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Executive Wisdom: 44 Inspiring And Useful Quotes From 44 Presidents

The men who have led our country over the years are varied and unique. Each has come from a different background, held different beliefs, and took different actions. Some are considered great, others are considered failures.

However, each of them can at least be commended for simply assuming the highest office in our nation. For that reason, I believe each of them has at least one quote that can be useful or inspiring to you as an individual.

Whether you consider each of these men great or terrible, a visionary or a fool, just remember:

“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” – Bruce Lee

Words may carry more weight when spoken by a nation’s leader, but that does not mean they are defined by that person’s actions. So here I offer you 44 quotes by 43 of our nation’s leaders (plus one). If even just one helps you improve your life in some way, then I consider this post a success.

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“Associate with men of good quality; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” – George Washington

It has often been said that you’re the product of the five people you spend the most time with. While I don’t necessarily believe that (my best friends really haven’t influenced much other than the stupid catchphrases I use), I do believe that your success in life is greatly influenced by the people you spend some of the time with.

By that, I mean to say you need to spend some of your time around people who are a positive influence . If you’re a super-ambitious type, the fact that your closest friends don’t share your zest for hard work and accomplishment doesn’t mean you’ll eventually be pulled down – unless they’re the only influence in your life.

Seek mentors and like-minded peers to spend some of your work time with, and you’ll find yourself growing in spite of whatever surrounds you during most of your day.

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“Modesty is a virtue that can never thrive in public.” – John Adams

A lot of people are hesitant to talk about their accomplishments because they fear it will come across as bragging. Don’t think like that.

The truth is this: if you don’t take a stand and show off the things you’ve accomplished, then nobody will notice you – and that’s exactly what you don’t want when you’re trying to market yourself and get a job. If you have experience and skills, then don’t be afraid to talk about them. Everyone is selling themselves, so you can’t afford to sell yourself short.

So, whether you’re writing your resume, building your personal website, or simply talking about your experiences during an interview, don’t be afraid to speak up and be proud of what you’ve done. You’ll rarely come across as a braggart as long as what you say is warranted.

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“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” – Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson is regarded as one of the most brilliant men in American history, and he knew the value of taking action. 

A true Renaissance man, Jefferson’s actions resulted in some incredible accomplishments – he wrote the Declaration of Independence, founded (and designed) the University of Virginia, and – oh yeah – became a president. Through his actions, Jefferson’s character and persona as a leader and visionary were defined.

Another great man echoed Jefferson’s words some time later, saying, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” That man later went on to save a city from a nuclear bomb and ran off to Europe with Ann Hathaway.

I’d say Jefferson’s a good man to listen to.

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“The circulation of confidence is better than the circulation of money.” – James Madison

If you were looking to invest in a company, which of these factors would influence your decision more?

  • The amount of cash they currently have on hand
  • Your confidence in their future performance

Obviously, you want to be as sure as possible that they’ll continue to perform well in the future. The fact that they have money now is great, but it’s no guarantee that they’ll keep making money. You need to be confident in the company in order to take the plunge.

This principle applies to people as well – yourself included. The amount of stuff you currently have means less to others than your confidence and talents. Cultivating skills, experiences, and good relationships will do you a lot more good than simply focusing on money.  The confidence you’ll build through these actions will help you build trust and friendships with the people you want to be around, and will also help you overcome self-doubt.

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“A little flattery will support a man through great fatigue.” – James Monroe

People love to be told that they’re doing well; it makes them feel good and helps them overcome difficulties and self-doubt.

Think about this the next time you’re talking to a friend who is going through a hardship or struggling to complete a difficult task. Your first inclination may be to offer up your own advice, but the odds are that they already know what it is that they need to do.

Instead, simply compliment them and tell them they’re awesome. Tell them they’re doing a great job so far and that you’re sure they’ll succeed soon. Simply getting confirmation that we’re doing well from someone we admire or respect can be all we need to break through and actually overcome whatever difficult task we’re facing.

Quincy Adams
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“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

Be a leader, not a follower. Be a leader, not a follower. Be a leader, not a follow- Jimmy stop playing your Game Boy under your desk and pay attention!

We all probably heard something like this in school while growing up. Our parents and teachers all want us to be leaders instead of just following the crowd. The problem is that they never told us what being a leader really means.

