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How Great Quotes Fuel Positive Thinking

I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a great quote.  It seems that I’m not the only one – take a look at Twitter and you’ll see a huge number of handles relating to quotes.  Do a quick search on Google and you’ll find endless “Top Quotes” lists. Go to the Forbes home page and you’ll be greeted by the “Quote of the Day.”

Why Do We Love Quotes So Much?

Quite simply, they inspire us.  In a Harvard Business review article, “Why Inspiration Matters,” author Scott Barry Kaufman explains: “In a culture obsessed with measuring talent and ability, we often overlook the important role of inspiration.”

Inspiration isn’t all squishy stuff – it can drive very real results.  Kaufman’s article details studies that prove that inspiration facilitates progress toward goals, promotes creativity, and even increases well-being.

That works for me!  For much of my life, I have turned to quotes when I need inspiration, or a mantra, or to steel myself in challenging situations.  Here are some of my personal favourites and some insight into how they’ve served me.

1.  “It is better to beg forgiveness, than ask permission.”

― Grace Murray Hopper

At school, the pupils who weren’t destined for university were trained as typists.  I wanted to learn how to type but was told I couldn’t.  Luckily the teacher who ran the typing class was also my economics teacher.  She promised to smuggle me into the class and enter me for the exam.  She said, “We won’t ask for permission, we’ll beg forgiveness” when you pass the exam.  Typing turned out to be one of the most useful skills I’ve ever learned.  Not only did I get paid work as a typist at the local hospital during the school holidays, but I can touch-type at speed on a computer keyboard – a very valuable capability in our digital world.

This quote has served me well throughout my career.  After all, if we play it safe all the time, we might never try something truly innovative.  Given the agile, fast-paced environment that we work in, we often don’t have the time to hold off on decisions until permission has been granted.  That’s not to say that begging for forgiveness hasn’t been tough for a rule-follower like me!  But I’ve found that the reward usually outweighs the risk.

  1. “It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

―Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own”

This quote got me through my toughest mental endurance challenge and my most demanding physical challenge:  getting my doctorate and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.  I managed both by telling myself that each step, however small, got me closer to my goal.

When it comes to business, sometimes we set goals for ourselves that seem too enormous and therefore unachievable.  However, by breaking a big task down into bite-sized chunks, we can stay motivated over long distances or periods of time.   Let’s not forget that all achievement comes with hard work.  This is particularly helpful advice to people who are starting their careers and have a long way to go to reach their goal.   Perseverance is key!

  1. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

―John Lennon

Have a direction, not a plan

In work and in life, I believe we should have a direction, not necessarily a plan.  I’ve found that if you set yourself a direction, your brain will work to make it happen in ways that you probably can’t or didn’t imagine.  Plans can be too restrictive and we experience disappointment when they don’t work out.  Instead, if we set a clear direction, we experience joy when circumstances take us down the right path.

For example, years ago I wanted to work in Germany, but was told I needed to “earn my stripes in the UK” before getting a transfer to Germany.  As it turned out, I ended up being sponsored by a Swiss German company at university, getting a work placement with them in Germany during my “gap year,” and making contacts then that eventually led me to starting work in Germany the weekend after I graduated.  I couldn’t have planned or predicted that path, but it perfectly matched my direction.

  1. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

―Steve Jobs

I have made “love what you do” my mantra because life is too short to do a job that doesn’t inspire you or work with people who don’t inspire you.  Loving what you do does wonders for your psyche.  According to a Huffington Post article, loving your job drives engagement which is defined as “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor (high levels of energy and mental resilience), dedication (being strongly involved and challenged by your work), and absorption (when you’re working, you’re in the zone and time passes quickly).”

What if you don’t love your job – should you quit?  Maybe not.  Research shows that great work is produced when people focus on doing work that benefits other people.  A Forbes article, “Do What You Love? Or Love What You Do?” explains this phenomenon:  “The Great Work Study showed that 88% of projects that earned awards began with an employee asking their own version of the question, “What difference could I make that other people would love?”… They were focused on the recipient of their work—their customer, their colleague who depends on them, their leader who trusts in them, the community who expects their support, or others who benefit from their work.”

  1. “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” 

―William James

We all need to feel that what we do makes a difference.  This quote inspires me to trust my knowledge and have confidence in my opinions.  As Chris Dedicoat’s, Cisco’s Executive Vice President for Worldwide Sales, says, “Together, knowledge and confidence give you the foundation to experiment and take risks.”

How do you gain confidence in your career?  When I speak on this topic, I always touch on four key elements.  First, read a lot!  This helps build your knowledge and inform your point of view.  Second, encourage feedback and then act on it. Next, pick good mentors.  Be clear about what you want a mentor for (functional expertise, advancing your career) then pick someone who models that behaviour.  Finally, be self-aware – know what you stand for and build your personal brand.

For me, a quote a day keeps the blues away.  It’s my daily dose of positive psychology – helping me cultivate what is best within myself.

What are your favourite quotes? Find a quote that inspires you and share it in the comments!

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No-Holds-Barred Inspiration

I’m currently basking in the afterglow of an intense three days of non-stop inspiration, stimulation and general brain expansion. I’m referring to EG6/EG Everywhere, an amazing conference centered around the exchange of stories and experiences of creative brainiacs that included scientists, musicians, magicians, geographic and oceanographic explorers, artists, and others that tickled my neurotransmitters.

Cisco was not just a sponsor, but the provider of the technology that made this traditionally 300-person-limited-audience event available for people around the world to participate in—as audience members and as speakers. With the interactive platform developed for the event, anyone could watch live stream and see fun things happening online that those at the live event couldn’t because they were “on break.”

However, where the technology really made a splash was when retired Astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife Congresswoman Gabby Giffords were stranded when their flight to the conference got cancelled.  A little bit of a problem since they were listed as the closing speakers. NPR’s Scott Simon, slated to host Mark and Gabby on stage, captured the situation brilliantly in a tweet about the airline being “The only force that can ground @ShuttleCDR & family to keep them from EG conference.” Talk about an ironic twist. The email exchange among those on the Cisco team trying to come up with a solution carried the apt subject line: “Houston, We Have a Problem.” The good news is that Cisco TelePresence came to the rescue —and Mark (in Houston) and Scott (on stage in Monterey) had a wonderfully warm conversation that was both interesting and moving.

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Inspiring people, inspiring minds

I have a favourite quote that I re-read every time I’m feeling a little lack lustre and needing inspiration. It’s by Eleanor Roosevelt, and says: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

It’s such a positive and empowering statement that you can’t help but feel that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Inspiration really does come in so many different forms and through different people.

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