Quotations about   aspiration

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Humanity will ever seek but never attain perfection. Let us at least survive and go on trying.

Dora Russell
Dora, Countess Russell (1894-1986) British author, feminist, social activist [Dora Russell, née Black]
The Religion of the Machine Age (1983)
Added on 7-Apr-22 | Last updated 7-Apr-22
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I don’t believe there is any finer mission on earth than just to make people laugh.

Fatty Arbuckle
Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (1887-1933) American silent film actor, comedian, director, screenwriter
“Fatty Off Guard,” interview by Elizabeth Sears (1916)
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Added on 22-Sep-21 | Last updated 22-Sep-21
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What you have become is the price you paid to get what you used to want.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Neurotic’s Notebook, ch. 5 (1963)
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Added on 29-Jul-21 | Last updated 10-Mar-22
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Every man is in some sort a failure to himself. No one ever reaches the heights to which he aspires.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“Table-Talk”
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Added on 25-Jun-21 | Last updated 25-Jun-21
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Don’t be yourself — be someone a little nicer.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, ch. 4 (1966)
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Added on 6-May-21 | Last updated 10-Mar-22
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I’m filled with a desire for clarity and meaning within a world and condition that offers neither.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
The Myth of Sisyphus” (1942)
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Go we seek that we shall not find.

No picture available
Thomas Malory (c. 1415-1471) English writer
Le Morte d’Arthur, Book 16, ch. 2 (1485)
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Ector to Lancelot (or vice versa) in Ector's dream. Often paraphrased/modernized to "We shall now seek that which we shall not find."
Added on 1-Dec-20 | Last updated 10-Feb-21
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If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

[Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, deerit nihil.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Epistulae ad Familiares [Letters to Friends], Book 9, Letter 4 “To Varro” (46-45 BC)

In June 708 AUC. Sometimes rendered "nihil deerit."

Alt. trans.: "If you have a garden in your library, everything will be complete." [Source].

Original Latin in context.
Added on 12-Oct-20 | Last updated 12-Oct-20
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To be a writer is to accept failure as a profession — which of us is Dante or Shakespeare? — and could they return, wouldn’t they fall at once to revising, knowing they could make the work better? In our own dwarfed way, we are trying for something like perfection, knowing it is unachievable (except of course that trying and failing is a better way of living than not trying).

John Ciardi (1916-1986) American poet, writer, critic
In Vince Clemente, “‘A Man Is What He Does With His Attention’: A Conversation with John Ciardi,” Poesis, Vol. 7 #2 (1986)
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Added on 26-Aug-20 | Last updated 26-Aug-20
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Our children give us the opportunity to become the parents we always wished we’d had.

Louise Hart (contemp.) American educator, psychologist, author, speaker
The Winning Family, ch. 1, epigraph (1987)
Added on 22-Apr-20 | Last updated 22-Apr-20
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Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.

Four be the things I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.

Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.

Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) American writer
“Inventory,” Life (11 Nov 1926)
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Reprinted in Enough Rope (1926).
Added on 23-Mar-20 | Last updated 22-Jun-20
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The universe could have been created ugly, and would have functioned. And yet there is beauty everywhere in creation. Beauty gives us an ache, to be worthy of that creation.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
Comments at Wellesley College (20 Oct 2010)
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The last phrase is frequently paraphrased, "We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it."
Added on 25-Feb-20 | Last updated 25-Feb-20
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Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations. There were people who said, “You can’t go into space. You can’t go to the moon.” If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won’t exist because you’ll have already shut it out. Yes, you can hear other people’s wisdom, but you’ve got to re-evaluate the world for yourself.

Mae Jemison (b. 1956) American engineer, physician, astronaut
Interview, Chicago Sun-Times (May 1994)
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Added on 14-Feb-20 | Last updated 14-Feb-20
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It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.

Paulo Coelho (b. 1947) Brazilian spiritual writer
The Alchemist, ch. 1 (1988)
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Added on 3-Feb-20 | Last updated 3-Feb-20
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If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.

Muhammad Ali (b. 1942) American boxer [b. Cassius Clay]
(Attributed)
Added on 27-Jan-20 | Last updated 27-Jan-20
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Is there anything in life so disenchanting as attainment?

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“The Adventure of the Hansom Cabs” (1878)
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Added on 16-Aug-19 | Last updated 16-Aug-19
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Every man is in some sort a failure to himself. No one ever reaches the heights to which he aspires.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“Table-Talk”
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Added on 9-Jun-19 | Last updated 16-Apr-21
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What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) German-American psychologist, writer
Man’s Search for Meaning, Part 2 (1946)
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Added on 16-Apr-19 | Last updated 16-Apr-19
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I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
“Starlings in Winter”
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Added on 16-Apr-19 | Last updated 16-Apr-19
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It was better, he thought, to fail in attempting exquisite things than to succeed in the department of the utterly contemptible.

