Life Lessons in a Memorable Phrase

Commentary Lifestyle Impacts

As we go through life, we encounter short sentences or phrases from others which speak to us. And in so doing, they offer life lessons that remain with us.

These quotes might be comforting, inspirational, humorous, or otherwise just memorable. They don’t have to be profound, although many are. They don’t have to have religious connotations, although many people take solace in religious quotations. They can be serious or humorous. But they must be memorable, at least to us individually.

Here are a few whose words have resonated with me through the years and the particular quote I found helpful.

D.H. Lawrence

David Herbert Lawrence was an English writer and poet whose works often spoke to the dehumanizing effects of modernization. And he wrote in the early years of the 20th century when people were still relatively self-reliant.

He is known for several poems – “Snake” is probably the most famous. But I have always found one of his shortest works – a mere 26 words – to be the most impactful. “Self Pity” is a simple verse, almost like a Japanese Haiku. Yet, it is powerful in its meaning.

“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

life lessons
Photo Credit: Erik Karits

Humans tend to dwell on misfortune and wallow in pity. Animals, on the other hand, accept misfortune and keep pushing forward with their lives so long as they are physically able.

These few lines remind us that self-pity can be mentally consuming and, ultimately, debilitating and self-destructive.

It serves us well to remember that no outcome was ever changed by worrying about it.

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Irving Leopold Stiber

Irving Stiber was my woodshop teacher in high school. In another post, I wrote about how he inspired me to a lifelong hobby of woodworking.

But Mr. Stiber also gave me a memorable saying. I never heard him say this but I discovered it in his writings years later.

“Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly will acquire the skill to do difficult things easily.”

I’m actually surprised that I don’t remember him ever saying this – although as a teenaged boy, I might have missed a gem of wisdom from an ‘old guy.’ But I well remember how he stressed attention to detail in our woodworking class. 

And later, when I saw this written in his own hand, it made perfect sense – as well as being sound advice for our lives.

Jessie Potter (maybe)

This verse has been attributed to Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and motivational speaker Tony Robbins. I first heard it at a seminar in about 1985. I don’t remember the name of the speaker who said it, but it has remained memorable.

“If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

The verse speaks to the human propensity to repeatedly do the same thing, yet to expect different results. Of all my favorite quotes, it is the most profound of life lessons in general.

life lessons
Illustration: David Marks

The first time this phrase appeared in print was in 1981 when the “Milwaukee Sentinal” newspaper reported the opening remarks at the seventh annual Woman to Woman conference. 

The phrase, worded slightly differently from the way I heard it, was the advice of featured speaker Jessie Potter. Potter, the director of the National Institute for Human Relationships, often drew on anecdotes and frank comments in her discussions of the need for change in the way people interact. She may very well have been the author of this quote, but no one seems completely sure. 

Nevertheless, I’ve found it inspiring and useful in practical terms since I first heard it.


Leo Burnett

Burnett was a Chicago advertising executive responsible for some of advertising’s most iconic campaigns. Burnett is credited with the creation of Tony the Tiger, the Marlboro Man, the Maytag Repairman, United’s Fly the Friendly Skies, and Allstate’s Good Hands, among many others.

But it is his comment on perseverance that has resonated with me for a long time:

Photo Credit: Andre Moura

“When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.”

To me, he is saying that you might not always achieve everything you set out to do, but by trying your best, you will learn from the experience. Conversely, if you don’t try, you surely wind up with nothing – the “handful of mud.”

As this article shows, I have found several inspiring quotes providing life lessons over the years. But this is the only one that I have framed and posted in my office. It’s a continuing reminder to do my best.

Related Post: Life Lessons from the Attic

Have you discovered quotes which have inspired you?

Share them with us in the comments section below.

Mike Worley

Mike is retired and lives in Louisville, KY, USA. He writes about lifestyle issues, particularly those affecting senior citizens. He also enjoys photography and works part-time as a college volleyball official.