There is a notion that genius is a celestial spark granted only to an elite few.

The cult of genius, which in the West began with the cult of Sir Isaac Newton, presents the genius as a magician, receptive to inspirations instantaneously brilliant. There are stories of Archimedes leaping from his bathtub, the entirety of hydrodynamics revealed to him; of Samuel Coleridge receiving the whole of Xanadu in an opium dream; of Einstein asking his childish question while on a streetcar.

Of course, some have greater mental powers than others. But genius is something more; genius cannot be something accomplished, it is a touch of insane grace with which one is born. Said William Hazlitt: "Men of genius do not excel in any profession because they labor in it, but they labor in it because they excel." And some geniuses get swept away by their own genius: Johann Wolfgang left many quotes about how things just ... came ... to him, like a gracious muse. (And asked by a customs officer what he had to declare, Oscar Wilde said, ``Only my genius.'')

A few psychologists, like William James, actually analyze genius as a rare capacity.

But here is a biased sample of quotes on genius, work, creativity, and time, that collectively may suggest another point of view. Notice that there are NO quotes by Goethe. Or Wilde either, for that matter.

Quotes on Work and Other Things


Little by little does the trick.

Slow and steady wins the race.

The gods help those that help themselves.

George Allen

People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don't know when to quit. Most men succeed because they are determined to.


Education is the best provision for old age.

What we learn to do, we learn by doing.

Henry Willard Austin:

Genius, that power which dazzles mortal eyes, is often perseverance in disguise.

Simone de Beauvoir:

One is not born a genius; one becomes a genius.

David Ben-Gurion:

The true right to a country --- as to anything else --- springs not from political or court authority, but from work.

Motto of the Benedictine Order:

To labor is to pray.

The Bible: Book of Proverbs:

In all labor there is profit ...

The Bible: Letter to the Galatians:

... for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

The Bible: General Epistle of Saint James:

But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the Earth, and hath long patience for it ...

Louis Brandeis:

Whatever liberates our spirit without giving us self-control is disastrous.

Edmund Burke:

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites ...

Samuel Butler:

He who knows he is infirm, and would climb, does not think of the summit which he believes to be beyond his reach but climbs slowly onwards, taking very short steps, looking below as often as he likes but not above him, never trying his powers, but seldom stopping, and then, sometimes, behold! He is on the top.

George Louis Leclerc de Buffon:

Genius is nothing but a greater aptitude for patience.

Eddie Cantor:

It took me twenty years to become an overnight success.

Thomas Carlyle:

All work, even cotton-spinning, is noble; work alone is noble.

Dale Carnegie:

Don't be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones will tend to take care of themselves.

Rubin `Hurricane' Carter:

Now, you say, that's big, that's difficult! Ain't nothing easy on this Earth. You've got to work for it. People want everything to come easy to them, but you've got to work for it. And money is not the only currency. You've got to pay for it with some of yourself. You've got to leave some of yourself there.

Dionysius Cato:

Patience is the greatest of the virtues.

Miguel de Cervantes:

Rome was not built in a day.


Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.

If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will feel sorrow close at hand.

Calvin Coolidge:

Work is not a curse, it is the prerogative of intelligence, the only means to manhood, and the measure of civilization.

Charles Darwin:

At no time am I a quick thinker or writer: whatever I have done in science has solely been by long pondering, patience, and industry.

Rene Descartes:

It is not enough to have a good mind: one must use it well.

Benjamin Disraeli:

Man is not the creature of circumstance. Circumstances are the creatures of men.

Patience is a necessary ingredient of genius.

Frederick Douglas:

If there is no struggle, there is no progress.

Thomas Alva Edison:

There is no substitute for hard work.

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

I never did anything by accident; nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work.

A genius is a talented person who does his homework.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.

I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.

It is astonishing what an effort it seems to be for many people to put their brains definitely and systematically to work.

Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.

Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That's not the place to become discouraged.

The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.

The value of an idea lies in the using of it.

There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.

We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything.

George Eliot:

Genius is at first little more than a great capacity for receiving discipline.

