You Must Learn from the Mistakes of Others. You Will Never Live Long Enough to Make Them All Yourself

Hyman Rickover? Martin Vanbee? Eleanor Roosevelt? Harry Myers? Laurence J. Peter? Sam Levenson? Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.? Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: These two simple adages have a long history:

  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Learn from the mistakes of others.

Some wit crafted a hilarious addendum for the second adage:

  • You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.

This construction has been attributed to U.S. Navy Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Rickover did employ this joke during a speech in 1983, but it was circulating decades earlier.

The first close match located by QI appeared in the 1932 book “Human Engineering” by Harry Myers and Mason M. Roberts. The words were credited to an unnamed person. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Doctor, years ago I had a foreman who taught me a great deal. He was quite a philosopher. One day he said, “William, you must learn from the mistakes of others—you will never live long enough to make them all yourself.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Must Learn from the Mistakes of Others. You Will Never Live Long Enough to Make Them All Yourself

Notes:

  1. 1932, Human Engineering by Harry Myers and Mason M. Roberts, Quote Page 213, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Based on snippet match in Google Books; the citation is not yet verified; text visible in snippet; contemporaneous book review in “Tampa Bay Times” mentions the saying)