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5 powerful quotes from the most inspiring women

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What do you do when you are feeling down? Here’s what has worked for me recently: going on a walk by myself, listening to white noise and closing my eyes, spending time with my parents’ cat and reading inspirational speeches or commencement address.

If you are feeling particularly unmotivated today, here are the wise words from 5 extraordinarily inspiring women…

Michelle Obama on being afraid:

“If I could give my younger self just one piece of advice, it would be this: stop being so afraid! That’s really what strikes me when I look back – the sheer amount of time I spent tangled up in fears and doubts that were entirely of my own creation. I was afraid of not knowing the answer in class and looking stupid, or worried about what some boy thought of me, or wondering whether the other girls liked my clothes or my hair, or angsting about some offhand comment someone made to me in the lunchroom.

I would love to go back in time and tell my younger self, “Michelle, these middle and high school years are just a tiny blip in your life, and all the slights and embarrassments and heartaches, all those times you got that one question wrong on that test – none of that is important in the scheme of things.”

Instead what matters are the true friends you make, the activities you throw yourself into, the books you read, the skills and knowledge you acquire. Those experiences – the ones that make you stronger, smarter, and braver – are what really matter.”

Gloria Steinem on trusting yourself:

“When I’m asked what advice I would give to young women, I often say: “Don’t take my advice!” That’s the advice I would give you because the important thing is that you listen to your wisdom that’s inside yourself. Do what you love, do what makes you forget what time it is when you’re doing it because you love it so much. Find your unique talents, find the people who make you feel smart and make you feel good and hang out with them, because we all need that kind of support.”

J.K. Rowling on the benefits of failure:

“Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.”

Maya Angelou on the virtue of courage:

“It is upon you to increase your virtue, the virtue of courage – it is upon you. You will be challenged mightily, and you will fall many times. But it is important to remember that it may be necessary to encounter defeat. I don’t know. But I do know that a diamond, one of the most precious elements in this planet, certainly one in many ways the hardest, is the result of extreme pressure, and time. Under less pressure, it’s crystal. Less pressure than that, its coal, less than that, its fossilized leaves are just plain dirt.

You must encounter, confront life. Life loves the liver of it, ladies. It is for you to increase your virtues. There is that in the human spirit which will not be gunned down even by death. There is no person here who is over one year old who hasn’t slept with fear, or pain, or loss, or grief, or terror, and yet we have all arisen, have made whatever absolutions we were able to, or chose to, dressed, and said to other human beings: “Good morning. How are you? Fine, thanks.”

Eve Ensler on the future of humanity:

“The selling of girls is rampant across the planet. And in many places they are worth less than goats and cows. But I also want to talk about the fact that if one in eight people on the planet are girls between the ages of 10 to 24, they are they key, really, in the developing world, as well as in the whole world, to the future of humanity. And if girls are in trouble because they face systematic disadvantages that keep them where society wants them to be, including lack of access to healthcare, education, healthy foods, labor force participation. The burden of all the household tasks usually falls on girls and younger siblings, which ensures that they will never overcome these barriers.

The state of girls, the condition of girls, will, in my belief – and that’s the girl inside us and the girl in the world – determine whether the species survives. […] I’ve been talking to girls for five years, and one of the things that I’ve seen is true everywhere is that the verb that’s been enforced on girl is the verb “to please.” Girls are trained to please. I want to change the verb. I want us all to change the verb. I want the verb to be “educate,” or “activate,” or “engage,” or “confront,” or “defy,” or “create.” If we teach girls to change the verb we will actually enforce the girl inside us and the girl inside them.”

What do you think? Do you listen to TED talks, commencement address, or speeches?

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Comments (6)
  1. Hi! I agree that this kind of thing can be really motivating and inspiring – and I think that when someone with real life experience has written a whole speech on their argument (or just said more than the one or two sentences) this makes it more likely that there is something of substance in what’s being said, rather than with short, vague, and often unattributed quotations, which are often empty platitudes. I think it’s also important to measure “inspirational” by the resulting change – what patterns of thinking have been broken/formed by what was said? What habits? What systems?

    Reply
    • Pauline Massé 3 months ago

      Exactly, I think these words are especially powerful because they were pronounced by incredible people with incredible lives like Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, etc. I’m also curious about how we could measure the resulting changes, that’s quite interesting!

      Reply
      • I think that’s a tough one because with medium/big changes we make in our own lives (becoming vegetarian, starting a business, deciding to boycott a brand) there’s not always a single “eureka” moment we can link to something we heard or read. I do however, have multiple instances in my own life where this was the case for me. The TED talk about the best way to dry your hands with paper towels has made a long-term impact on me, for example!

      • Pauline Massé 3 months ago

        I had never heard about this TED talk, that is amazing!

      • The speaker is Joe Smith, and I think it’s on YouTube? Definitely on the TED site, as “how to use a paper towel”. It’s a really well-structured instructional talk too!

  2. theperfectwomanblog18 2 weeks ago

    This was very inspirational for me. To hear these quotes coming from women that made a difference in the world blows my mind even more.

    Reply

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