“Three things tell a man: His eyes, his friends and his favorite quotes.”—Quote Daddy
As unbelievable as it is, I am celebrating 50 years on this planet. Several months ago, I decided that I wanted to commemorate the occasion with a special blog post. As I have mentioned in multiple previous posts, words serve as powerful inspiration in my life. I have collected quotes in a series of blank books for 18 years. I am currently working through my sixth volume. I refer to these books every single day for inspiration, reflection, encouragement, growth, strength and so much more. When I considered what kind of 50th-birthday blog post I wanted to share, I landed on the idea of gifting my readers with 50 of the quotes that have been instrumental in shaping my life. I know that there are others who cherish words as much as I do. Whether or not that is true for you, I hope you will enjoy these quotes and my reflections on them. I consider my life and my work in this life to be constantly evolving. I want it that way! The learning I glean through reflection on my quotes is part of what continually transforms me. Although it can sometimes feel like plodding baby steps, I hope that I am making consistent, persistent progress in the direction of living my highest good, greatest self and grandest life. I sincerely hope that these words may serve as fodder for your journey toward those rewards in your own life.
1. “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” –Michelangelo
These words challenge me to elevate my standards in order to approach my potential for making a difference in the world. I believe that my purpose in life is to optimize my strengths, talents, passions, resources and experience in the service of living and promoting my core values: compassion, excellence, integrity and fitness. Optimization requires elevated standards, and I aspire to reach these high targets.
2. “All things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation of all things. You have to make sure that the blueprint, the first creation, is really what you want—that you’ve thought everything through. Then you put it into brick and mortar. Each day you go to the construction shed and pull out the blueprint to get marching orders for the day. You begin with the end in mind.” –Stephen Covey
Stephen Covey reminds me of the importance of having a plan in place. Without a clear plan, life is haphazard, and the important things are easily neglected. Exercise serves as an example. There is a world of difference between saying, “I’ll work out tomorrow,” and taking steps to get up at 5 a.m. to go for a 50-mile bike ride or scheduling a 6 p.m. walk and being prepared to take it. This is beginning with the end in mind.
3. “Was I better today than yesterday?” –Daniel H. Pink
I have journaled about various version of this question, but the main point is to reflect on my progress each day. Am I making progress? Am I doing what I said I would do? How will I plan to be even better tomorrow?
4. We breathe in faith
And exhale hopelessness
breathe in gratitude
And exhale indifference
breathe in Beauty
And exhale insensitivity
breathe in joy
And exhale sadness
breathe in kindness
And exhale harshness
breathe in forgiveness
And exhale resentment
We breathe in love
And exhale isolation.
—Edwin C. Lynn
For over 10 years, I regularly attended the Unitarian Universalist church. While my spiritual intuition has led me in a more personal direction in recent years, there are aspects of what I learned as a UU that still resonate deeply. This beautiful meditation, with a focus on inhaling the positive and exhaling the negative, is one that I use both personally and with my coaching clients. Sometimes, I shorten it to simply, “I inhale the positive and exhale the negative,” while I focus on my breath. It is a version of releasing what no longer serves me and being open to receive the best the Universe has to offer.
5. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine . . . We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” –Marianne Williamson
This wonderful quote came into my life through the amazing Northern Lights Alternatives AIDS Mastery Workshop, with which I have the deep privilege of being connected. I memorized this quote in the 1990s, when I was working for ConnectCare, an AIDS service organization. Another memory connected with it is meeting three young men in a café in Garnett, Kansas, while we were Biking Across Kansas in the late 1990s or early 2000s. They were cycling across the country, unsupported. We struck up a conversation and actually stayed in communication for a few years. Something inspired me to mention this quote while we were talking. Coincidentally, one of the boys pulled a sheet of paper with these words on it out of his handlebar bag. It was the inspiration for their journey. The most important message for me is that by allowing myself to shine, I am making a contribution to the world by the example I set.
6. “Success is measured by the quality of effort you put forth to do your best. And only you know if you have accomplished that . . . The score cannot make you a loser when you have given it your best effort.” –John Wooden
I am always interested in different ways to define success. John Wooden gave me one of the first alternative ways of viewing it. Rather than being strictly defined by an “A” or being the best at something, I realized true success was doing my very best. That is all I can control. I have used this as a guiding principle in raising my son. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect him to do his best.
7. “I looked up the road I was going and back the way I came, and since I wasn’t satisfied, I decided to step off the road and cut me a new path.” –Annie Johnson, Maya Angelou’s grandma
When I read this several years ago, it gave me permission to consider a different path. For a few years, I used it in workshops (not related to NLA) I facilitated in the HIV community to help give participants that same permission to step off roads that weren’t working for them.
8. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” –Viktor Frankl
It is so simple, yet so profound—I have the power to choose how I respond. Recognizing, remembering and acting on this principle can be life changing. We are not victims of our circumstances. We can always choose how we respond.
9. “Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great.” –Jim Collins
This is an important reminder that it is very easy to become complacent. I wonder if I am under this spell right now. It is question I am pondering and struggling to fully discern and resolve. I wrote about this basic idea in this blog post, The Comfort Conundrum.
10. “Your own mind is a sacred enclosure into which nothing harmful can enter except by your promotion.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Recognizing that I am in charge of what dwells in my mind was powerful for me. Regardless of what happens, I choose where I place my focus. It can be easier said than done to reject negativity, but just knowing that it is in my power to make the choice to do so gives me hope.
11. “Scientists who study human motivation have lately learned that after basic survival needs have been met, the combination of autonomy (the desire to direct your own life), mastery (the desire to learn, explore and be creative), and purpose (the desire to matter, to contribute to the world) are our most powerful intrinsic drivers—the three things that motivate us most.” –Steven Kotler
I recognize the truth of this statement in my own experience. I even created an acronym for it—AMP. I frequently examine my life to determine the level of autonomy, mastery and purpose it affords me. I recognize that there is a tipping point where not having enough of any one of these things makes life unbearable. That is when motivation to change kicks in. Until it does, we may be subject to the good being the enemy of the great, like Jim Collins says above and of the comfort conundrum I described my blog post last December.
12. “For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that those obstacles were my life.” –Fr. Alfred D’Souza
These words hit me several years ago like a ton of bricks. I realized that I had been living this way—for so many years, thinking that life was just up ahead, after something had been overcome. Suddenly, I became aware of how many years I had believed this and how it put me at risk for missing my entire life, in the pursuit of something better. Now, as a No Regrets coach, I am committed, not only to living my own life every day, right now, but to helping my clients do that as well. Life is short. Time passes quickly. If we put off living, feeling like we are not yet in our “real” life, we just may miss the opportunity to live it.
13. “I heard someone say once that all our life experiences are either lessons or gifts—that we either learn from our daily experiences or they are simply blessings to be treasured and appreciated. I like that. It means that every moment is an opportunity to grow or to be grateful (or both!).” –Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
What a helpful way to view the experiences in our daily lives! Even when we experience something we would rather not, by recognizing that we can choose to learn from it, we gain power and release any feeling of victimization. Recognizing the gifts we receive every day nurtures a spirit of gratitude, which enriches life in so many ways.
14. “If you say you want this, and you don’t have it, it’s because, at some level, deep down, you’re committed to something else.”—Rich Litvin
This is a profound statement that causes me to get honest with myself. If I have not achieved a goal that I claim I want, to what else am I committed? Is it comfort, history, loyalty, security or something more sinister that I allow to perpetuate in my life? The cause is not out “there” somewhere; it is my own doing or “not doing.” Being clear about this forces me to make a choice. Do I really want this, or do I want something else more right now? The choice and the responsibility are mine.
15. “. . . taking no chances and feeling stuck feels just as bad as taking a chance and making a mistake.” –Mary-Ellen Jacobs
This is another important truth. I have been in this place a couple times in my life. I am at least partly here right now. It is uncomfortable. It is worth remembering that sometimes taking action and risking a mistake is no more painful or unsettling than taking no action and remaining stuck for years. This is a message to myself, as much as anyone. I am still a work in progress.
16. “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” –Mohandas K. Gandhi
Much like Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us in #10, this reinforces that what we allow into our mindset is a choice. Other people can’t force it on us, no matter what they do or say to us. We have a choice where we focus.
17. “Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
This was my mantra for several years. It is still a statement of value that I hold dear. Life can easily take control and cause us to assume that we have no time for things that are very important. Some of the “things that matter most” to me are living a life of compassion; continually striving for excellence and growth and taking the very best care I can of my body, mind and spirit. I must consciously prioritize opportunities for tending to these. Otherwise, something will always get in the way.
18. “Complacency is not okay. Contentment is. They are different.” –Kristin Armstrong
This takes me back to the comfort conundrum. I must ask myself honestly whether I am in a place of true contentment or just settling in complacency. Living my highest good, greatest self and grandest life has no room for complacency.