Most of the time, we’re told to become leaders by running for class president or trying to get a leadership position in a club. Later in life, we’re pressured to move from our initial jobs into management, where we can tell a bunch of other people who make less money what to do all day.

This is a far too narrow definition of leadership. Being a leader isn’t simply occupying a position, having a title, or telling people what to do. Being a leader means setting an example through your actions. As the second Adams says, you’re a leader if you inspire others to become better than they are now.

Whether you do that directly through a position or indirectly, by virtue of your individual achievements, doesn’t matter.

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“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.” – Andrew Jackson

One consistent mantra I heard while growing up was, “Do your due diligence.”

This basically means to do your research before taking an action, making sure you’ve analyzed the whole situation before diving in.

However, spending too long analyzing every detail of a situation can cause you to simply never take action. This is called analysis paralysis, and it’s something you should learn to avoid.

Analysis paralysis can cause us to never see our ideas come to fruition. We get obsessed with making things “perfect”, and as a result, nothing gets done. I’ve fallen victim to this problem many times before, and it sucks. However, it’s possible to overcome.

So stop analyzing so much and take action. Do the work, and don’t worry about being perfect. As I heard a TEDx speaker once say, “Done is beautiful.”

Van Buren
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“It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.” – Martin Van Buren

Growing up, every time my dad told me to rake the yard, clean the basement, or establish an iron-fisted regime in a small European country, he’d always tell me, “You can do it right, or you can do it again.”

Of course, my 10-year-old definition of “right” was actually quick, so I usually ended up trudging out to the yard/basement/Malta for a second time to finish the job right. Worse than the repeated work, though, was the ass-chewing I’d get about it.

Having to answer rhetorical questions like, “Did you think this was actually clean?” and, “Do you want me to rip off your head and crap down your neck?” was not fun.

So listen to MVB here and just make sure to your work right the first time. Standing in a boss’ office explaining why you screwed up is just as not-fun as standing in front of the real-life equivalent of Haggar explaining why you didn’t rake the yard well enough. Sure, learning how to admit your screwed up is important – but I’d rather just not screw up in the first place if I can help it!

WH Harrison
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“It should be our constant and earnest endeavor mutually to cultivate a spirit of concord and harmony.” – William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison applied the concept of brevity to all the wrong things. His term as President was tragically short; after only 32 days in office, Harrison died of pneumonia. However, when it came to talking, Harrison was the opposite of brief.

Where others would say things like:

  • “Brevity is the soul of wit” – Shakespeare
  • “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.” – Nietzsche

Harrison would probably say, “The dictionary is big for a reason!” In addition to quoting that giant tongue-twister above, the man also delivered the longest inaugural address of any president. Ironic, isn’t it?

Allow me to summarize his quote as best I can: Try to be nice to people.

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“Wealth can only be accumulated by the earnings of industry and the savings of frugality.” – John Tyler

Tyler’s words are meant to stress how there are only two options for accumulating wealth; however, I’d also like to point out the fact that are are indeed two of them.

This should be obvious – money in, money out – but all too often, those who graduate from college rely solely on the first one and completely ignore the second.

It’s common knowledge that most people spend what they make, and most students who graduate and start making $50,000/yr are quick to run out and get a nice big apartment, a car they can’t afford, and an avocado-green furniture set.

The result? Spending eventually gets out of hand, and these students are caught in a never-ending cycle of debt. The savings of frugality was never given a serious thought, and now they have to spend more time and energy than they ever wanted to on those earnings of industry.

You can easily avoid this fate: Don’t spend shitloads of money just because you have it. And definitely don’t do it if you don’t have it. Don’t buy something on credit if you can’t buy it with cash (with a few exceptions, I suppose). You’re probably happy with what you have now – do you really need to add a bunch of stuff to it?

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“I love you Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.” – James K. Polk

After looking through quote sites and reading Polk’s inaugural address, I found that this guy really never said anything to inspire the average person. I picked this quote because it was the last thing he said before he died, which I found touching.

Incidentally, there’s another Polk quote I’d like to analyze here – though I couldn’t choose it as his inspiring quote because it’s actually very stupid. Marvel at Mr. Polk’s tenacity:

“I prefer to supervise the whole operations of Government myself rather than entrust the public business to subordinates and this makes my duties very great.” – Polk

Polk is considered to be one of the better presidents in American history, but I find this line of thinking to be pretty dumb. Perhaps he never read The Wealth of Nationswhich explained quite clearly how specialization and teamwork were the catalysts for all of our technological and economic advances.

