“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” — Socrates. Well, not that Socrates. But, you know, a fictional character who just happened to be dubbed Socrates in a decades-old international best-seller by Dan Millman. Quotes about change can be inspiring, but please mind your sources (and keep your misquotes to a disparity under two thousands years).
Quotable quotables. They’re not always what they seem. With the infinite game of telephone on the Interwebs, you’d think inspo predated humankind’s first monosyllabic grunts, so lazy is the sourcing. Perhaps, it all started with a fluffy sabre-toothed kitten scrawled on a cave wall in a petroglyphic version of “Hang in there!” arched over a fire pit, with a squiggle for “GRUNK” (the misassumed author) etched just to the side… a few thousand years later. Who knows? But hoorah to Grunk for being such an opportunist.
So when it comes to quotes about change, I’ve found most floating around the web not to be quotes at all, but misquotes and wishful attributions of the human spirit. Albeit, if Mahatma Gandhi never actually said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” does it really matter? Especially if the words capture the popular essence of his wisdom? Perhaps not.
Either way, Ellen Degeneres summed up this common phenomenon of “who was it again who said…” best:
I know there are going to be days where things don’t go as planned and that’s why I’ll always remember this quote: ‘Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have faith in what will be.’ And that is either from the Bible or Instagram, but either way it applies. — Ellen Degeneres on ‘The Ellen Degeneres Show’, May 2014
Contemplating quotes about change: Rethink change by rethinking how you write about it.
At ClearVoice, we believe in helping people create better content for a better world. And with every word you type, say, or think, you are engaging in the process of change and in the pursuit of changing people’s perspectives. Isn’t that what the best content is about?
So if you just Googled “quotes about change” expecting a quick list to slap on your social feed or to stencil on a throw pillow… Sorry, this post might not be the one for you. If you, like Google, only seem to recognize “quotes about change” as quotes that only have the word “change” in them, then you are missing out. But if you’re craving something more…
For this quotation roundup, I’ve curated a mix of straightforward and not-so straightforward sayings on the subject of change. So please read these following quotes about change in that light. This list isn’t your ordinary listlessly list-y listicle, but one to help you rethink how you use your words — and to change your idea of change itself as you consider creating new content.
I’ve done my best to correctly source each quote as well. No Grunk junk here.
Quotes about change and lessons on rethinking your words:
1. “E = mc2” — Albert Einstein
Contemplate change: An equation is a quote about change? Yes. I told you this wasn’t an ordinary listicle. In essence, the equation — energy equals mass times the speed of light squared — means mass can change into energy and energy can change into mass. Although there are plenty of nuanced variations (as a trolling physicist might note here), the revelation applies to every atom in our bodies, every speck of stardust, and to every twinkle of light in the known universe. It’s a mind-blowing statement about the potential of change. Much more mind-blowing than a Flavor Changing Unicorn Frappuccino on your Insta.
Rethink your words: No one can doubt that Einstein’s discoveries changed the way humankind views the world and the universe. And he did it with just three letters, one number, and one symbol. Think about that, oh wordy wordfolk. Even the simplest of statements can convey the most provocative secrets of the universe. It’s why, of all the breakthroughs in science, Einstein’s ditty remains the most etched in our psyches.
Source of this quote about change: “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?” submitted to the Annalen der Physik, Sept. 27, 1905. Note that the equation’s original format was m=E/c2. Learn more about Einstein’s big idea in this PBS video.
2. “Fashion is made to become unfashionable.” — Coco Chanel
Contemplate change: From learning to sew in an orphanage as a child to reigning over the runways of Paris as a self-made fashion icon, Coco Chanel embodied the every-evolving nature of fashion itself. Although the mentioned quote is just one plucked from her equally renowned legacy of one-liners, it’s a sassier version of the universal paradox: change is the only constant.
Taking this quip further, I’m sure Coco would agree that if have you style, it will show no matter the fashion of the day. If you have style, you should never fear of ever being out of fashion, or ever fear of change itself.
Rethink your words: You can take Coco’s witticism as medicine for writer’s block. In translation: Words are made to become unwritten. Or, rather, never write with the fear your words will be unwritten, unspoken, or unheard. Because at one point, after they’ve engaged the minds of others, they will be. It’s inevitable. But it’s the beauty of writing that ideas — like style — can persevere, no matter the words of the day. So always focus on your ideas first before getting lost in the verbal trappings of expressing them.
