Two Most Important Days in Your Life: The Day You Were Born and the Day You Discover Why

Mark Twain? Ernest T. Campbell? Anita Canfield? William Barclay? William McCartney? Tim Elmore? David Wood? Dave Martin? Helen Burns? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The number of fake Mark Twain quotations grows significantly every year. I fear that a civilization of the distant future will credit Twain with authorship of every extant text. Here are two versions of a saying that has improbably been attributed to the man from Hannibal, Missouri:

1) The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.

2) There are two great days in a person’s life—the day we are born and the day we discover why.

Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive support linking Mark Twain to the statement.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a 1970 pamphlet published by “The Riverside Church” of New York City. Minister Ernest T. Campbell delivered a sermon on January 25, 1970 that was recorded in the pamphlet. Campbell prefaced the saying with the locution “it has been said”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Our times call not for diction but for action. It has been said that the two most important days of a man’s life are the day on which he was born and the day on which he discovers why he was born. This is why we were born: To love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Based on current evidence the provenance is anonymous. This article presents a snapshot of what QI has found, and subsequent researchers may discover more information.

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  1. Pamphlet, Sermons from Riverside, Date of Sermon: January 25, 1970, Title of Sermon: “Give Ye Them to Eat”: Luke 9:10-17, Author of Sermon: Dr. Ernest T. Campbell, Quote Page 8, The Publications Office, The Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive, New York, N.Y., Call number: Ernest T. Campbell Manuscript Collection Box 2, No. 3, Book contributor: Princeton Theological Seminary Library. (Internet Archive at link