5 Charles Bukowski Quotes That Cut to the Essence of Human Nature & Teach You How to Live

By AAwosika07 | Tough love

Mar 23
charles bukowski quotes

Every time I read Bukowski, I have several moments where I have that nervous chuckle because he says these phrases that cut straight through the bullshit — they’re so jarring, irreverent, hilarious, and brutally honest at the same time.

If you’re not familiar with Bukowski, he’s the quintessential average joe, piece of garbage, nobody type of human being. He has an alcohol problem. He worked in dead-end jobs, mainly the post office, for the majority of his adult life. Then, he became a famous writer, still an alcoholic, and went on to tell stories of his tenuous relationship with fame, women, and everything in between.

Growing up his parents abused him, kids bullied him, girls hated him. With a face full of scarring, puss-filled ance, he learned to become an observer of life as most people didn’t want to actually interact with him.

He’s a pervert, a prophet, a misogynist, and a poet.

Either you’ll love his work or you’ll hate it.

He uses vulgar and graphic language, but at the same time, you’ll see extreme poignance in his words. Even if you hate the message and his delivery of it, you’ll be hard-pressed to fully disagree.

He goes there.

I try to embody the same attitude in my writing. I try to tell you the truth, exactly how I mean. I’ll never come close to Buwkoski, though. Never.

Take a look at some of my favorite quotes plus my interpretation of them. Then, go and buy all of his books immediately.

A Deadly Accurate Diagnosis of Society

“We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.”

If you know anything about me, you know I use death as a lens to see the world.

Think of how crazy it is that the vast majority of people not only don’t follow their dreams but spend most of their lives doing absolute bullshit – working at jobs they hate or tolerate, spending time with people they don’t like, pissing off their afternoons, evenings, and weekends with happy hour, Netflix, bars and clubs, anything but pursuing their purpose of having real and genuine experiences.

We all see the giant elephant in the room. We all get the long-running joke that is society, yet most of us doing nothing about it because we’re scared of the things you have to do to live your real-life — face your emotions full, kill your ego, get over your little mental tummy aches…your dumb little feelings.

I get it. I run away in my own ways, too.

My life isn’t perfect and I waste a ton of time on things that don’t matter, distracting myself from what does, and rationalizing when faced with a challenge to my ego. I try to do this less. And I do this by reminding myself how stupid it is to waste my life.


Slow Death Personified

“The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole goddamned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves.”

When you look in the eyes of the average person in society, maybe in the mirror, you see that hint of sadness combined with just enough passive-aggressive energy to shove those dreams down to the recess of their mind and put on that veneer so people don’t see how broken they are.

I sound mean when I say this, but seeing the average person in society scares the shit out of me. They’re good people, but god damn, they are doing everything in the worst possible way. Just totally asleep at the wheel. This slow death is more tragic than an abrupt crisis.

People become the ‘frog in the boiling water.’ They start out young and idealistic, but society puts them in that pot. The water is lukewarm and comfortable, “Oh this entry-level thing? It’s just temporary, I’m going to start my business soon.”

It gets a little hotter, “Baby number two is on the way! We need a bigger house and a minivan. Don’t worry, just a few easy payments. I’ll start p90x soon, yeah I know I’m getting a little chubby. Dad bods for the win, am I right? *giggle giggle* I can still start that business, maybe when the kids are a bit older,” but it’s not unbearable yet.

Next thing you know, you’re done for. One day you wake up and you’re a T.V. character — Peter Griffin from Quohog.

The good news? You can always make your way out. Always. It just gets harder as you age. So do it now.

The Right Way to Chase a Dream

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” – Charles Bukowski

Why not just do it?

I remember when I first started writing. It was a fun hobby, but I grew to love it very fast. Even if I didn’t make the conscious decision right away, in the bank of my mind, I knew. Not only was I going to become a writer, but I was also going to become a damn good writer.

“Most writers fail and quit early.” I knew they weren’t talking about me.