If anything, learn from his mistaken ideals. You’re not Superman, and neither am I. None of us can do everything, so learning to delegate responsibilities is crucial.

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“It would be judicious to act with magnanimity towards a prostrate foe.” – Zachary Taylor

Like W.H. Harrison, Zachary Taylor apparently thought brevity and clarity were qualities embodied only by idiots. I don’t think I could come up with a more complicated way to say, “It might be nice to not kick a guy when he’s down” if I tried.

Still, it’s good advice. You never know when it’ll be you down on the ground, hoping your foe decides to be nice to you.

This applies both literally and figuratively. Hopefully you’ll never have to be in a real, physical fight, but it can happen. More likely, though, is the chance that you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ve just proven a friend wrong and would now like to gloat.

This is the situation where Taylor’s advice would be good to think about, as it’s so easy to add insult to ignorance and make fun of your friend.

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“An honorable defeat is better than a dishonorable victory.” – Millard Fillmore

Doesn’t Millard Fillmore look like a fatter version of Alec Baldwin? I think he does.

That aside, the man speaks truth. Winning by illegitimate means has a way of coming around a biting you in the ass. Lance Armstrong has been learning that the hard way lately…

Not only that, but you simply don’t get the satisfaction of victory when you won dishonorably. It takes all the fun out of it and makes you a douche.

Takeaway of the day for this one: don’t screen-peek. Though, if you’re still playing games that even give you the option of screen-peeking, you’ve already won 😉

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“Frequently the more trifling the subject, the more animated and protracted the discussion.” – Franklin Pierce

I can’t remember the last time I had a heated or argumentative discussion about anything important. However, I can name off several times I’ve had such discussions about crap that really doesn’t matter.

I think this is a common thing; when people realize there’s an important discussion at hand, they take the time to calm themselves and think through their responses well.

But when the topic is something stupid or trite, we often don’t think to do that – and as a result, we can end up yelling at our friends. It may not seem like this matters all that much, as the discussion isn’t about something important; however, I believe the way our day-to-day discussions play out leaves an impact.

Because of this, I try to think about my responses with as much care in unimportant discussions as I do in important ones. When my friends do this too, we all realize that we’re much less annoyed with each other all the time.

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“The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.” – James Buchanan

Even though Buchanan isn’t considered to be one of our greatest presidents (far from it, actually), I really like this quote from him.

I think it’s really important to be frequently reminded that each of us is capable of great things. I’ve seen people who weren’t doing much with their lives make great turnarounds and accomplish big things – all it took was support and motivation from good friends who set an example.

Being a leader doesn’t mean put greatness into others. As Buchanan eloquently puts it, that greatness is inside each of us. The job of a leader  is to set an example and provide the motivation and support that causes us to see the greatness inside ourselves and work to bring it out.

In this way, a leader helps us to overcome self-doubt and clears the path for us to achieve on our own. The pave the way for us to move forward, instead of pulling us themselves.

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“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be” – Abraham Lincoln

As one of our greatest presidents, Lincoln had a lot of great quotes that I wanted to list. It was a challenge to choose just one. However, this one stuck out to me, as I believe it offers particularly useful insight for students.

After reading this quote, I want you to think about your life as it is right now. With your current living situation, your friends, your income level… everything. Are you happy?

I know I am. Sure, I have goals and aspirations – tons of them, in fact. But at a base level, I am very happy living in my $300/mo apartment with my friends, driving my ’98 Malibu, and using a $10 knife set from Wal-Mart to cook my food.

If you find that you’re happy with your current life as well, then ask yourself this: is it really necessary to add a bunch of new material possessions to your life when you graduate? Is it really necessary to compromise on where you want to live, your working conditions, etc – just for an extra $5000 a year added to your salary?

Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be. A big house and a huge-ass TV generally won’t change that level of happiness, so please don’t grow up to be like so many other adults, trapped in a mountain of crap they don’t need and debt they can’t pay off.

Also, watch I’m Fine, Thanks sometime before you graduate.

Andrew Johnson
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“The goal to strive for is a poor government but a rich people.” – Andrew Johnson

Ok, I’ll be honest here: I couldn’t really found anything Andrew Johnson ever said that could be construed as “inspiration” to the individual. Most of what he said had to do with the government or presidential matters themselves.