Arthur Machen (1863-1947) Welsh author and mystic
The Hill of Dreams, ch. 5 (1907)
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Added on 26-Jan-19 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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I’m working at trying to be a good Christian, and that’s serious business. It’s like trying to be a good Jew, a good Muslim, a good Buddhist, a good Shintoist, a good Zoroastrian, a good friend, a good lover, a good mother, a good buddy — it’s serious business. It’s not something where you think, Oh, I’ve got it done. I did it all day, hotdiggety. The truth is, all day long you try to do it, try to be it, and then in the evening if you’re honest and have a little courage you look at yourself and say, Hmm. I only blew it eighty-six times. Not bad.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“The Art of Fiction,” Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990)
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Added on 3-Jan-19 | Last updated 3-Jan-19
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Most of us stand poised at the edge of brilliance, haunted by the knowledge of our proximity, yet still demonstrably on the wrong side of the line, our dealings with reality undermined by a range of minor yet critical psychological flaws (a little too much optimism, an unprocessed rebelliousness, a fatal impatience or sentimentality). We are like an exquisite high-speed aircraft which for lack of a tiny part is left stranded beside the runway, rendered slower than a tractor or bicycle.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, ch. 4 (2009)
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Added on 4-Oct-18 | Last updated 4-Oct-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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Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition.

Barack Obama (b. 1961) American politician, US President (2009-2017)
Commencement Address, Knox College, Galesburg, IL (4 Jun 2005)
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Added on 6-Sep-17 | Last updated 6-Sep-17
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Ambition hath one heel nailed in hell, though she stretch her finger to touch the heavens.

John Lyly (c. 1553-1606) was an English writer [also Lilly or Lylie]
Midas: A Comedy, Act 2, sc. 1 [Sophronia] (1592)
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Sometimes misquoted as "nailed in well." Sometimes misattributed to Lao-tzu.
Added on 23-Aug-17 | Last updated 5-Sep-17
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Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to “jump at de sun.” We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
Dust Tracks on a Road, ch. 2 “My Folks” (1942)
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Added on 23-Aug-17 | Last updated 23-Aug-17
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… a noble aim,
Faithfully kept, is as a noble deed,
In whose pure sight all virtue doth succeed.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) English poet
“Brave Schill! By Death Delivered, Take Thy Flight” (1809; pub. 1815)
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Sometimes misquoted "is a noble deed".
Added on 21-Jul-17 | Last updated 21-Jul-17
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The greatest evil which fortune can inflict on men is to endow them with small talents and great ambition.

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715-1747) French moralist, essayist, soldier
Reflections and Maxims [Réflexions et maximes], #562 [tr. Stevens] (1746)
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Added on 14-Jun-17 | Last updated 14-Jun-17
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A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man by one which is lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other, ambition. Ambition is the way in which a vulgar man aspires.

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) American clergyman and orator
Life Thoughts (1858)
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Sometimes misattributed to Marcus Aurelius.
Added on 17-May-17 | Last updated 17-May-17
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It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) South African revolutionary, politician, statesman
Long Walk to Freedom (1995)
Added on 12-Sep-16 | Last updated 12-Sep-16
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Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.

Lombardi - we can catch excellence - wist_info quote

Vince Lombardi (1913-1970) American football coach
(Attributed)
Added on 2-Sep-16 | Last updated 2-Sep-16
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Dreadful will be the day when the world becomes contented, when one great universal satisfaction spreads itself over the world. Sad will be the day for every man when he becomes absolutely contented with the life that he is living, with the thoughts that he is thinking, with the deeds that he is doing, when there is not forever beating at the doors of his soul some great desire to do something larger which he knows that he was meant and made to do because he is a child of God.

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) American clergyman, hymnist
Daily Thoughts from Phillips Brooks (1893)
Added on 10-Aug-16 | Last updated 10-Aug-16
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Do you remember the ’60s and ’70s? You didn’t have to go more than a week before there was an article in Life magazine — “The Home of Tomorrow,” “The City of Tomorrow,” “Transportation of Tomorrow.” All that ended. In the 1970s, after we stopped going to the Moon, it all ended. We stopped dreaming. And so I worry that decisions that Congress makes doesn’t factor in the consequences of those decisions on tomorrow. Tomorrow’s gone. They’re playing for the quarterly report, they’re playing for the next election cycle, and that is mortgaging the actual future of this nation, and the rest of the world is going to pass us by.

Neil deGrasse Tyson (b. 1958) American astrophysicist, author, orator
Real Time with Bill Maher, Ep. 223 (5 Aug 2011)
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Added on 19-Feb-16 | Last updated 19-Feb-16
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I could wile away the hours
Conferrin’ with the flowers,
Consultin’ with the rain;
And my head I’d be scratchin’
While my thoughts were busy hatchin’,
If I only had a brain.

