144 Best Life Mottos of All Time (& Stories Behind Them)

The English word “motto” is a loan word from the Italian language, where it literally means “word” or “saying”. The deeper roots of “motto” come from the Roman Latin “muttum” and means “mutter” or “grunt”.

What is a motto?

Mottos are short phrases, that contain knowledge accumulated through hundreds of years of experiences, and serve as reminders of values and principles, or as a compass to help make the best choice during a tough decision.

Why do people and organizations use a personal, life motto?

Mottos are popular among both people and organizations. As an example, for a long time Google used the phrase “Don’t be evil” as an official motto, while Facebook chose “move fast and break things”.

Organizations generally use mottos as ways to build an express and internal culture and way of thinking, while people choose mottos that best describe how they view and approach life.

Below are some examples of popular mottos and who uses them:

  • “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” (France)
  • “In God We Trust” (USA)
  • “Make Haste, Slowly” (Emperor Augustus)
  • “I will either find a way or make one” (Hannibal)
  • “United in diversity” (European Union)
  • “Speak softly and carry a big stick” (Theodore Roosevelt)
  • “The Senate and the People of Rome” (Republican & Imperial Rome)
  • “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” (Isaac Newton)
  • “For the benefit of all” (NASA)

Motto vs. slogan vs. quote

At first glance mottos, slogans and quotes are nearly identical in how they are worded and structured.

The biggest difference between a slogan and a motto is that slogans are created as a marketing tool to sell products, while mottos are used to express an idea or a way of doing things.

A quote is a phrase that was said or written by someone and expresses an interesting idea. Many mottos start out as quotes, however anyone can create their own motto if they can’t find a quote that fits their needs.

How to choose a personal motto to live by

First off, there’s no hard rule that an individual should only have one motto. Life is a complex thing, as are people’s personalities, so it can be pretty difficult to decide on just one motto that can fit every single situation.

If this happens, feel free to use 2,3 or even more mottos, with each one active in one particular sphere of your life.

Some mottos are universal, but most are specialized. Some mottos you’ll use for the rest of your life, others only for particular period of time.

Also, don’t get too hung up on using a particular if you feel it is no longer useful to you. People change, so it’s normal to drop one motto and begin using another. It’s all part of the process.

As for how to choose a motto, it usually comes down to two factors: 1) how well the motto resonate with you and your beliefs; and 2) what do you want to use your motto for?

Mottos for resilience and positivity

1.       It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Picard to Data, when Data was afraid of the mistakes he might make if he became First Officer on the Enterprise.

2.       If you’re going through hell, keep going

not Winston Churchill

Quote widely misattributed to Winston Churchill. The original version appeared in 1943 publication called “Christian Science Sentinel” and was in the form of a dialogue:

Someone once asked a man how he was. He replied, “I’m going through hell!” Said his friend: “Well, keep on going. That is no place to stop!”

3.       Live to fight another day.


Usually attributed to Demosthenes, an ancient Athenian politician. He invented this phrase to defend himself because his contemporaries poked fun at him for deserting at the Battle of Charonea, where Alexander the Great’s father defeated the Athenians and later conquered them.

4.       No fence can keep away bad luck.

5.       Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and expect nothing.

forgotten origin

6.       We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.


From the letter “On Groundless Fears” by Seneca to his friend, Lucilius Junior, then procurator of Sicily. In the letter, Seneca praises Lucilius for the skill with which he has tackled life’s difficulties and come out victorious. According to Seneca, you can never know the extent of your abilities until they have been tested to the breaking point.

Further on, Seneca warns his friend that even greater tests and crises are yet to come. However, these crises are dangerous only in our minds, but are surprisingly easier to deal with it in reality.

7.       It happens.

This motto may be too simple to have any interesting origin, however it has been popularized by an amusing 2009 song called “It Happens” by the band Sugarland:

“Ain't no rhyme or reason
No complicated meaning
Ain't no need to over think it
Let go laughing
Life don't go quite like you planned it
We try so hard to understand it
The irrefutable, indisputable
Fact is
It happens”

8.       Your success in life is largely dependent on how many uncomfortable conversations you’re willing to have.

Provided by a blog reader. Part of a larger discussion she had with her then boss regarding professional success, but the lesson is valid in all spheres of life.

9.       If the cap fits, wear it.

Multiple interpretations. The first is that if you are capable of something then you should do it.

