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50 Quotes for Men to Live By for a Better Life

Masculine wisdom spanning millenia.

Karlton began covering men's style and grooming topics for The Adult Man since 2020 as a writer. He's also written for other popular men's publications such as The Modest Man and Effortless Gent. Karlton is an LA-born, New York-based lover of culture and optimism. Perpetual watch-wearer. Always holding a martini or a football, Karlton's favorite subjects in school were recess, PE and prom. Read full bio.


Published: Jul 10, 2024
14 min read

I’m a man who lives by quotes.

On the inside cover of my journal, I’ve written down four quotes from friends. Here are two:

“What’s the worst that can happen? You get fired? Who cares!” A coworker said this to slap sense into me. I was young, inexperienced at handling stress, and dreading an upcoming, high-stakes business trip when I should’ve reveled.

I balance this out with words from my mentor and former boss. After carelessly losing a deal, he advised, “let this burn you for a little. It’ll save you millions of dollars in the future.”

Life is all about balance. 

The curation of quotes here are inspiring, mobilizing, and will give you a good kick in the pants too.

Benjamin Franklin

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“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Benjamin Franklin, American Founding Father, statesman, scientist

Source: Goodreads

Why I Like It: Starting with a classic, Franklin points out the fundamental truth that you’re never truly secure unless you’re free. And being free means supplying yourself with your own security, instead of assuming some entity owes it to you.

John Wayne

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“You have to be a man before you can be a gentleman.” 

John Wayne, Golden Age Actor

Source: Clip from McLintock!

Why I Like It: Technically, these are G.W. McLintock’s words, but who is McLintock without Wayne’s impeccable portrayal and delivery? 

My father used to tell me I should be able to shoot a gun as well as I can waltz with a lady. 

In a more universal, day-to-day context, Wayne advises you to be strong, healthy, sound of mind, and to protect yourself and your family. Then you can worry about proper tailoring and wine pairings—and sometimes the former is inextricably related to the latter. 

In my industry, I’d never be able to close a deal if my clients didn’t see me as sophisticated and discerning. However, I’d never have gotten that prospective deal in the first place had I not aggressively pursued it with a warrior’s spirit.

Aristotle

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“Quality is not an act, it is a habit.”

Aristotle, Ancient Greek philosopher

Source: Brainy Quote

Why I Like It: Think about your hero; a man you emulate. No matter how much natural talent he has, he wasn’t born the hero you admire. This quote is a reminder that consistency is key to quality. 

I’d like to provide an addendum from my personal trainer: Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent. So use proper form when you’re exercising and use proper grammar in your business emails, habitually.

Albert Einstein

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“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Albert Einstein, German-born physicist

Source: Linkedin

Why I Like It: This quote tells you two important things. Perspective is everything, and be grateful for what you have.

Marcus Aurelius

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“Let men see, let them know, a real man, who lives as he was meant to live.” 

Marcus Aurelius, Holy Roman Emperor

Source: Bubo Quote

Why I Like It: We’ve been reading Marcus Aurelius for centuries. There’s something to that. And there’s something to the fact

Michael Altshuler

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“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”

Michael Altshuler, Writer and career coach

Source: Goodreads

Why I Like It: You control your own destiny. And you have a deadline.

Muhammad Ali

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“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

Muhammad Ali, Heavyweight boxing great

Source: Youtube

Why I Like It: I take this famous quote two ways. First, be effective, but look good doing it. Second, be secretly dangerous. You want your competition to be comfortable enough around you that they’d happily join you for a drink.

Confucius

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“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

Confucius, Chinese philosopher

Source: Poly Languages Institute

Why I Like It: There’s always something you can be doing. I love the concept of “actively waiting.” Even when you’ve done everything you can do in one area of your life, you can work on another.

Thomas Paine

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“The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.”

Thomas Paine, American Founding Father, political activist and philosopher

Source: All Author

Why I Like It: I’m all for the mental health revolution. It’s important to have emotional intelligence. But, I don’t like that occasionally, fortitude gets lost and forgotten in the rush to own one’s feelings. 

This quote reminds us that real men can steady the sails in the roughest storms, then reflect on their emotions instead of letting it get the best of them.

John Locke

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“All mankind… being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.”

John Locke, English philosopher and physician

Source: Second Treatise of Government, University of Chicago

Why I Like It: I’ve always been a proponent of what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. Instead of coveting what another man has, let it inspire you to find your own version of that.

Alan Watts

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“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” 

Alan Watts, English writer and philosophy interpreter

Source: Elevate Society

Why I Like It: There are a lot of quotes out there that tell you that change is inevitable. That you must adjust to survive. I love that this quote adds a sense of fun. It basically tells you to have fun with your life, because when the change stops, growing stops, then life stops.

