Growing up in the Great State of Texas where every “old-timer” offers a wealth of knowledge, and then being blessed in my “adult” years to travel both the world and country extensively, I’ve collected a ridiculous amount of quotes/euphemisms/sayings/proverbs/what-have-you. While many can seem trite, and there are various opinions about their efficacy in teaching or inspiring [1][2], I do feel their pull and try to find meaning in the ones that catch my eye. With that in mind, in no particular order, I submit to you a small(ish) selection of things I wish I had known and appreciated at the tender age of “younger.” I’ve tried to provide sources where available, but I very well may have missed some. As a result, I do not claim ownership of any of these.

  • Your employment does not define your life. However, you will spend a significant amount of time at your job. Find one you’ll be excited about.
    • This is something that I’ve learned through failure. I’ve had several points in my career where I have been in a toxic culture or simply felt unfulfilled in my job. That negativity resonates throughout your entire life and should be addressed as much as possible. Easier said than done, but nonetheless important.
  • If someone is trying to convince you that they aren’t a positive influence in your life, let them.
    • Similar to the above. I like to give everyone the benefit of doubt, but we all need to learn at some point that it’s not up to us to change others. (And sometimes, to attempt to do so would be highly selfish; we’re not always right either.)
  • A falling knife has no handle.
    • Practical, but in my mind, the deeper meaning is that some things need to be allowed to fall.
  • Slow down and watch.
    • I tend to work at breakneck speed in many aspects of my life. One of my hardest challenges, and biggest personal weaknesses, is getting lost in a goal and missing everything around me during pursuit.
  • Work ethic and situational awareness are priceless, but empathy is free.
    • A reminder that efficiency should not replace compassion.
  • Never compete with anyone as hard as you compete with yourself.
    • Personally, I am highly competitive. I’ve learned that I am a much nicer and less judgmental person by keeping that competitive spirit to myself.
  • “Get mad, then get over it.” – Secretary Colin Powell
    • Passion breeds some amazing things. Anger can be an extremely constructive emotion. But brooding has never in my life provided anything positive.
  • It doesn’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.
  • Test in Prod.
    • I live by this mantra when I’m developing tools and automation. If you aren’t testing your work in the real world, then you are not testing anything.
  • “PowerPoint makes us stupid.” – Secretary James Mattis
    • I was fortunate enough to work under General James “Mad Dog” Mattis’ command in the 1st Marine Division. Commonly referred to as the “Warrior Monk,” he has achieved a somewhat fanatical following for his attitude, theories, and leadership style. Of all the things he’s said, one of the most influential was this. Contextually, he’s admonishing the focus that existed in many commands that plans need to be packaged in pretty slide decks. Instead, we should be focusing on proper execution of those plans.
  • Strive to be lazy.
    • Lazy admins are the best admins. If you don’t plan to automate your job, someone else will. (I think that just added a quote inside of a quote. #quoteception)
  • Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.
    • Be aware that all your efforts may mean nothing to the end result, which is OK.
  • The easiest way to eat crow is while it’s still warm. The colder it gets, the harder it is to swallow.
    • Own up to your mistakes quickly. There’s a whole internet full of quotes about this concept, and they’re all accurate. The longer you wait to own an issue, the worse it gets in all manner of ways.
  • Sometimes you get and sometimes you get got.
    • You’re going to fail. Learn to embrace it and use the experiences effectively.
  • Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.
    • Similar to the above. Don’t be too hard on yourself when a mistake is made. But learn to not repeat your mistakes.
  • You can’t tell how good a man or a watermelon is 'till they get thumped.
    • I have a strong opinion (among hundreds of others I suppose) that convictions are meant to be tested. Some of the most memorable lessons in my life came at the end of trials and tribulations. Being able to maintain your sense of self during the hard times says a lot more about you as a person than anything else.
  • If you get to thinkin' you’re a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else’s dog around.
    • This is one of my favorite quotes from my great-grandfather. I’ve seen it around on the internet, so either he’s SUPER famous or he heard it from someone else. Either way, it’s a good reminder to keep your ego in check.
  • If you’re ridin' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it’s still there with you. 
    • Being a leader in many ways can be a rewarding and sometimes lonely experience. Make sure that your support system and team are still with you.
  • Never miss a good chance to shush up.
    • Another one of my personal weaknesses.
  • A cat can have kittens in an oven, but that don’t make ‘em biscuits.
    • Titles don’t mean much. Let’s respect action.
  • An empty wagon makes a lot of noise.
    • You’ll find people who are loud, maybe even yourself at times, can be bereft of tangibles.
  • Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat
    • Fortune Favors the Brave/Bold. From personal to professional life, this seems to hold true. Risk has rewards, if you’re willing to accept them.
  • Understand the importance of compound interest.
    • Seriously. [3]
  • “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford
    • No one is going to convince you of your own thoughts. We limit ourselves more than we care to admit.
  • “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” – Erin Majors
    • I stumbled upon this one recently. It struck a chord with me for sure. Maybe it’s the holiday season, or maybe I just needed the reminder.
  • Treat the janitor like the Queen of England.
    • This is one of my top 10 all time. We, all of us, never know the full breadth of someone else’s experiences. Let’s try to treat each other with dignity and respect. It doesn’t cost a thing.
  • “Respect other’s choices.” – Leon Adato
    • This is my newest addition. Leon had this in his Day 1 post [4] and it resonated with me. The full context of the lesson is: “By definition, the people nearest you are the most important. They are the ones who chose to show up, to stay, to be in your company. Give that choice the respect it deserves.”
  • You can’t put the pin back in the grenade.
    • I think we all have said something to someone, be it loved one or stranger, that we wish we could take back. Some of my biggest regrets are surrounded by my words.
  • Leaders eat last.
    • A basic tenant of any and all leadership courses from the Marines. Even in boot camp, this practice is drilled into recruits who effectively oversee nothing. The premise is the belief that leadership is a burden, not a right. Leaders exist because of the people they lead, and for no other reason. You’re not a leader because you’ve earned it by who you are, or even what you’ve done. You earn the privilege in your continual actions, and the privilege can and oftentimes should be taken away if your choices do not benefit the mission or the people. Simon Sinek has a pretty good book [5] on the subject, and I believe there’s some abridged versions he’s thrown on YouTube as well if you’re interested.

