Four Quotes From Vincent Van Gogh to Help You Live Your Best Life

Dawn Bevier

According to the Van Gogh Gallery, Vincent Van Gogh was one of the greatest founding fathers of modern art. They state that his finest works involved techniques that were “impassioned in brushstroke, in symbolic and intense color, in surface tension, and in the movement and vibration of form and line.” They go on to note that his “fusion of form and content is powerful; dramatic, lyrically rhythmic, imaginative, and emotional.”

And this description of Van Gogh’s work provides a powerful metaphor for how to live our best lives. After all who doesn’t want their world to be full of color? Who doesn’t want the brushstrokes of their life’s canvas to be “impassioned,” “imaginative,” and “emotional”?

And his wise words on life echo his artistic genius, furnishing us a blueprint for how to achieve our greatest aspirations in life.

“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”

Daily life is often chaotic and daunting as it is, and the extra energy required to undertake challenging steps towards our dreams often seems impossible. Why? Because achieving our desires involves more than just added demands on our time. It involves facing our greatest fears: inadequacy and failure.

But standing in stagnant waters is not the best way to ultimate happiness. We have to look anxiety and doubt in the eye and decide to push forward, not be intimidated into submission.

Think of what you see when you vacation at the ocean. You immediately spy hundreds of children playing in the surf and just as many beachcombers walking along the ocean’s edge. But suddenly, you spy a man swimming in the depths, all alone, fighting the waves and braving the tide.

What do you feel? Awe. Amazement. And perhaps a bit of worry over the dangers to which this swimmer seems oblivious.

Van Gogh dares us to be that man, that lone swimmer who dives into the deep end and ventures towards his goals in spite of terror or trepidation.

“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.”

Most of our lives are lived in a state of conformity. We stop at the stop signs. We drive the speed limit. We follow the rules.

We yield to the “should’s” and “should not’s” of society. We drive on “paved roads” that have been meticulously designed by others.

And I’m not telling you to abandon those “rules” that ensure your personal safety, but I am telling you to go off-roading at times.

Think of the people who you admire most.

Example. I went to the bank to cash a check and saw the smartly dressed workers all in their best professional attire. One beautiful worker came to ask me if I needed assistance, and my eyes were immediately drawn to her scarlet heels, heels far too high to be considered “work appropriate.”

My first robotic response was “Doesn’t she know how ill-suited her choice of shoes is in this environment?”

My second unbidden thought was one of admiration. By her words and courteous manner, I could tell she was highly intelligent and educated. It was then I understood the truth. She was refusing to be normal. Because she was committed to being authentic.

So don’t be normal. Choose to “do you,” even if scandalous words are whispered in your presence. Be the woman who wears the red lipstick to church. Be the man who gets pedicures or quotes Shakespeare to get his point across in a business meeting. Be the forty-year-old who still plays Dungeons and Dragons. Be the eighteen-year-old who majors in philosophy.

This is your life to live. So play your pocket two’s when you think the other player has an ace up his sleeve. Why? Because there’s no greater happiness to be found than when you play the game of life your way.

“I long so much to make beautiful things. But beautiful things require effort and disappointment and perseverance.”

We all want our lives to be beautiful. Our faces to be beautiful. Our work to be beautiful. We also want our dreams to play out beautifully, like an orchestra so completely in sync that each note is played at the right time and at the right pitch.

But that doesn’t happen overnight. And most of the time getting to that beautiful state in life involves off-key notes, broken strings, and a conductor who screams, “That’s not right. Play it again.”

You feel broken. Hopeless. Inadequate.

And at that particular moment in time, you may be inadequate. But the good news is, you don’t have to stay that way.

For example, take legendary football star, Tom Brady. Many say that his skills on the field are art in motion and beautiful in execution. But this wasn’t always the case.

CNBC reports that “the New England Patriots chose Brady “in the second-to-last round of the 2000 draft” and revealed that in college he served “as a backup his first two seasons.”

I’m sure his humble beginnings in the sport of football were quite a blow to his ego. But he didn’t let that stop him.

Coach Bill Belichick, his coach of many years, even states that Brady is “not a natural athlete,” but goes to state the reason for Brady’s success, saying, “Nobody’s worked harder than Tom. He’s trained hard. He’s worked hard on his throwing mechanics. He’s earned everything that he’s achieved.”

And this is what Van Gogh states are required to make our lives more “beautiful.” Dedication instead of defeat. Effort instead of excuses. Wholeheartedness instead of half-heartedness.

There’s no other way to be a master at art, no other way to be a master at football, and no other way to be the master of your own life.

“Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the painter who dares and who has broken the spell of ‘you can’t’ once and for all.”

The first Van Gogh quote above expresses the need for courage, but the truth is that courage holds little value without a belief in our own capabilities.

In metaphorical terms, our self-concept is akin to a perfume we breathe in every day. It has immense power to change our lives for the better or the worse. For example, many people say that a lack of self-confidence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and that if we don’t believe in our abilities, this lack of belief validates itself in everything we do.

An article in Forbes explains this phenomenon, stating that “once a limiting belief is triggered and activated, your outlook changes. You see everything through a new filter. You look for validation daily that you aren’t smart enough. And of course, you will always find something that confirms this belief.”

And when our inferior beliefs are validated, they trigger self-defensive actions in attempts to safeguard our already extremely fragile egos. So to protect ourselves, we often make decisions not to do the very things we need to do to achieve success.

For example, we don’t seek out feedback from knowledgeable others because we feel if they criticize our work, even in a constructive manner, they are also criticizing us as individuals. We don’t express our new ideas to others, limiting our chances that people will see our true ingenuity. We underachieve, choosing to hand over difficult projects at work that could potentially increase our career success in order to reduce the risk of failure and ridicule.

So how do we conquer our low self-esteem?

  • We do small things or take small steps that will increase our confidence. For example, if we feel weak in a specific area at work, we go to someone who can give us tips, tricks, and strategies that will increase our “know-how” and help us make steady steps towards growth. And the more we grow, we more confident we feel.
  • We don’t take things personally. We realize someone who criticizes our ideas or disagrees with our decisions is not personally attacking us, just stating a difference of opinion.
  • We put our thoughts into perspective. We rationally think about the best and worst things that could happen if we attempt something. For example, if we take on that difficult project at work, people may find fault with it or ask us to do it over. Does this really mean we’re a failure at our career, or does it just mean we need to tweak some things or make adjustments? Then, we consider the opposite result. Perhaps the project is a huge success, one that helps us move higher up the corporate ladder. With these possible gains in mind, is a little criticism such a big deal? We realize the rewards of success far outweigh the risks of failure.

The bottom line:

Van Gogh’s philosophy can best be summed up in his words that “if you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

He understood that beautiful art requires courage and authenticity from the painter. And so does a beautiful life.

So, we must be the artists of our own existence. We must not be intimidated by the boldest colors of our palette; instead, we must splash them onto the canvas with fearlessness and abandonment. And the images in our heads must be the ones we paint, not a copy of the images of others. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. And when we look back on the finished project, we’ll smile, knowing we made our canvases as beautiful as they could be.

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My goal is to provide you with thoughtful, informative, and inspirational content that may increase your productivity, relationships, and well-being.

Sanford, NC

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