Sunday, January 14, 2018

7 Inspirational Quotes to Guide us at Work and Life

Over the years, I have come across some profound quotations from some very wise folks. They have often acted as rudders as I work through life’s complex issues. These 7 quotes, in my opinion serve as great guideposts as we work through life and careers.
1.   “My goal in life is to unite my avocation with my vocation,
As my two eyes make one in sight.” 
Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mudtime.
Robert Frost kindled in me an appreciation for poetry – his poems were the first poems I read that were not required for a course. These two lines – the need to fuse what you love with what you do for a living can be a powerful path to satisfaction.

2.    If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it.” W. C. Fields.
I was very inspired by the original tale from Robert Bruce and the Spider. But as I grew older, this variation from WC Fields made so much more sense…For me, it’s always been a balance between persistence and realism. The best outcomes are not easily achieved and failure should not deter us. Persistence clearly matters. But sometimes we may be trying too hard at the wrong thing. In those instances, backing off and going a different direction may yield better outcomes.

3.   “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Mahatma Gandhi
These wise words from Gandhi have been the hardest to put into practice. It is a fact that at work and in life people often hurt us – whether through action, inaction, words or snubs. And the desire to retaliate is high. But in practice, avoiding retaliation has always served me better  - It has become so much easier as I grew older as I realized how easily I unintentionally hurt others. And so I don’t retaliate in the hope that others won’t retaliate for my unintentional missteps.

4.   Alice: “Would you tell me please which way I ought to go from here”
Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
Alice: “I don’t much care where…”
Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
Alice: “As long as I get somewhere…”
Cheshire Cat: “Oh, you’re sure to do that if only you walk long enough.”
From Alice in Wonderland

So often in life, I find myself doing things for random reasons – everyone does it, it seemed the right thing to do, or its seems cool…Staying busy could make me feel that I was getting somewhere. I try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to figure out what I need to do. And then I can decide whether a specific action will get me there.
Of course, the last two lines are great when one does not know where to go… just trying something is better than being paralyzed into inaction. And often times the act of doing things helps understand where we want to go.  

5.   “Easy is not the goal.” Ed Catmull in Creativity Inc.

Compared to most of the other quotations in this list, I learnt this one relatively late. Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar, wrote this in the book: “Creativity Inc.”. He was talking about the care they take while making Pixar movies. In one of the book’s chapters he described a choice they made while making Monsters Inc. While making the scenes based on Sully and Mike’s room they had to make a CD Rack…with a bunch of compact disks stored in a tower. They spent hours making sure that each CD in the rack had a title and artwork…something that no one in the audience would notice, and for a scent that lasted no more than 20 seconds. While agreeing this may have been excessive, Catmull made a point that I had come to realize a few years ago…in the things that matter, easy is not the goal. As we perform tasks and activities, it always seems expedient to take an easy way out on some key aspects of the task…don’t worry about the cover page of a report, don’t worry about proper formatting, and so on. But with every such decision we make our work and our activity a little more ordinary – till it loses all distinctiveness. It is a stepping-stone to mediocrity.  

6.    “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.Bertrand Russell, British Mathematician and Philosopher.

This statement from the British mathematician/philosopher Bertrand Russel is one of my favorites. Something that I always try to talk about in a decision-making or a leadership class. Russell was commenting on the fact that any complex situation has many sides to it. Wise people will see those different sides and the pros and cons of various solutions. They will find it harder to be sure that any course of action is the right one. Enter someone who is less wise, who can’t see all sides to the problem. This person bangs the table and says…of course this action is the right one…and the uncertain wise folks are likely to agree with him or her….

7.     Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire  Albert Einstein

This quote from Einstein is something I came across when transitioning to an academic career. It is tempting to focus exclusively on filling the student’s pail with canned information. But Einstein’ vision was powerful – Teachers need to transform students to becoming continuous learners – to always seek the knowledge they need to solve ever-evolving problems. 


  1. I love these, but there aren't any quotes from wise women. It seems like a disservice to your inspiration to leave out a female voice :)

    1. :). Please post some of them Renata...I just happened to pick the ones that were most influential for me and most of them are from a time when women's voices were less recorded than those of men.