Joseph Campbell? E. M. Forster? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Life often presents us with unexpected obstacles and challenges that require us to rethink our assumptions. The following pertinent statement has been attributed to the expert in mythology Joseph Campbell and popular English novelist E. M. Forster:
We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.
I have not been able to find a solid citation for either. Would you please help?
Quote Investigator: Joseph Campbell died in 1987, and In 1991 Diane K. Osbon published “Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion” which consisted of material she selected and edited. The following text appeared in a section titled “In the Field”, and Osbon stated that she had collected the words directly from Campbell. The section contained “favorite expressions of his, recorded in my journals over the years in his company”. The layout of the phrases below mirrors the formatting in the book. 1
We must be willing to get rid of
the life we’ve planned, so as to have
the life that is waiting for us.
The old skin has to be shed
before the new one can come.
The text provided a close match to the sentence under examination although the precise phrasing differed. The final sentence employed a metaphor based on the shedding of skin, e.g., snakeskin.
QI has been unable to find substantive evidence supporting the ascription to E. M. Forster who died in 1970. He received credit for a version of the saying in 2002.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1998 an article distributed by the Knight-Ridder Tribune Newswire described a note on a refrigerator without attribution that used the phrase “let go of the life” instead of “get rid of the life”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2
“We must let go of the life we planned so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.”
The quotation on Marianne and Gary Mosley’s refrigerator speaks volumes about the past nine years in the lives of Emily’s mom and dad.
In 2000 a newspaper in Asbury Park, New Jersey published a profile of Rosemary Pappa who was a feng shui consultant. She credited Joseph Campbell with an instance matching the original 1991 text: 3
Here Pappa is reminded of another quotation, this one from author Joseph Campbell: “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that’s waiting for us.”
In 2002 the book “The Soul of the Child: Nurturing the Divine Identity of Our Children” by Michael Gurian included an instance using “let go of the life” ascribed to E. M. Forster: 4
“We must be willing,” wrote E. M. Forster, “to let go of the life we have planned, so we can have the life that is waiting for us.” Those of us looking for new options for family and human life are now challenged to let go of some of the life planned by our economy-driven family—its pull toward disconnection and overstimulation—in order to discover the soulfulness available to use.
In March 2002 a newspaper in Orem, Utah printed a filler item that also assigned the saying to E. M. Forster: 5
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
–E. M. Forster
In 2014 “The Morning Call” of Allentown, Pennsylvania quoted a resigning member of a local City Council who credited Joseph Campbell with an instance using “let go of the life”: 6
“But life is filled with uncertainties, and the unexpected can really throw us off balance,” she wrote. “As philosopher Joseph Campbell wrote, ‘We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.'”
In conclusion, Diane K. Osbon stated in her 1991 book that she recorded the words of Joseph Campbell in her journals. Osbon credited Campbell with the statement given near the beginning of this article. The linkage to E. M. Forster appears to be spurious.
Image Notes: Picture of a snake skin on display at the Museum of Veterinary Anatomy FMVZ USP. This image was produced by the Museum and was licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0. Reduced-size low-resolution image of the book cover of “Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion”.
(Great thanks to Gershon Ben-Avraham whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
- 1991, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, Selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon, Quote Page 8 and 18, HarperCollins, New York, New York. ↩
- 1998 December 27, The Anniston Star, Girl with Angelman Syndrome gives others lessons in love and acceptance by Barbara Isaacs (Knight-Ridder Tribune News Wire), Quote Page 4E, Column 3, Anniston, Alabama. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 2000 February 27, Asbury Park Press, The Force Is With Her by Shannon Mullen (Staff Writer), Start Page J6, Quote Page J5, Column 3, Asbury Park, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 2002, The Soul of the Child: Nurturing the Divine Identity of Our Children by Michael Gurian, Chapter 6: God Is the Child: The Future of the Family, Quote Page 198, Atria Books, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 2002 March 20, Orem-Geneva Times, (Filler item), Quote Page B4, Column 3, Orem, Utah. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 2014 October 15, The Morning Call, Dolan to resign from Bethlehem council Nov. 1 by Nicole Radzievich (Of the Morning Call), Quote Page 6, Column 3 and 4, Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