Andy Warhol

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“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” 

Andy Warhol, Artist, publisher, and leading Pop Art figure

Source: Quote Fancy

Why I Like It: Andy Warhol notoriously wore his watch unwound, so I’m delighted that the one thing he has to say about time is that your relationship with it can be powerful.

Warhol was also a notorious go-getter, and this quote further cinches that. Do you want change in your life? Do it yourself.

Friedrich Nietzsche

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“In every real man, a child is hidden that wants to play.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher 

Source: AZ Quotes

Why I Like It: Cop to the fact you may still love a lot of things that brought you joy as a boy. Then, find a healthy relationship with it that won’t lead to arrested development. 

In my piece on home office ideas, I admit that I keep a toy shotgun under my desk as a creative stress reliever (I also mention I have a painting of my childhood dog on the wall).

I have two other interpretations for this quote. 

First, you can always choose to do what you love as a career. 

Second, if you decide not to go that route, which is perfectly respectable since some men want their work separate from their play, make sure to take time to enjoy what you do love to do. It’s why you work so hard, after all.

Henry Miller

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“Do anything, but let it yield ecstasy.”

Henry Miller, American writer

Source: Goodreads

Why I Like It: Related to the above quote, you should either do what you love as your career or work hard so you can do what you love as much as you want to.

Charles Kettering

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“High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.” 

Charles Kettering, American inventor, engineer, and businessman

Source: US Department of Education

Why I Like It: One of the highest forms of self respect is expecting a lot from yourself. It’s the second step to achieving a lot. The first step is wanting a lot from yourself, which comes naturally when you have self respect.

Laurens van der Post

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“Modern man has lost the sense of wonder about the unknown and he treats it as an enemy.”

Laurens van der Post, South African writer, farmer, soldier, and humanitarian

Source: Goodreads

Why I Like It: I love this quote because it resonates with two versions of me. Growing up, in my 20s, and in my 30s, I never feared the unknown. I was the kind of guy who, if I wanted to go to the Amazon jungle this coming weekend, I’d just do it.

Now, I’m married and have responsibilities and a family. I have a different relationship with the unknown. That’s okay, as long as I remember to never be afraid of it.

Tom Brady

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“What are you willing to do and what are you willing to give up to be the best?” 

Tom Brady, American football player and seven-time Super Bowl champion

Source: Tom vs Time on YouTube

Why I Like It: Brady has always been a big inspiration to me. Another quote I have of his is on my phone screen, which reads “A man isn’t finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.”

I added this quote to the roundup though, because it’s intimidating and inspiring at the same time. You can have everything you want. It’s in your grasp. But what are you willing to pay to have it? The price might be high, but it might be worth it—classic cost/benefit analysis.

William James

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“The soul is stronger than its surroundings.”

William James, American philosopher and psychologist

Source: Insight of the Day

Why I Like It: This quote both inspires and rightfully scolds. It reminds you not to blame your lack of happiness or lack of strength on outside forces. Yet, it also reminds you that you’re always strong enough.

Frank Abagnale

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“A real man loves his wife and places his family as the most important thing in life. Nothing has brought me more peace and content in life than simply being a good husband and father.” 

Frank Abagnale, American security consultant

Source: Blinkist

Why I Like It: Okay, so don’t go to Frank Abagnale Jr when it comes to advice on business ethics. But, remember that a man is the king of his pride. Your wife and your children come first (which also sometimes means putting yourself first to recharge, so that you’re your best self for them).

Paulo Coehlo

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“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

Paulo Coehlo, Brazilian novelist and lyricist

Source: Paul Coelho on X

Why I Like It: I just love quotes that are both inspiring and realistic. The realistic part here is that once you’ve achieved your dream, to make life more interesting, you have to level it up. Or pursue another one.

Not only does pursuit make life an adventure, but it makes you better since it requires growth and work.

Joe Frazier

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“I don’t think a man has to go around shouting and play-acting to prove he is something. And a real man doesn’t go around putting other guys down, trampling their feelings in the dirt, making out they’re nothing.” 

Joe Frazier, American professional boxer

Source: Grooming Lounge on X

Why I Like It: Coming from an actual tough guy, traditional masculinity isn’t about peacocking. Plus, putting someone down doesn’t somehow magically elevate you.

André Gide

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“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” 

André Gide, French author and Nobel Prize recipient

Source: Forbes

Why I Like It: When you want something, a big goal, you have to be okay with giving up other things for a long time. If you’re in massive debt, for example, you might have to forgo your favorite restaurants, time out with friends, and vacations for years and years to achieve financial freedom.

Timothy Dalton

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“You can’t relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man who in times of crisis draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs but only after a struggle.”