19. “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”—John Wooden
Another piece of wisdom from John Wooden reminds me that I must prioritize what matters and act on it, regardless of what happens in life. There is always some action I can take. I must commit to taking action, even if it cannot be as complete or as perfect as I might prefer.
20. “What’s more frightening: the uncertainty of exploring uncharted territory, or the certainty that if you stay put, you’re imprisoned in mediocrity?”—Iris Krasnow
This is a theme in my life. Some of these other quotes have addressed it. Exploring uncharted territory is scary, but the idea of living with regrets, because I stay stuck in mediocrity, is even scarier. I wrote about it last September.
21. “I hope my achievements in life will be these—that I will have fought for what is right and fair, that I will have risked for that which matters, that I will have helped those in need . . . that the earth will be better place for who I’ve been and what I’ve done.”—C. Hoppe
I framed a card given to me upon graduation with my Bachelor’s degree by a co-worker, Joan, with this quote on the front of it. It hangs in my home today, half a lifetime later, because the words still mean so much to me. They speak to the ideals I held in my 20s and which still mean a lot to me, although they have taken shape in different ways in my life than I originally expected. It is still important to me to make a positive difference in the world.
22. “Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what you needed it to be. Don’t think you’ve lost time. There is not short-cutting to life. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.” –Asha Tyson
This message comforts me because I have often felt that I have wasted time or that my journey has been too winding and wishy-washy, that I haven’t stuck with things that I should have or that I have stuck with things I shouldn’t have. Believing that each step of the journey has been necessary and has helped to shape who I am today helps me to feel like my time has not been wasted. It goes back to #12 and the idea that I am living my life right now.
23. “. . . you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”—Steve Jobs
My good friend Dianne sent me this quote during a very painful time in my life about eight years ago. It helped me to gain perspective on my situation and to believe that what I was experiencing would make sense someday. I think it is really what is mentioned above—that each step of my journey shapes who I am and that, as Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says in #13, each experience is either a lesson or a gift or both.
24. “Obstacles are detours in the right direction.”—Gabrielle Bernstein
This was very powerful when I heard Gabby Bernstein say it in an audiobook. The things that get in our way can help us to end up on the right road, either by rerouting us, turning us around or stopping us. The key, of course, is being able to discern right action when faced with obstacles and then taking that action.
25. My thoughts shape my perception, determine my actions and behaviors and create the world I envision. —My longtime mantra to remind me of the power of my thoughts and the critical importance of choosing them wisely
I recently realized that I paraphrased this years ago from another Colleen Patrick-Goudreau quote. It has helped me through SO MANY scary situations and daily reminds me how significant my thoughts are to shaping the kind of day and, truly, the kind of life I live.
26. “Time wasted rationalizing the mediocre could be time spent creating the magnificent.”—Jen Sincero
This is huge. It is harder for me to implement than to acknowledge, but it is so true. Rather than rationalize why I should stay in a certain situation, I can take the plunge and create something amazing. The time will pass regardless. What am I going to do about it?
27. “The truth you are pursuing is as important as the evolution of the universe itself, for it enables evolution to continue.” –Fr. Carl in James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy
I rarely read fiction, but I read The Celestine Prophecy when I was in my 20s, upon the recommendation of someone I admired. I actually ended up reading it twice, which I also rarely do. This quote validated for me the importance of living with integrity and making the changes in my life necessary to do that. I realized that I had, not only the privilege of doing so, but a responsibility to do so, in order to help the Universe progress in a positive direction.
28. “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world . . . It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance . . . The moment she takes her seat, she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” –Susan B. Anthony
I LOVE this quote! That is how I feel on my bike—the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood. It is where I feel most liberated and most alive. It is my most important mental health strategy and a vital source of inner peace.
29. “A meaningful life is a stressful life.”—Kelly McGonigal
This was a real eye-opener for me. I had long believed that stress was something to avoid. Kelly McGonigal’s life-changing (for me) book The Upside of Stress helped me understand that the things that cause me the most stress in life—work (and all that means) and family—are also the things that make life most meaningful. Eliminating the stress would eliminate the meaning. The goal, then, is a mindset shift to view stress as a challenge, not a negative, health-damaging condition. Again, this can be easier said than done, but the concept is a powerful one.
30. “I love the wind in my face, the burning in my legs and lungs, the smell of sweat mixed with sunscreen. I love the knowledge that I would rather brave the elements—rain, heat, cold—than stay home and miss my liberty.”—Kristin Armstrong
Although she was talking about running, I totally relate to this sentiment in regard to cycling (and there was a day when it applied to running for me, too). There are limits to what I am willing to endure, but they are fairly broad. Cycling is truly my liberty. I know that I will feel better if I ride than if I don’t, even if it comes with a large dose of Kansas wind or other challenging elements.
