Quotations about   difficulty

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These are times in which a Genious would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. Would Cicero have shone so distinguished an orater, if he had not been roused, kindled and enflamed by the Tyranny of Catiline, Millo, Verres and Mark Anthony. The Habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. All History will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruits of experience, not the Lessons of retirement and leisure. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the Heart, then those qualities which would otherways lay dormant, wake into Life, and form the Character of the Hero and the Statesman.

Abigail Adams (1744-1818) American correspondent, First Lady (1797-1801)
Letter to John Quincy Adams (19 Jan 1780)
    (Source)

Written when John Quincy was twelve, in Paris with his father for the peace negotiations with Britain.
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The world is not interested in the storms you encountered, but did you bring in the ship?

William McFee (1881-1966) English writer
(Attributed)
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His progress through life was hampered by his tremendous sense of his own ignorance, a disability which affects all too few.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Maskerade (1995)
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Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.

Theodore Isaac Rubin (b. 1923) American psychiatrist and author
Love Me, Love My Fool: Thoughts from a Psychoanalyst’s Notebook (1976)
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Failure isn’t about a lack of “natural intelligence,” whatever that is. Instead, failure is born from a messy combination of bad circumstances: high anxiety, low motivation, gaps in background knowledge. Most of all, we fail because, when the moment comes to confront our shortcomings and open ourselves up to teachers and peers, we panic and deploy our defenses instead.

Ben Orlin (b. c. 1988) American math teacher, author
“What It Feels Like to Be Bad at Math,” Slate (29 Apr 2013)
    (Source)

Originally posted on his blog: What It Feels Like to Be Bad at Math – Math with Bad Drawings.
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I believe that no endeavor that is worthwhile is simple in prospect; if it is right, it will be simple in retrospect.

Edward Teller (1908-2003) Hungarian-American theoretical physicist
Quoted by Judith Shoolery, personal communication (2004)
    (Source)

Quoted in István Hargittai, The Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century (2006).
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My life is already complicated enough, without trying to introduce organization into it.

Ashleigh Brilliant (b. 1933) Anglo-American writer, epigramist, cartoonist
Pot-Shots, #1960
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Just about everything in this world is easier said than done, with the exception of “systematically assisting Sisyphus’s stealthy, Syst-susceptible sister,” which is easier done than said.

Lemony Snicket (b. 1970) American author, screenwriter, musician (pseud. for Daniel Handler)
The Vile Village (2001)
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The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer.

Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian
Quoted in Listener (14 Dec 1939)
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Every game ever invented by mankind, is a way of making things hard for the fun of it. The great fun, of course, is in making the hard look easy.

John Ciardi (1916-1986) American poet, writer, critic
An Introduction to Literature: How does a poem mean? (1959)
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After all, the saddest thing that can happen to a man is to carry no burden. To be bent under too great a load is bad; to be crushed by it is lamentable, but even in that there are possibilities that are glorious. But to carry no load at all — there is nothing in that. No one seems to arrive at any goal really worth reaching in this world who does not come to it heavy laden.

Edward Sandford Martin (1856-1939) American writer and editor
In a New Century, ch. 21 “Deafness” (1903)

Quoted by Theodore Roosevelt, Speech, New York State Agricultural Association, Syracuse (7 Sep 1903).
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To cut out every negative root would simultaneously mean choking off positive elements that might arise from it further up the stem of the plant. We should not feel embarrassed by our difficulties, only by our failure to grow anything beautiful from them.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 6 “Consolation for Difficulties” (2000)
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Discussing Nietzsche.
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Disgraceful ’tis to treat small things as difficult;
‘Tis silly to waste time on foolish trifles.

[Turpe est difficiles habere nugas,
Et stultus labor est ineptiarum.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 2, #86
    (Source)

As quoted in the Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations (Classical) (1906). Alt. trans.: "It is absurd to make one's amusements difficult; and labor expended on follies is childish." [tr. Bohn (1871)]
Added on 18-Oct-17 | Last updated 18-Oct-17
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The fortitude which has encountered no dangers, that prudence which has surmounted no difficulties, that integrity which has been attacked by no temptations, can at best be considered but as gold not yet brought to the test, of which therefore the true value cannot be assigned.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler #150 (24 Aug 1751)
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Added on 11-Apr-17 | Last updated 11-Apr-17
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Difficulties are things that show what men are.

epictetus-difficulties-show-what-men-are-wist_info-quote

Epictetus (c.55-c.135) Greek (Phrygian) Stoic philosopher
The Discourses, Book 1, ch. 24
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We come to know best what men are, in their worse jeopardies.

Samuel Daniel (1562-1619) English poet, dramatist, historian
To Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton (1605)
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Everyone thinks his sack heaviest.

George Herbert (1593-1633) Welsh priest, orator, poet.
Outlandish Proverbs, #748 (1640)
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These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues.

Abigail Adams (1744-1818) American correspondent, First Lady (1797-1801)
Letter to John Quincy Adams (19 Jan 1780)

Probable source of the similar "Great necessities call forth great leaders," usually cited (but not found) as a letter to Thomas Jefferson.
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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 16-Mar-20
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We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 [CEB]

Alt. trans:
  • "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." [NRSV]
  • "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed." [KJV]
  • "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." [NIV]
  • "We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed." [GNT]
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If thy Business be perplexed, divide it, and look upon all its Parts and sides.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Introductio ad Prudentiam, # 583 (1725)
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Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.