The second: If you are guilty of some act of blame or folly, then you should acknowledge it.

The proverb has its origins in the fool’s cap (often adorned with bells) that was worn in medieval times by fools and jesters as a symbol of their craft. The last fools disappeared in the early eighteenth century, bur the fool’s cap is still remembered as a symbol of stupidity or folly.

In former times anyone who became the butt af a company’s jokes might be said to be “wearing the cap and bells”.

The proverb is usually quoted in an aggressive context, suggesting to the recipient of the remark that they should recognize their own foolishness.

10.   Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.

Bob Bitchin

His real name is Robert Lipkin, and he came up with this quote after briefly being thrown into prison in Costa Rica because they confused him with the nation’s most wanted criminal. Fortunately, things cleared up and he came out of this bitchin and swinging.

11.   Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement.

An old saying, but it has received continuous refinement until it has reached the current wording.

Oscar Wilde was probably the first to come up with the idea in a passage from “The Portrait of Dorian Grey”:  “Experience was of no ethical value. It was merely the name we gave to our mistakes.

Over the following decades the phrase had multiple revisions, until it entered its current form in 2001 in the novel “Alma Mater” by Rita Mae Brown.

12.   If you’re born to be hanged then you’ll never be drowned.

French Proverb

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

Prussian military commander Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

This formulation above is fairly new, but the idea itself is quite old. A different wording comes from the boxer Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

Mottos to find happiness and fulfillment

13.   Be the person who your dog thinks you are.

Most likely source is an English writer named Mary Anne Evans, better known through her male pseudonym, George Eliot.

14.   Don’t set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.

Some might argue the better version of this quote is “Give a man a fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of the day, set a man on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life”.

15.   “Ars longa, vita brevis” – Art is long, life is short.


The key word here is “art”. In ancient Greek, the term “art” refers more to “technique”, “craft” or “artisanship” rather the modern connotation of creating things of beauty. Viewed from this perspective, the quote means that there is so much work to be done, but so little time to do it.
For some, this may be a better interpretation than the more common one: that there is so much beauty in life, but too little time to enjoy it.

These are the first two lines in the book Aphorismi by Ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates (who also provided us the Hippocratic Oath doctors must uphold).

16.   Everything in moderation, including moderation.

Oscar Wilde

While not a word for word match, Napoleon made this observation during one of his many battles, possibly Austerlitz. His generals were eager to attack, but Napoleon wanted his adversaries to complete a terrible maneuver before finishing them off.

17.   Pick your battles.

Most likely said by Sun Tzu, the Ancient Chinese military strategist. He argued that even if there’s a high chance of victory, some battles may still be too costly to win.

18.   Never wish for tomorrow.

Shared by a reader of our blog.  The reader’s friend said these words when in the late stages of a terminal illness.

19.   At the end of the game the King and the Pawn go into the same box

Old Italian chess proverb, originating from the Tuscany region.

20.   Celebrate the day when it is evening.

Roman saying, meaning you should celebrate when it’s done, not almost done.

21.   Be as you wish to seem.


22.   Coming events cast their shadows before.

Mottos for Kindness and Compassion

23.   Anger is an expensive luxury

24.   Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.

from a play by Oscar Wilde

Quote by a character called Lord Illingworth, a rich English lord who loved scandal as much as he loved (married) women.

25.   Don’t do something permanently stupid when you’re temporarily upset.

This is from a parody account of Wiz Khalifa. Possibly better than all of Wiz Khalifa’s lyrics put together.

26.   If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.

This quote was popularized by the Harry Potter series. A powerful character in the Ministry of Magic mistreats its house elf, a magical being that is bound in servitude by magic. This leads to the observation by Sirius Black that the character in question is of rotten character.

The origin however is more uncertain, with the earliest written reference going back to 18th century English nobility in their letters.

27.   Do what’s right, even when no one is watching.

A variation of a longer quote: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching”.

That quote is usually misattributed to C.S. Lewis, but is in fact a phrase taken from a self-help book called Shattering the Glass Slipper by Charles Marshall.

28.   People aren’t against you. They are for themselves.

Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu is translated as “Old Master”, and he is credited with creating the philosophy of Taoism. Taoism emphasizes that one should live a natural life and go with the flow of the Tao, a mystical force that binds and connects everything in the universe.

