To accomplish anything of significance, it helps to know a few things and to create a plan. As obvious as that seems, many people impatiently rush to the action part. Sometimes that works, but you really have a better chance of success if you invest the time upfront.
Below are some aphorisms in this vein from Baltasar Gracian’s The Art of Worldly Wisdom (Maurer translation) along with similar ones that I have heard and any thoughts I had. Their beauty lies in being easy to learn but hard to master.
33 – Know when to put something aside – One of life’s great lessons lies in knowing how to refuse, and it is even more important to refuse yourself, both to business and to others…it is worse to busy yourself with the trivial than to do nothing…All excess is a vice, especially in your dealings with others.
51 – Know how to choose – Most things in life depend on it. You need good taste and an unright judgment; intelligence and application are not enough…Two talents are involved: choosing and choosing the best.
89 – Know yourself – The key to everything
104 – Have a good sense of what each job requires – Far better are the jobs we don’t grow bored with, where variety combines with importance and refreshes our taste.
110 – Don’t wait to be a setting sun
Similar: Quit while you’re ahead; don’t wear out your welcome
121 – Don’t make much ado about nothing – Few bothersome things are important enough to bother with. Many things that were something are nothing if left alone, and others that were nothing turn into much because we pay attention to them.
Similar: Take it easy
139 – Know your unlucky days – On some days, everything goes badly; on others, well, and with less effort. Take advantage of such days, and don’t waste a moment of them.
140 – Go straight to the good in everything
Similar: Think positive; be optimistic
Thoughts: Everything has a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ side. Focusing on the negative just makes it harder to get anything done.
176 – Either know, or listen to someone who does – [M]any people are unaware that they do not know, and others think they know when they do not. Attacks of foolishness have no remedy…Asking advice won’t diminish your greatness or cast doubt on your talent.
198 – Know how to transplant yourself – Everything foreign is held in esteem, whether it came from afar, or because people see it only after it is well formed and has reached perfection.
Thoughts: In nature, seedlings cannot grow tall in the shadows of their parent. Sometimes you have to move away in order to spread your wings and fly. Part of it involves opportunities for personal growth, but the other part is acknowledgement, which Gracian discusses above.
200 – Have something to hope for – If all were possession, all would be disappointment and discontent. Even the understanding needs something else to learn, something curiosity can feed on.
Thoughts: Always set new goals after achieving old ones. Nothing is more dangerous than boredom; think of how many successful people proceeded to ruin their lives because they didn’t know what else to do.
229 – Parcel out your life wisely – Gracian’s suggestion: -What makes life pleasant is a variety of learning. For a beautiful life, spend the first act in conversation with the dead (books)-Spend the second act with the living: behold all that is good in the world. The third act belongs entirely to you.