When most people write about quotes to live by, they probably do a Google search, look for the most cheesy inspirational quotes from the most well-known people. They choose the type of quote that looks great on an Instagram quote-card but has no emotional relevance of meaning to them.
I’ve done many iterations of posts mentioning quotes to live by, but I have a simple rule.
They have to be quotes I live by, quotes I know, quotes I’ve pondered on and implemented.
How else can I explain or interpret them to you unless I’ve lived them or tried to practice them myself?
For me, quotes to serve as a deep well of wisdom to be drawn from. They can also be empty platitudes that fuel absolutely zero motivation.
How you use them is up to you.
These quotes will help you live life with your eyes open, they’ll keep you from falling asleep at the wheel, they’ll give you the motivation that comes from two potent sources — inspiration and desperation.
Take some time to think about them and how they apply to your life. Then, instead of just moving on to the next piece of self-improvement content, act on them.
“The masses of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is confirmed desperation is resignation.” – Henry David Thoreau.
Not exactly the most inspirational quote, but remember, this post is about quotes to live by, not quotes that always make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
I use this quote as an example of what not to do.
For a while, I used to think I was being overdramatic about the state of the average person in society. I’ve come to the conclusion that, no, the collective isn’t experiencing some tragic sub-standard life. They’re experiencing something worse — slow torture that’s tolerable enough to continue doing it.
Often, people do change their lives after a shocking moment — divorce, illness, near-death scenario, etc — but devoid of that, most people run the clock out on their lives.
You should see the emails I get from people who, on the surface, appear to have very nice lives — nice resume, brand new car, home in the suburbs. They’re stuck and they want to scream, but they shove it back inside and go to work the next day.
I see so many little microcosms of this.
The old lady arguing about a 39 cent off coupon because that’s the only thing she can control in her life.
I was just at a “happy” hour with one of my friend’s co-workers. They asked me what I did for a living, I told them, and one of the guys said, “Yeah, that’s needed. Doing your own thing is so hard.” He looked up, sighed a little bit, enough where I could sense it, and then we carried on the conversation. Later on, he and another guy were talking about what new Marvel shows would be on Disney Plus.
As cruel as it sounds, I juxtapose myself against quietly desperate people. It’s my main source of motivation. Use it for yourself, too.
“The world wants to assign you a role. The minute you accept that role? You’re doomed” – Robert Greene
A corollary of the above. Not only don’t I want to be a member of the ‘quiet masses’ but I understand society is trying to force me into that role, if only passively.
I discuss this in chapter one of my latest book:
Let’s say we had a system where all of us were encouraged to be unique individuals who all followed their highest pursuits. Society likely wouldn’t be able to function the way it currently does. I mean the top-down structure it currently has, like one giant pyramid with a few powerful people at the top and many people at the bottom.
A bottom-heavy corporatist-style society requires many people to do things they don’t enjoy for a living. The larger the companies and institutions, the more people with low levels of agency are required to keep these structures running.
The incentive structures are such that the institutions of society will try to pigeon hole you.
These people, these puppet masters, they’re not your friends. They don’t even like you. They just want your vote, your debt at an interest rate, and your compliance at a job.
The worst part? This collective delusion created by the structures of society will not only cause people you love to buy into it, but they’ll often actively or subtly work against you, too.
The list of people who truly care about your sovereignty as an individual is quite low. I care, but ultimately, you care about yourself more than anyone else ever could. But it comes from a weird place, ego, so you don’t ultimately do what’s best for yourself.
Again, if I’m projecting onto you, by all means, stop reading the post.
But, I’m pretty sure I know you. And I’m pretty sure you want to be free. I’m certain that you’re better equipped to figure out what to do with your life than anyone else, including me.
Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts… Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day, at the end of the day – if you live long enough – most people get what they deserve.
Once you’ve been through ‘the self-improvement arc’ once, you can do it over and over and over again:
It took me five years to go through this arc once. And now, I’ll continue to commit my life to five year time chunks guided by the wisdom in this quote.
The video I used to launch my YouTube channel, which is now 9 months old and 110 videos deep and set for explosive growth in a few years, talks about the fact I wish every aspiring anything would get into their head:
The hardest part is the beginning
The five-year cycle doesn’t matter. Breaking the barries of 90 days, 6 months, and a year or two matter much more.
You just have to wait for it to come.
I get it. Being at zero sucks. It seems like that long-term goal you really want is insurmountable. So most people never commit. And honestly, I get why they don’t do it. It’s almost irrational to do it.
So, if you want to make it work, you’ll end up an irrational and naive fool who has the confidence to pursue a long-term dream with a late payoff.
“The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see.” – Ayn Rand
People often tell me my writing is blunt, even abrasive. I aim to point out the glaringly self-evident and tell people the things they need to know instead of the things they want to hear. I make people uncomfortable, hopefully in a good way, by pointing out what they try to ignore.
Your success in life is predicated on your ability to tell yourself those same things.
Many of the deep truths about life, human nature, and success are often unfair, difficult to confront and disconfirm what we wish to be true. My philosophy in life? I try to be simultaneously the most and least idealistic person of all time.
I’m idealistic about the things I can control — my motivation, adaptability, ability to learn, etc.
But I’m realistic about things I can’t control — agency problems, human nature (especially the dark parts), incentive structures, etc.
We all know what many of these things are, but we still pretend like these truths don’t exist.
Why? To cope.
Your two choices in life are to cope with your existence and tell yourself a bunch of lies to pull it off or do the hard work of changing your life while dealing fully with the uncomfortable realities of the world.
I mean, the first option is, in many ways, better. Burying your head in the sand and watching Netflix until you die isn’t all that bad.
Turning a blind eye to reality means you get to be ‘in the club.’ You get the safety and comfort of ignorance.
Again, this is about what you want. Do you want to be safe and ignorant or wise, with a dash of cold rationality, and free
You want praise from people who kick themselves every fifteen minutes, the approval of people who despise themselves. (Is it a sign of self-respect to regret nearly everything you do?) – Marcus Aurelius
I don’t pretend I don’t care what people think of me. Of course, I do, because I’m a human. The opinion of other people ruins more dreams than anything else.
I use this quote to remind me of what these people are really like –– the people who subtly guide my decisions, the people I seek to impress, the people I who cause me put my own needs second.
Who are these people in your life?
Why do you care what they think?
They’re little neurotic self-obsessed freaks just like you.
I’ve learned that most people aren’t as confident and self-assured as they come across. And I use this information to be more relaxed and comfortable in my own skin. Too bad we can’t all collectively realize how insecure we all are so we can stop playing these status games with each other.
Since that will never happen, a huge mission in your life will be to simply realize how little people’s opinions should matter and weigh that against how much they do matter to you right now.
I do this in my head all the time. “Why should I care what this person thinks? Then I proceed from that mindset. It doesn’t always work, but it always works a little bit better each time. Following this strategy will help you grow.
You’ll move more and more into being who you are, regardless of what anyone thinks, and then because you don’t care, you’ll draw people to you.
But you won’t care, because you’re on your mission.
Most of my quotes to live by come from the notion that you’re the master of your own life. You dictate your reality. You decide what your life will turn out like in the end.
Use the quotes and find your own quotes to live by, too. Coupled with action, they’re a powerful tool.
But, of course, you do have to, you know, get shit done as well.