29.   Reason is the first victim of strong emotion.

From the novel “Dune” by Frank Herbert

The wife of a powerful politician is in pain at the realization her husband married purely for political reasons. Despite desperately needing an heir, he refuses to sleep with her, with all of his affections directed at a low-born and barren concubine.
As a priestess remarked, the husband’s reason was victim to his love and lust.

30.   Kind hearts are the easiest hurt

Mottos to Make Wise Decisions

31.   We judge others by their actions, we judge ourselves by our intentions.

This particular quote has undergone multiple variations over the course of almost 200 years:

  • We judge ourselves by our ideals, but we judge others by their actions.
  • We should judge ourselves by our motives, but others by their actions.
  • Most of us judge ourselves by our motives and others by their acts.
  • Etc.

32.   Nothing is particularly hard if you divide them in small tasks.

Henry Ford

An unusual problem to this motto that Ford faced was that his workers quit in droves because of the mind-numbing boredom of doing the same task every day for months on end. 

33.   There has been no great wisdom without an element of madness.


This appears in a wider passage by Seneca in his letter “Of Peace of Mind”, where he discusses how the greatest authors, statesmen and philosophers of his day were only able to produce things of great quality by throwing away inhibitions and immersing themselves in their primal sides.

Seneca provides a few examples such as Scipio, a Roman general who embraced vigorous soldier dances, or even Plato, who rarely found inspiration while sober.

34.   Decisions made in haste are regretted at leisure.

Most likely a variation of an older proverb: “Mary in haste, repent at leisure”, the main idea of which goes thousands of years back. In regards to whether or not you should marry, even Socrates once quipped that “whichever you do, you will repent it”.

35.   Never interrupt your enemies when they are making a mistake

Napoleon Bonaparte

While not a word for word match, Napoleon made this observation during one of his many battles, possibly Austerlitz. His generals were eager to attack, but Napoleon wanted his adversaries to complete a terrible maneuver before finishing them off.

36.   Every lie has an expiration date.

forgotten origin

37.   Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

Origin unknown. However, there are multiple variations that aren’t as crude, and more “high class” as it were:
• Dancing with the devil.
• Poking the bear.
• Tempting fate.

38.   Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t

In the sixth century Aesop illustrated the proverb in a fable about some frogs. These frogs asked Jupiter for a king but were given a lump of wood, and when they scorned the log and asked for a new king from Jupiter, he sent them a frog-eating water snake. The moral of the story was rendered as “likewise, you must bear the evil that you have, lest a greater one befall you.”

39.   Believe nothing of what you hear, and only half of what you see

Question the truth of everything you learn. The simplified form “don’t believe all you hear”  was recorded well before 1300 and has even been attributed to King Alfred the Great himself.

Another proverb observes that “we are prone to believe what we don’t understand”. A twentieth-century gloss on the original proverb produced “believe nothing until it has been officially denied”. A contrasting proverb runs “believe well and have well”, while another insists that “he that believes all, misseth; he that believes nothing, misseth”.

40.   People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

From the epic poem “Troilus and Criseyde”. Troilus is a Trojan prince and soldier defending Troy against the Greeks in the Trojan War. At one point in the story, Troilus mocks his fellow companions for experiencing love and aching for the affections of women.

As a response, the God of Love curses Troilus, and he falls in a deep desire for Criseyde. The two eventually consume the relationship, but are soon separated because of the war. In the final act, Criseyde discards Troilus and chooses another as her lover. Soon after, the miserable and heart-broken Troilus dies in the war.

41.   Measure twice and cut once.

Original Russian proverb suggests to “measure seven times”, but the quality control of the English translators was severely lacking.

42.   Qui totum vult, totum perdit. – He who wants everything loses everything.

Ancient Roman wisdom. Origin uncertain, but there is a chance it could be Seneca or another Stoic philosopher of the time.

43.   Indecision becomes decision with time.

Said by William Griffith Wilson, the founder of “Alcoholics Anonymous”, himself a recovering alcoholic.  

44.   If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Bertram Lance

Uttered by a high-ranking official in the Jimmy Carter presidency, who believed he could save billions in tax payer money by preventing the government from messing things and fixing them up again.

45.   Perfect is the enemy of the good.

An Italian proverb Voltaire popularized after including it in the poem La Bégueule. In the poem, a beautiful woman named Arsene asks a fairy to take her away from her comfortable, but uneventful life. The fairy complies, and brings Arsene to a divine realm where magical beings fulfill her every wish.

