Inspirational Quotations #591

We read that we ought to forgive our enemies; but we do not read that we ought to forgive our friends.
Francis Bacon

Never try to reason the prejudice out of a man. It wasn’t reasoned into him, and it cannot be reasoned out.
Sydney Smith

Hope is independent of the apparatus of logic.
Norman Cousins

Confidence: The feeling that makes one believe a man, even when one knows that one would lie in his place
H. L. Mencken

I would never have amounted to anything were it not for adversity. I was forced to come up the hard way.
James Cash Penney

The darkness of death is like the evening twilight; it makes all objects appear more lovely to the dying.
Jean Paul

Your friends will know you better in the first minute they meet you than your acquaintances will know you in a thousand years.
Richard Bach

Truth lives on in the midst of deception.
Friedrich Schiller

We should have a great many fewer disputes in the world if words were taken for what they are, the signs of our ideas only, and not for things themselves.
John Locke

The love of gain never made a painter, but it has marred many.
Washington Allston

There is a great difference between him who is ashamed before his own self and him who is only ashamed before others.
The Talmud

All mankind are happier for having been happy, so that if you make them happy new, you make them happy twenty years hence by the memory of it.
Sydney Smith

Inspirational Quotations #590

In youth we learn; in age we understand.
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

The painter who is content with the praise of the world for what does not satisfy himself, is not an artist, but an artisan; for though his reward be only praise, his pay is that of a mechanic.
Washington Allston

Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.
Dinah Craik

The efficient man is the man who thinks for himself.
Charles William Eliot

Anything you really want, you can attain, if you really go after it.
Wayne Dyer

A scholar is greater than a prophet.
The Talmud

The problem of education is two fold: first to know, and then to utter. Everyone who lives any semblance of an inner life thinks more nobly and profoundly than he speaks.
Robert Louis Stevenson

The next best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it.
Samuel Johnson

The long unmeasured pulse of time moves everything. There is nothing hidden that it cannot bring to light, nothing once known that may not become unknown.
Sophocles

The virtues of society are vices of the saint. The terror of reform is the discovery that we must cast away our virtues, or what we have always esteemed such, into the same pit that has consumed our grosser vices.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every time we’ve moved ahead in IBM, it was because someone was willing to take a chance, put his head on the block, and try something new.
Thomas J. Watson

These Celebrities and Hollywood Actors Didn’t Just Wait Around for Dream Jobs to Turn up

“He who lives uprightly and experiences true difficulty and disappointment and is nonetheless undefeated by it is worth more than someone who prospers and knows nothing but relative good fortune.”
Vincent van Gogh

Stories of superstars who struggled in their early careers are very inspiring

Some superstars had it made. They came from privileged backgrounds and had spectacular starts to their careers. They were lucky enough to attend the best schools, get the right pedigree, make the right connections, get an early break, or join the fast track to the top.

Other superstars were not so lucky in their early careers. Most of these men and women—particularly the archetypical self-made person—came from humble backgrounds and struggled to establish themselves. They found productive jobs to eke out a living, all the while never losing sight of their ambitions. They took every opportunity to learn and prove themselves. They worked hard to get a foot in the door, toiled in the trenches, learned everything about their trades, and painstakingly built their spectacular careers from the ground up. In sum, they didn’t just while their time away waiting for their desired jobs and dream gigs to show up.

Jack Nicholson, Robin Williams, Brad Pitt

Jack Nicholson, Robin Williams, Brad Pitt---Hollywood actors with humble early careers who didn't just wait around for dream jobs to turn up

Consider three Hollywood superstars who struggled during their early careers and worked modest jobs to earn their living but never abandoned their ambitions.

