Quotations about:
    skill


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We cannot all do everything.
 
[Non omnia possumus omnes.]

Virgil the Poet
Virgil (70-19 BC) Roman poet [b. Publius Vergilius Maro; also Vergil]
Eclogues [Eclogae, Bucolics, Pastorals], No. 8 “Pharmaceutria,” l. 63 (8.63) (42-38 BC) [tr. Mackail (1899)]
    (Source)

Invoking the Pierian Muses to finish the tale, after the singer has given the first half.

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

All cannot all things do.
[tr. Ogilby (1649)]

We cannot all do all things.
[tr. Davidson (1854), Wilkins (1873), Greenough (1895), Day Lewis (1963), @sentantiq (2018)]

Scarce may all do everything.
[tr. Calverley (c. 1871)]

We are not equal all
To every theme.
[tr. Palmer (1883)]

All things are not possible to all.
[tr. Bryce (1897)]

We cannot all do everything.
[tr. Fairclough (Loeb) (1916)]

We are not all sufficient for all things.
[tr. Mackail/Cardew (1908)]

No single singer touches all the chords.
[tr. Williams (1915)]

We cannot all succeed in every task.
[tr. Rieu (1949)]

For none of us all is skilful in all things.
[tr. Johnson (1960)]

We are not all capable of all things.
[tr. Kline (2001)]

 
Added on 8-Nov-23 | Last updated 8-Nov-23
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It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

Joanne "Jo" Rowling (b. 1965) British novelist [writes as J. K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith]
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets [Dumbledore] (1998)
    (Source)
 
Added on 29-Jun-22 | Last updated 29-Jun-22
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On Venice Beach, Alice and the girls and I once saw a man blowing truly spectacular soap bubbles the size of watermelons — still the symbol for me of the tendency of people in Southern California to become awfully good at something that isn’t terribly important.

Calvin Trillin
Calvin Trillin (b. 1935) American journalist, humorist, novelist
Travels with Alice, ch. 10 (1989)
    (Source)
 
Added on 16-Aug-21 | Last updated 16-Aug-21
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But don’t you know, there are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do: and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, ch. 34 (1889)
    (Source)

Origin of more simplified versions of the phrase. More discussion: The Best Swordsman in the World Doesn’t Need To Fear the Second Best Swordsman – Quote Investigator.
 
Added on 28-Apr-21 | Last updated 28-Apr-21
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I guess, when you get down to it, a loving touch compensates for an unskilled hand about everywhere except in an airplane cockpit.

Robert Brault (b. c. 1945) American aphorist, programmer
(Attributed)
 
Added on 25-Aug-20 | Last updated 25-Aug-20
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If hard work is not another name for talent, it is the best possible substitute for it.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
“College Education,” Speech, Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (Jun 1867)
    (Source)
 
Added on 31-Jul-20 | Last updated 31-Jul-20
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My feeling about technique in art is that it has about the same value as technique in love-making. That is to say, on the one hand, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and, on the other hand, so does heartless skill; but what you want is passionate virtuosity.

John Barth - Passionate Virtuosity

John Barth (b. 1930) American writer
“An Interview with John Barth,” by Alan Prince and Ian Carruthers, Prism (Spring 1968)
    (Source)

The quotation from the interview (originally credited only to Prince) was also included in the inside dust cover of Barth's short story collection, Lost in the Funhouse (1968), and is sometimes cited to that book.

The longer quote was paraphrased to the form in the graphic above on the dust cover of Charles B. Harris, Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth (1983):

In art as in lovemaking, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and so does heartless skill, but what you want is passionate virtuosity.

Harris later gives the full quotation inside his book.

Also used by Barth in "Dunyazadiad," Esquire (1972-07-01), reprinted in Chimera (1972):

Heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal, Dunyazade; so does heartless skill. But what you want is passionate virtuosity.