E. Y. "Yip" Harburg (1896-1981) American lyricist [Edgar Yipsel Harburg, b. Isidore Hochberg]
“If I Only Had a Brain,” The Wizard of Oz (1939)
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It’s a sad fact of modern life that sooner or later you will end up on YouTube doing something stupid. The trick, according to my dad, is to make a fool of yourself to the best of your ability.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Broken Homes (2013)
Added on 27-Jan-16 | Last updated 27-Jan-16
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A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Time Enough for Love [Lazarus Long] (1973)
Added on 20-Oct-15 | Last updated 20-Oct-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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Whenever men cease fighting through necessity, they go to fighting through ambition, which is so powerful in human breasts that, whatever high rank men climb to, never does ambition abandon them.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) Italian politician, philosopher, political scientist
The Discourses on Livy, Book 1, ch. 37 (1517) [tr. Gilbert (1958)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "[Ambition] is so powerful a passion in the human breast, that however high we reach we are never satisfied."
  • "For when no longer urged to war on one another by necessity, they are urged by ambition, which has such dominion in their hearts that it never leaves them to whatsoever heights they climb." [tr. Thomson (1883)]
  • "Whenever the necessity for fighting is taken away from them, they fight for the same of ambition, which is so powerful a passion in the human breast that, no matter the rank to which a man may rise, he never abandons it." [tr. Bondanella (1997)]
Added on 22-Apr-15 | Last updated 27-Jan-20
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Knowledge is happiness, because to have knowledge — broad, deep knowledge — is to know true ends from false, and lofty things from low. To know the thoughts and deeds that have marked man’s progress is to feel the great heart-throbs of humanity through the centuries; and if one does not feel in these pulsations a heavenward striving, one must indeed be deaf to the harmonies of life.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American author and lecturer
The Story of My Life, pt. 1, ch. 20 (1903)
Added on 30-Mar-15 | Last updated 30-Mar-15
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To accomplish great things we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe.

Anatole France (1844-1924) French poet, journalist, novelist, Nobel Laureate [pseud. of Jaques-Anatole-François Thibault]
Speech, Académie Française (24 Dec 1896)
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If this is a dream, then perhaps our dreaming
Can touch life’s height to a finer fire:
Who knows but the heavens and all their seeming
Were made by the heart’s desire?

Edwin Markham (1852-1940) American poet
“The Crowning Hour” (2), The Shoes of Happiness, and Other Poems (1913)
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Doubtless he had an ideal, but it was the ideal of a practical statesman, — to aim at the best, and to take the next best, if he is lucky enough to get even that.

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) American diplomat, essayist, poet
“Abraham Lincoln, 1864-1865” (1869)
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Printed in The North American Review, #222 (Jan 1869) under the title "Before and After." Sometimes given as "The idea of a practical statesman is to aim ...."
Added on 2-Jul-14 | Last updated 2-Jul-14
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Make it thy chief Design and thy great Business, not to be Rich and Great: but so to live in this World that thou mayest reasonably believe thou has God for thy Friend.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Introductio ad Prudentiam, # 939 (1731 ed.)
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Added on 21-Nov-12 | Last updated 26-Jan-21
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For I can assure you that we love our country, not for what it was, though it has always been great — not for what it is, though of this we are deeply proud — but for what it someday can, and, through the efforts of us all, someday will be.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, National Industrial Conference Board (13 Feb 1961)
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Added on 9-Apr-12 | Last updated 2-Jan-14
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‘What do you fear, lady?’ he asked.
‘A cage,’ she said. ‘To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.’

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) English writer, fabulist, philologist, academic [John Ronald Reuel Tolkien]
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Book 5, ch. 2 “The Passing of the Grey Company” [Aragorn and Eowyn] (1954)
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Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
Memoirs of William Miller, quoted in Life (2 May 1955)
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Added on 22-Jul-11 | Last updated 21-Feb-21
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BECKET: Saintliness is also a temptation.

