10 Inspiring Quotes from Nelson Mandela (plus 12 million children singing him happy birthday!)

Happy 94th birthday, Nelson Mandela! Today, we’re celebrating the life of  South Africa’s first black president — who spent 27 years in prison for his fight against racism and apartheid rule and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work.

Here are ten inspiring quotes from Mr. Mandela himself about freedom, leadership, and how to overcome fear even in the face of great adversity:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

“The greatest glory in living
lies not in never falling,
but in rising every time we fall.”

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

“A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

We’re not the only ones celebrating. Check out this sweet video of 12 million children in South Africa singing Happy Birthday to him:

photo by: MastaBaba


  1. Thanks for this wonderful collection of Mandela quotes. HAPPY BIRTHDAY Madiba 🙂