However, I’ll try my hand at twisting this quote into something useful:

If you were to apply this goal to a company, you could say it this way: The goal is to provide value to customers and stakeholders first, and get paid second. 

That’s not really “keeping yourself poor”, but the priorities are the same. You’re not a company, but you can think along the same lines. Focus on providing value and helping people first. Only then should you worry about getting paid.

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“The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most.” – Ulysses S. Grant

I don’t think I’ve written about this yet, but one of the things I often explain verbally to other students is the difference between friends and business contacts. 

Basically, a business contact is someone who is there for you when there is something mutually beneficial binding you together. That’s about it.

By contrast, a friend is someone who’s with you because they truly like you for who you are – not what you can do for them. Friends can be incredibly helpful in business, but they’re also there for you in your personal life and – perhaps most importantly – they’re not going to abandon you when things go wrong or get tough. You can’t say the same for a business contact.

I got this idea from Colin Wright’s amazing book Networking Awesomely, by the way. You should read it.

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“It is the debtor that is ruined by hard times.” – Rutherford B. Hayes

As you may have gathered by my interpretations of Lincoln’s and Tyler’s quotes, you can color me not a huge fan of debt. I absolutely hate it. 

We live in a debt-run society, it seems; almost everyone has debt of some kind. We’ve even been indoctrinated to believe that debt can be a good thing, which is absolutely asinine. I don’t care who disagrees with me: purchasing a house is not an “investment”.

If you want a house for the right reasons – you want to own your own property, you want to build shit on said property, you want lots of room for kids/dogs/your WarHammer 40k figure collection, then by all means get one. But don’t be tricked into thinking it’s an investment and don’t get one just because someone else expects you to. Fuck what other people expect. Do what makes you happy.

Oh, and debt is certain to make you unhappy, whatever it’s for. Our brains don’t like having to constantly be reminded that we’re owe someone part of our livelihood.

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“I have had many troubles in my life, but the worst of them never came.” – James A. Garfield

I absolutely love this quote. It’s a simple reminder that most of the worrying we do in life really isn’t necessary. Most of the horrible things we worry about don’t ever happen.

When is the last time you got bit by a black widow? How about the last time the earth was destroyed by a meteor (I guess we had a close call recently). These are things I have seen people I know legitimately worry about. While there is a possibility of them happening, it’s not worth worrying about.

Or how about travel worries? Americans specifically are some of the most worried and fearful people when it comes to travelling. Just read Benny Lewis’ post on how stupidly afraid Americans are if you want proof. You can read countless traveler’s accounts to see how unfounded those fears are.

So try not to worry about stuff that likely won’t happen. As long as you exercise common sense, you’re going to be fine. Use your precious brainpower to focus on doing and living, not worrying.

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“Men may die, but the fabric of our free institutions remains unshaken.” – Chester A. Arthur

This quote may have been a bit more true during Arthur’s time than our own; however, it’s still something that’s important to think about.

Maybe this quote doesn’t provide any direct inspiration or motivation for your personal life, but it does something else that’s vital: it reminds us to think about the men and women who have died to protect our freedoms.

Throughout the ages, these people have fought for what they believed in. They fought to protect us – to protect the institutions that enable you and I to do the things we can do today.

The next time you book a trip, buy something you want, or simply post a status on Facebook, stop and remember the people who have made those actions possible for you.

Ben Harrison
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“Great lives never go out; they go on.” – Benjamin Harrison

I think Benjamin Harrison looks kind of like ole’ Ben Kenobi in this picture, and his quote sound like something Obi-Wan would probably say as well.

To me, this quote means that great people leave behind a legacy – something substantial that survives their own passing. This could be a system they helped to build that continues to help people, or something they wrote/said that inspires people, or simply a change they made in somebody’s life that led them to great things.

Leaving behind a legacy is something I think we should all think about. Many people get caught in the cycle of simply working to fulfill their own needs, which leads them to lose sight of what they actually care about. I know that I certainly don’t want to be trapped in that kind of cycle; I want to establish a vision for what I’ll leave behind when I die.

What about you?

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“Honor lies in honest toil.” – Grover Cleveland

I derive one simple word from this message: Create. Create, create, create.

Don’t wait for someone to hand something to you – go create value and get paid for it.. Don’t wait for a door to open up for you – open it yourself.

Even if things do randomly happen that work out in your favor, those are just lucky strokes. The true honor lies in what you actually create that helps others.