  • Hollywood legend Jack Nicholson (b. 1937) ran errands and worked as a messenger at Hollywood’s MGM animation studios before being “discovered.” He had moved from New Jersey to pursue his dream of becoming an actor and lived with his wannabe-actress mother (whom he thought was his sister until he was 36, a full ten years after her death.)
  • Comedian and Hollywood actor Robin Williams (1951–2014) gained precious experience in his twenties working as a mime artist in front of New York’s Museum of Modern Art while trying to find acting gigs. As a child, Williams hardly fit the stereotype of someone who would later pursue comedy. Born to a successful Ford executive, Williams grew up a shy, lonely child playing by himself in an empty room of his family’s mansion. He overcame his shyness only after taking drama classes in high school.
  • Celebrated actor and producer Brad Pitt (b. 1963) worked a variety of odd jobs while struggling to establish himself in Hollywood. To pursue his passion for the big screen, he moved to Los Angeles from Missouri two weeks before he was about to earn his degree in Journalism. He took acting lessons and made contacts. Within months, Pitt got uncredited roles in three films. For the next seven years, he gained increasing recognition in supporting roles on television and in films before securing leading roles that catapulted him to worldwide fame.

Examine the purpose of these examples viz. to emphasize that successful people find something productive to do while improving themselves and waiting for their big break. Take note of a crucial nuance: we are not discussing humble part-time or casual summer jobs that later-superstars held in their youth—e.g., Pope Francis worked as a bouncer in Buenos Aires, German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a barmaid in Leipzig, Bill Gates as a page in the United States Congress, Warren Buffett as a newspaper delivery boy in Washington, D.C.

Albert Einstein, Soichiro Honda, Stephen King

Albert Einstein, Soichiro Honda, Stephen King---Celebrities with humble early careers who didn't just wait around for dream jobs to turn up

Other disciplines also present plenty of superstars who pursued their ambitions while holding humble first-jobs.

  • Physicist and philosopher Albert Einstein (1879–1955) spent two frustrating post-college years searching for a teaching job before becoming a clerk at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. In between examining patent applications and during his spare time, he worked on physics problems. In his third year at the job, he wrote four groundbreaking papers that transformed physics.
  • When Japanese engineer and industrialist Soichiro Honda (1906–1991) moved to Tokyo at age 15 to find work as an auto mechanic, a repair shop owner hired him as a nanny to his infant. With a child in tow, Honda often meandered about the garage, observing and learning from the mechanics. When the child was asleep, Honda tinkered with engines and started giving suggestions to the mechanics. He strengthened his passion for automotive engines just as the nascent industrial base of Japan was finding a new enthusiasm for machines.
  • 'Carrie' by Stephen King (ISBN 0307743667) Best-selling author Stephen King (b. 1947) struggled for years after graduating from college. He and his writer-wife grappled financially and lived in a trailer home. He worked hard at building a career as a writer and developed ideas for many novels. King sold short stories to men’s magazines and worked small jobs to make a living. When working as a janitor in a school locker room, he was inspired to write a novel titled “Carrie”. Set in a girls’ locker room, Carrie features a schoolgirl who exercises her newly-discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on her bullies. Carrie turned into King’s first published novel and lent him his big break.

Idea for Impact: Self-disciplined people don’t wait for the right answer or the golden path to present themselves. They understand that the best way to get unstuck is to start somewhere, focus on action, keep themselves productive, amend their course if necessary, and do all this without losing sight of their goals and ambitions.

A note of caution: Stories of superstars’ successes are but cherry-picked examples

“Welcome to Hollywood. What’s your dream?
Everybody comes here. This is Hollywood, the land of dreams.
Some dreams come true, some don’t. But keep on dreamin’.
This is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin’.”
— From “Pretty Woman” (1990)

More than we possibly realize, so much of life’s success in life has to do with luck (or fate or destiny.) As I’ve written previously, success is often more about being at the right place, at the right time, and with the right person than about possessing the right skills and working hard.

The above are merely examples of a few lucky superstars who made it big in Hollywood or in their chosen disciplines and followed their passions as careers.

For every Stephen Hawking or J. K. Rowling, there are thousands of wannabe writers whose creative writing doesn’t even pay enough to buy the notebooks they use.

For every Jack Nicholson, Robin Williams, or Brad Pitt, there are countless Hollywood wannabes struggling in the “Land of a Million Dreams.” What’s more, among actors who manage to find work, an even smaller fraction of them actually make a living doing it. Part-timers are paid so little that they must work at stores, restaurants, or bars at night and on weekends. The cost of living in Southern California has hit the roof; even professionally-done headshots cost hundreds of dollars. The celebrity impersonators and street performers on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame have even started aggressively pestering tourists and photographers for bigger tips.