Source of this quote about change: Coco Chanel (Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel) in an interview with Life magazine, Aug. 19, 1957 (which happened to be her 74th birthday). Watch videos on the legacy of Chanel.
3. “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Contemplate change: Although history is filled with figures who have made their mark on this pale blue dot, few have been honored as an “agent of change” like Martin Luther King, Jr. If you could meditate upon one thing about change from his legacy, you could weigh how fundamental change is not a single event. Repeat: not a single event. Or even a series of events. Change is a way of thinking, of believing, and a perseverance of spirit — that can live beyond any one lifespan.
Rethink your words: Although few paths to positive change manage to avoid setbacks, the important lesson here is to expect temporary defeats but to not be demoralized by them. If your message is powerful enough, you can persevere. Stay grounded in the truth. Don’t give up.
Source of this quote about change: Martin Luther King, Jr., in his 1964 acceptance speech for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Learn more about his legacy via The King Center.
4. “I’d like to be a queen in people’s hearts… someone’s got to go out there and love people and show it.” — Diana, Princess of Wales
Contemplate change: One of Princess Di’s legacies was showing people compassion, “to go out there and love people and show it.” And she was beloved for speaking out — not just in words, but in actions — to help reduce the stigmas society falsely ascribes to the sick, the addicted, the impoverished, or the mentally ill. If you could recall just one example of countless many…
In the midst of the paranoia of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s — during a time when the general public falsely believed they could “catch AIDS” through casual contact — Diana would go to hospitals and physically embrace people and cradle children who were ostracized for being HIV+. Although today it might seem like a simple gesture, back then it was world news, such was the impact on changing the perception toward the deadly disease, which at the time had few treatment options.
Rethink your words: Not all topics covered by writers are easy. When writing about heavy topics, such as serious illness or social conditions, especially remember to write as if you are listening, not as if you’re speaking or judging. Listening is the most basic form of compassion, and you can create your best content for weighty topics when you let it show in your words.
Source of this quote about change: Lady Diana Frances Spencer in an interview with the BBC1 Panorama, which aired Nov. 20, 1995. Read the transcript of the interview to see her words between the ellipsis.
5. “The future of life as we know it is being determined by everything we’re doing — and not doing. Now.” — Oprah Winfrey
Contemplate change: Although you could Google a gazillion quotes about change attributed to Oprah — after all, she does espouse the human capacity to change in all that she does — this soundbite in particular captures an aspect of change often not talked about: The idea that inaction itself can cause change to happen, often for the worse. It’s somewhat of a paradox, but the point is rooted in the countless lessons of history.
Rethink your words: So let’s take that sentiment a step deeper and consider this: What you don’t say has just as much an impact on your message as what you do say. Yes, that might be obvious, but honor all your thoughts when approaching a mission. Has fear ever inhibited you? Have you ever held back truth, even if you knew if could help someone or a cause — purely because you were filled with self-doubt or fear? Remember: Use your words.
Source of this quote about change: : The Oprah Magazine.
6. “It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder that I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.” — Anne Frank
Contemplate change: When you visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Netherlands, you will find that just being in the same claustrophobic space in which Anne penned those words adds far more weight to your heart than you otherwise would have imagined from reading them alone. Because it’s a grim reality that not all change is good, if war has taught us anything.
You likely have seen the last line of that passage dropped on social media, often as “In spite of everything I still believe people are good at heart.” And as only a soundbite, the excerpt encapsulates the hope that people possess the potential to change for the better. But as the words of a young woman who died less than a year after writing them, that hope becomes something far more solemn.
Rethink your words: Our stories, our histories, are nothing without words. When approaching any writing, especially when educating others on heavy or difficult subjects, consider the innumerable unknown voices that have been lost to the vacuum of time. Anne Frank’s diary is a treasure because it holds one voice that wasn’t lost forever — a voice that lives on to change hearts.
And remember: Context can change the depth of meaning. Words by themselves can be powerful, but even more so when conveyed with respect to their original context. So honor them. Be mindful of their source: the who, what, when, where, why, and how of their origin.
Source of this quote about change: ‘Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl’, July 15, 1944. Linguistic note: Since Anne Frank wrote her diary in Dutch, and only on occasion used German and English words, you might find several variations of her quotes in English translation.