Timothy Dalton, British actor

Source: IMDB

Why I Like It: The funny thing about this quote is that it isn’t aimed at people like me, as I love looking up to superheroes. The fact that their honorable features are exaggerated for effect give me a clearer picture of what to aim for.

This quote is effective because, for the people who can’t find inspiration in the fantastical, Dalton is essentially telling you there’s a superhero within yourself.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.” 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, American President

Source: Library of Congress

Why I Like It: Don’t let fears and doubts hold you back. Your future self will thank you.

Roy T. Bennett

“You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Roy T. Bennett, Author

Source: Good News Network

Why I Like It: They’re called “growing pains” for a reason, right? Take a risk and let the discomfort build your character.

Elbert Hubbard

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“The stronger a man is, the more gentle he can afford to be.” 

Elbert Hubbard, American writer and publisher

Source: Philosophy in Ice on X

Why I Like It: This quote is similar to John Wayne’s quote about being a man before being a gentleman. You can’t be gentle simply because you’ve not learned to be strong. Otherwise, you will be a victim of circumstance at some point in your life. No one has it easy 100% of the time.

Chuck Norris

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“Men are like steel. When they lose their temper, they lose their worth.” 

Chuck Norris, American actor and martial artist

Source: Linkedin

Why I Like It: Not only are temper tantrums childish and an inefficient use of energy, but you lose credibility from those around you if they think you can’t keep your cool.

Bruce Lee

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“Running water never grows stale. So you just have to keep on flowing.” 

Bruce Lee, Hong Kong-American martial artist and actor

Source: Libquotes

Why I Like It: Get up and do something. Keep moving and stay productive. Whether it’s your physical health, mental health, or your goals for yourself, remember that if you’re resting, you’re rusting.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., American activist and pastor

Source: Boise State University

Why I Like It: This is a poetic and more actionable way of saying, “play the cards you’re dealt.”

Charles V

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“I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

Source: Brainy Quote

Why I Like It: This quote may have come from Charles V’s biographer instead of the Emperor himself. Still, it’s telling you to know your audience.

Trying to close a deal at the office requires a different kind of aggression and charisma than the kind required to win you a date with that beautiful woman you’ve been eyeing. 

Relatedly, trying to close a deal with one client may require a different “language” than closing a deal with another.

Mark Twain

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“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” 

Mark Twain, American author

Source: Quote Investigator

Why I Like It: This quote is the ultimate way of saying, who do you think you are? The only person who owes you anything is yourself. If you want it, you get it — don’t expect handouts.

Sigmund Freud

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“One day in retrospect the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”

Sigmund Freud, Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis

Source: Thriveworks

Why I Like It: What Freud is actually imploring here is to realize how important struggle is even in the midst of it. They’re the moments that transform you into your next best version of yourself, and they’re effective in helping you understand yourself emotionally.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

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“Every morning you have two choices: continue to sleep with your dreams or wake up and chase them.” 

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austrian American businessman, actor, body builder, and politician

Source: Naval Group on X

Why I Like It: Schwarzenegger may have reiterated this quote from someone else, but the message is important. Dreams may be conceptualized through fantasy and rest, but are achieved through action.

Thomas Edison

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“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” 

Thomas Edison, American inventor and businessman

Source: Oxford Reference

Why I Like It: When you see a successful person, say an actor receiving an Oscar, what you don’t see is the hundreds, maybe thousands of failed auditions in the path to that moment.

Walt Disney

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“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

Walt Disney, American animator, film producer, and entrepreneur

Source: Goodreads

Why I Like It: You can talk, brainstorm, and plan all you want. However, the start to success happens when you put theory to practice.

King George VI

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“The highest of distinctions is service to others.”

King George VI, British monarch

Source: The Royal Family on X

Why I Like It: This can mean being the best husband and father, mentoring a future you, or finding a charitable cause close to your heart. 

Plus, no matter what your career, you’re always contributing to society in some way shape or form. Don’t lose sight of that.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

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“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, American president

Source: George Mason University

Why I Like It: It’s easy to be debilitated by what you think might happen. However, the truth is that the worst case scenario you’re dreading might not even happen. 

Don’t let that negative fortune telling stop you from action. No one can tell the future.

Michael Jordan

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“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

Michael Jordan, American pro basketball player and six-time NBA championship winner

Source: ESPN on X

Why I Like It: Coming from Michael Jordan himself, this is the best version of “you miss every shot you don’t take.”

William Shakespeare

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“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” 

William Shakespeare, English playwright

Source: Goodreads

Why I Like It: You can bring positivity into the world, while still protecting yourself as well. 

Sun Tzu

“Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.” 