This is why I think aspiring to be a day-trader is a stupid goal: you’re simply moving money around for your own gain, without actually helping anyone or creating anything. If you’re doing it to generate capital for a later venture, that’s fine – but doing it simply for personal gain seems selfish and useless to me.

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“That’s all a man can hope for in his lifetime – to set an example… to be an inspiration for history.” – William McKinley

McKinley’s quote echoes Harrison’s (above); he’s basically saying that we should look to build a legacy with our lives.

Everyone who accomplishes great things of their own has role models that they look up to – people who came before them and accomplished great things in their own right.

In this way, we realize that our accomplishments aren’t only good for the tangible value they contribute on their own; they’re also indirectly valuable in the inspiration they provide to future achievers looking to their impact and deriving motivation for their own efforts from it.

Strive to make your own efforts provide this kind of value. Make them a beacon that helps others to progress down their own path as well.

Teddy Roosevelt
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“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” – Teddy Roosevelt

As you might be able to tell from my choice of the header picture for this post, TR is a huge inspiration to me. When it comes to the personal lives and habits of the presidents, TR’s are among the most well-known.

His practices of living a life of vigor, reading voraciously, and adventuring the outdoors are all things that I gained a lot of inspiration from and try to implement in my own life.

Out of every inspiring thing TR said, I liked this quote in particular. It reminds me to cultivate a spirit of caring for others, rather than to just seek to share my knowledge.

The people we remember and like the most are those who we know care about us. There is so much content out there, so much wisdom being offered – but the stuff we tend to listen to comes from the people who make us feel like we actually matter.

This is why my friend Pat Flynn has been so successful in the online business niche; while there are thousands and thousands of people out there giving advice on online business, Pat shows that he cares a lot about his readers – and they know it.

If you exhibit the same care for the people you offer your knowledge to, then they’re going to pay attention as well. We pay attention to those who exhibit attention to us.

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“Don’t write so that you can be understood; write so that you can’t be misunderstood.” – William Howard Taft

The ability to communicate clearly is an absolutely essential skills to have if you want to succeed in life. Sadly, however, many students leave college without good communication skills.

Employers frequently list communication skills near the top of the list of skills they want college graduates to possess. Unfortunately, they also say that these are the very skills they see missing from those same graduates. There’s a huge gap between what employers want and what they’re getting.

That’s why focusing on building strong communication skills can give you an incredible advantage in the job market. It’s not incredibly hard to build these skills. In fact, you’d be way ahead of the crowd if you learn to do three things:

  1. Write concise, effective emails (read this article and you’ll be better than 95% of the population)
  2. Give presentations that don’t put people to sleep (take a speech class and read through this presentation)
  3. Learn to listen effectively (and this means actively) – read this post to learn more

That last one is probably the most important one of the bunch, to be honest. I’d bet that most people immediately think of writing or speaking when they think about communication; however, listening is just as big a part of it.

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“I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.” – Woodrow Wilson

absolutely love this quote. It’s the complete antithesis of James K. Polk’s method of trying to manage the entire government on his own – Woodrow Wilson knew that it’s far more effective to delegate rather than to try to do everything yourself.

Nobody is an island; no one possesses all the skills they need to achieve their goals on their own. Yes, you must be the driving force behind your goals and dreams, but you’re going to have a much better time achieving them if you have people who can help you.

That’s why it’s important to start building a network. Get out and build relationships with people in your field, people who interest you, people you look up to, etc. Constantly be meeting and cultivating relationships.

Everyone is an expert at something, so if you have a network of lots of people, they can help you and you can help them. In this way, we can all get things done better and faster.

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“There can be no disguising everlasting truths.” – Warren G. Harding

Harding’s presidency was marred with scandals, corruption, and numerous cabinet members being sent to jail. Historians often consider Harding to be the worst president in American history because of this.

Perhaps Harding’s cabinet should have listened to his advice, particularly in reference to one specific, everlasting truth: Crime doesn’t pay.

Anyway, you’re probably not a criminal, much less part of a corrupt presidential cabinet. Still, there are everlasting truths that apply to you and me both. Here are just a few:

  • Gov’ment gonna take part of what we make
  • Some people aren’t going to like you
  • Things that seem too good to be true, are too good to be true

The important thing is that we don’t try to disguise these everlasting truths, because, as Harding says, it can’t be done. What we can do is make sure we’re prepared to face them.

