Quotations about   achievement

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The man who has not anything to boast of but his illustrious ancestors, is like a potato, the only good belonging to him is under ground.

Thomas Overbury (1581-1613) English poet
Characters (1612)
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Earliest found in The Lady's Monthly Museum (June 1807), expressed as a paraphrase.
Added on 6-Nov-18 | Last updated 6-Nov-18
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A virtuous, ordinary life, striving for wisdom but never far from folly, is achievement enough.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 4 “Consolation for Inadequacy” (2000)
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Summarizing Montaigne.
Added on 5-Apr-18 | Last updated 5-Apr-18
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May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Comment (31 Dec 2001)
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Added on 12-Feb-18 | Last updated 12-Feb-18
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Man can climb to the highest summits; but he cannot dwell there long.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Candida, Act 3 (1898)
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Added on 12-Jun-17 | Last updated 12-Jun-17
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When all is said and all is done,
When all is lost or all is won —
In spite of musty theory,
Of purblind faith and vain conceit,
Of barren creed and sophistry:
In spite of all — success, defeat,
The Judge accords to worst and best,
Impartially, this final test:
What hast thou done with brawn and brain,
To help the world to lose or gain
An onward step? Canst reckon one
Unselfish, brave or noble deed,
That thou — nor counting cost! Hast done
To help a brother’s crying need?
Not what professed nor what believed
But what good thing hast thou achieved?

James Ball Naylor (1860-1945) American physician, writer, poet, politician
“The Final Test”
Added on 24-Jan-17 | Last updated 24-Jan-17
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The only route to success is hard work. If you didn’t work hard I don’t think it counts as success.

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Twitter (27 Nov 2012)
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Added on 14-Jul-16 | Last updated 14-Jul-16
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The way to bliss lies not on beds of down,
And he that has no cross deserves no crown.

Francis Quarles (1592-1644) English poet
Esther, Sec. 9, Meditation 9 (1621)
Added on 24-May-16 | Last updated 24-May-16
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Times of general calamity and confusion have ever been productive of the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace, and the brightest thunderbolt is elicited from the darkest storm.

Colton - brightest thunderbolt - wist_info quote

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words, # 28 (1821 ed.)
Added on 10-Mar-16 | Last updated 10-Mar-16
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Ought not every woman, like every man, to follow the bent of her own talents?

Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) Swiss-French writer, woman of letters, critic, salonist [Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein, Madame de Staël, Madame Necker]
Corinne, Book 14, ch. 1 (1807)
Added on 9-Feb-16 | Last updated 9-Feb-16
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You don’t become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.

Munroe - become great - wist_info quote

Randall Munroe (b. 1984) American webcomic writer, roboticist, programmer
XKCD, # 896 “Marie Curie” (9 May 2011)
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Added on 20-Jan-16 | Last updated 20-Jan-16
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MALVOLIO: Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.

Shakespeare - greatness thrust - wist_info

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Twelfth Night, Act 2, Sc. 5, l. 156 (1599)
Added on 11-Nov-15 | Last updated 13-Nov-15
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We are very near to greatness: one step and we are safe: can we not take the leap?
Emerson - greatness - wist_info

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (28 Oct 1841)
Added on 21-Oct-15 | Last updated 21-Oct-15
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Every man of action has a strong dose of egotism, pride, hardness, and cunning. But all those things will be forgiven him, indeed, they will be regarded as high qualities, if he can make of them the means to achieve great ends.

Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) French statesman and soldier
The Edge of the Sword, “Of Prestige” (2) (1934) [tr. Hopkins (1960)]
Added on 7-Oct-15 | Last updated 7-Oct-15
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No one would have crossed the ocean if he could have gotten off the ship in the storm.

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
In “Looking ahead with Boss Ket,” Popular Mechanics (Feb 1935)
Added on 26-Jun-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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The Difficult is that which can be done immediately; the Impossible is that which takes a little longer.

George Santayana (1863-1952) Spanish-American poet and philosopher [Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás]
(Attributed)

Quoted in Reader's Digest (Nov 1939), but without citation. The sentiment has a number of antecedents (see discussion here).
Added on 18-Jun-15 | Last updated 18-Jun-15
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Every great improvement has come after repeated failures. Virtually nothing comes out right the first time. Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
(Attributed)
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Added on 12-Jun-15 | Last updated 12-Jun-15
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There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) American writer, philosopher, longshoreman
The Passionate State of Mind: And Other Aphorisms (1955)
Added on 28-May-15 | Last updated 28-May-15
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The starting point of all achievement is desire.

Napoleon Hill (1883-1970) American author, motivational writer
Think and Grow Rich (1937)
Added on 21-May-15 | Last updated 21-May-15
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To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) Lebanese-American poet, writer, painter [Gibran Khalil Gibran]
(Attributed)
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Added on 14-May-15 | Last updated 16-Aug-19
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Every man who is high up loves to think that he has done it all himself; and the wife smiles, and lets it go at that.

James Barrie (1860-1937) Scottish novelist and dramatist
What Every Woman Knows, Act 4 (1908)
Added on 30-Apr-15 | Last updated 30-Apr-15
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Whatever you are, be a good one.