However, she finds no meaning in her new life of luxury and leisure and soon escapes, after which she ends up in the wildlands, seeking shelter, food and drink. Finally, she stumbles upon the hut of a grimy local who will only help if she agrees to share the bed with him first.

After the deed is done, the fairy lifts the spell and bring Arsene back to her original life, and is now grateful for what she has.

46.   You can always tell someone to go to hell tomorrow.

Tom Murphy, former CEO of ABC

Warren Buffett considers this an important life lesson he learned early on in life from a prominent business leader.

47.   He that will not be counseled cannot be helped.

Mottos for Courage

48.   Everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear.

George Addair

49.   You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.

Chester Karrass

Title of a book by negotiation expert Chester Karrass, whose negotiation teaching programs are used by many Forbes 500 companies.

50.   All progress occurs outside of the comfort zone.

Michael John Bobak

Coined by artist Michael John Bobak. Unfortunately for him, he is more popular for the motto above than any of his other works.

51.   A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor

Origin and context uncertain. Most often attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

52.   If you want something you never had, you have to do something you’ve never done

Misattributed to Thomas Jefferson, but the earliest known mention is in an obscure medical journal.

53.   Fight fire with fire.

A phrase used by American pioneers as they settled the new western territories. Back then, they had very little in the way of fire-firefighting technologies so they limited the spread of wildfire by preemptively burning certain patches in front of the wildfire. This extinguished it by exhausting potential fuel sources.

54.   A ship in port is safe; but that is not what ships are built for.

The first known use of this quote is in the book “Salt from My Attic”, which is a collection of aphorisms by John A. Shedd and is the only reason the book is known in any way.

55.   You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Wayne Gretzky

Wayne Gretzky is known as the best hockey player to have ever lived, yet even he had bad matches.

Frustrated by his lack of scoring in an important game, his coach told him, ‘You miss 100% of the shots you never take.’ In other versions, the saying is directly attributed to the hockey player Gretzky or his father.

56.   Fortune favors the bold.

Latin proverb. In some versions, the word “Fortune” corresponds to the goddess of luck herself, Fortuna.

“Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” – Meaning it’s not your problem, thus not your concern.

Meaning it’s not your problem, thus not your concern. Translated from the Polish expression “nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy”

57.   If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

A father’s advice to his self-doubting daughter, in Nora Robert’s The Gallaghers of Ardmore.

58.   Cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant never taste of death but once.

59.   Take risks: If you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise.

forgotten origin

60.   The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

The origin of this quote is uncertain, and is likely to have been refined over the years by multiple authors. Perhaps the first to express the idea was Edmund Burke, who believed it was the duty of good citizen in general to band together to oppose the malicious ambitions of a few, but powerful and wealthy individuals.

61.   It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.

popularized by Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

A quote that can easily be interpreted as a way to encourage dark side behavior. The full context goes something like this: If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It is much easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission.

62.   “Carpe Diem” – Seize the day.


The original Latin verse by the Roman poet Horace goes: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, translated as: “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow / the future.”

Philosophical mottos

63.   The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

not Albert Einstein

Quote widely misattributed to the fuzzy-haired Albert Einstein. In truth, the earliest known source of this quote comes from a Narcotics Anonymous guidebook.

It uses the quote as a way to tell addicts that continuing to use narcotics while still hoping to quit by themselves is a near-impossible strategy that rarely works.

64.   Principles only mean something if you stick by them when they’re inconvenient.

Laine Hanson, The Contenders

In the movie, Laine Hanson is on the verge of becoming the first female Vice President, but the political opposition mounts a smear campaign against her, the chief accusation being that she took part in an orgy while in college.

Her principle in this case is that whatever she did in college is nobody’s business, so she refuses to discuss it, even if doing so could help her get the job of VP.

65.   Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.

tweet by Robin S. Sharma, Leadership expert

66.   No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.


This saying is part of a larger debate Greek philosophers had on the matter of essence and what is real and what isn’t.

The best example of this problem is the Ship of Theseus. Ancient Athenians supposedly kept the ship of their founding hero, Theseus, anchored in city’s harbor as a museum piece. Over the course of centuries, the ship’s wooden planks and other components rot away and had to be periodically replaced by new ones.