Celebrity impersonators and street artists on Hollywood's Walk of Fame pestering tourists for bigger tips

In the la-la land of Los Angeles, chances are that any random person you meet is an aspiring actor, model, designer, musician, songwriter, screenplay writer, director, stunt-double, makeup artist, or is trying to get some gig in the entertainment industry. Each aspirant is taking classes, trying to make contacts, looking for auditions, hoping to land jobs, wishing to be “discovered” by an actor or noticed by a talent agent at a restaurant, club, or elsewhere.

Competition is brutal and the market for fame is saturated

In Hollywood, anything is possible and yes, “some dreams come true.” However, in reality, there’s an infinitesimal chance that any aspirant will ever get a break. Even still, thousands of hopefuls flock to Hollywood every year (and thousands of rejects move out.) After endless auditions, rejections, or false starts, they wake up to the harsh realities of competition and get jobs that are more gratifying than chasing a near-impossible dream.

“He that lives upon hope will die fasting.”
Benjamin Franklin

If you have a passion for something that will not pay adequately, pursue it on the side. Here’s some sage advice from my mentor Marty Nemko:

Do what you love, but don’t expect to get paid for it. Want to be on stage? Act in community theater. Want to be an artist? Convince a restaurant to let you decorate its walls with your creations. To make money, pick a field that pays decently and has few liabilities. Chances are, that will lead to more career contentment than pursuing a long-shot dream as your career. Treating a long-shot dream as an avocation gives you most of its pleasure without forcing you to endure a life of poverty.

Inspirational Quotations #589

It’s not the work which kills people, it’s the worry. It’s not the revolution that destroys machinery it’s the friction.
Henry Ward Beecher

Health is the soul that animates all the enjoyments of life, which fade and are tasteless without it.
William Temple

Ambition is pitiless. Any merit that it cannot use it finds despicable.
Joseph Joubert

He that has never suffered extreme adversity, knows not the full extent of his own depravation.
Charles Caleb Colton

Physical deformity, calls forth our charity. But the infinite misfortune of moral deformity calls forth nothing but hatred and vengeance.
Clarence Darrow

We should all be obliged to appear before a board every five years, and justify our existence… on pain of liquidation.
George Bernard Shaw

The miracle on earth are the laws of heaven.
Jean Paul

No one loves the man whom he fears.
Aristotle

A good goal is like a strenuous exercise—it makes you stretch.
Mary Kay Ash

Patience: A minor form of despair disguised as a virtue.
Ambrose Bierce

The history of man for the nine months preceding his birth would, probably, be far more interesting and contain events of greater moment than all the three score and ten years that follow it.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A timid person is frightened before a danger; a coward during the time; and a courageous person afterward.
Jean Paul

Knowledge is the antidote to fear.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Inspirational Quotations #588

The search for a new personality is futile; what is fruitful is the interest the old personality can take in new activities.
Cesare Pavese

If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Many of the insights of the saint stem from their experience as sinners.
Eric Hoffer

Old friends, we say, are best, when some sudden disillusionment shakes our faith in a new comrade.
Gelett Burgess

Nature never deceives us; it is we who deceive ourselves.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

A man is what he thinks about all day long.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Unless you bear with the faults of a friend you betray your own.
Publilius Syrus

It is easy to be brave when far away from danger.
Aesop

‘Tis the old secret of the gods that they come in low disguises.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

The free world must not prove itself worthy of its own past.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

In all ages, hypocrites, called priests, have put crowns upon the heads of thieves, called kings.
Robert G. Ingersoll

In literature the ambition of the novice is to acquire the literary language: the struggle of the adept is to get rid of it.
George Bernard Shaw

Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts. Soak it then in such trains of thoughts as, for example: Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible.
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus

“Goals Gone Wild”: The Use and Abuse of Goals

The Use and Abuse of Goals

An article in The Economist (7-March-2015 Issue) discussed the side effects of goal setting, more specifically the perils of overprescribing goals. This article echoes my earlier commentary on “The Trouble with Targets and Goals.”

