6 Quotes by Nelson Mandela That Will Help You Stay Strong

Toni Koraza


Nelson Mandela was one of the most inspiring figures of our time. His dedication and perseverance can teach you how to weather the storms of uncertainty.

I’m a big fan of brainy quotes. These words are my sanctuary during trying times. My world is not always a great place, and I need to remind myself to push forward. Historical figures offer that nudge to keep going.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a social rights activist, politician, and philanthropist famous for his life and work. He became the first black president of South Africa. The country was under Apartheid’s tyranny — a colonial minority — at the time.

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for a political offense. He publicly advocated non-violent defiance against systemic racism. His life started with soul-crushing hardship and ended with a historical presidency and a Nobel peace prize. He died on December 5th, 2013 at the age of 95. Mandela witnessed racist regimes, World War 2, HIV outbreaks, and something much more personal; the death of both sons and his granddaughter.

And his story will empower you to overcome uncertainty.

(The quotes are taken mostly from Long Walk to Freedom, his autobiography.)

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun, one’s feet moving forwards. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

Times of uncertainty will test your faith. ‘Why is this happening to me?’ How many times have your thought that?

How often do you think of giving up? Is all of it too much? You can’t take it?

I felt hopeless way too often. My life is full of judgment, doubt, and despair. I’ll take a wild guess and say yours is also.

Uncertainty drives you mad, and sometimes it feels like it’s easier to judge everything and give up. Do you know why? Despair and inaction go hand in hand like a warm blanket and cold feet during snowy nights.

Nelson Mandela suffered 3 decades of harsh prison and the death of both sons. That is enough to lose faith in humanity. He had every reason to despair. But instead, Mandela changed millions of lives across the globe. And humankind won’t be soon to forget his work.

How does it help?

What is the time right now? Let me guess. The present is where (when) you are. Not the future nor the past, it’s present.

When you realize that you don’t live in the past anymore and that the future hasn’t happened yet, you’ll free yourself from despair.

Ask yourself what you can do right now. Institute action.

Despair will bleed you dry of energy for writing, filming, reading, loving, and all the good things in life. Find the cure in focusing on the present. The present is a time of action.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

The longer you live, the more sadness you see. Monsters are everywhere.

You’ll witness natural catastrophes, backstabbing friends, failed business, cheating partners, incompetent politicians, and general scum. You’ll see all of it, too often.

Resentment consumes an awful lot of energy. You might easily slip into the vortex of hate and forget there is sunshine outside.

The truth is that you don’t have much time or energy. You’ll have to ration both. I’m not saying you should forgive or forget instantly, I’m saying you don’t need to hurt yourself on top of all the blush*t. Don’t be your own enemy. The world is already full of them.

How does it help?

Think about all the consuming negativity that you’re not able to expel. How much time and energy does it take from your day? Too much?

Then, forgive yourself and those who did you harm. Forgive the weather for the rain, and forgive nature for a deadly illness.

Say it out loud. Scream if you have to. “I forgive you! I forgive myself! I forgive the weather! I forgive the past! And I won’t live in this prison anymore!”

Don’t do it because you justify the crime, forgive because you have to move forward. Forgive because you don’t have time to live in resentment. Forgive because you love yourself.

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

You’re going to fail. You already did fail. And I failed more times than I can count. Your biggest idols also failed.

Don’t despair, self-pity goes only for so long.

Instead, recognize the opportunity. Every failure gives you a chance to learn and change. Your skin will thicken. Your better version will have a chance to climb back up.

The world loves to see you fail. But the world adores when pick-yourself-up in great success. Perseverance is the ultimate story.

Sometimes you need to bottom up to truly succeed. The best humans are forged at the bottom.

How does it help?

Reflect and salvage your experience. Don’t despair more than it’s needed. Figure out where you can improve after the sadness washes away. And then work on yourself. Hustle.

Every failure offers a glimpse into the bigger picture. It gives you a chance to improve. Wield that chance to make yourself a better human.

Ultimately, household names are not born famous. They failed and got up countless times.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Fear is fundamental to survival. You should be afraid of danger. You should be scared of heights because you can fall and die. Ignorance is not courage, it’s stupidity.

But also, don’t let that fear be the handicap and source of panic. Move when you step in front of a speedy truck. Move with all of your might. Move because the impact will maim and possibly end your life.

Denying the gravity of a problem won’t help you. Speeding trucks kill people. The illness kills old and young. Telling yourself that the global pandemic is just another flu won’t help.

Understanding the gravity of your issue, but at the same time, use that fear to fuel your action.

How does it help?

Get afraid. Get very afraid. Then ask yourself what you can do to help?

What is in your power to make the best out of the situation? Can you stay at home during the crisis? Can you help that old lady on the seventh floor with groceries, so she doesn’t have to go outside? Can you produce online content to cover for lost income?

Substitute thinking for action. Substitute ignorance for courage.

Use the fear to fuel your resolve. Aim at improving your life in the long run. Do one thing today that will resonate tomorrow, next week, and next year.

“I am not a saint unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

Everyone makes mistakes. Life is a string of foul choices as much as it’s a string of happiness.

Mandela was no saint, neither am I and nor are you. And that’s alright. You can be scared by your mistakes and uplifted for your successes. But if you succumb to the disasters of your personal choices, you’ll never weather the storm.

Choose to make your successes louder than your mistakes. If you’re at the bottom, that means you’re got work to do — get up.

If you did someone wrong, that means you have amends to make. Great amends that will resonate past your sins. The end is far more important than the beginning or the middle.

How does it help?

Ask yourself about the defying moments in your life. Write down both good and bad. Be truthful to yourself. You’re the only person you should never lie to.

Then, grade both good and bad. What resonates more? Probably unfortunate events and choices, but don’t despair. You’re more sensitive to adverse stuff than good times.

Try to amend the bad and push forward. Life is not a sprint; this is a marathon, a long marathon. Don’t drop the baton in your second or tired circle.

“As I walked out the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

The biggest prison a man can face is one of his own makings. We erect walls that keep the sunshine and happiness away.

Satisfaction and happiness are more about perspective than luck and wealth. Walk around any slum, and you’ll see happy faces. You’ll see shirtless boys playing football, sporting larger-than-life grins. You’ll see people being content with what they have.

Don’t put yourself in prison, life will do that for you. Once you leave your physical confinement (jail, quarantine, isolation, etc.), let that prison stay behind.

To be free, you have to think free. Your spirit has to cling to that idea and never let go.

How does it help?

Be grateful your troubles are coming to an end. Think of how your life has changed. What has improved? What are the things you shouldn’t take for granted anymore?

Don’t dwell on the injustice of the forces you can’t affect or change. No one has the power to change the past. And that’s alright. Let the past stay in the past — where it belongs.

The present is where you live now. And in the present, your troubles are not that bad anymore. Enjoy what you have. Stay grateful and think of all the people and things that you love.

Call your mother and tell her you loved her. Tell your friends that they mean the world to you. Hug your kids and kiss your partner. Don’t be bitter, no one likes grumpy old spirits.

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