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“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.” – Calvin Coolidge

Ask anyone who’s currently running an awesome business or doing something amazing just how they got there, and at some point during their story they’ll tell you how persistence played a big role in their success.

In regards to my own life, this very blog is the result of persistence. When I started out, I went almost a year getting around 30 views a day and no results whatsoever. I often thought of quitting, but I instead kept creating content and getting better.

That persistence eventually paid off, and resulted in my entire set of life goals changing drastically (for the better). I know for sure that if I hadn’t persisted, I wouldn’t be nearly as far as I am now.

I’ve seen a lot of friends start a project, only to quit or drop it for something new before it has any time to gain traction. I think this happens because we’re hardwired in this generation to want immediate results. However, that’s not how it works.

Yes, there are techniques for getting results faster. Simply being fucking amazing is one of them. Still, it takes time and consistent effort to become successful. You must persist.

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“Words without actions are the assassins of idealism.” – Herbert Hoover

If you’ve been reading every entry thus far and haven’t been skipping around, you’ll probably notice a trend here: people who become president are pretty big fans of taking action.

This makes a lot of sense; to get to be the one person who leads a country, you’re probably going to have to take action quite a bit. Each of the men who have held the office know that very well, and they probably attribute their achievement to it more than anything else.

Burn Hoover’s words into your mind, young padawan. We hear big talk all the time:

  • “I’m gonna start working out every day from now on!”
  • “I’m gonna build my own website this week!”
  • “I’m gonna beat every world on Super Meat Boy!

Talk is cheap. Show me what you actually did. Because if you don’t actually do what you say you’ll do, then you’ll never beat Super Meat Boy. And that means you’ll never be on my level, chump.

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“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Think of the last time you worked your ass off to do something. The last time you stayed up all night working on  a project, downing Red Bulls and working intently the finish.

When you finished, it felt good, didn’t it? You know it did!  The feeling of creating something with your own hands is absolutely amazing. It’s so much better than simply being handed something. You appreciate is so much more.

That’s why people often refer to projects they’ve started as their “baby”. They care so much about it because they brought it from nothing into something substantial.

Conversely, people don’t often appreciate things they buy quite as much. Here’s an example: there have been numerous times when I’ve followed a blog, and then saw the creator sell it to someone else. 9 times out of 10, the blog gets worse and often ends up failing. I think this is because the person who bought it just can’t muster the passion to keep it up because he/she didn’t make it.

If you’ve never created anything substantial for yourself – if you’ve only worked to maintain things created by others – then I highly suggest starting your own side project. Build an app, a treehouse, a coffee table – anything. Just decide to create something and then create it. The feeling of completion is unlike any other.

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“The only things worth learning are the things you learn after you know it all.” – Harry S. Truman

Shakespeare once said, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” A person can be both a fool and wise during their lifetime, and it is at the transition point where Truman’s advice takes root.

It’s only once you realize that you don’t know it all that you truly being to learn. Put in different words, this basically means that our natural arrogance and over-confidence in our own knowledge often blinds us to the truth.

Usually we have to make mistakes and fail in order to realize how foolish we truly are. In these moments, we are able to set our pride aside to truly learn something.

When you fail at something – be it a class, a job, or a relationship – simply focus on what you can learn from the situation. Your failure enables you to see without pride of arrogance.

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“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

You’re now going to hear a story about a certain file that resides on your good friend Tom’s computer. The file’s name is Program of Study.xlsx, and I created it when I was a freshman.

This file was my attempt to completely remove my dependence on my academic advisor. In it is a listing of all the classes I planned to take every semester of college. There are reminders of all my major requirements, highlighted rows to notate classes that are part of my major path, and formulas to calculate how many credits each semester contains and whether the plan meets all credit requirements.

It is a masterpiece of planning. It also looks nothing like it did when I was a freshman. That’s right – that meticulous course plan I laid out during my freshman year changed substantially as I continued my education.

I added a minor during my sophomore year, then dropped it this year when I realized I didn’t need it. I dropped out of the Honors program last summer when I realized the benefits didn’t equal the time investment. My interests changed, and the classes I took did as a result. With each change, my monolithic Excel document changed as well. Now that I’m a senior, it’s completely different. The plan was nothing.

However, the whole process of making this document made it so that I knew exactly what I needed to do to graduate. While other students were oblivious, relying on their advisor to tell them what to take, sometimes forgetting and having to do additional semesters – I was always on top of it and never spent a minute worrying. Planning is everything.

