There is no historical figure or thinker that I love more than Ralph Waldo Emerson. The driving force behind the Transcendentalist movement, he believed that humans as individuals were good and pure beings with unlimited potential, and that society, government and organized religions were the source of corruption.
When I’m having a hard day or an existential crisis, I pull out my collection of Emerson’s quotes to help do a little reflection. Often times taking a step back can help give you a whole new perspective and the ability to rise above whatever problem you’re facing. I hope they can be of as much use to you as they are to me.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
It’s hard to stay true to yourself; any artist can tell you that with certainty. There are so many pressures that surround us and try to influence us on a daily basis, and it can be easy to get a little lost along the way.
It’s always good to keep in mind who you are and what you want in your life whenever you make decisions or build relationships so you don’t lose sight of your own path to fulfillment.
“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”
It’s inevitable; we all get angry. It’s impossible to be happy all the time, and you shouldn’t try to be. A strong range of emotions is healthy for us. However, sometimes we stay angry or upset longer than we should. We let thing affect us long after they have come to a close.
In the end, this lingering negative energy will only bring us down and won’t serve any productive or positive purpose.
Try to let go.
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
Just because you had one awful day doesn’t mean the rest of your week has to be like that. If you keep a sulky attitude, probably you won’t recognize the good things that do happen.
Instead, try to leave negativity in the past and start each day with an open mind; you’d be surprised how much more gratifying it is.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Sometimes we worry so much about our future career choices and family plans or the mistakes that we’ve made in the past that we lose sight of what matters; ourselves. We forget to take care of our emotional and psychological wellbeing.
Our own personal identity is the most important thing, because it will guide us through whatever we face in the future and whatever we need to reconcile with the past. We are not our experiences.
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
There’s a reason why only a small percentage of the population reaches the highest level of fame and fortune. Only those willing to dream big and follow it up with hard work are labeled as the “trailblazers” of our society.
Most people follow a certain pattern or trend, but someone had to be the one to create it, right? Don’t be afraid to take risks and go against the grain.
“Always do what you are afraid to do.”
We limit ourselves a lot due to fear. Whether it’s a fear of heights that keeps you from skydiving or a fear of loneliness that keeps you in a less-than-stellar relationship, fear almost always prevents us from something.
Facing fears isn’t easy, but it’s one of the fastest and best ways to learn and grow as a person. We all admire fearlessness, so why don’t we act more fearless?
“Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”
This is one of my all-time favorites. There are some days when you feel like nobody gets you, and it’s unbelievably frustrating. Whether you’re the eclectic character of your community or the victim of ignorance, it’s not a great feeling.
We have to keep in mind that the people around us, or even society itself, aren’t ready for us yet. It doesn’t mean we should stop. They’ll be ready one day.
“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”
In hard times it’s easy to focus on the darkness, the negativity of the situation. It’s easy to get caught wallowing in the depression and self-pity of it all. However, sometimes if we just lift our heads up a little bit and give a look around, we can notice things we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Losing everything can be a gift.
If you got laid off, maybe now you’re free to pursue your dream career. If your partner just broke up with you, maybe your soulmate is out there waiting for you.
“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”
People who never fail never learn. It’s simple, really. “Perfect” people don’t exist; either they’re lying to us or we’re lying to ourselves. I like to think about Edison and those thousands of lightbulbs that didn’t work before he found the one that did.
Failure isn’t falling; failure isn’t making mistakes. Failure is refusing to try again.
“It is not the length of life, but the depth.”
Time is precious; it’s the most valuable resource on the planet because it can’t be renewed. Sometimes we rush through life trying to just “get through it” without focusing on just living it. If you hate your job and just live for the weekends or two weeks’ vacation per year, what kind of value are you putting on your life?
It’s these kind of questions that we need to ask ourselves, because the reality is that we only get one life; we can’t waste it living someone else’s dreams.
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
We’re surrounded by expectations, from our friends, family, community and society. Sometimes it feels like we don’t even have a choice in our life, that everything is planned out for us. This is a lie. We always have control of our lives; every moment is a choice. Following the life planned out for you is a decision too, so there is nobody to blame but yourself.
You have complete power over who you are and what you accomplish in your life. Never forget it.
“Life is a journey, not a destination.”
What’s the purpose of life? Probably you’d get a lot of different answers to this question, and none of them are necessarily right or wrong. The purpose of your life lies in the value to attribute to it, so therefore everyone’s purpose is different. Life isn’t a race or a competition; it’s not a place you have to reach, or a list of accomplishments. Life is every day, every moment.
Sometimes we get so focused on “getting somewhere” in life that we forget to pay attention to how we get there. Life is about the how and the why, not just the what and the where.
Life is as valuable as you make it.