3 Motivational Quotes (that are hogwash)


Everyone loves a good motivational quote. These little bite-sized mantras have the power to refocus our attention and push us to achieve before unreachable goals. I’ve got one from Winnie the Pooh hanging by my front door, one above my cabinets, one usually on my whiteboard, and one each on my laptop and cell phone wallpapers.

"3 motivational quotes that are hogwash" by Hilary Thompson (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2017 Hilary Thompson. All rights reserved.

Have you heard this one before?

“If you want to be a miserable failure, just do what makes you happy.”

Yes, you read that right.

This opinion piece from a few weeks back got me thinking. It boils down to the fact that while we often tell ourselves and our children to “just do what makes you happy in life,” if you really want to be successful, you need to put in the hard work, get out of bed when you don’t want to, and maybe turn off Netflix next time it asks, “are you still there” instead of continuing the binge of Marvel’s Defenders.

The author had a good point. We’ve been told for so long that the key to happiness is finding what you love and doing that forever, but in reality, sometimes we have to work boring jobs, stay home amid mountains of diapers and laundry, and spend our money on monotonous things like bills instead of spending our time doing “what makes us happy.” There’s something to be said for learning to take joy in the seemingly meaningless tasks of our every day, but joy and happiness are not mutually exclusive.

Let’s take a look at a few other common motivational quotes that are actually more de-motivational once you look at them from a Catholic perspective, and then look at some better alternatives.

Motivational quote #1

It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

Despite what Miley Cyrus may say, it very much is “about what’s waitin’ on the other side” and it’s not about “the climb.” Hopefully, we all are planning on ending up in heaven. Our journey is only a small portion of what will be our immortal existence.

At its core, what this quote says is “it doesn’t matter where you end up, as long as you have fun getting there.” That’s not what our faith teaches us at all. I’m in the middle of St. Augustine’s Confessions; he describes the times when he was having fun as “his past foulness” and rejoices that he found God and a more sober life. He was much more focused on the destination than having fun during the journey.

Alternative Motivational Quote #1

Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Motivational Quote #2

Only God can judge me.

Now this one is a little trickier because it is kind of half true. God is the only person who can judge the soul of anyone. We have no business in labeling other people as sinners or saints. But … one of the spiritual works of mercy that we are called to is admonishing the sinner. So how does that work?

Well, we can’t judge the state of a person’s soul. However, we can see when they are doing something objectively wrong, and lovingly attempt to relieve them of their error. Back in September, we heard the Gospel from Matthew 18, where Jesus tells us just exactly how we should go about this (hint: it doesn’t involve vague facebook rants).

So sorry gangsta wannabes, if you’re doing sinful things, you can and should be called out on it.

Alternative Motivational Quote #2

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. (Galatians 6:1)

Motivational Quote #3

You’re perfect just the way you are.

This one always came off a little “Dr. Spock” to me. It’s probably one of the biggest culprits of the millennial snowflake phenomenon as well. It says why would you bother trying to change or improve? You are perfect just being you.

God loves each one of us in an infinite manner from the first moment of our existence. But I believe it was Matthew Kelly who pointed out that God loves us as if we already were the best possible version of ourselves. This perfection is what we have to strive for because we won’t be allowed into heaven until we achieve it.

My college buddy Mike Antonacci (who went on to spend five years as a FOCUS missionary) has a theory that life is like a down escalator. If you aren’t moving forward, you inevitably get pulled back. Telling someone that they are perfect and don’t need to try to improve just motivates them to drift backward in their journey towards God and heaven.

Alternative Motivational Quote #3

You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain”; “Don’t forget to be awesome”; “Be the good in the world”; “Hakuna Matata”… there’s a lot of great motivational quotes out there. But before we stick them on our walls or throw pillows, let’s always remember to think of how they bring us closer to or further away from God.

Are there any common motivational quotes you’ve come across that aren’t compatible with a life in Christ?

Copyright 2017 Hilary Thompson


About Author

Hilary Thompson is a young wife and mother of two boys in southeast Michigan. She has been an organist since she was twelve. When she grows up, she wants to be a 97-year-old church cleaning lady. You can find more of her work at Messy Buns & Latin Chant.

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