7. “Do not seize the day and see it only as it is. Instead, welcome the day and see it as it can be.” — J. Carter McKinley
Contemplate change: The most common English translation of the Latin motto carpe diem is “seize the day.” However, the Latin carpe also means “pluck.” And it’s far more likely that is the poetic meaning Horace intended when he wrote, “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero,” in one of his famous odes published in 23 B.C.E. In the poetic context, “pluck the day” was a metaphor comparing a piece of fruit on the tree of life to a single day.
Horace’s point wasn’t about seizing or taking — as the day was already yours to begin with (already a fruit on your tree of life), even if you didn’t know if it was your last day or not. His point was about enjoying each day and savoring each bite, or turn of life. And that’s the more positive sentiment, one that opens your mind to possibility and change, that I’ve focused on in my own take on the classic mantra.
Rethink your words: Just as there is no inherent virtue in doing things in the ways in which they have always been done, so the same goes for writing. Repeating words just because you’ve heard them before — without question or context, or even added curiosity — does nothing to help you become a better voice. Make your words your own.
Source for this quote about change: That is my own personal quote. For more on rethinking change, read about my original approach to time management (i.e., “change” management).
Quotes about change: 9 modern morsels
- “If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.” — Dolly Parton
- “Well, it’s true, that’s how change happens. I mean, people think that you’ve got to be the President of the United States, and you look to the President and he’s got to do everything. But the truth is, the change that happens happens on the ground. It happens from the bottom up. It happens because, in particular, young people find their power and their voice, and they use it every single day.” — Michell Obama. Source: “First Lady’s Keynote Remarks at South by Southwest“, March 2016
- “Contribute to the world. Help people. Help one person. Help someone cross the street today. Help someone with directions unless you have a terrible sense of direction. Help someone who is trying to help you. Just help. Make an impact. Show someone you care. Say yes instead of no. Say something nice. Smile. Make eye contact. Hug. Kiss. Get naked.” — Ellen DeGeneres, ‘Seriously… I’m Kidding‘
- “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” — Attributed to Steve Jobs. Source: Apple’s “Think Different” campaign, 1997, by agency Chiat/Day. Read more about the campaign.
- “Future shock… the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjection them to too much change in too short a time.” — Alvin Toffler. Source: ‘Future Shock’, 1970. Read more about Alvin Toffler’s prescience.
- “Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” — Deepak Chopra
- “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” — J.K. Rowling, “Very Good Lives” in 2008 commencement speech at Harvard University.
- “That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” — Steve Jobs, in an interview in Businessweek magazine, May 1998
- “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer. If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.” Source: Lyrics from “Man in the Mirror”, recorded by Michael Jackson, with lyrics and music by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett. Watch Michael Jackson’s classic music video, with more than 100 million views.
Quotes about change: 11 historic mentions
- “Change everything, except your loves.” — Voltaire. Source: ‘On the Usage of Life’, 1770 (Sur l’Usage de la Vie). Voltaire is Francois Marie Arouet.
“There is danger in reckless change; but greater danger in blind conservatism.” — Henry George. Source: “Social Problems” in ‘The Writings of Henry George’, 1898
“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.” — Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Source: “Meditations”, IV, 3
“The ever-whirling wheel / Of Change; the which all mortal things doth sway.” —Edmund Spenser. Source: ‘The Fairie Queen’ VII, 6, st. 1.
“All great Changes, are irksome to the human Mind, especially those which are attended with great Dangers, and uncertain Effects. No Man living can foresee the Consequences of such a Measure.” — John Quincy Adams. Source: “From John Adams to James Warren, 22 April 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives. Read the letter.
- “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” — Mary Shelley. Source: ‘Frankenstein’; ch. 23
“Marriage, to women as to men, must be a luxury, not a necessity; an incident of life, not all of it. And the only possible way to accomplish this great change is to accord to women equal power in the making, shaping and controlling of the circumstances of life.” — Susan B. Anthony. Source: “Speech on Social Purity”, 1875.
“Most of the change we think we see in life / Is due to the truths being in and out of favor.” — Robert Frost, “The Black Cottage”, 1914
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure. The process is its own reward.” — Amelia Earhart
“The country needs, and unless I mistake its temper, the country demands, bold persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt, campaigning for the 1932 election, in response to the Great Depression under President Hoover. Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
“According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” — Leon Megginson, “Lessons from Europe for American Business” in ‘Southwestern Social Science Quarterly’, 1963