What I personally attempt is to try and be mindful of my actions and how they play out in the world surrounding me. Particularly as they interact with the experiences of others. I’m not always successful, and many mistakes have been made, and will be made in the future. But I think intent matters.

I’m curious, do any of these feel meaningful to your own life/experiences? Also, do you have any items that I can add to my collection? I’m always looking to learn new things. As the artist Michelangelo said (or maybe he didn’t?), “I’m still learning.”


  • I like em all, and like that they start off with a bang. Everyone should be doing something they care about/enjoy; otherwise why should you be investing untold amounts of your life on it?  I never could accept people who did the "eh, good enough" shrug and basically gave up or simply said that jobs will be boring. Jobs are not boring, people choose to let jobs be boring.     

  • Get better, not bitter

    that's a new one for me, added to the list as well. emoticons_happy.png

    glad you enjoyed, thanks for sharing as well!

  • Amazing list, zackm, and thank you so much for writing this!  I appreciate the "wisdom of the South" as my Mother's side of the family is from the Georgia/Florida area.  There is nothing like sitting with an old-timer and having them recount their early days, and seeing the sparkle in their eyes as they do.

    As I was reading your list, and others' as well, I was reminded of quotes that I have heard and taken to heart over the years:

    - Sometimes you're the dog and sometimes you're the hydrant - there are days that you just need to say, "Yep, I'm going back to bed!"

    - The best leaders are those who can keep their heads while everyone around them is losing theirs - I have seen "Field Generals" and I have seen "Field Privates", and I can tell you that, in pressure situations, I feel much more comfortable with Generals!

    - If you think you're a leader, just look behind you and see if anyone is following - I have found, too, that it is easy, and sometimes better, to get behind and gently push, rather than trying to drag from the front.  One does not ALWAYS need to be in front, contrary to what our ego tells us.  If there are people at your company who want to climb the ladder and you don't, give them a leg up.  Don't be a doormat but don't be a stone wall, either.  I have also found that you cannot push a rope and if you don't get what that means, picture in your mind literally trying to push a rope across the floor.  Doesn't want to do what you want, does it?  How many ropes are you trying to push?

    - The squeaky wheel...gets replaced - One for the PITAs in your life!

    - A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still - I learned this in sales and it has stuck with me.  I don't try to convince people; I show them the facts as I have discovered them and then give them enough rope to either hang themselves or wrangle the steer.

    - Get better, not bitter - To your comment of

    "Get mad, then get over it." – Secretary Colin Powell

    I so much appreciate this, Zack, and have copied your entire list, as well as additions, for my "Giant List-o-Quotes"!

  • I still come back to a well-known phrase regarding this, janobi​:

    "Those of you who THINK you know everything are REALLY ANNOYING to those of us who do!"

    As I have mentioned, this is one of the biggest paradoxes in this world, which, once fully understood and appreciated, removes the human ego from the thought process.  I know everything because I know I DON'T know everything.