The Economist article mentioned a Harvard Business School paper titled “Goals Gone Wild” by Lisa D. Ordonez, et al. This engaging literature review discusses many of the predictable side effects of goal setting on individual and organizational performance:

  • When goals are too specific, they can narrow people’s focus. People tend to fixate on a goal so intensely that they overlook aspects of a task that are unrelated to the goal. Even if unrelated, these overlooked details may be significant enough to warrant attention.
  • When people are assigned too many goals, this can encourage them to concentrate on tasks that are comparatively easier to achieve.
  • When goals aren’t afforded an appropriate time-horizon, they can distort long-and short-term priorities. Short-term goals can steer people toward myopic behavior that harms their organization in the long term. Conversely, long-term goals can be vague about the immediate course of action and obscure what’s required in the short term.
  • When goals are too challenging, they can discourage risk-taking. As a result, people may use deceitful methods to reach their goals or even misrepresent their performance levels—they may exaggerate their feats, conceal underperformance, or claim unmerited credit. The authors acknowledge the complexity of setting goals “at the most challenging level possible to inspire effort, commitment, and performance—but not so challenging that employees see no point in trying.”
  • When goals are complex, specific, and challenging, they can push people to focus narrowly on performance and neglect opportunities for experiential learning.
  • When goals are comparative, i.e., when goals pit employees against their peers, goals can hinder cooperation between people and even create a culture of unhealthy competition within a team.
  • When goals, by definition, try to increase extrinsic motivation, they can subdue people’s intrinsic motivation. Goals can challenge some people far more or far less than necessary if the intrinsic value of the job itself is already deeply motivating.
  • When goals fail to consider individuals’ skills or prior achievements or when they are not tailored enough, they can be too easy for some and too difficult for others. On the other hand, customizing goals can lead to feeling of discrimination or favoritism.

A Warning Label for Setting Goals

The authors propose a clever cautionary graphic sign and conclude,

For decades, scholars have prescribed goal setting as an all-purpose remedy for employee motivation. Rather than dispensing goal setting as a benign, over-the-counter treatment motivation, managers and scholars need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision.

Idea for Impact: Set objectives that are not only well designed, but also challenging and attainable.

Inspirational Quotations #587

The present contains nothing more than the past, and what is found in the effect was already in the cause.
Henri Bergson

Men will always delight in a woman whose voice is lined with velvet.
Brendan Behan

Our thoughts and imagination are the only real limits to our possibilities.
Orison Swett Marden

Nothing is harder to direct than a man in prosperity; nothing more easily managed than one in adversity.
Plutarch

The practical effect of a belief is the real test of its soundness.
James Anthony Froude

There should be no enforced respect for grown-ups. We cannot prevent children from thinking us fools by merely forbidding them to utter their thoughts; in fact, they are more likely to think ill of us if they dare not say so.
Bertrand A. Russell

You are your greatest investment. The more you store in that mind of yours, the more you enrich your experience, the more people you meet, the more books you read, and the more places you visit, the greater is that investment in all that you are. Everything that you add to your peace of mind, and to your outlook upon life, is added capital that no one but yourself can dissipate.
George Matthew Adams

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you look at your life one way, there is always cause for alarm.
Elizabeth Bowen

Science is the labor and handicraft of the mind.
Francis Bacon

Control Your Efforts, Not the Outcomes

General Eisenhower addressing American paratroopers on 5-June-1944 before the Battle of Normandy.

During World War II, President Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969) was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. On 2-June-1944, he issued a memo to his troops just before the Allied invasion of Normandy:

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely. … The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle.

We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Under Eisenhower’s leadership, the Allied forces had meticulously planned Operation Overlord for over a year. For months, Eisenhower’s troops not only rehearsed their D-Day roles and routines, but also went to exceptional lengths to uphold the secrecy of their plans and deceive the German forces about troop movement. The Allied forces even plotted to cut off all roads and rail lines leading to the coast of Normandy and thus block reinforcements for the German troops.

Some things are simply beyond your control—you can only do your best

Despite all the strategizing and training, the success of the Allied invasion depended on the weather across the English Channel—their success essentially rested on something beyond their control.