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“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction” – John F. Kennedy

This quote from Kennedy builds right off of the previous one from Eisenhower. It’s some incredible insight – we must make sure we have a purpose, an ultimate goal to work towards – otherwise our efforts are nothing.

The best thing I can think to tie this quote to is your end goal in college itself. See, I’ve heard way too many students say, “I’m just hoping to get a job when I graduate.”

Often, that’s where the goal stops. They don’t know where they want to live, they don’t know why they’re even in their major – sometimes they just went with what their parents chose for them. All they know is that college should land them a job and help them make money.

I call that lack of purpose. Just wanting to graduate and get a job is barely a goal. Get specific! Figure out why you’re studying what you’re studying, and study something else if you can’t think of a reason. Ask yourself what you want to do with this knowledge. Develop an actionable plan to get to that end goal that isn’t just “get good grades and graduate”.

Maybe that plan will even lead you to take time off of college to pursue something awesome (like my friend Leo did). Maybe it’ll lead you to study abroad. Maybe not. In any case, you’ll know why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Once you have direction behind your efforts, you’ll find that they pay off a lot more.

Lyndon Johnson
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“Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one” – Lyndon B. Johnson

…and, on a related note, any jackass can put you down and tell you that you suck. Any jackass can tell you that you’re going to fail, that you’re not good enough.

But it takes a good person to build you up and help you keep pushing forward.

In any case, success is something you define. It’s not defined by the words of others. You are the only person who can say whether you’ve succeed or failed. Still, it’s nice to hear encouraging words or constructive criticism from time to time.

On the flip side, you can make the conscious choice to be a good person as well. Provide encouragement to your friends who are working towards their own goals. Give them feedback when they need it. Help them, just as others help you.

As Red Green says, “I’m pulling for ya.”

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“A man is not finished when he’s defeated. He is finished when he quits.” – Richard Nixon

Remember Coolidge’s quote about persistence? This is simply another reminder. Nothing can take the place of persistence.

When you’re working towards your goals, you can bet a talking koala’s left buttcheek that you’re going to run into setbacks. You’re going to fail every once in a while. It happens.

What really counts is whether you keep going or not – whether you persist. Doing so will ensure that your failure does not define you. You simply work through it and keep going until you eventually succeed.

The only true defeat comed when you decide to give up and quit. Now, quitting isn’t always a bad thing; sometimes you’ll realize that you do need to change your goal. However, usually you simply need to have the courage to keep going.

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“Tell the truth, work hard, and come to dinner on time.” – Gerald Ford

This sounds like the advice some typical dad on TV Land would give to his kid while reading a newspaper and smoking a pipe. Well, even if that’s the case, it’s true.

Let me lay some cold, hard facts on you, son. If you don’t tell the truth, you go to jail for running a Ponzi scheme. If you don’t work hard, you turn into some sort of tuber lodged in a couch cushion. But worst of all…

If you don’t come to dinner on time, your food gets cold. That’s right, cold food. The worst fate anyone could ever wish on their greatest enemy.

Have you ever tried eating Easy Mac when it’s cold? The cheese gets all hard and stale… ugh, I’m shuddering just thinking about it.

Do yourself a favor and write down Gerald Ford’s advice. In fact, give your local tattoo parlor some business and get it permanently imprinted on your arm. Come to dinner on time. The fate of the world depends on it.

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“It’s not necessary to fear the prospect of failure, but to be determined not to fail.” – Jimmy Carter

When you’re determined not to fail, why would you have to be afraid of that eventuality in the first place? That outcome is not a possibility in your mind.

Contingency planning is important; it’s vital that you at least think about what could happen if your current plans fail. As Eisenhower said, planning is everything. Make sure you know what you’d do if the shit hit the fan.

However, once that plan is set in your mind, you should put out the prospect of failure and tell yourself you’re going to win. The fear of failure is useless. It can only paralyze you. Banish it and keep moving forward.

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“We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone” – Ronald Reagan

Some of the best personal brand advice I ever got, I heard from Dan Schawbel: “Get specific, find your niche, and become the go-to person in it.”

This is incredibly important. It’s impossible to be all things to all people, as Reagan says in this quote. However, we can become the go-to person in one area and help the people seeking guidance in that area.

