Category Archives: Quote of the Month

Best quotes

The price of opportunity (Quote of the Month, February 2011)

Risk is the price you pay for opportunity.

– unknown*

This line is almost the natural continuation of the last month’s quote. Half of what I wrote in January can also be applied to this quote.

The quote itself doesn’t tell us anything about the outcome of our actions – of course, it couldn’t. But it is important to emphasize that the outcome can really be one way or the other. Taking the risk can either be worth the trouble or not, and your courage to enter a risky business is not enough by itself. There is no guarantee of a positive outcome. If it were then there would be no risk!

Therefore the notion that all fear is an obstacle that needs to be overcome is very naïve. Fear has a purpose of guiding you and preventing you from doing something stupid. It incites you to carefully evaluate and minimize risk. Fear is actually your friend – if and only if you don’t allow it to dictate your life entirely. Otherwise it becomes your jail keeper, and it’s up to you to choose if you want to live that way – imprisoned, half alive.

You see, if you never take any chances, then probably the choices you are making could hardly be worth anything. Nothing that is valuable in life, no opportunity, comes easily and without some degree of risk. However, you have to decide on what risks you are or are not willing to take. You can ask others for advice, you can inform yourself and gather all the available information, but the final decision is yours – every person has to decide for himself. Just remember: if you play, you may win or lose, but if you don’t play, you can never win.

*I don’t know who the original author of this quote is, but apparently Robert D. Selleck used to say it a lot. His son Tom Selleck, an actor and film producer, used that line on screen.


Going into the unknown (Quote of the Month, January 2011)

One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.

– André Gide

Just a few days ago I watched my cousin’s dog Pax playing with two balls. Pax is quite intelligent dog and can do various tricks that my cousin has taught him. However he is young and inexperienced and it was fun watching him trying to grab another ball with his mouth while already holding one. Of course it didn’t work. He didn’t comprehend that in order to grab the second ball, he first has to let go of the ball he was already holding.

The dog didn’t want to lose what he already had and be without a ball in his mouth even for a short second. We, humans, also often do not understand that getting something new may also require letting go of something old. And being without either one in between – not just for a second but for an extended period of time. A few centuries ago sailing across an ocean took several weeks or even months. Old, familiar shore, had to be left behind. On the open sea the ship was cut away from supplies, had to deal with storms and changing winds and had no communication with anyone. The members of a crew could rely only on themselves – and they didn’t always know where they are, where they’re going and how long it will take them.

We don’t live in the Age of Discovery anymore, and modern ships have radars, GPS and satellite phones. But this month’s quote is timeless, as it is a metaphor anyway. From time to time one gets an idea, a vision of what he or she may want to become or achieve. Whether you will actually accomplish it depends on many things, one of them, having willingness to step into the unknown, to take the risk of leaving the familiar behind and, while not even knowing how long it will take you, having faith that you will reach the other side one day.

Last week I watched movie The Pursuit of Happyness with Will Smith on DVD. It is a great film and based on a true story. The main character played by Will is not very successful at his job, working as a self-employed salesman. Actually he is broke all the time, and he has a son that he needs to take care of. He then gets a chance to be in a six-month internship program for a stockbroker but the placement is not paid and at the end of the program only one out of twenty candidates will be hired. He is in a dilemma whether to take the program or not. He decides to take a chance, enters the program and goes on a journey that takes him from living in a motel to being homeless and finally, after long, hard work and studying, to being hired and becoming a successful broker.

It could have been otherwise. If he had not been the best candidate, he would not be hired and the story might not have a happy ending. However, if he played it safe and instead of entering a risky program decided to take some other, safer job, he for sure would not become the successful stockbroker that he did.

He was willing to lose sight of the shore.

First things first (Quote of the Month, December 2010)

Do first things first, and second things not at all.

– Peter Drucker

The ability to set priorities, focus on them and not deviate may be the most important skill for success in life. The quote from Peter Drucker was written in the context of talking about business efficiency, but can be applied to any field. With limited time and energy that are available there are only so many things that can be done – no matter how many time management skills you learn. And because not all things get you the same return on investment it is important that you only do those things that are the best investment of your time, energy and also money.

Therefore it is important that you know what your real goals are, so that you can stop doing things that are in the way of your true priorities. And even among things that are important you don’t need to do everything yourself. Do only those things that you can do well and delegate the rest to others who can do it more efficiently – even if you have to pay them.

