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7 Powerful Quotes to Live By From 7 of the Most Inspiring People of All Time

Lessons on courage, struggles, success, and so much more.

By Margaret PanPublished 2 years ago 11 min read
Photo by Lilian Dibbern on Unsplash

Words have power. That has always been my answer every time people asked me what was it that inspired me to become a writer in the first place. Words are the most powerful force available to humanity. They cannot change reality, but they can change how people perceive reality.

That’s also the reason why I love quotes so much and collect them every single day. Every writer’s goal is to be able to say as much as they can with as little as possible — and that’s exactly what quotes do.

When it comes to inspirational people, history has a plethora of extraordinary names to offer. Great men and women, who managed to inspire people all over the world by facing all the hardships life threw their way and coming out the other side much stronger.

Narrowing them down to seven was obviously no mean feat. Here’s what we can learn from seven of history’s most inspiring people and their wisdom.

1. “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” — Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of the UK during World War 2, the largest global conflict and the most terrifying time of all recent history.

Many people consider him the greatest Briton of all time and he became famous worldwide for his inspiring speeches, and refusal to give in, even when things around him were falling apart.

His talent for inspirational speeches kept the British population going through these dark years, with his never-say-die attitude spreading throughout the nation like wildfire. Personally, his speech “we shall fight on the beaches", still gives me chills every time I hear it.

There’s no denying that Churchill was someone who knew a lot about courage. There are countless inspirational quotes of his about courage all over the internet, but for me, this one holds the greatest value. Why? Because it teaches us that courage isn’t always about being brave, standing up for ourselves, fighting and defending our values and opinions.

Courage is also about the complete opposite: being able to sit down and listen to someone who doesn’t agree with your beliefs. Someone who leads a completely different life than yours.

It takes a lot of personal strength to admit that you might not be right after all and that another person can prove you wrong, having a lot more knowledge about a subject than you.

Some people are so full of themselves that they can never listen to a different opinion; they are unable to hold a conversation with anyone who doesn’t wholeheartedly agree with everything they say. On the other hand, some other people have the courage to sit down, listen, and even admit that their previous beliefs were wrong. It’s obvious which one you should be.

2. “Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” — Martin Luther King

When it comes to inspiration, Martin Luther King, one of the most important personalities of the 20th century, continues to inspire today millions of people all over the world, due to his admirable fight for racial equality.

He used the power of speech and peaceful protest to start and lead the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, changing the lives of millions of black people in doing so. It’s impossible to listen to his “I have a dream” speech without feeling inspired.

This quote, even though it’s not one of his most popular, remains one of my favorites. It can be interpreted in various ways, but for me, its meaning lies in the fact that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to other people, striving to be like them and mimicking their methods.

Because, the truth is, we often confuse other people’s ideas of success with our own. Yet, we simply aren’t all made for the same things. We can’t all become scientists, doctors, or businessmen. Not all of us are meant to become millionaires, or worldwide famous. And that’s fine, really. What matters, is to be the best in what you want and can do.

It's time to turn inwards and ask yourself: “What am I good at? What do my friends admire me for? What are my talents?” Then, work as hard as you can and become the best in your field. Remember, you don’t have to be the world’s expert. Just the expert in the room.

3. “A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.” — Maya Angelou

Most people know Maya Angelou for her great poems and memoirs, especially the “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” What many don’t know, however, is that in her early life she was a sex worker, that she was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend, or that she even became mute for five years.

It’s safe to say that life showed its ugly face to Angelou early on. And yet, despite the hardship she had to face, she managed to pull herself together and create a career in the creative arts that spanned over 50 years, receiving more than 50 honorary degrees.

Along the way, her story became an inspiration to young women everywhere who suffered abuse. And although this quote refers to women, I think that it applies to every man as well. Wise people don’t want to be anyone’s enemy but they refuse to become their victims either.

Meaning, although you shouldn’t go around picking fights with the first person that gives you a rude answer on your way to work in the morning, you have to be able to stand up for yourself when others cross your limits.

Manners are everything — you don’t have to speak up every time a mean person makes a nasty comment about you. There are times when the clever thing to do is, keep your composure, stay calm, and let foolish people drown in their own stupidity.

But, there are others when you should say that enough is enough and let people know you’re not one to allow them to walk all over you. Don’t let yourself become a victim out of fear of being disliked by someone.

4. “The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but on significance — and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.”

― Oprah Winfrey

Throughout the years, simply by being compassionate, caring, and humble, Oprah Winfrey has made a widely successful career for herself and is being admired by hundreds of people.

Having gone through and triumphed over poverty, violence, and sexual assault, she takes every chance she can get to inspire and motivate others.

And although in 2003 she became the first African-American woman to be classed as a billionaire, she never let money get into her head: she has donated over $300 million to charities and recently donated $10 million to coronavirus relief.

Now, it’s obvious that Oprah Winfrey knows a lot about success. And we’d be lying if we said that we don’t live in a world where people are obsessed with productivity and success. Yet, Oprah advises us that the key to realize our dreams isn’t to focus on success, but rather on significance.