Sun Tzu, Chinese military general, strategist, philosopher

Source: Sun Tzu Quotes,X account

Why I Like It: Understanding your strengths but not understanding the challenges in front of you can cause you to forge ahead blindly. Instead, you want to harness your strength in a specific way. 

An easy example is starting early on a long-lead project if you know you work best at a slow, steady pace.

I think it’s helpful to share with you the extra context from the snappy quote above, straight from The Art of War:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Theodore Roosevelt

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“A strong and wise people will study its own failures no less than its triumphs, for there is wisdom to be learned from the study of both, of the mistake as well as of the success.”

Theodore Roosevelt, American president

Source: Theodore Roosevelt Center

Why I Like It: Focusing solely on your past triumphs is resting on your laurels at worst and only seeing half the big picture at best. Meanwhile, focusing only on your failures is inefficient and, frankly, can make you look like a crybaby.

King Solomon

“Kindness and faithfulness keep a king safe, through kindness his throne is made secure.”

King Solomon, Emperor of Ancient Israel

 

Source: Book of Proverbs, Bible.com

Why I Like It: Have you noticed that all of the kings and emperors on this list focus on charity and kindness? This is why. 

It’s good to be charitable and kind from a moral perspective, but it can also cinch your place at the top. This synergy connects ambition with philanthropy, so you don’t have to choose between the two.

Sir Thomas More

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“One man to live in pleasure and wealth, whiles all other weep and smart for it, that is the part not of a king, but of a jailor.” 

Sir Thomas More, English saint, judge, author, and statesman

Source: Google Books

Why I Like It: When your subordinates at work or your children at home are healthy and happy, they’ll do better work for you, and in turn, you for them. It’s a virtuous cycle. Take care of your pack.

John Barrymore

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“Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.” 

John Barrymore, American actor

Source: Brainy Quote

Why I Like It: I had this quote framed in my office. As long as I was doing my job well, I was ensuring that at any moment, a closed deal could come out of the woodwork even if active ones were falling through left and right. 

This can also apply to dating, friendship, and heck, even sports betting.

Walt Whitman

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“Keep your face towards the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.”

Walt Whitman, American poet and journalist.

 

Source: Linkedin

Why I Like It: Once you’ve let a dark moment burn you, and you’ve learned from it, there’s no point in dwelling on it. This quote reminds us that being an optimist can be a decision you make for yourself.

Duke Ellington

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“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” 

Duke Ellington, American jazz pianist, composer,

Source: Brainly

Why I Like It: By reframing “problems” as simply “potential solutions”, you can ease your anxiety and empower yourself.

Robert Frost

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“The best way out is through.”

Robert Frost, American poet

Source: New York Times

Why I Like It: Again, this quote may be from his biographer, but the point is clear and relevant. If you don’t push through a hard time or if you avoid an inevitable struggle, you’ll always just be in that challenging place. It’s a more empowering way of saying, “just get it over with.”

John D. Rockefeller

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“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”

John D. Rockefeller, American business magnate and philanthropist

 

Source: Brainy Quote

Why I Like It: Don’t be restrained by golden handcuffs. 

Hank Aaron

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“My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.” 

Hank Aaron, American professional baseball player

 

Source: Notable Quotes

Why I Like It: I have a t-shirt that says, “no one cares, work harder.” It’s a reminder to myself that I’m an important part of society and that I have a part to play in my job and community. 

When I don’t do my part, it affects other people, and this is regardless of my personal circumstances. No matter what’s happening with me, the world is going to keep going.

Rob Mendez

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“When you dedicate yourself to something and open your mind to different possibilities, and focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t do, you really can go places in this world… if you’re not sure you can do something, it can be in your job.. Sports.. Life… you’ve got to be passionate, you’ve got to work at it… Who says I can’t go further? Who says I can’t? Nobody!” 

Rob Mendez, ESPY-winning football coach

Source: YouTube

Why I Like It: Watch this man’s speech and don’t tell me it doesn’t move you. Rob Mendez was born with a rare condition that resulted in him not having arms or legs. And yet, he’s an ESPY-winning football coach, against all odds.

If you’re unfit, get fit. If you’re short, learn to jump higher. Sucks that you have to work harder than the tall guy, right? Who cares. Work harder and smarter.

The only reason the world has little time for pity parties is because we all have great potential within us. Mendez is a good reminder of this.

Conclusion

I hope you can find ways to put these quotes into action to better your own life.

I’m going to conclude this by sharing with you the two other quotes I’ve written down in the inner cover of my journal.

From my dad, “we enrolled you in team sports so you’ll learn how to win, and most importantly, so you know how to lose.” I treat life like a team sports game, where I work with and honor my teammates, do my part, refuse to accept loss, but be gracious if it happens. 

And finally, my own words, “love doesn’t conquer all, but you can’t conquer anything without love.”

You gotta have love, right?