Of course people have a wide variety of goals: career goals, relationships goals, health goals, etc. And as much as it is important that you can focus on a single goal, it is also necessary to have a balance between work and relaxation. Otherwise you may get overworked and actually lose the ability to work efficiently. So you also need enough time for renewal and relaxation.

The solution is to set yourself large blocks of uninterrupted time during which you can focus on your priority tasks – one task at a time – so that you can gain momentum and complete the task better and faster. Multitasking and picking up old unfinished tasks over and over again can vastly increase the total time that is needed. But if you manage your work time efficiently you will have enough free time to relax as well.

How do you do all of this? How do you set blocks of uninterrupted time in the age of mobile phones, e-mail, instant messengers and other distractions? First of all, you decide to only do tasks that are on your list of priorities, your to-do list for that day. Refuse to do irrelevant tasks and refuse interruptions to divert your course of action. If possible turn all e-mail alerts off, sign off from instant messaging programs and turn your phone on silent mode. If you do not need internet for your current work, unplug the cable and work offline. Unless there is some real emergency, do not allow interruptions to change you plans. Put the new tasks on tomorrow’s list instead. That is, if they need to be done at all!

The best time to plant a tree (Quote of the Month, November 2010)

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

– Proverb*

This is one of the quotes that cannot be taken literally. I mean, if the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, it would make sense that the second best time was nineteen years ago. Or something like that.

Like with many proverbs, the outer “story” (planting a tree in this case) is just a vehicle for the meaning, and shouldn’t be understood word for word, but metaphorically. The meaning of this quote is of course that it is never too late to do what should have been done, as it can always be done now.

On a personal level, this quote reminds us that probably we are still able to follow many dreams that we once might had, but never followed through and now they are almost forgotten. It reminds us that what we are today is the result of countless choices that we made or didn’t make in the past, and that the future can only be changed in the now.

And we may not even witness the results of our actions; the trees that we plant today will take years to grow to full size and we may not even be alive then any more.

So, this quote can even be applied to a broader social level. What kind of world do we want to leave to our descendants? And what kind of trees do we need to plant in that case?

*According to different sources this may be African and/or Chinese proverb.

The Perfect Plan (Quote of the Month, October 2010)

A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.

– George S. Patton

Some things in life have to be done perfectly. For example, in the case of Space Shuttle flight there is not much room for improvisation and therefore it costs a lot more money. Everything has to be checked multiple times and executed without a flaw. Each mistake can have devastating consequences, as damage control is very difficult if not impossible. (Although sometimes with a lot of luck even a nearly disastrous situation can be saved – like with Apollo 13 where in spite of explosion on their spacecraft all members of the crew safely returned to Earth).

However, most everyday situations that we deal with do not require perfection. Good enough is good enough. Perfectionism and striving for certainty in everyday life is a drain on time and energy and often does not even lead to success at all. Let me explain.

High goals and constant improvement are of course a good thing. However, there is a difference between wanting to do something better that ever before (but not beating yourself if you don’t) and not even doing it because you cannot do it perfectly yet. Postponing action because of not being ready yet is often the worst thing to do. Yes, you may fail if you act too soon, but failure can be the best feedback you can have. You learn most by doing something, not by pondering about it. So be ready to fail a lot. And then learn from your failure and adjust your approach accordingly.

Take this very post as an example. When I started to write it, I managed to write about half of it. But I was not satisfied with where I was going; the examples that I included didn’t make much sense to me. That is because when I start writing I may have a general idea of what I want to say, but the details are not clear yet. The path is unfolding in front of me as I write. Sometimes I take a path that I don’t like, and I have to delete large amounts of text, because it is not what I want to say or it does not fit into the context. So, I was not happy with what I wrote and I was even thinking that I may abandon this post and write about something else for this month’s quote. But today, I resumed the work and I managed to rewrite parts of the post, so that now I like it. If I would have been waiting until I knew exactly what my post would say, then I could be waiting until next month, and I still would not know it.

Perfectionism can be in a lot of ways just fear of failure disguised as high standards. Sometimes the fear is real and the avoidance of action is a smart thing to do. That is why you often hear in news that they postponed a rocket launch. Something just wasn’t right and the risk was too big.

But many times the fear is completely irrational. It may be the fear of embarrassment if we would try something and fail miserably. Get over it. Don’t be afraid of failure or embarrassment. Of course, failing for the sake of failing is just stupid and useless. Don’t start with a bad plan. Have a good plan to start, but don’t wait for a perfect plan.