Now that the Internet is everywhere, it’s easier than ever to get ultra-specific. Since geographical barriers no longer hold us back, we can focus on a singular passion and help people from all over the world in it.

So don’t worry that your interests are too small to be significant. Whatever your passion, there’s probably an audience out there in it who you can help.

H W Bush
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“We are not the sum of our possessions.” – George H.W. Bush

I think this is an incredibly important idea to think about. The shit we own does not define us. Right now, this might seem obvious – but that’s because most of us are poor students and don’t own much.

As we get older, though, there will be mounting pressure to own things. Oh, looks like your freshman roommate just bought a house. Jimmy’s kid is going to Harvard. The Barker’s lawn looks better than ours. Our TV is six inches smaller than the neighbors’ – shit man, we need to rethink our lives if we can’t even have the same size TV that they have!

Silly as it seems now, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of defining your life by the stuff you own. Whether it’s shopping forever to find a car that “represents you”, or obsessing over how smart and geeky the books on your shelf make you look – it’s all stupid. None of it matters. As I learned, experiences mean much more.

Our possessions don’t define us. That’s a job reserved for our actions.

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“Character is a journey, not a destination.” – Bill Clinton

In high school, I was a very emotionally insensitive person. I would often just say what was on my mind and not really think about how it would make people feel. As a very logical person, it was hard for me to empathize with people; I’d often just spit out a solution to their problems even when they really just wanted emotional support.

Today, I still struggle with that same attitude. I’m still very logical and solution-driven, and I still have trouble providing emotional support. However, I’ve gotten better. I made (and am still making) a conscious effort to be more empathetic, and my efforts have paid off somewhat.

I’m not at the ideal point, and but I’ve definitely come a long way. It’s ok that I’m not perfect, because personal development is really a journey. We don’t just reach some “perfect point”. Nothing alive is complete.

You probably have personal traits you want to cultivate, or maybe to get rid of. Realize that you’re never going to get to a point of perfection, but you can improve. Be mindful of your actions and seek to constantly get closer to your ideal state. If you’re making progress, then you’re successful.

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“I care what 51 percent of the people think about me.” – George W. Bush

As a politically neutral person, I found it very hard to find anything Dubya ever said that was inspiring or useful to an individual person. Most of the things he’s been quoted on were either stupid and nonsensical or related to the war on terror (or both – cue my favorite Bushism ever).

However, this quote struck me as useful. Even though he probably didn’t mean for it to inspiring, it reminded of something important: you can’t please everyone. 

In fact, attempting to please everyone usually results in you being boring – and then you really don’t please everyone. So remember to simply do what you’re called to do and try to help someone – even though you can’t help everyone. Even Morgan Freeman isn’t loved by everyone (strange, I know) – so don’t feel bad if you’re not either.

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“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.” – Barack Obama

Well said, Mr. Obama. Well said.

This is a message that I want everyone to remember. If you take nothing else away from this post, let is be this: You gotta do work. It’s unavoidable: if you want something to happen, you’ve gotta make it happen.

So many of the quotes on this list echo this idea. That wasn’t an accident; I believe so much in this principle of taking action that I wanted to re-iterate it through many different voices.

Whether you want to get a certain grade in a class, land your dream job, start a business, whatever – you are the person that is going to make it happen. Not your professor, not your career counselor, not a recruiter… you. 

Sure, there will be people that help you along the way. There’s scarily little that we can do on our own – but we must be the driving force behind our goals. Figure out your goals, make a list, and actively work towards them. Make it happen.

Kid President
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“The world needs you to not be boring today. Got it?” – Kid President

I don’t know where Kid President came from or who’s behind the whole idea, but I absolutely had to add him.

Kid President might not actually lead a nation, but he’s certainly inspiring a lot of people. Just check out this video (which I discovered on Steve Kamb’s blog):

This video instantly went on my favorites list, and I watch it often. The kid’s simple message of not being boring and doing something awesome is one that I think we all need to be reminded of often.

Boom. We did it – 44 quotes from 43 actual presidents… and one internet president.

Hopefully this post has inspired you to do something great in your own life. Maybe it’ll also get you interested in history and motivate you to read up on some of these presidents – I certainly got caught up in reading while doing the research for it!

Now… go put some of these principles into action.


This post took over 18 hours to research, curate, and write. Would you be kind enough to take a second to share it? There’s some handy-dandy buttons on the left you can use to do just that, and inspire someone else to make a change in their own life 🙂