5 Short Quotes From Antoine de Saint-Exupéry For Mindful Decision Making

Jonah Malin

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Since the beginning of our existence, humans have collected quotes teaching us how to question, how to live, how to love, and how to think.

As a writer and a reader, I have long been fascinated by quotes — they guide us through complex moments in life with direct, applicable solutions. While many feed off quotes for quick hits of inspiration, continued application is how you turn these short sayings and thoughts into action.

Over the years, I’ve built a commonplace book to remember and categorize my favorites. It’s become an immensely beneficial habit. If I need an ego-check, teachings from stoic philosophers and Gautama Buddha offer reminders on staying centered.

If I’m feeling lost, a line by Henry David Thoreau provides reassurance.

And when an important decision comes up, I turn to the words of French writer, poet, journalist, and commercial pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

I first came across Saint-Exupéry with “Le Petit Prince” translated to “The Little Prince.” While The Little Prince is his most popular work, Saint-Exupéry’s 1939 philosophical memoir “Terre des hommes” (titled Wind, Sand and Stars in English) became the name of an international humanitarian group.

Here are a few of Saint-Exupéry’s best quotes for mindful decision-making.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Some sources suggest we make 35,000 choices per day. We decide what to eat. What to wear. When to brush our teeth. How many times to check email.

In I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi, the author explains why having too many choices paralyzes our decision-making. Think about it — have you ever gone back and forth about what to wear to work and then arrived late? Or put off a financial decision like your 401k because the number of options was overwhelming?

Why not simplify your life and take away as many decisions as possible? Meal prep. Wear the same outfits. Brush your teeth at 8 AM. Set strict windows for email. Perfection is subjective — you’re wasting time chasing it. Focus on reduction instead.

“You cannot plant an acorn in the morning, and expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of an oak.”

In his memoir, Steve Martin recounts how it took him 18 years of learning, refining, and practicing to become a famous comedian. I’m 25, and the Steve Martin I know is offbeat, wacky, and spontaneously comedic. As Born Standing Up Reveals, this persona was meticulously crafted through trial and error.

Steve Martins’s desire to entertain was planted at a young age — but he recognized that cutting corners would set him back. So he took the slow path, playing small venues, testing material, and performing as frequently as possible. While comedians around him were called up to headline and perform on talk shows, Martin remained disciplined to the craft.

Everyone fantasizes about being an overnight success. We look on social media and see people our own age in our field who are making it big and wonder why it’s taking us so much longer. But as Saint-Exupéry’s quote reveals, getting caught up in the timing of outcomes won’t make them happen any faster.

Results don’t come in a day. Sometimes they take years — or in Martin's case, over a decade — to pay off. Be mindful of the end goal, remain patient, and recognize that success isn’t a linear path.

“ It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

A theme running throughout Saint-Exupéry’s stories is that the most important things in life — friendship, curiosity, love, creativity, hope, compassion — are not visible to the eye. They are felt.

When I was faced with an important choice last year, either stay at my job or move across the country for a new one, I had to pick between passion and perception. If I moved, I would be giving up a better title, leadership responsibilities, and the promise of more money.

But I had felt unfulfilled for months. Every day, I dreaded going into the office and found myself obsessing over the seconds remaining until I could leave. That’s not how I wanted to live my life.

So I followed my instincts and went with passion over everything else. It was one of the best life decisions I’ve made.

If you’re struggling to judge your emotional response to a decision, New York Times columnist David Brooks recommends flipping a coin. Instead of following the results of the coin flip, pay attention to how you feel. Are you happy, relieved, distressed, or disappointed about the answer?

Emotions exist to tell us if a situation is aligned with our goals. Listen to them.

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”

Saint-Exupéry often encourages readers to be mindful of potential. Rather than taking everything at face value, we should approach life like a child — curious and eager to learn.

In the French version of The Little Prince, Saint-Exupéry intentionally avoided the term “adult” — instead, he calls them les grandes personnes or Big people.”

His point is to show how age diminishes our imagination. A child may see a pile of rocks and imagine a castle. An adult, influenced by experience and rational thinking may struggle to picture anything more than what they see.

When approaching a situation, try and capture your childlike openness and curiosity backed by experience. Don’t let assumptions or judgments dictate your choice. To see the cathedral in a pile of rocks, actively search for the extraordinary in ordinary things.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Everyone wants a shortcut. It’s why so many books go unpublished, workout routines falter after January, and relationships fail.

Here’s a little tip: You can’t hack life. Be mindful of the end goal and build a plan backward to achieve it.

I remember when I first started writing in 2019. Without accountability, I wasn’t structured or focused and my habit stagnated. I thought by simply being present and thinking about how much I was writing, people would pay attention. That approach never works.

Set a goal. Make a plan. Do great things.

Final Thoughts

While Saint-Exupéry disappeared and presumably died in 1944, his books inspired generations of readers around the world (The Little Prince has been translated into over 300 languages). More importantly, his words still hold value 77 years later.

Next time you need to approach a decision with a clear mind and full heart, remember:

  • Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
  • You cannot plant an acorn in the morning, and expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of an oak.
  • It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
  • A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.
  • A goal without a plan is just a wish.

I hope Saint-Exupéry’s writing guides you in future decisions as it has done for me.

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I am a content strategist, career advice author, and contributing writer based in Washington, DC. Join me as I explore health & wellness, productivity, philosophy, and life. Find me @Beyond Definition // Medium // Ladders // jonahmalin.com/barelyweekly

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