Once every original component is replaced, is the result ship still the one Theseus used, or is it a different one altogether?

67.   Condemnant quo non intellegunt .- They condemn that which they do not understand.

Latin saying

68.   It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Aristotle, From the Nicomachean Ethics.

69.   De omnibus dubitandum – Be suspicious of everything

Latin saying.

70.   Tradition without reason is but ancient error

71.   No good deed goes unpunished.

First mention is in a Latin text from the 12th century.

It is part of a longer description about a fictional character with inverted morality called Eudo, who punished good deeds, rewarded bad ones, promoted incompetent men to power, desecrated churches and other similar mischief.

72.   I only know that I know nothing.


This is a simplified version of the phrase. In the full quote, Socrates essentially says that an accuser at his life-or-death trial had a sub-par intellect.

“I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.”

73.   Once you learn something, no one can take it away from you.

B. B. King

74.   Learn something about everything, and everything about something.

Thomas Henry Huxley

Mid 19th century British scientist. Huxley once debated a prominent British bishop on the subject of Darwin’s then new theory of evolution. The bishop asked Huxley which of his grandparents had a monkey for an ancestor. Huxley replied he’d rather have a monkey for an ancestor rather than be related to a man who hides the truth.

75.   Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Hanlon’s Razor

This is known as a philosophical razor, which is simply a rule of thumb or principle used to decide between two conflicting ideas/theories.

Other similar razors include:

  • Occam’s razor: Simpler explanations are more likely to be correct; avoid unnecessary or improbable assumptions.
  • Newton’s flaming laser sword: If something cannot be settled by experiment or observation, then it is not worthy of debate.
  • Sagan standard: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

76.   If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

Often misattributed to Albert Einstein. The central idea of this concept has indeed been used multiple times, but in a more narrow and specific way, regarding how to explain classical and quantum physics to the regular public.

Einstein himself did say something along these lines, but with a completely different and clunkier wording: “all physical theories, their mathematical expressions apart ought to lend themselves to so simple a description ‘that even a child could understand them.”

77.   He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing.

Paul Atreides, “Dune” by Frank Herbert

In the book, House Harkonnen and House Atreides are locked in a political and military battle for the planet of Arrakis, the only place in the known galaxy that produces a mysterious substance called spice. As the balance of power shifts from one side to another, Paul Atreides reminds his followers that he who can destroy the spice controls the spice, and by extension they control Arrakis.

Mottos for Self-Discipline

78.   Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.


Stoics make for great emperors (see Marcus Aurelius) and competent advisers and functionaries (including Seneca).

Unfortunately, Stoics seem to be particularly bad teachers. Seneca was the tutor and adviser to Nero, who ended up burning down Rome and feeding Christians to lions; while Marcus Aurelius’s son, Commodus, basically bankrupted the Roman Empire, and indirectly caused a depression and famine. 

79.   Care and diligence bring luck

Good fortune is the product of hard work and careful attention.

Spanish version: Diligence is the mother of good fortune

80.   Business before pleasure

The wisdom of the proverb was underlined in ancient times when news of a plot to murder him was brought to the  Spartan garrison commander Archias at Thebes. Archias, who was in the midst of a banquet, put the business message under a cushion with the word “tomorrow”, without reading it. Before the next day dawned he was dead.

81.   An amateur practices until he gets it right; a professional practices until he can’t get it wrong.

George W. Loomis

The motto first appeared as part of a policy discussion on how to teach spelling in school. George Loomis was a school superintendent from 1902, and he noticed that students were taught spelling only until they got it right. He believed students should be taught spelling until they couldn’t get it wrong.

82.   Haste makes waste

83.   Rome was not built in a day

An old French proverb, dating from a poem written in the late 12th century, later included in a collection called Li Proverbe au Vilain.

Below are verses in Old French and the (imperfect) modern English translation.

Mainz hon est si hastis
quant rien an enterpris
tantost veut a chief traire
Le suen despent et gaste
et si pert par sa haste
le plus de son afaire
Rome ne fu pas faite toute en un jour,
Ce dit vilains
Much shame for being so hasty, 
While they have not undertaken anything 
And immediately want to succeed 
But they spoil and lose by their hastiness 
Most of their fortune/dignity
Rome was not built in one day
It is said miser.

