7 Inspiring Quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson That Are Useful Today

Ralph Waldo Emerson's death on April 27, 1882 left a large void in the literary community.  Simply put, he had one impressive life. 

  • After graduating from Harvard, he was a Unitarian minister at Second Church in Boston.
  • He became a writer and a public speaker after being inspired in Britain through meetings with prominent writers of the time.
  • His literary style would ultimately influence major American writers such as Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau. 
  • He was one of the leading figures of Transcendentalism, a movement advocating a return to more spiritual thinking. 
  • He was an abolitionist, speaking out against slavery, and helping runaway slaves get to Canada via the Underground Railroad.

His inspirational writings are still relevant today, so we've gathered a few of Emerson's best quotes and mapped them to some of today's most common dilemmas.

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On brushing your shoulders off...


Emerson quote: "Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail."

Modern day translation: Get over your fear of failure. Then fail fast. And fail often.  But, go on, brush that dirt off your shoulders

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On dealing with haters...


Emerson quote: "Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage."

Modern day translation: Haters gonna hate. Learn how to deal with the criticism, be brave, and stay true to your vision and who you are.

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On doing your own thing...


Emerson quote: "None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone."

Modern day translation: Listen to your heart and the rest will follow.

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On thinking before doing...


Emerson quote: "The ancestor of every action is a thought. "

Modern day translation: Think hard before you act. 

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On hustling...


Emerson quote:  "Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved."

Modern day translation: Get excited about things that matter to you. Then do them well. Passion pays. 

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On fighting your fears...


Emerson quote: "A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer."

Modern day translation: Fake it 'til you make it.  Personal growth can come from going behind your safety net. 

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On not following the pack...


Emerson quote: "Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Modern day translation: Be a leader, not a follower.  Get out of your own way.