What You Get By Reaching Your Goals Is Not Nearly So Important As What You Become By Reaching Them

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Henry David Thoreau? Zig Ziglar?

achieve08Dear Quote Investigator: Many self-help and inspirational books contain this guidance:

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

These words have been ascribed to three disparate individuals: German literary titan Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, famed transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, and popular motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Goethe or Thoreau employed this expression.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in the curiously titled 1974 book “Biscuits, Fleas, and Pump Handles” by Zig Ziglar. One section of the work discussed the necessity of formulating and striving for goals. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I want to emphasize that what you get by reaching your goals is not nearly so important as what you become by reaching them. What about you? Are you sold on the necessity of having goals?

The phrasing above differed from the common modern instance, e.g., the word “reaching” appeared instead of “achieving”. Nevertheless, the statement provided a strong semantic match.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




Ziglar published multiple editions of his book over the years, and in 1975 he changed the title to the simpler “See You At the Top”. The saying was so fundamental to Ziglar that he repeated it three times in the work although the phrasing varied. Here were the two other versions: 2

(1) They know that dedicated effort is its own reward and that what you get by reaching your objective is not as important as what you become by reaching that objective.

(2) The little world might well laugh as you start your journey, but I assure you the big world will be gathered at the finish line cheering you across. Best of all, what you get by reaching your destination isn’t nearly as important as what you become by reaching that destination.

Ziglar supplemented this advice with the remark: “he climbs highest who helps another up.”

In 2005 the self-help book “LifeManual: A Proven Formula to Create the Life You Desire” by Peter H. Thomas presented an unlikely ascription of the saying to Goethe who died in 1832: 3

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In 2011 a message posted to a religious forum at Google Groups implausibly credited the saying to Henry David Thoreau who died in 1862: 4

“What you get by achieving your goals is as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Henry David Thoreau

In 2012 Ziglar published “Inspiration from the Top: A Collection of My Favorite Quotes” which included statements ascribed to a variety of thinkers. Ziglar included an instance of the saying which he credited to himself. 5

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals. Zig Ziglar

In conclusion, QI believes that Zig Ziglar may be credited with the saying he wrote in 1975 and also with the variants he crafted. The ascriptions to Goethe and Thoreau are currently unsupported.

Image Notes: Picture of person standing on mountain symbolizing achievement from Unsplash at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to The Habit Factor whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1974, Biscuits, Fleas, and Pump Handles by Zig Ziglar, Segment 4: Goals, Chapter 4: Reaching Your Goals, Quote Page 171, Published by Update Division of Crescendo Publications, Dallas, Texas. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1976 (1975 Copyright), See You At the Top formerly entitled Biscuits, Fleas, and Pump Handles by Zig Ziglar, Quote Page 192 and 244, Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana. (Sixth printing 1977)(Verified with scans)
  3. 2005, LifeManual: A Proven Formula to Create the Life You Desire by Peter H. Thomas, Epigraph of Chapter: Secret 4: Define Your Destination, Quote Page 47, LifePilot, Scottsdale, Arizona. (Google Books Preview)
  4. 2011 November 25, Google Groups, Google Group: jesusonlyapostolicfaithgroup, From: gretchen @yahoo.com, Subject: 11/25 Hope!!FaithQuotes, (Google Groups Search; Accessed December 5, 2016) link
  5. 2012, Inspiration From the Top: A Collection of My Favorite Quotes by Zig Ziglar, Quote Page 98, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee. (Google Books Preview)