 
Added on 12-Mar-20 | Last updated 6-Jul-23
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The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

[πόλλ’ οἶδ’ ἀλώπηξ, ἐχῖνος δ’ἓν μέγα]

Archilochus (c. 680-645 BC) Greek lyric poet and mercenary [Ἀρχίλοχος, Archilochos, Arkhilokhus]
Fragment 201
    (Source)

As quoted in Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953). The fragment is found in a group of proverbs collected by Zenobius. Alt. trans.:
  • The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one great thing.
  • The fox knows many tricks; the hedgehog one good one.
  • The fox knows many tricks; and the hedgehog only one; but that is the best one of all.
  • Fox knows many, Hedgehog one solid trick.
  • Fox knows tricks and still gets caught; Hedgehog knows one but it always works. (Source)
 
Added on 17-Jan-20 | Last updated 21-Jan-20
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Ability is not something to be saved, like money, in the hope that you can draw interest on it. The interest comes from the spending. Unused ability, like unused muscles, will atrophy.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
Tomorrow Is Now (1963)
    (Source)
 
Added on 14-Aug-17 | Last updated 14-Aug-17
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There is only one proof of ability — action.

[Für das Können gibt es nur einen Beweis: das Tun.]

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916) Austrian writer
Aphorisms [Aphorismen], No. 91 (1880) [tr. Wister (1883)]
    (Source)

(Source (German)). Alternate translation:

There is only one proof of ability: doing it.
[tr. Scrase/Mieder (1994)]

 
Added on 7-Aug-17 | Last updated 21-Sep-22
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Ability hits the mark where presumption overshoots and diffidence falls short.

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) English prelate, Catholic Cardinal, theologian
(Attributed)

Also attributed to Golda Meir.
 
Added on 10-Jul-17 | Last updated 10-Jul-17
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Anybody who teaches a skill, which coaches do, is admirable. But sport doesn’t build character. Character is built pretty much by the time you’re six or seven. Sports reveals character. Sports heightens your perceptions. Let that be enough.

Heywood Hale Broun (1918-2001) American author, sportswriter, actor
In Ames Daily Tribune (16 Jan 1974)

Broun used a number of variations of this idea. It was more famously paraphrased in James Michener, Sports in America (1976), as "Sports do not build character. They reveal it." More discussion on this quote here.
 
Added on 18-Oct-16 | Last updated 18-Oct-16
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When you write easily, you always think you have more talent than you really do.

[Quand on écrit avec facilité, on croit toujours avoir plus de talent qu’on n’en a.]

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist, philosopher, essayist, poet
Pensées [Thoughts], ch. 23 “Des Qualités de l’Écrivain [Of the Qualities of Writers]” ¶ 45 (1804 entry) (1850 ed.) [tr. Auster (1983)]
    (Source)

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

He who writes with ease always thinks that he has more talent than he really has.
[tr. Calvert (1866), ch. 15]

When anyone writes with ease, he always believes himself to have more talent than he has.
[tr. Lyttelton (1899), ch. 22, ¶ 13]

The fluent author always seems to have more talent than he has.
[tr. Collins (1928), ch. 22]
 
Added on 16-Sep-13 | Last updated 8-Jul-24
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The world cares very little about what a man or woman knows; it is what the man or woman is able to do that the world cares about.

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) American educator, writer
“Mind and Matter,” Speech, Alabama State Teachers’ Association, Selma (5 Jun 1895)

Washington reused material in various speeches he gave. In an address to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Boston (30 July 1903), he phrased this: "The world cares very little what you or I know, but it does care a great deal about what you or I do."
 
Added on 13-Feb-13 | Last updated 20-Jan-22
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For the Father of agriculture
Gave us a hard calling: he first decreed it an art
To work the fields, sent worries to sharpen our mortal wits
And would not allow his realm to grow listless from lethargy […]
So thought and experiment might forge man’s various crafts
Little by little, asking the furrow to yield the corn-blade,
Striking the hidden fire that lies in the veins of flint.

