Literary Life Lessons from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

May 24, 2018
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Listen to episode 268 of the Inspirational Living podcast: Literary Life Lessons from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Edited and adapted from The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe.

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Today’s reading was edited and adapted from The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe. Translated by T. Bailey Saunders, and published in 1906.

THERE is nothing worth thinking but it has been thought before; we must only try to think it again. In the works of humankind, as in those of nature, it is really the motive which is chiefly worth our attention.

How can you come to know yourself? Never by thinking, but only by doing. Try to do your duty, and you will know at once what you are worth. But what is your duty? The claims of the day.

Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are. If I know what your business is, I know what can be made of you.

Every person must think after their own fashion — for on your own path you find a truth, or a kind of truth, which helps you through life. But you must not give yourself free rein; you must control yourself. Mere naked instinct does not become you. Unbridled activity, of whatever kind, leads at last to bankruptcy.

In Botany there is a species of plants called Incomplete; and just in the same way, it can be said that there are people who are incomplete and imperfect. They are those whose desires and struggles are out of proportion to their actions and achievements. The most insignificant person can be complete if they work within the limits of their capacities (innate or acquired). But even fine talents can be obscured and destroyed by lack of this indispensable requirement of symmetry.

It is only men and women of practical ability, knowing their powers and using them with moderation and prudence, who will be successful in worldly affairs. It is a great error to take yourself for more than you are — or for less than you are worth.

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