The Allied aircrafts sought air superiority and would be unable to locate targets if low clouds covered Normandy. In addition, if the tides were high or the seas heavy, the troops would be unable to launch their landing crafts. The success or failure of their landings hinged entirely on suitable weather.

Eisenhower tentatively planned to send his troops across the English Channel on 5-June. The day before, however, the troops predicted cloudy skies, rain, and heavy seas that were inappropriate for the invasion. Eisenhower decided to postpone the invasion by a day, when the forecasted weather was to be more suitable than on 5-June, but not necessarily perfect for his plans. If he did not invade on 6-June, the tides would not favor an invasion for another two weeks, which would possibly give the Germans enough time to get wind of the Allies’ plan.

Dwight Eisenhower and the Invasion of Normandy

Eisenhower gave the marching orders for 6-June. It was then that he realized that the success of the invasion was no longer in his hands. Its outcome depended on 160,000 allied troops, thousands of commanders, and hundreds of lieutenants. Eisenhower had done everything in his power to coordinate their efforts and create conditions conducive to the mission’s success. After issuing his orders, all he could do was let those conditions come to fruition on their own terms. After all his efforts, he could not control the outcomes—he let go of the outcomes.

In time, the hard-fought cross-channel invasion was successful—Eisenhower won his wager with the weather. The invasion of Normandy proved to be a turning point in World War II. Despite formidable obstacles and thousands of casualties, the Allied troops prevailed over the German forces in landing at the coast of Normandy. Within days, Allied forces quickly consolidated at the beachheads and built up troops. Within two months, they broke out from their beachheads in Normandy and advanced on the Axis powers. The Allies liberated Europe when German troops surrendered unconditionally on 8-May-1945.

Control Your Efforts---Not the Outcomes

Idea for Impact: Focus on effort and lower your expectations of the outcomes

The wise among us understand what’s within their control and what’s not. They recognize that “you win some, you lose some.”

Success and results are not often within your span of control. However, you can control your effort and ability to create the conditions for success. Focus on your efforts, then let those conditions unfold.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna instructed Arjuna, “set thy heart upon thy work but never its reward” (verse 2:47.) And the Buddha counseled his followers to lower their expectations in order to achieve happiness, a belief that is not without proof in the hurly-burly world we live in.

Moreover, even if you can, don’t go overboard with your efforts. Push yourself to the max only when the stakes are big enough. As I mentioned in a previous article, a 110% effort may not fetch more rewards than an 80% or a 90% effort.

Be committed to your job, but don’t overly invest in it.

Inspirational Quotations #586

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
Epictetus

An ounce of hypocrisy is worth a pound of ambition.
Michael Korda

There is no reality except the one contained within us.
Hermann Hesse

Everything changes but change itself. Everything flows and nothing remains the same…You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters and yet others go flowing ever on.
John F. Kennedy

The man of genius inspires us with a boundless confidence in our own powers.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

How incessant and great are the ills with which a prolonged old age is replete.
Juvenal

Proverbs are the literature of reason, or the statements of absolute truth, without qualification. Like the sacred books of each nation, they are the sanctuary of its intuitions.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.
Tom Peters

Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man.
Mary Wollstonecraft

It is love, not reason, that is stronger than death.
Thomas Mann

Inspirational Quotations #585

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
Winston Churchill

You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call “Failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down.
Mary Pickford

You cannot tailor make the situations in life, but you can tailor make the attitudes to fit those situations before they arise.
Zig Ziglar

Wherever we are, it is but a stage on the way to somewhere else, and whatever we do, however well we do it, it is only a preparation to do something else that shall be different.
Robert Louis Stevenson

Fear is an emotion indispensable for survival.
Hannah Arendt

All thought must, directly or indirectly, by way of certain characters, relate ultimately to intuitions, and therefore, with us, to sensibility, because in no other way can an object be given to us.
Immanuel Kant

The rich are too indolent, the poor too weak, to bear the insupportable fatigue of thinking.
William Cowper

Many of our prayers were not answered, and for this we are now grateful.
William Feather

The world moves, and ideas that were once good are not always good.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.
Anais Nin

Success is in the details.
Zig Ziglar