Ralph Waldo Emerson? Ronald E. Osborn? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The following adage about personal growth has appeared in many self-help and motivational texts:
Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.
Often the words are attributed to the well-known transcendental philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I have been unable to determine the source, and I am skeptical. Would you please examine the provenance of this saying?
Quote Investigator: Emerson died in 1882, and the statement has been attributed to him only in recent decades. No citation has been provided, and the linkage is not substantive.
The earliest evidence located by QI was published in “Forbes” magazine in March 1945. A long-standing feature of the periodical was a page titled “Thoughts on the Business of Life” which displayed miscellaneous quotations and aphorisms. A short passage of three sentences containing the maxim was credited to someone named Ronald E. Osborn. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 1
Undertake something that is difficult; it will do you good. Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.
—Ronald E. Osborn.
“Forbes” did not state where it had collected this quotation. News reports in the following years referred to speeches delivered by a professor of church history at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana named Ronald E. Osborn, and it was possible that this religious orator and teacher was the quotesmith. 2 However, this identification is conjectural because of the existence of several individuals named Ronald E. Osborn.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1945 March 15, Forbes, Thoughts on the Business of Life, Quote Page 46, Column 1, Forbes Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm) ↩
- 1951 June 27, The Oregon Statesman, Over 1,000 Delegates at Turner for Christian Church Conclave (Statesman News Service), Quote Page 4, Column 5, Salem, Oregon. (Newspapers_com) ↩