I love a good bit of motivation to get my blood pumping and my energy up.
But nothing of substance was ever built off the back of a motivational quote.
There are two reasons:
- They’re shallow
- They lie.
Google “motivational quotes” and you’ll find plenty to work with, including things like this:
Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.
It always seems impossible until it’s done.
If you’re going through hell, keep going.
Inspiring, even. Especially if you know who said them, and then you can fill in some blanks about what they were talking about and the amazing things they accomplished.
But what if the people who said these inspirational things were actually deep thinkers. What if these quotable quotes, with all their lovely encouraging juice, where actually just subsets of a much larger picture?
Too Clever, Too Shallow
First we have a problem: motivational quotes are always too shallow.
In order to build something, you need a strong foundation – and motivation isn’t it. It might be a tiny piece, but it’s not the entirety of the puzzle.
Life is complicated, subtle, nuanced and messy. These pure truisms that motivational quotes consist of might be helpful on a given day, in a given scenario, for a moment. They are not, however, the foundations of anything grand or majestic. They are not solid, dependable things on which we can balance a masterpiece, a business, a life, or a family.
In almost all cases, a motivational quote will provide you no solutions, no action, no decision, no wisdom. This is why they (at best) are truisms rather than truths – there is a big difference.
They might support you, make you happy, and increase your motivation – but they cannot be latched on in a time of need.
As a result, they are shallow, fleeting things.
Lying By Omission
“Failure will never overtake me if…”. Demonstrably false. Plenty of determined people have been overtaken by failure. Perhaps they were determined to do something stupid, perhaps they simply weren’t very good at it, and perhaps by all human measures they ought to have succeeded… but didn’t. As nice as it sounds, determination is not the only factor in success.
“It always seems impossible until…”. Some things ARE impossible, despite the nice statements to the contrary. Sure, great achievement results from people who see beyond what might seem possible, but not always. Often, it actually is impossible. They failed, went broke and never went back to their project.
“If you’re going through hell…”. Perhaps you’re going through hell because you made a wrong turn, and actually need to back track. Or perhaps not. The idea, of course, is to get out of hell (always good) but the concept isn’t universally great. Maybe if you keep going you’ll end up in more hell for a longer time than if you simply turn back.
And here we see the problem.
At most we can say “wow that’s awesome” and move on, accepting that in some cases there is something important we could learn from the experience of the quoted individuals.
But without the context, the meaning, the rest of the words – we actually haven’t learned anything at all. We just feel a little pumped up, like the guy at the gym watching his own muscles.
Wow… So Negative
Like I said – I love a good bit of motivation.
But you can’t build on it – it’ll fail you.