Maria let out a big sigh, releasing more frustration about what she called her family from hell. â€œI swear that my motherâ€™s motto was â€˜Life is hard and it will only get harder,â€™â€ Maria said.
â€œWhat is your motto?â€ I asked her in response.
Mariaâ€™s brow furrowed, she pursed her mouth, thinking. Itâ€™s fun to occasionally ask a question a client doesnâ€™t see coming.
â€œOh sh–,â€ Maria said as her shoulders dropped as if she were being literally deflated, â€œI think that may be my motto too.â€
Later in the session I suggested that Maria trade in her momâ€™s motto for a new one. We decided that in making the trade it was as important that the motto have some credibility (believability) to her as it was for the motto to be positive. After a few edits, Maria chose, â€œLife can be tough, but so am I.â€
Maybe later she will change it to â€œLifeâ€™s a breeze,â€ or â€œNothing can stop me,â€ something that doesnâ€™t reinforce her inherited motherâ€™s belief that life has to be so tough. For starters, Maria had definitely traded up.
In the days following that session with Maria, I asked other people — clients and friends — about mottos. â€œIf your dad (or mom) would have had a personal motto guiding his (or her) life,â€ I would ask, â€œwhat would it be?â€ I also asked, â€œDo you have a personal motto?â€ and â€œAre you satisfied with your personal motto?â€ and â€œWhat motto would you create or choose for yourself?â€
One client knew instantly what his mottoâ€™s were. He had two and they are …
â€œTrue Freedom is being able to dance in your chains.â€ – Fredrich Nietzsche
â€œGod has called me to be faithful, not successful.â€ – Mother Teresa
Others responded with a mix of original slogans and favorite quotations. For instance, on the positive side…
Do your best, but nothing more.
â€œDo the thing and you will have the power.â€ – Ralph Waldo Emerson
â€œThere is only one success: to be able to spend your life in your own way.â€ – Christopher Morley
If you really want something, never give up.
â€œA wise man makes more opportunities than he finds.â€ – Francis Bacon
On the more negative side …
Take care of everybody, all of the time.
When in doubt, do nothing.
Life is scary, very scary.
Invisibility is always preferable.
Donâ€™t ever rock the boat.
You deserve a break, I donâ€™t.
One person even quoted W.C. Fields:
â€œIf at first you donâ€™t succeed, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.â€
I like the idea of self-respect being based on the 2-step plan of 1.) clearly define your value system, and 2.) live as congruently as you can with those values. Identifying, creating, or choosing your own personal motto is an excellent and very simple way of remaining accountable.
So when I am becoming obsessed with whether or not this article is exactly like what it â€œshouldâ€ be, I can remember one of my personal mottoâ€™s — â€œperfection is not an optionâ€ or â€œeverything is a phaseâ€ — to help me loosen my grip on perfectionism.
Give it a try. What were the personal mottoâ€™s of your parents? What is your motto? And most importantly, what do you want your motto to be?
I like one I learned from one of the Bill & Ted movies: â€œThe best place to be is HERE; The best time to be is NOW.â€ Or Bill & Tedâ€™s original motto: â€œBe excellent to yourselves.â€
Wisdom comes from the most unexpected places.