[Pater ipse colendi
haud facilem esse viam voluit, primusque per artem
movit agros curis acuens mortalia corda
nec torpere gravi passus sua regna veterno […]
ut varias usus meditando extunderet artis
paulatim et sulcis frumenti quaereret herbam.
Ut silicis venis abstrusum excuderet ignem.]

Virgil the Poet
Virgil (70-19 BC) Roman poet [b. Publius Vergilius Maro; also Vergil]
Georgics [Georgica], Book 1, l. 121ff (1.121-124, 133-135) (29 BC) [tr. Day-Lewis (1940)]
    (Source)

Telling how Jupiter made life on earth miserable for farmers so as to encourage the development of useful arts and crafts.

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Nor was Jove pleas'd tillage should easie be:
And first commands with art to plough the soyle,
On mortall hearts imposing care, and toyle;
Nor lets dull sloth benumb men where he reigns [...]
That severall arts by labour might be found,
And men in furrows seek the grain that fell,
And hidden fire from veins of flint compell.
[tr. Ogilby (1649)]

The Sire of Gods and Men, with hard Decrees,
Forbids our Plenty to be bought with Ease:
And wills that Mortal Men, inur'd to toil,⁠
Shou'd exercise, with pains, the grudging Soil.
Himself invented first the shining Share,
And whetted Humane Industry by Care:
Himself did Handy-Crafts and Arts ordain;
Nor suffer'd Sloath to rust his active Reign⁠[...]
That studious Need might useful Arts explore;
From furrow'd Fields to reap the foodful Store:
And force the Veins of clashing Flints t' expire
The lurking Seeds of their Cœlestial Fire.
[tr. Dryden (1709), l. 183-190, 203-206]

Nor thou repine: great Jove, with tasks untry'd
To rouse man's pow'rs, an easier way deny'd;
And first bade mortals stir with art the plain,
Lest sloth should dim the splendors of his reign [...]
That gradual use might hew out arts from man,
That corn's green blade in furrows might be fought,
And from struck flints the fiery sparkle caught.
[tr. Nevile (1767), l. 147-150, 160-162]

Not to dull Indolence and transient Toil
Great Jove resign'd the conquest of the soil:
He sent forth Care to rouse the human heart,
And sharpen genius by inventive art:
Nor tamely suffer'd earth beneath his sway
In unproductive sloth to waste away. [...]
Jove will'd that use, by long experience taught,
Should force out various arts by gradual thought,
Strike from the flint's cold womb the latent flame,
And from the answering furrow nurture claim.
[tr. Sotheby (1800)]

The Sire himself willed the ways of tillage not to be easy, and first aroused the fields by art, whetting the skill of mortals with care; nor suffered he his reign to lie inactive in heavy sloth [...] that experience, by dint of thought, might gradually hammer out the various arts, in furrows seek the blade of corn, and form the veins of flint strike out the hidden fire.
[tr. Davidson (1854)]

Our heavenly Father hath not judged it right
To leave the road of agriculture light:
'Twas he who first made husbandry a plan.
And care a whetstone for the wit of man;
Nor suffer'd he his own domains to lie
Asleep in cumbrous old-world lethargy [...]
That practice might the various arts create,
On study's anvil, by laborious dint,
The plant of corn by furrows propagate,
And strike the fire that lurks in veins of flint.
[tr. Blackmore (1871), ll. 140-145, 154-157]

The wise Father of all willed not that the path of husbandry should be easy; he was the first to break up the earth by human skill, sharpening man's wit by the cares of life, nor suffering his own domains to lie asleep in cumbrous lethargy [...] in order that practice might by slow degrees hammer out art after art on the anvil of thought, might find the corn-blade by delving the furrow, and strike from veins of flint the fire that Jove had hid.
[tr. Wilkins (1873)]

