Never Think That You’re Not Good Enough

Anthony Trollope? Isaac Asimov? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I saw a tweet ascribing the following words to the popular Victorian era English novelist Anthony Trollope:

Above all else, never think you’re not good enough.

Curiously, when I searched for a citation I found that it was also ascribed to the science fiction master Isaac Asimov. Would you please help me to identify the true originator?

Quote Investigator: In 1863 Anthony Trollope serialized the novel “The Small House at Allington” in “Harper’s New Monthly Magazine”. A character who was an earl offered the following advice. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

And, above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning.

Isaac Asimov was born in 1920 and died in 1992; the saying was attributed to him by 2009. Thus, he did not craft the expression, and the evidence that he ever employed it is very weak.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




In 1985 “A Teacher’s Treasury of Quotations” compiled by Bernard E. Farber included an entry for the quotation. Trollope’s 1864 novel was cited, but the statement was slightly altered. The word “things” was deleted: 2

And, above all, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning. —Anthony Trollope, The Small House at Allington, xxxii (1864).

In 2000 “The Times Book of Quotations” compiled by the prominent U.K. newspaper included the following entry: 3

Trollope, Anthony (1815-1882)
English writer, traveller and post office official

Never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning.
The Small House at Allington (1864)

In 2009 the quotation collection “Don’t Forget to Sing in the Lifeboats: Uncommon Wisdom for Uncommon Times” attributed a version of the statement to Isaac Asimov. The phrase “very much” was deleted from the original passage by Trollope: 4

Self-Worth
And above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you at your own reckoning.
— Isaac Asimov
Writer

In 2012 the widely syndicated feature “Today In History” from the Associated Press credited Asimov with the saying in “Thought for Today”: 5

Thought for Today: “Never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you at your own reckoning.”— Isaac Asimov (1920-1992).

In conclusion, Anthony Trollope should be credited with the passage he published in 1863. The linkage to Isaac Asimov appears to be spurious.

Image Notes: Picture of Anthony Trollope with unknown date; accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Picture of person on the summit of a mountain from Unsplash at Pixabay. Picture of Isaac Asimov from sometime before 1959; part of the New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection maintained by the U.S. Library of Congress; accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to Mary Branscombe, Kate Bevan, and Nicola Wilson whose tweets about this quotation led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1863 September, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume 27, The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope, Chapter 32: Pawkins’s In Jermyn Street, Start Page 518, Quote Page 522, Harper and Brothers, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1985, A Teacher’s Treasury of Quotations, Compiled by Bernard E. Farber, Topic: Self-Esteem, Quote Page 268, McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina. (Verified on paper)
  3. 2000, The Times Book of Quotations, Section: Anthony Trollope, Quote Page 637, HarperCollins, Glasgow, United Kingdom. (Verified on paper)
  4. 2009, “Don’t Forget to Sing in the Lifeboats”: Uncommon Wisdom for Uncommon Times by Kathryn Petras and Ross Petras, Quote Page 66, Workman Publishing, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  5. 2012 April 6, The Desert Sun, Today In History by The Associated Press, Quote Page D3, Column 7, Palm Springs, California. (Newspapers_com)