Thomas Edison? Robert H. Schuller? Helen Peikin? Leslie Hanscom? Dale Carnegie? Anonymous?
When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You haven’t.
This statement has been attributed to the famous inventor Thomas Edison and the prominent televangelist Robert H. Schuller. I am skeptical of the connection to Edison. Would you please explore this topic?
Reply from Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive support for the ascription to Thomas Edison. He received credit in 2000, but he died many years earlier in 1931.
In 1981 columnist Helen Peikin of the “Sentinel Star” of Orlando, Florida printed the following as an epigraph of an article. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 1981 September 9, Sentinel Star, Altamonte Mall featuring discount movies for women by Helen Peikin, Quote Page 22, Column 2, Orlando, Florida. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]
When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this . . . you haven’t.
—DR. ROBERT SHULER
QI conjectures that Peikin misspelled “Schuller” as “Shuler”. Pastor Robert Schuller probably used the expression during a sermon in 1981 or earlier. In 1983 Schuller authored the bestseller “Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do!”. An entire page of the book was dedicated to displaying the statement:[ref] 1983, Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do! by Robert H. Schuller, Chapter 1: Tough Times Never Last, Quote Page 27, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
When you’ve exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You haven’t!
Robert Schuller used this saying on multiple occasions, and he did not credit anyone else. Thus, based on current evidence QI believes that Schuller deserves credit for this statement.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1977 a humorous precursor appeared in the compilation “Murphy’s Law and Other Reasons Why Things Go Wrong!” assembled by Arthur Bloch within a section called “The Snafu Equations”:[ref] 1977, Murphy’s Law and Other Reasons Why Things Go Wrong! by Arthur Bloch, Chapter: Designsmanship, Quote Page 36, Price Stern Sloan Publishers Inc., Los Angeles, California. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
Once you have exhausted all possibilities and fail, there will be one solution, simple and obvious, highly visible to everyone else.
In 1983 “Newsday” newspaper of Long Island, New York printed a review by columnist Leslie Hanscom of Schuller’s book “Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do!”. Hanscom found the saying vivid enough to reprint it:[ref] 1983 July 10, Sunday Newsday, Why the Faithful Throng His All-Glass Cathedral by Leslie Hanscom, Section: Ideas, Quote Page 18, Column 3, New York, New York. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]
Schuller is so reliant on one-line homilies that, in his new book, whole pages are given over to a single wise mouthful printed in enlarged type. Page 27, for example, reads in toto as follows: “When you’ve exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You haven’t!” The author makes no apologies for these minimalist preachments because, as he says, one-liners have governed his life.
In 1984 Schuller published a collection of his quotations under the title “Dare To Succeed”, and he included the saying under examination.[ref] 1984, Dare To Succeed by Robert H. Schuller, Quote Page 17, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
In 1987 the “Sunday Star-Gazette” of Elmira, New York printed a story about a community center managed by Betty Biggs:[ref] 1987 February 8, Sunday Star-Gazette, Shortage of funds could close doors of Southside center by Pat Louise (Staff Writer), Start Page 1A, Quote Page 8A, Column 3, Elmira, New York. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]
Lining the walls of the center are posters with various positive messages. One of those sayings is Bigg’s personal favorite.
“It’s by (minister and author) Robert Schuller. ‘When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this. You have not.’”
In 1989 the biography “Dale Carnegie: The Man Who Influenced Millions” by Giles Kemp and Edward Claflin appeared, and the authors discussed other similar motivational authors:[ref] 1989, Dale Carnegie: The Man Who Influenced Millions by Giles Kemp and Edward Claflin, Chapter 12: What Do Stew Leonard, Lee Iacocca, and Carol Cook Carlisle Have in Common?, Quote Page 193, St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
Author Robert Schuller is today’s inheritor of the Carnegie-Peale tradition. Although he has changed the label to possibility thinking, the message is the same—think positive! …
The fundamentals of positive thinking are present in his best-selling books such as Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do and his popular television show “The Hour of Power.” Like Carnegie, he reduces his precepts to aphorisms such as: “You won’t win if you don’t begin”; “The me I see . . . is the me I’ll be”; and “When you’ve exhausted all possibilities, remember this, you haven’t.”
In 2000 “The Reporter-Times” of Martinsville, Indiana published a special feature section about retirement and aging. One article consisted of a miscellaneous set of quotations. The attribution of the saying was inexplicably shifted away from Schuller:[ref] 2000 April 19, The Reporter-Times, Special Feature Section: The Better Years, (Coordinated Aging Services for Morgan County), Quotes, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Martinsville, Indiana. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]
When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this—you haven’t.
During the ensuing years other newspapers credited Edison. For example, in 2014 “The Beaufort Gazette” of South Carolina printed the following:[ref] 2014 February 26, The Beaufort Gazette, Quote of the Day, Quote Page 1, Column 5, Beaufort, South Carolina. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You haven’t.”
In conclusion, Robert Schuller deserves credit for this saying. He used it in his 1983 book “Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do!”. The attribution the Thomas Edison is unsupported.
Image Notes: Illustration of a labyrinth from BlenderTimer at Pixabay. Image has been resized.
(Great thanks to Jane Bella whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)