Nothing against the lovely, late Audrey Hepburn. I love her movies, her look, her philanthropy. But this motivational quote? Not so much.
This is one of those clever sayings that sounds great until you really think about it.
Nothing is impossible? OK then—flap your arms and fly.
No, not even Audrey Hepburn could do that.
“I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations – one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it – you will regret both.” –Soren Kierkegaard
A friend was struggling with regret. I have strong feelings about regret, but found myself tongue-tied. I couldn’t find the words to express my distaste.
I don’t do regret.
When I was about 16, I wrote a poem:
Not cold, but cool.
Regrets in life make bitter fools.
Very teenage girl, but it’s knocked around in my head so long, it’s become my little credo.
I’m impatient with regret. I would rather get on with things. Take a lesson and don’t look back. Regret is dangerous, a suffocating morass that only sucks you down. It drains energy and motivation and has no cure if you let it take hold.
Regret is no good, no good at all. But how how to wave someone back from the edge of the abyss?
“I hate that one,” a friend said. “Life is so difficult already, and they’re saying you’re not even supposed to wish?”
That little aphorism is so old and musty and familiar, I never gave it much thought until my friend said that. But now that she mentions it…what the hell?
What kind of crippling curse is that to put on someone? How can you wish for anything when you are told that there’s a damn good chance that wish will blow up in your face?
As I said before, you never know when you’ll stumble on wisdom. You remember Ricky Martin, don’t you? Formerly of the boy band Menudo, had a hit with Livin’ La Vida Loca, swiveling hips, cute as a button, bubblegum pop star? Yeah, that Ricky Martin.
Not exactly Socrates. But I came across this quote in the newspaper many years ago, cut it out, and posted it on the bulletin board over my desk because it’s so damn wise.
This is a widely used mantra to get yourself to exercise. I even have a fitness-related blog with that as its title.
Theoretically, it’s a good motivational mantra. No matter how much I don’t want to exercise, if I force myself to put on my workout clothes and get started, I’ll get a good workout in. Suiting up + showing up = working out.
If only they were magical words, though. If only correlation was causation. If only suiting up actually caused showing up. But it doesn’t.
I was talking to a friend recently about a complicated situation and doing my usual over-thinking thing, trying to figure out what I would say and what he would say and what that would mean and then what I should say about that thing he said and then what he would probably say about that and what that would mean and whether it would be a good thing or a bad thing and what it might lead to and how I should address that and how me might react and so on and so on and so on until finally my friend told me to slow down.
“One conversation at a time,” she counseled.
That certainly shut my mouth. In a good way.
Being thoughtful and analytical about my own actions is not a bad thing, if I don’t get carried away and descend into pointless rumination. But talk about pointless–writing scripts for another person’s side of a conversation doesn’t do me, the other person, or the situation any good. And jumping three conversations in the future, before I even know how the first will resolve, is counterproductive.
Ah, sultry Anais Nin. This is a come-hither quote if ever I heard one. From her lips, it’s seduction. Life is a temptress; are you man enough to take her on?
From the lips of, say, Dr. Martin Luther King, the words would sound very different. They might make me puff up my chest and stand ready to meet the future. The late Christopher Reeve might make me nod with somber understanding. From Tony Robbins, the quote might sound canned.
But Anais Nin…that’s different. She sounds like she is opening a door from a nice room to a miraculous garden, bigger than the world, with flowers the size of hubcaps and rivers like diamonds in the sun. She is holding the door and looking at you expectantly. Do you walk through the door?
Who knew there was a pithy quote about pithy quotes? Perhaps Sophocles was a fan of that Aesop guy, who may or may not have existed. Maybe Sophocles had “Slow and steady wins the race” chiseled into the bulletin board over his writing desk. Haven’t you hung motivational quotes where you can see them when you need a nudge? I have. Lots.
I love those short sayings, when they are genuinely wise and not just pseudo wise. Having a little slogan to recite when I find myself veering from my track can be a shortcut back to where I need to be. Some pithy quotes shine a light on something in a way I hadn’t thought of before. Some buck me up when I’m feeling downtrodden or insecure.
The good ones, that is. Some pithy quotes are just deep-sounding blather, or misguided. I stumble on plenty of quotes online that sound like someone just mixed unicorn juice with angel tears and rainbow sparkles and threw it all up in the air to see how it landed. Just because words sound loving and encouraging doesn’t make them genuinely useful.
And you never know where you might stumble on real wisdom. Some of the quotes I’ll trot out came from friends, some from my own head. I had a quote from actress Jenna Elfman (remember Dharma and Greg?) over my desk for years. I can’t remember the whole thing, but it started out “Do other things,” and talked about how she has interests other than acting because if you just do one thing all the time, you get kind of achy and sore. Pretty wise stuff from a sitcom star and one that I have taken to heart.
So in this new blog, we’re going to have fun with pithy quotes—breaking down the good and the bad to build a collection of short sayings with much wisdom for better living.
So if you have favorites—or least favorite—please bring them here. Let’s talk them through.
Please join me on Facebook, OK?
“Motivational and inspirational quotes can be great tools to help keep you on a chosen path, or keep you out of trouble, or help you change unproductive habits,” Sophia Dembling wrote me, when discussing this new blog idea. And I agree.
But sometimes motivational quotes are really no more than a bunch of words strung together that sound good — but steer you wrong.
Better Living Through Pithy Quotes will share and break down motivational quotes — the good, the bad, the brilliant and the inane — providing ways to use them or reasons to ignore them.
Sophia Dembling left the daily newspapers in 1994 to freelance and immediately took to the solitary lifestyle of the freelance writer. She previously authored the Psych Central blog, Real World Research. You can learn more about her here.