Thursday, April 30, 2009

Life's lessons: Explore, dream, discover

Ever since my grandmother put her hand on my head and said, “Dickie, whatever you are be that. Whatever you say be true. Straightforwardly act, be honest, in fact, but be nobody else but you,” I have been intrigued by witty sayings, quaint aphorisms, words of wisdom, and humorous words to the wise.

Perhaps my grandmother’s gesture was an omen regarding my life as a speaker and writer, for it is precisely those reasons that have both prolonged and intensified my interest. It just proves the validity of the aphorism, “I finally have my head together . . . now my body is falling apart.”

My early examples of sayings came from my parents. One aphorism that stood out from all others was “What is worth doing is worth doing well”—a quotation from the Earl of Chesterfield (Philip Dormer Stanhope) in a book called Letters to His Son (1774). I’m probably more of a perfectionist than what is good for any person; however, looking back on my life I realize that I internalized this quotation as a core value. It pushes you toward perfection.

Living according to a quotation from your parents is like many of the things you learn from them, you pay little attention to it when it is conveyed, but suddenly and unexpectedly you realize it is guiding your life. It is easier getting older than it is getting wiser.

All through the raising of our four children, one of the predominant quotations was, “Life is unfair; deal with it!” This was a response to our children’s attempts to level the playing field. When one received an opportunity not shared by the others, the question was always, “Why does so-and-so get such-and-such, and I don’t?” In general, we found that raising teenagers was like nailing Jell-o to a tree.

In raising kids you always have to keep in mind that today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut that held its ground. And, in looking back, it is clear that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.

Witty sayings have been incorporated into my writing simply because they add interest, entertainment and, hopefully, assist memory. A saying that I used in one of the speeches published in Vital Speeches of the Day, was selected for inclusion in Reader’s Digest. From there it was picked up by Garborg’s of Bloomington, Minnesota, for inclusion as a saying on one of their “Cherished Thoughts” eternal calendars. Finally, it was chosen as the chapter-opening quotation in a wonderful book on humor by Edgar E. Willis entitled “How to be Funny on Purpose: Creating and Consuming Humor” (, 2005). The quotation reads, “One of the best things people can have up their sleeves is a funny bone.”

Of course, once a quotation finds its way to the Internet, it gets around quickly, and I discovered the quotation, sometimes with proper attribution and sometimes without, at a wide variety of locations including “Cool Quotes,” “Quotes-Famous Quotes,” “Laughter Heals Foundation,” “My Quote Page for Cancer,” and “Thoughts on the Business of Life -” to name just a few. One source attributes it to Robert Weaver.

Why did I visit these sites on the Internet? Because laughing helps. It’s like jogging on the inside. So I went jogging on the Internet! Maybe it wasn’t for the laughter, maybe it was because my mind not only wanders, sometimes it leaves me completely.

Early in my teaching career, I would tell my students “Be a sponge for knowledge,” which is a condensed version of Jim Rohn’s motivational quotes which reads, “Be like a sponge when it comes to each new experience. If you want to be able to express it well, you must first be able to absorb it well.”

I became so enamored with quotations that I would purchase books of them. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is probably the most popular, but there were many others like Jampolsky and Cirincione’s Wake-Up Calls, Maltz’s Thoughts to Live By, Peter’s Quotations, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Prochnow’s The Complete Toastmaster, Adam’s Encyclopedia of Humor, Petty’s Apples of Gold and her Wings of Silver as well, and this barely touches the surface.

And what did I do with all the quotations? I would put the relevant ones at the bottom of the examinations I gave. I instructed students that the quotations were for added interest only, and they did not have any direct bearing on the content of the examination questions. If students chose to, they were told the quotations could be avoided altogether.

Because of the numerous requests for the quotations, I compiled a handout that included just the quotations. On a regular basis, I had to reprint these handouts because of the extensive requests. Many were motivational such as Henry James’s “It’s time to start living the life you’ve imagined,” or Abraham Lincoln’s, “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

There have been several related quotations that have driven my teaching style and approach. Henry David Thoreau said, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” William James, in a closely related quote, said “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.” And the culminating quotation that, for me as a teacher, served as the catalyst for these, is Johann W. von Goethe’s statement, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”

My speaking and writing is replete with keys, steps, approaches, and ideas for growth, development, and change. Thus, this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, for me, became a self-motivator as well as a motivator of others: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” True, but how do we get there? “The important thing is this,” said John Lembo, “to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”

Mark Twain captured this best when he said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”


At Life’s Lesson , Randy has a lesson in “Learning Through the Ages (Thanks Marlene G)” for ages from 5 to 85 that are enjoyable and reflective. They are just short quotation-like statements, but they can really make you think. Delightful.

At Marc and Angel Hack Life , there are practical tips for productive living. At the website mentioned here, they have listed “26 Life Lessons Learned by Age 26.” Also, they list other essays in the right margin that I have not read, but that look interesting. Some of these titles are, “50 Things Everyone Should Know How To Do,” “How To Walk On Water,” “21 Keys to Magnetic,” Likeability,” “70 Things To Do Before Having Children,” “The 30 Most Satisfying Simple Pleasures Life Has to Offer,” “The 7 Habits of Highly Happy People,” “10 Reasons You Are Rich,” and “8 Means for Living Below Your Means.” This is just a sampling.
Copyright April 2009 by And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.


  1. I remember those quotes as a welcome reprieve from the insufferable task of taking one of your exams. :)

  2. Yes, Misty, thank you for writing. I heard that same comment from a number of students during the course of my many years of teaching, and that is precisely why I continued including the quotations on my examinations. I could so easily have just re-circulated the same quotes over and over, and in some cases I did, but I found it much more fun to continually seek new quotations just for the fun of it.

  3. maximillion ryan IIIMay 1, 2009 at 9:25 AM

    I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out my nose ~ Woody Allen

  4. Maximillion: Woody Allen said that because milk doesn't taste nearly as good once it travels through your nose.


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