Inspirational quotes are great. Who doesn’t feel more motivated after reading, “If the wind doesn’t serve, take to the oars,” or “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it?” But I’ve noticed one of two things happens after I read an inspirational quote: Either I promptly forget about it, or I repeat it so often it loses all of its meaning.

For example, whenever something bad happened, I used to tell myself, “It’s all okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” When I first heard this, I found comfort in remembering all the times I’d experienced “total disasters” that eventually worked out. However, after years of thinking, “It’s all okay in the end,” it had become an automatic, rote response that didn’t mean anything.

Contrastingly, when I read “Be the change you want to see in the world,” I thought, “That’s great! I’m going to be the change!”—and promptly forgot about it. I didn’t do anything differently, and there was no point.

Then, I got an idea. I’d pick one inspirational quote and live by that quote—for one week. After the seven days was up, I’d choose a new quote. Focusing on one mantra at a time would give me focus, and I’d switch often enough that they’d maintain their impact.

For my first week, I went with the Latin proverb, “Be a fountain, not a drain.” Basically, I’d enrich others’ lives by being happy or cheerful or helpful, rather than deplete them with pettiness, cruelty, or apathy. Mastering the balance between my selfish and selfless tendencies is always a challenge—but I found having this proverb constantly running through my mind made a difference.

When a woman who works for an online professional profile site emailed me and asked if we could talk about my career path as a writer, I was tempted to say no. After all, the idea of giving up a half hour during an insanely busy time for no clear reward wasn’t appealing. (I’m not proud!) Then I remembered I was supposed to be fountain-ing, so I said yes. To be completely transparent, something beneficial did come out of it: The woman offered to feature me on the site’s blog, which may help me score more writing gigs.

The mantra worked for smaller things, too, like not complaining to my co-workers about the dirty dishes left in the sink or deciding to pick up flowers for someone I knew had been super stressed.

Then, just as I was getting used to thinking about fountains versus drains, the week was up and it was time to pick a new quote. I decided to go with Wayne Gretzsky’s “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

This quote inspired me to do something I’d been debating about for a while—ask for a raise from one of the publications to which I contribute. I definitely felt the pieces I’d submitted had gotten much stronger over time and therefore merited higher compensation. However, I needed Gretzsky’s wisdom for that final motivation to ask.

And—I didn’t get the raise. Not because I didn’t deserve more money, my editor said, but because there just wasn’t room in the budget. However, he promised we’d talk again in five or six weeks.

In the spirit of taking more shots, I also applied to several internship positions that sounded amazing but that I wasn’t fully qualified for and invited a professional to coffee.

I’ve gotten to the second rounds of the internships, and the coffee meetup was great. The woman works at a local company I’m interested in, and our conversation helped me get a better feel for its values and vibe. If I decide to apply for a job there after graduation, that knowledge will definitely come in handy.

Over the next weeks, I lived according to “By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail” (I tried to be hyper-organized), “There is always room at the top,” (I tried to focus on collaboration, not competition), and “The most effective way to do it, is to do it” (I tried to put the kibosh on procrastination).

Each quote helped me zero in one specific facet of my work life—yet I noticed even after moving on from a philosophy, its effects would linger. When I have the opportunity to help someone, even though if won’t help me, I’m more likely to say yes because I was so happy I’d helped that woman during my fountain week. I developed some great organization techniques from my “preparing to fail” week. I’ve started responding to emails right after I read them, thanks to my “just do it” week.

It’s been a great exercise, and I’m feeling plenty inspired.

If you want to follow my lead, check out my most successful strategies:

  • Write the quote in your weekly planner, so you see it every time you look at your schedule.
  • Stick a Post-it note of the quote on your desk or mirror, which is great for starting and ending the day with a reminder.
  • Take a little extra time to pick quotes that really resonate with you and are broad enough to apply to various situations.

These 50 career quotes are perfect for starting your challenge. Bonus: They’re pretty enough to use as your phone background (another great way to have a constant reminder of your mantra for the week).

Please tweet at me if you decide to try the exercise. I’d love to hear what quotes you use and the results you get!


Photo of inspirational quote courtesy of Shutterstock.