Quotes That Kill

Steve Roberts black ink drawing: person with head in mouth of a whale


Sometime in the past year from a source I can’t recall, this quote floated my way:

I must do the things today that others won’t do if I want the things tomorrow that others won’t have.

The author is also unknown to me (some well-respected sales motivator is my guess), but that really doesn’t matter.  The statement itself can be a powerful teacher, for it is a quote that kills.

Not intentionally, I’m sure.  Nevertheless, it encourages us to think in ways that are far removed from our highest potential, and does so with language, rhythm and logic that is seductively compelling…so long as we don’t look an inch under the surface.

Its purpose, safe to say, is to enflame the ambition that fuels significant achievement.  An honorable objective.  Yet it attempts to do so by focusing on the easiest, most immature, inconsequential and destructive measure of accomplishment: comparing ourselves to others, rather than the more formidable and rewarding challenge of comparing who we are to who we can become.

Consider.  Why would you want something for yourself that you wouldn’t also wish for every other member of the human family, should that be their desire?

Physical and financial vitality; the ability to respond well to whatever life presents; wizardry to cook a great meal; a sense of humor; rewarding relationships; an education equal to our talents and aspirations; professional achievement; a peaceful heart; able to put our experience to work in service of others; killer golf game; even silly stuff like fame and a barn full of polka-dot Mercedes….  Why would having what others don’t have, on any terms, be a source of abiding happiness?  Only one who is asleep enjoys their supper more because others can’t eat as well.

Don’t get me wrong.  I compare myself to others all the time.  But except for those occasions when my middle name is Fear Extraordinaire, that comparison isn’t the foundation of my well-being.

For instance, I fall in awe of writers so talented my ego whines, “Why bother!  Never in this lifetime will I approach their level of understanding, grace, wit, clarity or delightful imagination.”  Lucky for me, the purpose of my writing is not to be compared to anyone else, but to discover myself and share as best I can what I’m learning in the possibility it might serve someone else somehow.  Other writers, however accomplished, are there solely for my inspiration and education, which includes stealing from them every smidgen of wisdom and beauty I possibly can.  In fact, that’s a big part of my relationship with every other person on earth.

How do you suppose I came to wonder: What if that quote went something like this?

I must do the things today that honor my highest potential if tomorrow I wish to help others honor theirs.



  1. Dear Steve:
    Written with love and dignity…I must do the things today that honor my highest potential if tomorrow I wish to help others honor theirs.
    Thank you,
    Susan Maginniss

  2. Such a timely and poignant essay. That quote always rubbed me the wrong way. You explained beautifully why. I feel compassion for the author who wrote it. Seems he/she doesn’t get that we are all connected.
    Happy New Year Steve!

  3. Thank-you, dear Steve—not only for THIS absolutely beautiful insight, but for your column to begin with! Your insights and way of sharing them are always elegant, nurturing and empowering. Your drawings and doodles are SHEER JOY! Wishing you and yours a most meaningful New Year..containing unexpected moments of
    love and deliciousness! ps….AND the perfect buyer shows up for your property!

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"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth