What’s the Motto with You? The Power of Personal Mottos, Part I

A motto is a core value tersely and frequently expressed. It represents a fundamental belief that helps shape behavior as we try to live up to the message it expresses.

This is Part I in a 3-part series. Click here for Part II and here for Part III.

One of the most well-known corporate mottos is Nike’s “Just do it.” The power behind the motto is the way it reflects the nature of the product they sell.

It is a symbol of action, of movement, of doing. It captures the essence of the company and reflects the core value it promotes. It has even taken on a life of its own, having been adopted by millions as a sort of personal anthem.

That’s the power of a motto, fully ingested, passionately endorsed, harmoniously aligned and fully integrated.

Millions upon millions of corporations, nations, cities and states, government agencies, non-profit organizations, clubs and events have created and adopted mottos as expressions of what they want to be and how they want to be seen, what they strive for and as a reflection of their core beliefs and values and as a way to infuse into the organization those values they want absorbed into the organizational climate.

Each organization chooses the core values it wants to organize around, so the mottos vary widely. In other words, one motto does not fit all.

Read on to see what I mean.

A very small sampling of organizational mottos

Corporate Mottos

“Think Different” ~ Apple Inc.
“Don’t be evil” ~ Google (no, really, it is)
“The best or nothing” ~ Mercedes-Benz
“Connecting People” ~ Nokia
“Leading Innovation” ~ Toshiba
“Moving Forward” ~ Toyota
“Work hard, have fun, make history” ~ Amazon.com
“Be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to astonish the customer.” ~ Macy’s

National mottos

“In God We Trust” ~ USA
“Independence, Liberty and Happiness” ~ Vietnam
“For the benefit of the world” ~ Panama
“Liberty, equality, fraternity” ~ France
“It is Austria’s destiny to rule the world” ~ Austria (a few years back, mind you)
“Truth alone triumphs” ~ India
“United in diversity” ~ European Union

Other Organizational Mottos

“Faster, Higher, Stronger” ~ Olympic Games
“Never Again” ~ Jewish Defense League
“Pray and work” ~ Benedictine Order
“Let Wisdom Guide” ~ Royal College of Psychiatrists
“Act well your part. There all the honor lies” ~ International Thespian Society
“Always faithful” ~ US Marines
“Truth” ~ Harvard University
“Accelerate your life” ~ US Navy Recruitment Motto
“Be prepared” ~ Boy Scouts

Other well-known mottos include “This too shall pass” “The customer is always right” and “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

Having an organizational motto allows corporations and other organizations to instruct incoming recruits on what the corporate culture is all about, what drives them, what their organizational passion is.

If done correctly and infused throughout all levels of the organization, it informs all decisions and drives future planning as well.

It is, in other words, the heart and soul of the organization.

My motto here at Meant to be Happy is “Discovering joy … one day at a time.” I have 4 more phrases in my header that add meaning and direction to how that discovery can be pursued: “Live with Purpose, Act with Character, Think with Clarity, Grow with Courage.”

This is the essence of what I do. It motivates me and keeps me up late at night writing and editing and thinking about ways to get what I have to say out into a larger world.

It also tells a reader or someone clicking through for the first time what I’m all about. It conveys the spirit of Meant to be Happy at a glance.

Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com (“We’re a service company that happens to sell shoes”) helped create a billion dollar company (acquired by Amazon.com in 2009) by focusing on creating a culture around its motto and its core values. He preaches the doctrine that by focusing on culture, everything else falls into place.

If true of a company, why not a family or personally for yourself?

Do you have a personal or family motto?

Imagine if we all had our own motto that instructed and informed our own internal identity or family climate!

What would yours be? Do you already have one? More than one?

Just as corporate mottos can be infused into the culture of a business, so a family or personal motto can work its way into the very DNA of our personal lives and family culture as well.

Mottos act in many ways like mini sermons, rallying support, instructing values, teaching shared vision, inspiring action.

When the message is repeated over time (and lived up to), it can distill into the hearts minds of even the newest group and family members like tiny inoculations against the cynicism, habits, inertia, corruption and negativity of other less helpful cultures from previous companies, family conditions or communities.

However, a motto is not usually sufficient in itself. It’s a tool to reinforce concepts and principles already being explicitly taught. Without that explicit instruction, our use of mottos becomes little more than the idiosyncratic expressions of a quirky parent. Minimally, they are less effective than they would otherwise be.

But if they are used as little reminders of larger lessons taught, they can be powerful tools indeed.

My Life Motto

“Life is what we make of it.”

This is not my only life motto. But it is, perhaps, the one that most deeply conveys my thoughts and heart and my philosophy of life.

In other words, you can be the horse driven by others who hold the reins to your life, or you can be the wagon master steering your own life in the direction you want it to go.

The option is yours; the reality of the choice is not. We either steer or are steered.

I’ve never done well with others telling me what I have to do and when to do it. I’m a deeply religious man, so God and religion is not what I’m talking about. But rules and regulations for the sake of rules and regulations, especially when they’re obviously divorced from common sense, simply drive me crazy.

So when I came to realize that unless forfeited to others, I was in control of my emotions, my reactions, my attitude, the pursuit of my dreams and happiness, I enthusiastically picked up the reins and began steering.

My life is organized around this principle. I am self-directed. I choose how I will respond to other people’s behavior and attitudes. I accept the idea that no one “makes” me happy or unhappy, that happiness is a byproduct of how I think, believe and live.

My life motto, therefore, is a reflection of me. But it also inspires me to grow and strive to be increasingly true to that motto at the same time. I fall short of its principle, but I work toward its ideal.

Motto-fied Power

There is great power in the words of my life motto for me. It informs the way I look at the world, myself in the mirror, the role I play in my own life and in others’.

So many people, it seems to me, act as though they were in the audience watching their lives unfold on stage, as if others were responsible for the unfolding.

As a result, they become pawns on others’ game boards. They bounce when dribbled and roll when rolled. But that kind of passive or reactive living can’t produce the happiness a self-directed, self-responsible, motto-driven life can produce.

The impact a motto can have on your life and the lives of those who are influenced by you, underscores the need to give thought to the mottos you make your own.

The little country of Luxembourg has a national motto that’s instructive: “We want to remain what we are.”

Such a motto doesn’t inspire much.

Make your motto inspiring.


Mottos are helpful to the degree we truly make them the mottos of our lives. Repeating a phrase over and over again creates emotional and moral dissonance if we never live by the phrases we use.

If our lives remain indefinitely out of whack with our words, we become caricatures, hypocrites who are no longer taken seriously. Our lives then become the excuse others use to discount what we say.

Instead, let the words sink down inside, becoming part of the essence of who you are. Let your motto become expressions of your character. And let your character be informed by the words you use to express it.

In other words, mottos can be powerful tools in your life to help you navigate your way through the clutter and noise out there in pop culture and elsewhere. They can also be powerful ways to communicate profound principles of human behavior to loved ones and others.

And finally, they can be useful reminders to ourselves, even as we use them to instruct others, that life is indeed what we make of it, that we can fashion a life of our choosing based on the core values that inspire us.

And while it may take some work to adjust our lives to the mottos we adopt as our own, the effort will be well worth it. My recommendation? “Just do it!”

Your Turn

What is the motto of your life?

Please share in the comments below.

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To read the other articles in this 3-part series, follow the links here and here.

 Photo courtesy of Pixabay