Thomas Stearns Eliot:

[Tradition] ... cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labor.

Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Every soul is potentially Genius, if not arrested.

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected ideas.


No thing great is erected suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig.

Henry Ford:

There will never be a system invented which will do away with the necessity for work.

Saint Francis of Asissi:

Patience is man's greatest joy.

Benjamin Franklin:

Genius without education is like silver in a mine.

Little strokes fell great oaks.

Thomas Fuller:

'Tis perseverence that prevails.

Henry George:

Nature gives wealth to labor, and only to labor.

Andre Gide:

Art begins with resistance --- at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor.

William (Bull) Halsey:

There are no great men, only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstances to meet.

Theodore Herzl:

The wealth of a country is its working people.


If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big.

Hindu proverb:

There is nothing noble in being superior to someone else. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.

Jane Ellice Hopkins:

Gift, like genius, I often think means only an infinite capacity for taking pains.

Thomas Hood:

Evil is wrought by want of thought as well as want of heart.


Life grants nothing to mortals without hard work.

Elbert Hubbard:

Constant effort and frequent mistakes are the stepping stones of genius.

Success is ten percent opportunity and ninety percent intelligent hustle.

Victor Hugo:

Thought is the labor of the intellect, reverie its pleasure. To replace thought by reverie is to confound food with poison.

Aldous Huxley:

If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.

William James:

Genius ... means little more than the faculty for perceiving in an unhabitual way.

Geniuses ... excel other men in their powers of sustained attention.

To be fertile in hypotheses is the first requisite [for creativity], and to be willing to throw them away ... is the next.

Samuel Johnson:

Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverence.

Carl Gustav Jung:

... the growth of the mind is the widening of the range of consciousness, and ... each step forward has been a most painful and laborious achievement.

The work in process becomes the poet's fate and determines his psychic development. It is not Goethe who creates Faust, but Faust who creates Goethe.

Rudyard Kipling

Gardens are not made by singing “Oh, how beautiful,” and sitting in the shade.

Ferdinand Lassalle:

Labor is the source of all wealth and all culture.

Abraham Lincoln:

You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish, if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

All things come round to him who will but wait.

The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.

Let us, then, be up and doing, with a heart for any fate; still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait.


Dripping water hollows a stone.

Henri Matisse:

I have always tried to hide my efforts, and wished my works to have the light joyousness of Springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost.

John Stuart Mill:

Art necessarily presupposes knowledge.

William Morris:

Art is man's expression of his joy in labor.

Isaac Newton:

Truth is the offspring of silence and unbroken meditation.

Anna Pavlova:

No one can arrive from being talented alone. God gives talent; work transforms talent into genius.

Pablo Picasso:

The picture is not thought out and determined beforehand, rather while it is being made it follows the mobility of thought.

George Plimpton: has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.

Alexander Pope:

The ease in writing comes from art, not chance, as those move easiest have learned to dance.

Pierre Joseph Proudhon:

The great are only great because we are on our knees.


The greatest strength and wealth is self-control.

William Shakespeare:

How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degree?

Truth is the daughter of time.

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

Percy Bysshe Shelly:

There is no real wealth but the labor of man.

Adam Smith:

It was not by gold or by silver, but by labor, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased.

Labor ... is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities.

Self-command is not only itself a great virtue, but from it all the other virtues seem to derive their principle luster.

Gertrude Stein:

It takes a lot of time to be a genius.

Leslie Stephen:

Genius is the capacity for taking trouble.

Tom Stoppard:

Imagination without skill gives us modern art.

Thomas Szasz:

An individual is the ned product of the decsions he has made.


Know thyself.

Anthony Trollope:

A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmadic Hercules.


Labor conquers everything.

Jan Walaeus:

Genius is an intuitive talent for labor.

Daniel Webster:

Labor is the great producer of wealth: it moves all other causes.

Allen Wheelis:

We create ourselves.

James McNeil Whistler:

Industry in art is a necessity --- not a virtue --- ... [but] any evidence of the same in the production, is a blemish, not a quality ...

Edward Young:

Procrastination is the thief of time.

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