84.   Never half ass two things, whole ass one thing.

Ron Swanson from the TV series Parks and Recreation

A life lesson Ron learned while working two jobs, one at a sheet metal factory, the other at a tannery, where he worked with leather both on and off the cows.  He was also 11 at the time and still in middle school.

85.   What the fool does in the end, the wise man does at the beginning.

Fools put off doing what wise people do straightaway.

Another proverb warns “fools are known by their babbling”.

“It’s a fool’s trick”, answered the stranger… “‘to put off what you must do at last.”

86.   Bitter pills may have blessed effects

87.   Never miss a good opportunity to shut up.

Attributed to early 20th century comedian Will Rogers. An alternate version of this idea is:

Better to remain silent and be thought stupid than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

88.   Appetite comes with eating.

Mottos for Motivation

89.   Determined efforts are more reliable than miracles.

From the animated series Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Said by Captain Katsuragi, as she was taking part in a defensive war by humanity against alien beings intent on causing catastrophic natural disasters.

90.   The journey is the reward.

Usually labeled as a Zen Buddhist saying. A key concept in Buddhism is called “samsara”, which is a painful and suffering-laden cycle of death and rebirth without end. The only way to end this pain is to reach a state of enlightenment – nirvana.

Viewed from this perspective, many of the things you do in life are futile since they do not move you forwards towards enlightenment. “They journey is the reward” is a recentering motto – what you obtain at the end of a journey may not be of any use to you, but the lessons you learn along the way can potentially end an infinity of suffering.

91.   Hope is not a strategy.

Benjamin Ola Akande

First appeared in an open letter by economist Benjamin Ola Akande addressed to President Barrack Obama, urging for more forceful economic response to pull the USA out of the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

92.   The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the second-best time is right now.

Chinese Proverb

93.   I will either find a way or make one.

Hannibal Barca, when told he cannot cross the alps

Nearly 2200 years ago, the ancient Roman Republic was locked in a life or death struggle with its arch-enemy, Carthage.

Hannibal was Carthage’s (and probably history’s) greatest general, and was tasked with defeating Rome. Because Rome had a stronger navy than Carthage, Hannibal could only invade the Roman Republic by land.

This meant that Hannibal had to travel with his army all the way from what is today modern-day Spain, through the south of France, and then pass the nearly impregnable Alps (average height = 4,800 meters / ~16,000 feet).

Not only was he successful, but he also brought his war elephants when crossing the Alps. Over the course of a decade, Hannibal proceeded to dismantle Rome’s hold on the Italian Peninsula, and nearly conquer Rome itself.

The path Hannibal took to invade Rome

94.   Yesterday, you said tomorrow.

Shia LaBeouf

Shia LeBeouf in his (slightly unusual) motivational video. Many a meme has been made about this video, but the story of how LeBeouf made this is quite wholesome.

LeBeouf helped art students at a London college by filming tens of individual segments and then combining them into a single collection containing 36 segments. One of these is the “Yesterday, you said tomorrow” skit.

The script itself was also written by the students, meaning LeBeouf simply acted out the material the students gave him instead of writing it himself.

95.   You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.

Henry Ford

96.   There’s always room at the top

There will always be opportunities for the ambitious to reach the upper echelons. Attributed to the nineteenth-century US politician Daniel Webster. The story goes that Webster quoted the line when it was suggested to him that he should abandon his plans to become a lawyer, as the profession was already overcrowded.

97.   The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.

Origin uncertain. Likely East Asian Buddhist.

98.   We must learn to walk before we can run

Mottos for Gratitude

99.   The best revenge is living well.

This quote first appeared in the English language following its inclusion in the 1640 book Outlandish Proverbs by George Herbert. In this case “outlandish” simply means “outside the country”, indicating it was a foreign quote imported into English.

The book contains numerous other famous proverbs such as “His bark is worse than his bite”. Best of all, it is in the public domain and can be found in its entirety with a simple search.

100.                       Give a loaf and beg for a slice.

A person who is over generous will end up begging for themselves.

101.                       Blessings are not valued until they are gone

102.                       Comparison is the thief of joy.

Theodore Roosevelt

103.                       We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

Likely a popular French saying, which was adapted into verse by the 19th century journalist Alphonse Karr. Subsequent translations popularized the expression in the English language.

104.                       Health is not valued till sickness comes

Related proverbs include “a healthy body is the guest-chamber of the soul; a sick, its prison”.