The great Sire himself
No easy road to husbandry assigned,
And first was he by human skill to rouse
The slumbering glebe, whetting the minds of men
With care on care, nor suffering realm of his
In drowsy sloth to stagnate [...]
that use by gradual dint of thought on thought
Might forge the various arts, with furrow's help
The corn-blade win, and strike out hidden fire
From the flint's heart.
[tr. Rhoades (1881)]

For so great Jove, the sire of all, decreed,
No works save those that took us should succeed,
Nor wills his gifts should unimproved remain.
While man inactive slumbers on the plain. [...]
Man seeks for fire concealed within the veins
Of flints, and labour groans upon the plains;
Till, one by one, worked out by frequent thought,
Are crude inventions to perfection brought.
[tr. King (1882), ll. 123-126, 135-138ff]

Father Jove himself willed that the modes of tillage should not be easy, and first stirred the earth by artificial means, whetting the minds of men by anxieties; nor suffered he his subjects to become inactive through oppressive lethargy [...] in order that man’s needs, by dint of thought, might gradually hammer out the various arts, might seek the blade of corn by ploughing, and might strike forth the fire thrust away in the veins of the flint.
[tr. Bryce (1897)]

Our Lord himself willed the way of tillage to be hard, and long ago set art to stir the fields, sharpening the wits of man with care, nor suffered his realm to slumber in heavy torpor [...] that so practice and pondering might slowly forge out many an art, might seek the corn-blade in the furrow and strike hidden fire from the veins of flint.
[tr. Mackail (1899)]

The great Sire himself
No easy road to husbandry assigned,
And first was he by human skill to rouse
The slumbering glebe, whetting the minds of men
With care on care, nor suffering realm of his
In drowsy sloth to stagnate [...]
that use by gradual dint of thought on thought
Might forge the various arts, with furrow's help
The corn-blade win, and strike out hidden fire
From the flint's heart.
[tr. Greenough (1900)]

Allfather himself hath willed
That the pathway of tillage be thorny. He first by man's art broke
Earth's crust, and by care for the morrow made keen the wits of her folk,
Nor suffered his kingdom to drowse 'neath lethargy's crushing chain [...]
That Thought on experience' anvil might shape arts manifold,
And might seek in the furrow the blade that is pledge of the harvest's gold,
And smite from the veins of flint the fire-soul hidden there.
[tr. Way (1912)]

Great Jove himself ordained for husbandry
No easy road, when first he bade earth's fields
Produce by art, and gave unto man's mind
Its whetting by hard care; where Jove is king
He suffers not encumbering sloth to bide. [...]
He purposed that experience and thought
By slow degrees should fashion and forge out
Arts manifold, should seek green blades of corn
By ploughing, and from veins of flinty shard
Hammer the fire.
[tr. Williams (1915)]

The great Father himself has willed that the path of husbandry should not run smooth, who first made art awake the fields, sharpening men’s wits by care, nor letting his kingdom slumber in heavy lethargy [...] so that experience, from taking thought, might little by little forge all manner of skills, seeking in ploughed furrows the blade of corn, striking forth the spark hidden in the veins of flint.
[tr. Fairclough (Loeb) (1916)]

The Father willed it so: He made the path
Of agriculture rough, established arts
Of husbandry to sharpen wits,
Forbidding sloth to settle on his soil
[...] So that mankind
By taking thought might learn to forge its arts
From practice: seek to bring the grain from furrows,
Strike out the fire locked up in veins of flint.
[tr. Bovie (1956)]

Jupiter, father of the gods, decided himself
that the way of the farmer should not be an easy way.
He demanded craft; he tuned our nerves with worries;
he weeded lethargy from his human fields [...]
Thus men are supposed to have found the fire that hides
in the veins of flint. By clever meditation
experience elaborates to skill ...
One can see a triumph in it: the first furrow
sprouting a row of corn ....
[tr. Slavitt (1971)]