Henry J. Kaiser (1882-1967) American industrialist
(Attributed)
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EDDIE: Kid, life’s hard. But it’s a lot harder if you’re stupid.

Paul Monash (1917-2003) American producer and screenwriter
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (movie) (1973)

Screenplay based on the novel by George V. Higgins (though the line is not in the book). Played in the movie by Robert Mitchum, to whom the quote is often attributed.
Added on 22-Jan-15 | Last updated 22-Jan-15
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If you would not have affliction visit you twice, listen at once to what it teaches.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
(Attributed)
Added on 18-Dec-14 | Last updated 18-Dec-14
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If Afflictions refine some, they consume others.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, #2666 (1732)
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There are bad things in the world. There’s no getting away from that. But that doesn’t mean nothing can be done about them. You can’t abandon life just because it’s scary, and just because sometimes you get hurt.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Turn Coat (2009)
Added on 8-Apr-14 | Last updated 8-Apr-14
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Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
As You Like It, Act 2, sc. 1 (1599)
Added on 20-May-13 | Last updated 26-May-16
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Easy reading is damn hard writing.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) American writer
(Attributed)

Also attributed to others, including Ernest Hemingway. The reference to Hawthorne can be dated back to Maya Angelou in "The Art of Fiction," Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990):

Nathaniel Hawthorne says, "Easy reading means damn hard writing."

Per Wikiquote, Angelou put it differently previously, in Conversations With Maya Angelou (1989) [ed. Jeffrey M. Elliot]:

I think it's Alexander Pope who says, "Easy writing is damn hard reading," and vice versa, easy reading is damn hard writing.

Which first clause may refer in turn not to Pope but Richard Brinsley, Clio's Protest, or the Picture Varnished (1771, pub. 1819):

You write with ease, to show your breeding, But easy writing's curst hard reading.
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It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Henley - master of my fate - wist_info quote

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) English poet, critic, editor
“Invictus” (1875)
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The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.

Other Authors and Sources
Chinese proverb

Quoted in W. C. Wilson, ed., The Teacher's Visitor (1846).
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SHERIDAN: The universe doesn’t give you any points for doing things that are easy.

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Babylon 5, 2×03 “The Geometry of Shadows” (16 Nov 1994)
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O, how full of briers is this working-day world!

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
As You Like It, Act 1, sc. 3, l. 11 (1599)
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ZATHRAS: Yes, Zathras is used to being beast of burden to other people’s needs. Very sad life. Probably have very sad death. But at least there is symmetry.

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Babylon 5, 3×16 “War Without End,” Part 1 (13 May 1996)
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The world isn’t interested in the storms you encountered, but whether or not you brought in the ship.

Other Authors and Sources
Raul Armesto
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Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile … initially scared me to death.

Other Authors and Sources
Betty Bender
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 29-Jul-21
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He has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so.

Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) American journalist and author
A Preface to Morals, 11.3 (1929)
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Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.

[Μή, εἴ τι αὐτῷ σοὶ δυσκαταπόνητον, τοῦτο ἀνθρώπῳ ἀδύνατον ὑπολαμβάνειν, ἀλλ̓ εἴ τι ἀνθρώπῳ δυνατὸν καὶ οἰκεῖον, τοῦτο καὶ σεαυτῷ ἐφικτὸν νόμιζε.]

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 6, #19 [tr. Rendall (1901 ed.)]
    (Source)

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

  • "Do not ever conceive anything impossible to man, which by thee cannot, or not without much difficulty be effected; but whatsoever in general thou canst Conceive possible and proper unto any man, think that very possible unto thee also." [tr. Casaubon (1634), #18]

  • "Because you find a Thing very difficult, don't presently conclude that no Man can master it. But whatever you observe proper, and practicable by Another, believe likewise within your own power." [tr. Collier (1701)]

  • "If a thing is difficult to be accomplished by thyself, do not think that it is impossible for man: but if anything is possible for man and conformable to his nature, think that this can be attained by thyself too." [tr. Long (1862)]

  • "Because you find a thing very difficult, do not at once conclude that no man can master it. But whatever you observe proper and practicable by another, believe likewise within your power." [tr. Zimmern (1887)]

  • "Do not think that what is hard for thee to master is impossible for man; but if a thing is possible and proper to man, deem it attainable by thee." [tr. Morgan, in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (1894)]

  • "Because thou findest a thing difficult for thyself to accomplish do not conceive it to be impracticable for others; but whatever is possible for a man and in keeping with his nature consider also attainable by thyself." [tr. Haines (1916)]

  • "Do not because a thing is hard for you yourself to accomplish, imagine that it is humanly impossible: but if a thing is humanly possible and appropriate, consider it also to be within your own reach." [tr. Farquharson (1944)]

  • "Because a thing is difficult for you, do not therefore suppose it to be beyond mortal power. On the contrary, if anything is possible and proper for men to do, assume that it must fall within your own capacity." [tr. Staniforth (1964)]

  • "Not to assume it's impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it's humanly possible, you can do it too." [tr. Hays (2003)]

  • "If something is difficult for you to accomplish, do not then think it impossible for any human being; rather, if it is humanly possible and corresponds to human nature, know that it is attainable by you as well." [tr. Needleman/Piazza (2008)]
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