Note: this essay has been modified from its original form

Growing up, I spent my summers holed up in the gym, training gymnastics for up to 6 hours a day. When I wasn’t in the gym I was doing math problems or practicing Chinese characters. Or preparing for SAT’s (did 10 full tests one summer). Or reading personal development books like 7 Habits for Highly Effective People and writing personal mission statements. That wasn’t normal.

In high school, there were days where I’d:

  • wake up at 7am
  • go to school till 3pm
  • stay after class to work with my high school gymnastics team till 4:30pm
  • drive to my “real” gymnastics practice at 5pm
  • do serious and intense training until 9-9:30pm
  • get home at 10pm
  • shower, eat dinner, and START doing my homework at 11pm.

That wasn’t normal.

Sometimes I wish I had a more normal life growing up. I wanted desperately to watch more TV shows, play video games, and perhaps even get a girlfriend somehow. I wanted to fit in – you know – like a normal kid.

But then I realized that there were other things about my life that weren’t normal. Making the Jr National Team. Being named Boston Globe Gymnast of the Year 3 times in a row. Getting a 1580 out of 1600 on my first (and only) taking of the SATs. Being selected as the graduation speaker for a 2000+ student high school. None of that was normal either.

If you want to win or succeed in something – you’ve got to be willing go against the grain. The truth is, winners do what losers won’t. World champion climber Patxi Usobiaga goes months without a single off day. What kinds of unreasonable, abnormal and irrational things are YOU doing to ensure that you get results that blow people away?

You look at people who are extremely successful and I can almost guarantee there is at least something very weird or different about them They have attitudes, habits, ideas and tendencies that are very abnormal. And that makes total sense. Because [redacted].


NOTE: The Rejection Therapy iPhone app just came out. Now you can access a plethora of rejection ideas and stay on track with your challenge with your phone! Get it here.

Jason and I had a chance to interview a really cool gal for this week’s Rejection Therapy Podcast. Veronica Davis started doing Rejection Therapy in part to improve her ability to run her environmental consulting business – . She was a pleasure to interview and had some great insights into things like asking for help, earning new business as a small firm and getting free stuff.

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I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself.

Marlene Dietrich

I really enjoy collection quotations and feature quotes heavily on my site. [1] Dietrich makes a great point here – good quotations are linguistic delights that you wish you had written/spoken. In addition, I believe that short, declarative statements often a stronger impact/impression on a reader than a long drawn out passage.

In this essay, I seek to draw out some of the salient issues addressing the power and danger of using quotations to express ideas and then share some advice on how how to best quote and be quoted.

The Power of Quotes

A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week. — General George S. Patton
Some people follow their dreams, others hunt them down and beat them mercilessly into submission. — Neil Kendall [2]
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. — Ben Franklin

These are some of my favorite quotes – you’ll notice they all deliver a strong message with a clear point of view. These words compel the reader to respond in some fashion – you cannot read them and thing “eh”. Reading quotes like these motivate me to get after it. This is the power of of a great quotation.

The power is not just in the words though, but in their author. Patton had to make decisions that would affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and determine the fate of nations – his claims about plan vs execution carry great weight. Ben Franklin’s quote is great because not only was he himself was a multi-talented individual who both WROTE and DID.

In this blog I hope to write things that are someday quoted and do things that are someday written about. But as anyone who’s ever appeared in a newspaper, quotations can be dangerous things.

The Danger of Quotes

They can be dangerous because they can be taken out of context. They can, in the hands of the careless, misrepresent the author, and in the hands of unscrupulous, defame or discredit them. Without the groundwork that the author laid prior to the specific passage being quoted, or the environment in which the statement was released, we lose valuable information about exactly what the author was trying to say.

I quoted Sebastian Marshall in a widely-linked post he wrote on bullying where he told his unborn son that people teasing him was fine, but that

As soon as someone puts their hands on you, they’ve crossed a line. Fuck them up. It’s the only thing these vicious freaks understand.

He commented later that it was odd to see himself being quoted and that while agrees with what was being said, it represented him at his “top 1% assertiveness”. I liked the sentiment. It was strongly worded no doubt – and might be considered a bit of an extreme response to some light physical harassment. But the post was written as a response to the Memoirs of a Bullied Kid, where the author, after being mercilessly bullied for years, still advocated a very warm, loving approach to bullying. In this context, the quote was spot on. [3]

Now Sebastian is returning the favor and quoting me in an email I sent him where I said:

Liked the post on being quoted – and you’d better get used to it – it’s going to keep happening to you. There are three ways that any work is interpreted – the way the artist intended, the way it is received by his/her audience, and the way history reflects upon it’s impact. You only have control over the first.

This idea is not an original. [4] Seth Godin just wrote a post on being misunderstood. His solution – prepare for it and repeat yourself. The point is – quotes and creative work in general affect different people in different ways – and especially when used out of context, quotes can be used to

How to Quote or Be Quoted

So ultimately some thoughts on quotations:

    If you are quoting someone – do your best to understand what that person was trying to say. If possible read the entire passage/text or listen to the full speech. If relevant, seek to understand the political/social landscape at the time and place the quote happened.

    If you are being quoted – understand that being misunderstood is a fundamental aspect of putting creative work into the world. Be prepared to clarify/rephrase your thoughts and simply accept that not everyone will take your words to mean what you intend.


[1] I am aware of the difference between a quote and a quotation, but as many do, I will use the terms interchangeably on this site.

[2] I like this quote so much I put it on my personal business card!

[3] This may be, in part, because it’s the advice I needed to hear growing up. I was skinny, nerdy and not interested in sports as a kid and I got harassed verbally and physically. The few times I fought back resulted in much better outcomes than just ignoring it … though I never did try putting my arm around the bullies as the author of Memoirs of a Bullied Kid advocates.

[4] I am a little hesitant to even have Sebastian “quoting” my email as I think my “three interpretations” comes from something I read by another, wiser, author. But then again, I must accept that many all my thoughts/ideas (and those of others) stem either directly or indirectly from things we’ve read.