The father of cultivation himself did not want its way to be easy and wa first to change the fields by design, sharpening mortal wits with cares, not allowing his kingdoms to become sluggish with heavy old age [...] in order that experience and reflection should beat out skills little by little and seek grain stalks in the furrows, that they should strike out fire hidden in the veins of flint.
[tr. Miles (1980)]

The Father himself
Willed that the path of tillage be not smooth,
And first ordained that skill should cultivate
The land, by care sharpening the wits of mortals,
Nor let his kingdom laze in torpid sloth [...]
That step by step practice and taking thought
Should hammer out the crafts, should seek from furrows
The blade of corn, should strike from veins of flint
The hidden fire.
[tr. Wilkinson (1982)]

The great Father himself willed it,
that the ways of farming should not be easy, and first
stirred the fields with skill, rousing men’s minds to care,
not letting his regions drowse in heavy lethargy [...]
so that thoughtful practice might develop various skills,
little by little, and search out shoots of grain in the furrows,
and strike hidden fire from veins of flint.
[tr. Kline (2001)]

The Father himself hardly
willed that agriculture would be easy when he called forth
the field with his art, whetting human minds with worries,
not letting his kingdom slip into full-blown laziness. [...]
so that, using their brains, men might gradually hammer out
many skills, like searching for stalks of wheat by plowing,
and so that they might strike the spark held in veins of flint.
[tr. Lembke (2004)]

For it was Jupiter himself who willed the ways of husbandry be ones not spared of trouble and it was he who first, through human skill, broke open land, at pains to sharpen wits of men and so prevent his own domain being buried in bone idleness [...] so that by careful thought and deed you'd hone them bit by bit, those skills, to coax from furrows blades of corn and spark shy flame from veins of flint.
[tr. Fallon (2006)]

The Father himself willed the way of husbandry to be severe, first stirred by ingenuity the fields, honing mortal skill with tribulation, and suffered not his realm to laze in lumpish sloth [...] so that need with contemplation might forge sundry arts in time, might seek in furrows the blade of wheat and strike from flinty veins the hidden spark.
[tr. Johnson (2009)]

For Father Jupiter himself ordained
That the way should not be easy. It was he
Who first established the art of cultivation,
Sharpening with their cares the skills of men,
forbidding the world he rules to slumber in ease
[...] all this so want should be
The cause of human ingenuity,
And ingenuity the cause of arts,
Finding little by little the way to plant
New crops by means of plowing, and strike the spark
To ignite the hidden fire in veins of flint.
[tr. Ferry (2015)]

 
Added on 12-Nov-12 | Last updated 5-Jul-23
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Virtues, however, we acquire by first exercising them. The same is true with skills, since what we need to learn before doing, we learn by doing; for example, we become builders by building, and lyre-players by playing the lyre. So too we become just by doing just actions, temperate by temperate actions, and courageous by courageous actions.

[τὰς δ’ ἀρετὰς λαμβάνομεν ἐνεργήσαντες πρότερον, ὥσπερ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν ἄλλων τεχνῶν· ἃ γὰρ δεῖ μαθόντας ποιεῖν, ταῦτα ποιοῦντες μανθάνομεν, οἷον οἰκοδομοῦντες οἰκοδόμοι γίνονται καὶ κιθαρίζοντες κιθαρισταί· οὕτω δὴ καὶ τὰ μὲν δίκαια πράττοντες δίκαιοι γινόμεθα, τὰ δὲ σώφρονα σώφρονες, τὰ δ’ ἀνδρεῖα ἀνδρεῖοι.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics [Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια], Book 2, ch. 1 (2.1, 1103a.32ff) (c. 325 BC) [tr. Crisp (2000)]
    (Source)

(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

But the Virtues we get by first performing single acts of working, which, again, is the case of other things, as the arts for instance; for what we have to make when we have learned how, these we learn how to make by making: men come to be builders, for instance, by building; harp-players, by playing on the harp: exactly so, by doing just actions we come to be just; by doing the actions of self-mastery we come to be perfected in self-mastery; and by doing brave actions brave.
[tr. Chase (1847)]