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) English novelist
(Attributed)

Attributed in Laurence Hutton, "A Boy I Knew," St Nicholas Magazine (Mar 1897), where it was originally given as "Whatever you are, try to be a good one." Often attributed to Abraham Lincoln (first recorded in 1946). For more information, see here.
Added on 29-Apr-15 | Last updated 29-Apr-15
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Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American author and lecturer
“Optimism” (1903)
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Added on 16-Mar-15 | Last updated 16-Mar-15
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He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much, who has enjoyed the trust of good women, and the respect of intellectual men and the love of little children, who has filled his niche and accomplished his task, and who has left the world better than he found it whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul, who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it, who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had, whose life was an inspiration, and whose memory is a benediction.

Elisabeth-Anne "Bessie" Anderson Stanley (1879–1952) American poet
“Success” (1904)

The essay (though often presented in stanzas) was written for a poetry contest to answer the question "What is success?" in 100 words or less. It (especially the first 13 words) is often misattributed to Robert Louis Stevenson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, or Elbert Hubbard (the latter probably because the essay appeared in an advertisment in his series of books Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Lovers (e.g.). More information here.
Added on 27-Feb-15 | Last updated 27-Feb-15
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Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (10 Mar 1746)
Added on 26-Jan-15 | Last updated 26-Jan-15
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Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“A Psalm of Life” (1838)
Added on 14-Jan-15 | Last updated 14-Jan-15
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Success for the most part attends those who act boldly, not those who weigh everything, and are slow to venture.

Xerxes I (519-465 BC) King the Achaemenid Empire of Persia [Xerxes the Great]
In Herodotus, The Persian Wars, 7.50 [tr. Rawlinson (1942)]
Added on 30-Dec-14 | Last updated 30-Dec-14
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There are but two ways of rising in the world: either by your own industry or by the folly of others.

Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696) French essayist, moralist
“Of the Gifts of Fortune” (52). The Characters [Les Caractères] (1688) [tr van Laun (1929)]
Added on 4-Nov-14 | Last updated 14-Jan-16
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If ye would go up high, then use your own legs! Do not get yourselves carried aloft; do not seat yourselves on other people’s backs and heads!

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
Thus Spoke Zarathustra [Also sprach Zarathustra], Part 4, ch. 73 (1883-85)
Added on 3-Oct-14 | Last updated 3-Oct-14
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SID: It is not what you are; it’s what you don’t become that hurts.

Fannie Hurst (1889-1968) American novelist
Humoresque [film] (1946) [screenplay Clifford Odets, Zachary Gold]

Spoken by Oscar Levant.
Added on 25-Aug-14 | Last updated 25-Aug-14
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From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Comment to the Abbe du Pradt (1812)

Referring to the retreat from Moscow. See Paine.
Added on 21-Aug-14 | Last updated 21-Aug-14
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What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Mark 8:36 (KJV)
Added on 22-May-14 | Last updated 22-May-14
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It is intended that we shall accomplish all, through law, that we can accomplish for ourselves. God gives every bird its food, but does not throw it into the nest. He does not unearth the good that the earth contains, but He puts it in our way, and gives us the means of getting it ourselves.

Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819-1881) American novelist, poet, editor [pseud. Timothy Titcomb]
(Attributed)

Quoted in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)
Added on 22-Jan-14 | Last updated 22-Jan-14
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Sooner or later, we are all asked to compromise ourselves and the things we care about. We define ourselves by our actions. With each decision, we tell ourselves and the world who we are. Think about what you want out of this life, and recognize that there are many kinds of success.

Bill Watterson (b. 1958) American cartoonist
Commencement Address, Kenyon College (20 May 1990)
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Added on 12-Dec-13 | Last updated 12-Dec-13
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Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
“The New Nationalism,” speech, Osawatomie, Kansas (31 Aug 1910)
Added on 3-Jul-12 | Last updated 17-Sep-15
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No pain, no palm;
No thorns, no throne;
No gall, no glory;
No cross, no crown.

William Penn (1644-1718) English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, statesman
“No Cross, No Crown” (1682)

Originally written while a prisoner in the Tower of London (1668-69). See Quarles (1821).
Added on 22-May-12 | Last updated 24-May-16
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Freedom is not a gift received from a State or a leader but a possession to be won every day by the effort of each and the union of all.

Camus - freedom is not a gift received - wist_info quote

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
“Bread and Freedom” (1957), Resistance, Rebellion, and Death [tr. O’Brien (1961)]
Added on 5-Jul-10 | Last updated 11-Apr-16
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For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks — not that you won or lost —
But how you played the game.

Grantland Rice (1880-1954) American sportswriter
“Alumnus Football,” l. 63ff (1908)

For more information on variations in this poem and quotation from it, see here.
Added on 11-Feb-10 | Last updated 10-Oct-17
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There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second.

Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946) American-English essayist, editor, anthologist
Afterthoughts, “Life and Human Nature” (1931)
Added on 31-Dec-08 | Last updated 23-Jan-14
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Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.

Horace Mann (1796-1859) American educator
Baccalaureate address, Antioch College, Ohio (1859)

Final public address.
Added on 13-Feb-08 | Last updated 16-Jun-17
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I could do great things, if I weren’t so busy doing little things.

Ashleigh Brilliant (b. 1933) Anglo-American writer, epigramist, cartoonist
Pot-Shots, #0828
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 4-May-15
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We aim above the mark to hit the mark.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Nature,” Essays: Second Series (1844)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 30-Jun-17
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My mother drew a distinction between achievement and success. She said that achievement is the knowledge that you have studied and worked hard and done the best that is in you. Success is being praised by others, and that’s nice too, but not as important or satisfying. Always aim for achievement and forget about the success.

Helen Hayes (1900-1993) American actress
Reader’s Digest (1958)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-Jun-17
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