105.                       Beggars can’t be choosers

106.                       A pessimist is never disappointed.

title of a song by a 90’s rock band called Theaudience.

107.                       We are born crying, live complaining and die disappointed.

Mottos for Hope

108.                       This too shall pass.

Medieval Persian proverb

According to Persian fables, a king once asked his advisers to create a ring that will make him happy whenever he feels sad. After much deliberation, the advisers inscribed the phrase “this too shall pass” unto the ring.

The ring worked, but it was both blessing and curse – it helped the king when he felt sad, but also when he felt happy.

109.                       They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.

110.                       The devil is not as black as he is painted.

Some people or things are not as bad as they appear.

111.                       The darkest hour is just before the dawn

112.                       All things are difficult before they are easy

113.                       He that lives on hope dances without music.

Taken from George Herbert’s collection of sayings, Outlandish Proverbs.

114.                       Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat

F. Scott Fitzgerald in the book “Tender is the Night”

The words of a psychiatrist to his patient, a female American painter in her thirties. She had become lost in Paris, addicted to drugs and alcohol and her mind in tatters, after trying to be the equal of men in her art.

115.                       We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

from a play by Oscar Wilde

The character in question, Lord Darlington, has eyes for the wife of his friend, Lord Windermere, and utters this phrase while they’re having a rich boy’s night out.

116.                       No one who is great at something was always great at it.

Origin unknown

Mottos about friends

117.                       A friend to all is a friend to none

The notion that it is best to restrict the number of your friends is supported by another proverb, which says:

 “Have but few friends though much acquaintance”.

An extreme viewpoint is represented by the saying “if you have one true friend, you have more than your share”.

118.                       Full of courtesy, full of craft.

The most polite and tactful people are often the least trustworthy whereas honest men tend to talk bluntly and simply.

119.                       Books and friends should be few and good

120.                       Keep bad men company and you’ll soon be of their number

121.                       Four eyes see more than two.

122.                       A joke never wins over an enemy, but often loses a friend

123.                       What’s bred in the bone will come out in the flesh.

A person’s true character, inherited traits or long-ingrained habits will inevitably reveal themselves. The proverb has undergone a gradual change from its original form, which suggested something slightly different: “what’s bred in the bone will not out of the flesh”.

In this earlier form, the proverb implies rather that there is no faking the kind of qualities with which one is born.

124.                       Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.

Mottos for Love

125.                       The saddest words are “it might have been”.

Verse from the poem Maud Muller by John Greenleaf Whittier. Maud is a beautiful farm girl that meets the a judge from her small town. They both fancy each other; the judge imagines what life would be like as a farmer married to Maud, while Maud imagines her life as the wife of the town’s judge.

However, neither of them follows through with their desires, and move on from this meeting. The judge marries a woman who only wants him for the wealth and power, while Maud marries an uneducated farmer.

And yet, the memory of the encounter lingers on in their minds for years to come, and they always wonder what “might have been”.

126.                       Years of love have been forgot, in the hatred of a minute.

Edgar Alan Poe

A verse written by Poe in the poem titled “To – -” from the year 1829 , where he mourns the dissolution of a romantic relationship.

127.                       People will make time for who they want to make time for.

Popular saying usually directed at heartbroken would-be-lovers that have explored the dark, painful depths of the friendzone.

128.                       Beauty is only skin deep

129.                       Every Jack has his Jill

130.                       Faults are thick where love is thin.

131.                       When distrust enters at the gate, love goes out at through the backdoor.

Friendship withers when trust no longer exists between the parties concerned.

Alternate version:

“Passion enters at the gate, wisdom goes out at through the backdoor.”

132.                       Life isn’t about who you kiss, drunk, at midnight. It’s who you text nonsense to, sober, from the toilet.

origin unknown

133.                       Faint heart never won fair lady.

134.                The course of true love never did run smooth

Mottos for Healthy Boundaries / Self Care

135.                       “No” is the most powerful word.

Taken from a Forbes article, describing how the word “No” can limit lost time and effort spent on fruitless endeavors.

136.                       Don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from.

Jeff Van Gundy

Sports commentator Jeff Van Gundy had this to say about professional sport players and coaches who are often the victims of criticism from clueless media and even more clueless fans.