But the virtues we acquire by previous practice of their acts, exactly as we acquire our knowledge of the various arts. For, in the case of the arts, that which we have to be taught to do, that we learn by doing it. We become masons, for instance, by building; and harpers b y playing upon the harp. And so, in like manner, we become just by doing what is just, temperate by doing what is temperate, and brave by doing what is brave.
[tr. Williams (1869), sec. 23]

But the virtues we acquire by first exercising them, as is the case with all the arts, for it is by doing what we ought to do when we have learnt the arts that we learn the arts themselves; we become e.g. builders by building and harpists by playing the harp. Similarly it is by doing just acts that we become just, by doing temperate acts that we become temperate, by doing courageous acts that we become courageous.
[tr. Welldon (1892)]

But the virtues we acquire by doing the acts, as is the case with the arts too. We learn an art by doing that which we wish to do when we have learned it; we become builders by building, and harpers by harping. And so by doing just acts we become just, and by doing acts of temperance and courage we become temperate and courageous.
[tr. Peters (1893)]

But the virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyreplayers by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.
[tr. Ross (1908)]

The virtues on the other hand we acquire by first having actually practised them, just as we do the arts. We learn an art or craft by doing the things that we shall have to do when we have learnt it: for instance, men become builders by building houses, harpers by playing on the harp. Similarly we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.
[tr. Rackham (1934), ch. 1, sec. 4]

The virtues, by contrast, we acquire by first engaging in the activities, as is also true in the case of the various crafts. For the things we cannot produce without learning to do so are the very ones we learn to produce by producing them -- for example, we become builders by building houses and lyre players by playing the lyre. Similarly, then, we become just people by doing just actions, temperate people by doing temperate actions, and courageous people by doing courageous ones.
[tr. Reeve (1948)]

In the case of the virtues, on the other hand, we acquire them as a result of prior activities; and this is like the case of the arts, for that which we are to perform by art after learning, we first learn by performing, e.g., we become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre. Similarly, we become just by doing what is just, temperate by doing what is temperate, and brave by doing brave deeds.
[tr. Apostle (1975)]

Virtues, by contrast, we acquire, just as we acquire crafts, by having previously activated them. For we learn a craft by producing the same product that we must produce when we have learned it, becoming builders, for instance, by building and harpists by playing the harp, so also, then, we become just by doing just actions, temperate by doing temperate actions, brave by doing brave actions.
[tr. Irwin/Fine (1995)]

For as regards those things we must learn how to do, we learn by doing them -- for example by building houses, people become house builders, and by playing the cithara, they become cithara players. So too, then, by doing just things become just; moderate things, moderate; and courageous things, courageous.
[tr. Bartlett/Collins (2011)]

We develop virtues after we have practiced them beforehand, the same way it works with the other arts. For, we learn as we do those very things we need to do once we have learned the art completely. So, for example, men become carpenters by building homes and lyre-players by practicing the lyre. In the same way, we become just by doing just things, prudent by practicing wisdom, and brave by committing brave deeds.
[tr. @sentantiq (2017)]

 
Added on 24-Jan-11 | Last updated 14-Dec-21
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If people knew how hard I work to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem too wonderful after all.

Michelangelo (1475-1564) Italian artist, architect, poet [Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni]
(Attributed)

The earliest attributions only go back to the Twentieth Century (e.g., 1929) in non-academic contexts. No original source is known.

A related attribution, regarding the Sistine Chapel -- "If you knew how much work went into it, you would not call it genius." -- only can be found in the Twenty-First century (e.g., August 2001).
 
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Be good at something, good enough so that you can take quiet pride in knowing that you are a valuable person, that you can do at least one thing well.

No picture available
David H. Campbell, Jr. (contemp.) American careers expert
If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, You’ll Probably End Up Somewhere (1974)
 
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