31. “. . . be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves . . . Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” –Rainer Maria Rilke
I first came across this quote shortly after 9/11, and it helped me to make some level of peace with not understanding why the tragedy happened. Since then, it has helped me to have patience when I have not been able to quickly or easily resolve an issue or a question with which I am struggling. I like resolution. Uncertainty is hard and uncomfortable for me. Thinking of Rilke’s words, I can relax just a bit and start to trust that there may be a reason that I have not yet found an answer.
32. “Confidence is a result, not a requirement.”—Rich Litvin
This is a powerful statement. I don’t have to have confidence to take on a challenge; I will acquire it by facing my challenges boldly. Confidence is born in the action.
33. “I am grateful that my life is full of rich, rewarding, interesting, exciting and meaningful activities and opportunities.” –my personal mindset intervention mantra to move from a mindset of overwhelm and busyness to one of gratitude
Mindset is key to so much of how we experience the world. If I hold the mindset that life is a burden, it will be a burden. On the other hand, I can choose to be grateful for the fullness of my life. This changes my experience of it significantly. I use a similar mindset intervention when I buy groceries, one of my least favorite tasks. When I focus on how much I dislike the activity, it feels heavy and burdensome. When I repeat the mantra, “I am grateful that I have money to buy nourishing food,” it feels more like a privilege than a chore.
34. “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”—Jack Canfield
This struck me as so profound when I first heard it. Choosing to step over fear and try is what is required in order to achieve my most important goals. Until I take that step, my desires and goals and dreams may as well be behind the steepest, most inhospitable mountain range.
35. “You do what you can do, as competently as possible within a reasonable time frame, and then you let it go.” –Elizabeth Gilbert
Reading these words at the right time practically saved my sanity, if not my life, or at least my health. I have them on a sticky note above my computer at work. I say them to myself during the several months each year that I have appointments with students all day, every day and get depressingly far behind on email. These beautiful words reminded me that all I could do was my best. Now, there is a bigger issue of how long I choose to remain in this situation, but, while I do, Gilbert’s words soothe and settle me.
36. “Take your life off pause.”—seen on an Urban League Kansas sign several years ago
I need to check in regularly to ask myself if my life is on pause. Am I waiting for something to happen to really start living? Am I stalled? If so, which button will take me off pause?
37. “Long have you timidly waded, holding a plank by the shore, Now I will you to be a bold swimmer . . .”–Walt Whitman
This is another version of taking my life off pause. No more timid waiting! It is time to be bold and live life fully.
38. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”—Annie Dillard
Yes! But, this was hard for me to see until Dillard pointed it out. What I do every day matters because those days add up to create my life.
39. “Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” –John Wooden
This is another version of John Wooden’s view of success. Recognizing it as self-satisfaction, rather than some external measure or grade or status is freeing and empowering for me. I decide if I am successful, nothing nor no one else.
40. “Pushing your body, mind, and heart to their limits creates a cathartic ‘clearing,’ a ‘centering’ effect in your being, in your soul. If you can find something that brings you there, use it. It will bring to your day a richness of experience and a fullness of self . . . That raw feeling doesn’t last for long; it’s not supposed to, but its remnant angels provide guidance, focus and energy for future adventures.” -Bruce Springsteen
While Springsteen was referring to performing, I relate to this primarily in cycling. The energy I gain from working hard and challenging myself on the bike makes me a better, more effective human in every other aspect of my life.
41. “In this life there are scary things and there are beautiful things and they are not always different.” –Zack Grey
This is so important to remember. Sometimes the most beautiful things are also the scariest to pursue. (Everything I want is on the other side of fear, remember?)
42. “You can have your excuses, or you can have success. You can’t have both. –Jen Sincero
I love Jen Sincero. She tells it like it is, no holding back. Sometimes that is what I need to help me get honest with myself. Which is more important—my excuses (and the safety they bring) or my success (as measured by myself)? Sincero forces me to choose, if I am to live with integrity.
43. “Fitness is advocacy.”—my vegan athlete mantra
We all have different ways of living our values in the world. I believe that one of the ways I am meant to live my value of compassion is to combine it with my value of fitness. When I live a healthy, vibrant, active life as a vegan, I show others who may be skeptical what is possible. They may choose to reject the message, but my fitness can speak for itself and help to save animals and humans at the same time. I am contributing a chapter to an upcoming book on cycling and veganism, and this is my primary theme. It is one of the major ways I make a difference in the world.
