As the world mourns the passing of Sir Stirling Moss – the motoring great who died on 12 April after a long illness – there is one thing in which we can take comfort: that he truly lived life to its fullest.
While a Formula One championship victory famously eluded him, Moss became known as one of the world’s greatest all-round drivers thanks to his 16 Grand Prix wins, a record-setting Mille Miglia performance and a passion for the sport that kept him in the driving seat until he was 80. We look back at some of his most inspirational sayings – and the lessons you can learn from them.
"I am not a driver, I am a racer."
The takeaway: While the sentiment for Sir Stirling was literal, there’s an important metaphor to be found here. No, we’re not all going to be championship racing drivers but we do all have a special skill or talent. Isolating that skill, nurturing it with hard work and practice and, eventually, allowing yourself to compete against others who possess it is the path to success. All you need is dedication, nerve and a touch of self-belief.
"It is necessary to relax your muscles when you can. Relaxing your brain is fatal."
The takeaway: While we imagine Moss was talking about the disastrous practical implications of letting your mind wander while hurtling around a track, honing the focus of a great racing driver is also a key skill in everyday life. While Moss acknowledges the importance of rest – getting a proper eight hours of sleep, for example, is crucial – giving the task at hand, be that building your business, raising children or nailing an interview for your dream job, your full attention will always yield the best results.
"With driving a motor car, the danger is a very necessary ingredient. Like if you're cooking, you need salt. You can cook without salt, but it doesn't have the flavour."
The takeaway: To labour the motoring metaphor further – get out of the middle lane. Sure there’s a quiet, easy safety to staying in your comfort zone but, quite clearly, you’ll never achieve greatness is you settle for mediocrity. As Moss says, there’s danger involved with this. Yes, you might fail. But you almost might succeed – and that’s what makes life exciting.
"It is better to go into a corner slow and come out fast, than to go in fast and come out dead."
The takeaway: A slight caveat to the lesson above. Yes, go for your dreams. Yes, give it your all. But be sensible about it. Don’t quit your job and pour your entire life’s savings into a new business before you’ve done some market research and built a business plan. Don’t sign up for a marathon next month if you haven’t been for a run in years. Goals are good, but it takes time, preparation and a level head to make real achievements.
"It's hard to drive at the limit, but it's harder to know where the limits are."
The takeaway: We’re taking this as Sir Stirling’s entreaty to us all not to live fast and die young – and, as a man who reached the ripe old age of 90, he should know. Push the boundaries, experiment and take things as far as you can but recognise when you’re beginning to lose control. Learn the difference between working hard and burning out. Recognise when you need to reign it in. This way longevity lies.
"Movement is tranquility."
The takeaway: There’s no peace or contentment to be found in standing still. Staying in your lane may seem like the easy thing to do but rarely is the easy thing the most fulfilling. Paradoxically you are likely to find greater happiness by taking the path that involves struggle, hard work and occasional disappointment but, ultimately, leads you to strive for something better.
"Calling upon my years of experience, I froze at the controls."
The takeaway: Moss’ professional racing career was halted prematurely by an accident at Goodwood which almost cost him his life. While mistakes made on your part are unlikely to have such disastrous consequences, recognising that they’re a part of life is the greatest lesson anyone can learn. Forgive yourself when you make them. Forgive others when they make them. Pick yourself up, learn from them and try again.
“If everything is under control you are just not driving fast enough.”
The takeaway: Stirling Moss was a great believer in living on the fine line between controlled chaos and complete disaster – so, if you feel like you’re coasting, then it’s time to take things up a gear. Go for that promotion, take up that new hobby, move to that new city. After all, you’ll never grow if you don’t challenge yourself.
For more life lessons from great men, Michael Caine on why he doesn’t want to live to 100…
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