“Making a living as a writer is next to impossible.” Yeah for other people.

If you’re fortunate to find something that makes you feel good, really good, deep in your bones good, you owe it to yourself to ride it out for the rest of your life.

As Elizabeth Gilbert says, you have to find your shit sandwich — something that’s worth the pain, effort, and struggle to see through to the end Gilbert herself talked about the fact that she’d write no matter what.

She preferred working as a waitress or any other gig that would give her enough time to write. And she never cared if she’d be able to do it full time. She just wanted to do it. That was more important to her than living a life of worldly success. And as usually happens, when you’re bursting with passion for something and don’t need the money, the money comes.

“I don’t know what I want to do with my life!” Yeah, you do. But you’re afraid — of failure and of what other people think.

I have a buddy who lives out in L.A. He wants to be a musician. Low odds. But he made the right choice. What is the point of him getting some job that looks nice on LinkedIn but robs him of his soul?

How much money is your soul worth?

People constantly talk about how they ‘don’t care about money’ but if you see the way they live their lives, especially what they do for a living, it’s clear they have a price.

You have to pay the bills. Ok. Got it. Use your free time. To do what? As another quip from Bukowski goes:

“Find what you love and let it kill you.”

Just For Us Writers

“There’s no way I can stop writing, it’s a form of insanity.”

You have to be a little bit mentally ill to write as much as you need to in order to make a living from it.

Writing is like major league baseball.

Even if you’re a really good baseball player, you don’t get to join the MLB right away. You have to go to the minor leagues and work on all your mechanics, sometimes for years, just to be allowed to play in the big leagues.

I’m hesitant to put out writing courses and coaching programs because I can give people all the knowledge and tools they need upfront and point them in the right direction, but the reality involves years of practice.

Five years into the game and I feel…decent. Bukoski wrote for 25 years before he got discovered — a quarter-century.

You don’t need to have a bunch of talent to start, but you have to have that itch to want to do it. I empathize with people who are on the fence about starting because I was too, but once you do start, it should feel like a drug. It did for me.


People envy the lives of writers. It seems like everyone wants to be a writer. But the vast majority of people, talent or not, just don’t have the heart for it.

They’re not lunatics like Charles, me, or all of my writer friends who just can’t seem to get enough of the masochistic joy that comes with putting words on the page.

How to Save the World

“You begin saving the world by saving one man at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics.”

I’ve made it a point in my life to not pretend to care about things I don’t really care about. Why? Because it’s fake. You know, you can not care about something and also not want the worst outcomes to happen.

For example, I think animals are cool, but endangered species don’t keep me up at night. Still, I don’t want elephants to be murdered for their tusks, get it?

I’m aware that climate change is real, I recycle, and maybe I’ll get a Tesla someday, but I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I’m invested in the debate, nor will I go to some protest or share a post on social media about it.

I don’t virtue signal because I have more important things to do.

In 2020 and beyond, everyone wants to be ‘woke’ so badly. You have to care deeply about every single cause or else you’re evil. Mind you, you don’t have to actually do anything about these causes like volunteer or give money, just letting other people know you care publicly is enough.

The more obsessed people are with taking too many stances, usually the less control they have over their own lives and the less they have going for them. I mean, picture this person in mind right now — constantly sharing news and politics, goes out and protests for every cause has all their affiliations in their bio.

Do you visualize a healthy and self-actualized individual? Fuck no. You know what you visualize. And let’s keep it at that.

I care about you and your actual life.

If I can help enough individual people create the outcomes they want in their life so that they can then turn around and be a good example for other people, the ripple effect of all that will be much greater than my attempts to try to ‘save the world.’

How can you be so concerned with world events when you don’t have your own shit together?

Start there.

Save yourself.


About the Author

Ayodeji is the Author of Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement and two other Amazon best-selling titles. When he's not writing, he enjoys reading, exercising, eating chicken wings, and occasionally drinking old-fashioned's.