44. “I am. Two of the most powerful words—for what you put after them shapes your reality.”—Healing Light
How do I choose to self-identify? The identity I claim—and embody—creates my life.
45. “. . . I have an unshakable belief that each of us has not only the potential to live a rewarding and purposeful life, but also the responsibility to do so.” –Bill Strickland
Reading these words many years ago helped me to honor my belief that living a truly rewarding life matters. It is part of my obligation to excellence, part of how I express gratitude for the many gifts I have been given, rather than squandering them by failing to stretch myself.
46. “And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.” –Anais Nin
I have loved this quote for ages because it speaks the truth to me. I think it often requires reaching a point where it is too painful not to change before we take the steps to do so. Some might call this hitting rock bottom. It can be that, but it doesn’t have to be. It can also be just reaching a point when the mediocrity becomes unbearable. Honestly, I sometimes wish for a catalyst that would push me to that point because it can be so hard to overcome the inertia and make significant changes without reaching that pain point.
47. “Kansas doesn’t have a lot of women like you . . . so you are such a leader here. And that you went biking after an accident is just an example of this tenacity and leadership.” — Kris Stiegler, 5/10/15
I hesitated to include this one because it feels like bragging, but I decided to include it because it meant so much to me, and I have not forgotten it. It was a comment by my friend Kris (briefly a Kansan) on a Facebook post I had made while hiding out in a lake bathroom after getting caught on my bike in a scary thunderstorm (on Mother’s Day!) that came out of nowhere. I mentioned that I had been trying to dry my cycling gloves with the bathroom hand dryer because they were soaked and causing the steri-strips I had gotten in the ER the previous night to come loose. It wasn’t a serious accident, just a nasty cut on my hand from my son’s drawing table. Kris’ words helped me to remember that what I do matters (Fitness is advocacy!). It would have been easy to skip my bike ride because I had a sore hand, but by choosing to ride, I honored my values and my liberty. Kris’ comment meant a lot to me. I know plenty of strong Kansas women, but I was deeply honored that she considered me one of them.
48. “Our bodies are apt to be our autobiographies.”—Frank Gelett Burgess
It is powerful to recognize this, own it and decide what it means for us. Our bodies do tell the stories of our lives. Whether it is the C-section scar that is a physical sign of giving birth to my son or my level of fitness that indicates to what extent I have been putting in the work to allow my body to perform optimally or my bike tan that is evidence of miles in the saddle, my body is a physical indicator of what I have been doing with my life. This is true whether it is a choice I make or something that happens to me. When our bodies show signs of trauma or illness, we can choose to own that and wear it as a badge of honor in our strength to persevere. When our bodies show signs of our own neglect or ill treatment, we can make a powerful choice to recognize that and use it as a springboard for change. We must make peace with our bodies as they currently exist and decide what the next chapter in our unfolding autobiography will be and then start writing it through our choices and actions.
49. “For what it’s worth: It’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start over.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald
These words led me in a new, determined direction. By asking myself if I am proud of how I am living in key aspects of my life, I have the power (and, I believe, obligation) to make a different choice, if I am not. This concept leads me to ask, “If not, what needs to change? What immediate action MUST I take in order to avoid living with regret?”
50. “As you look forward, try also to imagine what it will be like looking back at the end your life and what is it you will most wish you had done.”—Anne-Marie Slaughter
As a No Regrets Coach, this really speaks to me. I think asking ourselves this question can help us establish priorities. If there is something that we can see is likely to become a regret if we do not do it, I think it is important to find a way to do it, create it, make it happen in our lives. Regret scares me too much. Knowing this, I feel a responsibility for doing what I can to eliminate if from my life.
These are certainly not the only quotes that mean a lot to me. My extensive collection is constantly evolving. If I were to write an updated post 10 years down the road, I wonder how different it would look. I am deeply committed to lifelong learning, and introspection through meaningful quotes is part of that lifelong learning and growth. I hope these quotes speak to you in a powerful way and that they can be part of your learning and growth, as well. Thank you for allowing me to share them with you!
“The best quotes don’t speak to one particular truth, but rather to universal truths that resonate—across time, culture, gender, generation, and situation—in our own hearts and minds. They guide, motivate, validate, challenge and what us in our own lives. They reiterate what we’ve figured out and remind us how much there is yet to learn . . . Most of all, they tell us we’re not alone. Their existence is proof that others have questioned, grappled with, and come to know the same truths we question and grapple with, too.”—Cheryl Strayed