Don’t Aim for Success If You Want It. Just Do What You Love Doing, and It Will Come Naturally

Robert Frost? David Frost? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While listening to a TEDx talk I heard an interesting motivational quotation attributed to the popular American poet Robert Frost:

Don’t aim for success if that’s what you want. Do what you love and believe in, and it will follow.

I doubt that the versifier of rural life said this, and I have been unable to locate a citation. Would you please help trace this statement?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Robert Frost employed this saying. The linkage was probably caused by confusion with another person whose last name was Frost.

In 1985 a columnist in the “Courier-Post” of Camden, New Jersey published a multiple-choice quiz asking readers to identify the creators of various quotations. The answer section stated that television host and journalist David Frost authored the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“I think success is a crappy, trendy word. Don’t aim for success if you want it. Just do what you love doing and it will come naturally.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1991 a Hackensack, New Jersey newspaper printed a profile of a local high school student and included a quotation selected by the student. The phrasing was slightly different: 2

QUOTE: “Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in it, and it will come naturally,” Dolan said, quoting David Frost.

The 1997 collection “Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes: Wit and Wisdom for All Occasions” included the following entry: 3

Don’t aim for success if you want it: just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally.
—DAVID FROST

By 2009 the remark had been reassigned to the poet Robert Frost. For example, the following tweet occurred in August 2009: 4

Quote of the Day: “Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love & believe in, & it will come naturally.” – Robert Frost

In conclusion, QI believes that David Frost is the most likely originator of this statement, and the ascription to Robert Frost is probably spurious. The precise phrasing is uncertain because the earliest citations are indirect. QI suggests using the 1985 version. Future researchers may discover an earlier citation.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1985 October 2, Courier-Post, Out of the mouths of celebrities: Name the famous folks who’ve made some infamous statements by Jerry Holderman (Special to the Courier-Post), Quote Page 11D, Column 3, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1991 January 23, The Record, Column: SCHOLAR OF THE WEEK, HO-HO-KUS TEEN SPREADS WORD ABOUT RECYCLING by Pearl J. Park, Quote Page 6, Hackensack, New Jersey. (NewsBank Access World News)
  3. 1997, Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes: Wit and Wisdom for All Occasions, Quote Page 172, Column 2, Published by Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. Tweet, From: Oscar Federico Limón‏ @OscLimon, Time: 8:49 AM, Date: August 26, 2009, Text: Quote of the Day: “Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love & believe in, & it will come naturally.” – Robert Frost (Accessed on twitter.com on July 29, 2018) link