the universe.
I love these quotes! Three of these are on my psychotherapy website, specifically Gandhi’s, Angelou’s and Einstein’s. I very much enjoy reading your blog.
Glad you enjoy the quotes – and the blog.