Nutshell Wisdom: Choose Your Personal Motto

choose your personal motto

Maria let out a big sigh, releasing more frustration about what she called her family from hell. “I swear that my mother’s motto was ‘Life is hard and it will only get harder,’” Maria said.

“What is your motto?” I asked her in response.

Maria’s brow furrowed, she pursed her mouth, thinking. It’s fun to occasionally ask a question a client doesn’t see coming.

“Oh sh–,” Maria said as her shoulders dropped as if she were being literally deflated, “I think that may be my motto too.”

Later in the session I suggested that Maria trade in her mom’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, “Life can be tough, but so am I.”

Maybe later she will change it to “Life’s a breeze,” or “Nothing can stop me,” something that doesn’t reinforce her inherited mother’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. “If your dad (or mom) would have had a personal motto guiding his (or her) life,” I would ask, “what would it be?” I also asked, “Do you have a personal motto?” and “Are you satisfied with your personal motto?” and “What motto would you create or choose for yourself?”

One client knew instantly what his motto’s were. He had two and they are …

“True Freedom is being able to dance in your chains.” – Fredrich Nietzsche

“God has called me to be faithful, not successful.” – 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.

“Do the thing and you will have the power.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“There is only one success: to be able to spend your life in your own way.” – Christopher Morley

If you really want something, never give up.

“A wise man makes more opportunities than he finds.” – 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.

Don’t ever rock the boat.

You deserve a break, I don’t.

One person even quoted W.C. Fields:

“If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.”

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 “should” be, I can remember one of my personal motto’s — “perfection is not an option” or “everything is a phase” — to help me loosen my grip on perfectionism.

Give it a try. What were the personal motto’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: “The best place to be is HERE; The best time to be is NOW.” Or Bill & Ted’s original motto: “Be excellent to yourselves.”

Wisdom comes from the most unexpected places.

Thom Rutledge