The World's Best Quotes in 1-10 Words

I’ve collected thousands of inspirational quotes. It seems that nearly everything that can be said, already has been said, simply and eloquently, in a way that can seldom be improved. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the most widely-quoted American author lamented that “All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.”
There’s a beauty in brevity, and my favorite epigrams are brief. Winston Churchill wrote, “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.” Here are “The world’s best quotes in 1-10 words,” followed by my comments:

1. Love. —The Prophets

Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha. All the world’s religious saints and prophets hold love as a central value, the glue that anchors the universe.

We hear, “Love makes the world go round,” and “Love heals all wounds.” These are familiar themes: love of friends, ideas, and self. Love of God and of country. Even love of life itself. If I could only have one word for all eternity, love would be my choice.

2. Know thyself. —Socrates

In college I studied philosophy under Professor Don Crosby, and met Socrates early. In career development, self-knowledge is everything. In a career, you can be two or three degrees off course and walk into a wall, instead of through a doorway. You don’t have to be far off to have it fail.

Career unhappiness often results from lack of focus, and lack of focus stems from limited self-knowledge. But self-knowledge takes time, introspection, and effort. So it’s easy to avoid.

3. Inches make champions. —Vince Lombardi

Under Vincent Thomas Lombardi’s direction, the Green Bay Packers collected six division titles, five NFL championships, two Super Bowls, and record of 98-30-4. Lombardi knew a lot about winning. If football is a game of inches, so is career success. In the competitive world, you seldom win by a landslide.

Buzz Sullivan, my high school diving coach, told me, “A champion is someone who goes so far they can’t go another inch—and then they go that inch.” As a youth I wondered why that was important. Now I know. Winning in business or in personal life is all about inches: going small distances successfully, then going farther still.

4. Nothing gold can stay. —Robert Frost
We are swamped in change. And we had better get used to it, or at least figure out how to deal with it. In our parents’ day, career change was uncommon. The norm was lifetime employment. Now CAREER = CHANGE. You’ll have five careers in a lifetime, maybe six. Perhaps you’ll do part-time, project, interim, or consulting work. And even if you’re in your ideal dream job today, that might change tomorrow. Nothing gold can stay.

Martin Bucco taught English literature at Colorado State University, and first brought my attention to what words could mean. Bucco spoke of what he called “the great dead minds,” those who have come before us and written their thoughts. He also said, “Time in life is short. You can only read so many books, so choose wisely.” We spent many classes unwrapping Robert Frost’s genius, and this is one of the poems that hit home. It earned him the 1924 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.


Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

5. Work is love made visible. —Kahlil Gibran
About 80% of people are unhappy at work, and 20% are happy. Our culture has separated work from passion, and taught us to prefer a higher paycheck to higher happiness. That mistake costs us our souls. The goal of career development is to uncover one’s gifts and passions, and to link them to the practical needs of the world. We call that “being in the right place,” “finding a good fit,” or “making the best use of one’s talents.” I sometimes call it “Being planted in the right pot.”

In What Color Is Your Parachute? my mentor, Dick Bolles, quotes Fred Buechner, who writes, “There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work . . . (and) the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” [2001 Edition, page 57.]

High compensation and high happiness are not incompatible. It’s not that we shouldn’t seek money, and lots of it; many of our clients do. But we should first seek to love, or at least to like, what we’re doing. That’s the realization of our highest calling.

6. No great thing is created suddenly. —Epictetus (A.D.200)

We live in a Twitter-Instagram culture. We want everything instantly and without effort. And we bristle when others around us appear to be getting more, sooner. Waiting for rewards or results is out of favor. It is so uncool.

Many things are created suddenly: the two-day house makeovers on HGTV, for example. They’re good but not great. They are adequate, functional, or practical improvements. Greatness requires thought and time, effort and sacrifice. Especially sacrifice.

Stellar careers aren’t built overnight. Take the orthopedic surgeon, whose education extends 15 years past high school. Take the country western star on Grand Ole’ Opry. Take the NFL quarterback or wide receiver, the CEOs, CFOs, and Vice Presidents of brand-name companies. Think about Edison, Einstein, or Galileo, or anyone else you might admire. None of them got there overnight.

Great careers are built upon hundreds of thousands of small efforts, undertaken daily, that eventually grow into a series of satisfying wins. An ad for Paul Masson Vineyards picturing a bottle of wine said, “Nothing good happens fast.” I framed it, and hung it in my office.

7. Well done is better than well said. —Benjamin Franklin

This is a variation on “Actions speak louder than words” and on Shakespeare’s superb quote, “Talkers are no good doers.” An executive search consultant who recruited 500 bank presidents told me, “There are two kinds of candidates: tap dancers and superstars. Tap dancers go through the motions and superstars get the work done. I recruit the superstars.”

8. No wind favors s/he who has no destined port. —Montaigne

The cliche, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there,” is valid. And many careers are broken by lack of direction. Corporations define this concept as having a mission or vision, and organizations lacking vision usually flounder. “Career Planning” speaks to the idea of creating a blueprint for your future. That is, having a goal, a destined port—fulfilling your destiny. Stephen R. Covey said it well in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when he advised us to “Begin with the end in mind.

9. Sometimes even to live is an act of courage. —Seneca
I’ve been there. You’ve been there. Sometimes life is hard. You hit a career roadblock or dead end. Nothing seems to be working. You’re fired or laid off. Or worse yet, you and your spouse are both unemployed. It happens. And it happens more frequently than you might imagine, to good people, qualified candidates, because of circumstances beyond their control.

I like Churchill’s words, “Never give in, never, never, never, never; in nothing, great or small—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.” And I especially like the quote by Edmund Burke, who said: “Never despair, but if you do, work on in despair.”

I admire those who attempt to overcome adversity, and compiled these quotes to help.

10. Do first things first, and second things not at all. —Peter Drucker.

It’s so easy to do what’s familiar, comfortable, or fun. It’s so difficult, sometimes, to tackle the highest priority. And sometimes it’s difficult to even know your top priorities; hence, the phrase, “I can’t see the forest for the trees.”

We suffer from over-choice: 867 varieties of toothpaste, 10,487 styles of shoes, 186 brands of cell phones with 137 telephone companies. We demand more variety than we could possibly need or want; and as a result, we get lost in options, opportunities, and choices. There are 87 varieties of lawyers, and 75 specialties inside medicine. The world of work can be a confusing landscape.

When you’re flooded with career possibilities, or “swimming up Niagara Falls,” it’s good to spend time answering questions like, “What is the best and highest use of my talents?” and, “How can I make a bigger impact?”

If you can’t establish clear career priorities by yourself, use friends and business acquaintances as a sounding board. They will want to help. Ask them to help you determine your “first things” and “second things.” Or seek an outside coach or advisor to help you focus. Because if you don’t know what your “first things” are, you simply can’t do them FIRST.

Your friend,