Jean Anouilh (1910-1987) French dramatist
Becket or The Honor of God [Becket ou l’honneur de Dieu], Act 3 (1959)
Added on 22-Nov-10 | Last updated 13-Apr-20
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Man will do many things to get himself loved; he will do all things to get himself envied.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 21, epigraph (1897)
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If you would hit the mark, you must aim a little above it.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“Elegiac Verse,” In the Harbor (1882)

See Emerson.
Added on 15-Dec-08 | Last updated 30-Jun-17
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You might have been enough the man you are
With striving less to be so.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Coriolanus, Act 3, sc. 2, l. 19 (1609)
Added on 14-Oct-05 | Last updated 26-May-16
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There are two great rules in life, the one general and the other particular. The first is that every one can in the end get what he wants if he only tries. This is the general rule. The particular rule is that every individual is more or less of an exception to the general rule.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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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)
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If we attend continually and promptly to the little that we can do, we shall ere long be surprised to find how little remains that we cannot do.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
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The empty pageant; a stage play; flocks of sheep, herds of cattle; a tussle of spearmen; a bone flung among a pack of curs; a crumb tossed into a pond of fish; ants, loaded and laboring; mice, scared and capering; puppets, jerking on their strings — that is life. In the midst of it all you must take your stand, good-temperedly and without disdain, yet always aware that a man’s worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions.

[Πομπῆς κενοσπουδία, ἐπὶ σκηνῆς δράματα, ποίμνια, ἀγέλαι, διαδορατισμοί, κυνιδίοις ὀστάριον ἐρριμμένον, ψωμίον εἰς τὰς τῶν ἰχθύων δεξαμενάς, μυρμήκων ταλαιπωρίαι καὶ ἀχθοφορίαι, μυιδίων ἐπτοημένων διαδρομαί, σιγιλλάρια νευροσπαστούμενα. χρὴ οὖν ἐν τούτοις εὐμενῶς μὲν καὶ μὴ καταφρυαττόμενον ἑστάναι, παρακολουθεῖν μέντοι, ὅτι τοσούτου ἄξιος ἕκαστός ἐστιν, ὅσου ἄξιά ἐστι ταῦτα περὶ ἃ ἐσπούδακεν.]

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 7, #3 [tr. Staniforth (1964)]
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Original Greek. Alternate translations:

Public shows and solemnities with much pomp and vanity, stage plays, flocks and herds; conflicts and contentions: a bone thrown to a company of hungry curs; a bait for greedy fishes; the painfulness, and continual burden-bearing of wretched ants, the running to and fro of terrified mice: little puppets drawn up and down with wires and nerves: these be the objects of the world. among all these thou must stand steadfast, meekly affected, and free from all manner of indignation; with this right ratiocination and apprehension; that as the worth is of those things which a man doth affect, so is in very deed every man's worth more or less.
[tr. Casaubon (1634)]

Gazing after triumphs, and cavalcades; the diversions of the stage; farms well stocked with flocks and herds; contests for victory in the field; these are the little pleasures, and concerns of mortals. Would you have a farther illustration, and see an image of them elsewhere? Fancy then that you saw two or three whelps quarrelling about a bone; fishes scrambling for a bait; pismires in a peck of troubles about the carriage of a grain of wheat; mice frighted out of their wits; and scouring cross the room; poppets dancing upon a wire, etc. And after all, though humane life is but ordinary, and trifling, a wise man must be easy and good-humored, and not grow splenetic, or haughty upon the contemplation. Remembering notwithstanding, that the true bulk and bigness of a man, is to be measured by the size of his business, and the quality of his inclinations.
[tr. Collier (1701)]

The idle business of show, plays on the stage, flocks of sheep, herds, exercises with spears, a bone cast to little dogs, a bit of bread into fishponds, laborings of ants and burden-carrying, runnings about of frightened little mice, puppets pulled by strings—[all alike]. It is thy duty then in the midst of such things to show good humor and not a proud air; to understand however that every man is worth just so much as the things are worth about which he busies himself.
[tr. Long (1862)]

Gazing after shows, the diversions of the stage, farms well stocked with flocks and herds, contests for victory in the field are all much the same. So, too, a bone thrown to puppies, fishes scrambling for a bait, ants laboriously carrying a grain of wheat, mice frighted out of their wits and running away, puppets danced upon a wire. And in the midst of them a wise man must be good-humored, and not grow haughty in the contemplation. Remembering, notwithstanding, that the true worth of a man is to be measured by the objects he pursues.
[tr. Zimmern (1887)]

A procession's vain pomp, plays on a stage, flocks, herds, sham fights, a bone thrown to puppies, a crumb into fishponds, toiling and moiling of ants carrying their loads, scurrying of startled mice, marionettes dancing to strings. Well, then, you must stand up in all this, kindly and not carrying your head proudly; yet understand that every man is worth just so much as the worth of what he has set his heart upon.
[tr. Farquharson (1944)]

Pointless bustling of processions, opera arias, herds of sheep and cattle, military exercises. A bone flung to pet poodles, a little food in the fish tank. The miserable servitude of ants, scampering of frightened mice, puppets jerked on strings. Surrounded as we are by all of this, we need to practice acceptance. Without disdain. But remembering that our own worth is measured by what we devote our energy to.
[tr. Hays (2003)]
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More quotes by Marcus Aurelius

In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Economy” (1854)
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