It’s not about what do you want to achieve in your life, but why you want it. Is it because the thought of achieving it fills you up with joy or is it because you want to please someone else?

You’re the one who gives your dreams a meaning, your desires significance. When your actions have a purpose, and you fight to achieve something that means a lot to you, every small step you take towards your dream will feel like a small success.

5. “Every struggle in your life has shaped you into the person you are today. Be thankful for the hard times, they can only make you stronger.” — Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves is everyone’s favorite celebrity and was even recently voted the 10th most admired man on earth. From growing up without a father in an unstable environment to his longtime girlfriend giving birth to a stillborn baby girl — and later dying in a car crash — Reeves has been no stranger to hardship.

And yet, he is known for leading a quiet and calm way of life, showing nothing but grace and kindness to those around him. He’s a man who knows how to battle his demons and keep going in life, and that makes him a person we can all learn a lot from.

The truth is, when we have to face any kind of hardship, we immediately think that life’s awfully unfair; we start wondering why we’re so damn unlucky, why things never go as planned.

How many times, upon facing a tough situation, did you ask yourself, “Why did this have to happen to me?” But, as Reeves himself advises, you should actually be thankful for all the hard times. And that’s because hard times only make you stronger. They make you wiser.

Let’s stop for a moment and think about it. Think about any spoiled brat you met sometime in your life. Any kind of person that had it all settled by their family, someone who had never faced any kind of hardship, someone who didn’t have to work a day in their life.

Weren’t they all immature, selfish, weak, and far from wise? That’s because, it is only after you’ve seen the ugly side of life that you learn how to be mature, strong, kind, or wise.

Remember: Any kind of struggle in your life has shaped you into the person you are today. And today, you are a better person than you were yesterday. That’s all that matters.

6. “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” — Barack Obama

Barack Obama was the first African-American president of the United States and probably also the first president that inspired millions of people all over the world through his speeches.

Despite what your political views might be, it’s evident that this is a humble man, with carefully reasoned policies, good principles, and a beautiful family. And don’t let me get started on his original, creative, brutally honest, and encouraging speeches. There’s a reason he was voted the world’s most admired man for 2020.

When it comes to goal setting, what better person to turn to advise to, than the one who managed to become the world’s most powerful country’s president?

So many of us get discouraged when we don’t achieve our goals as quickly as we would like to. We immediately start thinking that we’re doing something wrong, that there’s something wrong with us, eventually getting stuck on an endless loop of self-doubt. The result? We give up.

But, as Obama implies, it’s not hard work or luck that leads to great results, although they are both important factors too. It’s perseverance. The ability to keep working towards your goals no matter how long it takes to achieve them, no matter the obstacles that you may encounter.

Here’s an inconvenient truth about life: you can’t change your life overnight. But, once you’re on the right path, by working every day, little by little, step by step, you’ll eventually reach your goals and fulfill your dreams.

7. “The greatest problem in the world today is intolerance. Everyone is so intolerant of each other.” — Princess Diana

It’s safe to say that Princess Diana of Wales was probably the most loved royalty all over the world, with her shyness, her charisma, and friendliness appealing to the public.

From her inspiring work with AIDs sufferers to her support for anti-landmine campaigns, she broke protocol as a royal and committed to reaching out to ordinary, disadvantaged, and helpless people. She was even nicknamed “The Queen of Hearts” for her hands-on & loving approach in dealing with the causes she believed in.

This is my favorite quote of hers because it couldn’t be more accurate about what our modern world lacks: tolerance.

Tolerance comes with patience, impartiality, open-mindedness, and amenability. Qualities most people lack nowadays because they seem to be unable to look beyond their ego and accept that it’s perfectly okay for people to be different from each other.

We were all raised in different countries, different environments, by different people who carried different values. That’s why we should be more tolerant of each other and not get angry when people don’t share our views, beliefs, and attitude. After all, we could learn a lot more from someone completely different than us, than someone who behaves, talks and acts exactly as if they were a copy of us.

Final Thoughts

You don’t need to get up at 5 A.M., take a cold shower every day, meditate for an hour, and run marathons to live a healthy, happy, and fulfilled life. Instead, applying the words of wisdom of highly respected and admired people all over the world could do the trick.

Now, I’m well aware that applying their words of wisdom isn’t easy. It’s one thing to read them and another to actually apply them in your daily life. If it was easy, we would all be living our best lives. It takes effort and a lot of work. It takes honesty — both towards yourself and others. It takes patience. Above all, it takes courage.

But, just because something isn’t easy doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do it. It’s scary to aim for something that seems a hell of a lot of work. But, the feeling after you finally make progress and start seeing the changes in yourself? Can’t be compared with anything else in life.

Be brave. Start changing your life today.

This story was previously published on Medium.


About the Creator

Margaret Pan

Words have power.

I write about relationships, psychology, personal development, and books.

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