137.                       You deserve what you accept.

Likely origin comes from the movie “The Perks of being A Wallflower”. In the film, a character justifies being in an abusive relationship by saying: “We accept the love we think we deserve”.

138.                       An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin wrote this under an assumed name, where he talked about fire safety regulations.

Since then, it has become probably the favorite marketing tool of insurance companies the world over.

139.                       It’s better to be alone than in bad company.

This saying is usually attributed to George Washington, since it was found in a handwritten book by him titled “110 rules of Civility & & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation”. However, this book is likely to have been a simple penmanship exercise, since the original book he copied was written by French Jesuits at the end of the 17th century.

140.                       Be who you needed when you were younger.

Brad Montague

Artist who earns a living creating deeply nostalgic décor products using weird designs and questionable font choices.

141.                       “Acta, non verba.” – Deeds, not words


142.                       We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Will Durant wrote this phrase as a summary for a much bigger passage in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.  In it, Aristotle argued that in order to become virtuous (such as being kind, fair or disciplined) one must achieve 3 conditions:

  1. The person must know that they are doing a kind, fair, disciplined or another virtuous act.
  2. The person must decide to do those acts on purpose, and not by chance.
  3. The person must do the virtuous acts from a firm and unchanging state. This means that no matter the circumstances, they will always do the virtuous act.

143.                       You do you.

Likely originated from the much older phrase “do your thing”, but remastered to fit into modern tastes.

144.                       If it’s not going to matter in 5 years don’t spend more than 5 minutes upset about it.

This is also called the 5×5 rule, and is a piece of advice sometimes recommended to people who suffer from elevated levels of anxiety.

145.                       Adam’s ale is the best brew

The best drink of all is water, the only drink available to the biblical Adam. The Scottish sometimes refer to water as “Adam’s wine”.

146.                       Actions speak louder than words.

147.                       All good things must come to an end

148.                       Some things are better lost than found

Mottos for professional & business success

149.                       A bad workman blames his tools

150.                       If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

misattributed to Henry Ford

Henry Ford never said these words, but he would have absolutely believed them. For a very long time, Ford had argued that horses had reached the end of their usefulness. They were on the verge of becoming obsolete and replaced by machines powered by the internal combustion engine.

Also, Ford was notorious for disregarding consumer demands, and once said this about car colors: “You can have any color as long as it’s black.”

As for who actually said the quote, the earliest known reference was by a cruise ship designer called John McNeece who tried to prove a point by imagining what Ford might have believed about customer’s desires.

151.                       Finish your work.

The favorite command of parents the world over and since time immemorial.

152.                       If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

The first mention of the phrase was in 1580. Shakespeare lived between 1564 to 1616. Coincidence? Probably not. But if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

153.                       Do not all you can, spend not all you have, believe not all you hear, and tell not all you know

154.                       A fool and his money are soon parted.

Thomas Tusser

Origin comes from a nearly 500 year-old book that discusses proper farming techniques, how to manage household finances, rural customs and generally how one should live a good life in 16th century England.

155.                       He who can does, he who cannot teaches

156.                       Creativity is the ability to hide your sources.

A favorite saying of a one Cyril E.D. Joad, a famous British broadcaster and philosopher who lived in the first part of the 20th century. He quite liked this phrase, and had multiple variations of it until he finally settled on the version above.

As a fun fact, he famously bragged that he never bought train tickets. Well, in 1948 he was caught while riding without a ticket and received a 2£ fine and made national headlines for this indiscretion. He viewed this as a deep humiliation, was laid off from the BBC and lost out on becoming a member of the British Parliament’s House of Lords.

The resulting stress destroyed his health and brought about his death 5 years later.

157.                       You buy land you buy stones; you buy meat you buy bones

Many of the things you want come with things one does not want because they are inseparable from what is desired.

A variant runs: “he that buys land buys many stones; he that buys flesh buys many bones: he that buys eggs buys many shells; but he that buys good ale buys nothing else.”

158.                       Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

159.                       Who begins too much accomplishes little

160.                       Have more than you show; speak less than you know.

The Fool in Shakespeare’s “King Lear”

In the play, King Lear gives all his land, power and wealth to two of his three daughters, who trick him with false confessions of love, then subsequently betray him. The quote above is part of a larger dialogue that is both prophecy, and criticism of the King’s mistakes.

161.                       If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

Origin uncertain.