Updated on 04.07.16

Inspiration from Carl Sandburg, Cory Booker, Jean-Luc Picard and More

Trent Hamm

A Dozen Pieces of Inspiration #21

Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life.

1. Carl Sandburg on the true currency of your life

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” – Carl Sandburg

As I write this, my children are about to wake up, as they do like clockwork around seven in the morning on the weekends. Today is going to be a very laid back day after a very busy week for all of us. There will be games played, meals eaten together as a family, soccer lightly practiced in the back yard, books read, and a family movie night at the end of it.

More and more, I’ve come to view time like this as the currency of my life. Time that I spend on something meaningful to me that’s completely of my choosing, without any sort of income motive in mind, is truly the most valuable commodity in my life.

I want to spend that time as well as I can. Right now, while my children are young, spending that time with them is a pretty valuable way to spend it. At the same time, I also need to spend at least a little of it on solitary activities or activities with other adults in order to recharge.

I don’t want to spend that coin on something that isn’t meaningful to me. To me, that is the greatest misuse of my life – to use my time on something that isn’t bringing me genuine joy or pleasure or isn’t helping me to build something I deeply care about, like a lasting relationship with someone.

We only have so much time in the world, and we have to spend some of that time on sleep and on earning income and on maintaining our living environment and other basic life chores. That leaves us a surprisingly little amount of time to spend in ways that we choose. I want to make those choices as meaningful as possible.

2. Reshma Saujani on teaching girls bravery, not perfection

From the description:

We’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave, says Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code. Saujani has taken up the charge to socialize young girls to take risks and learn to program — two skills they need to move society forward. To truly innovate, we cannot leave behind half of our population, she says. “I need each of you to tell every young woman you know to be comfortable with imperfection.”

Before we had children, I was fairly apprehensive about having a daughter. I grew up in a family where all of the children were boys and the idea of having a little girl to take care of made me feel pretty uncertain.

Now that I’ve had that experience for eight years, I actually don’t do anything that different than I do with my sons. All of my children react differently in different situations and I know how to handle that, but that’s not a gender difference.

In terms of values, I try really hard to instill the same values in all of my children. Focus. Put in your best effort. Be kind to others, and that’s especially important with those who are different than us. Don’t run away from challenges.

I don’t want or expect perfection from any of my children. I’d far rather cultivate their bravery and willingness to take on challenges of all stripes.

3. Jean-Luc Picard on losing without error

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.” – Jean Luc Picard

When I was in the ninth grade, my father contracted spinal meningitis and had to spend more than a month in the hospital recovering. My mother stayed with him at the hospital, which meant that I was sent to live with a relative. I stayed with my uncle and grandmother.

My uncle worked late at night. He would come home not too long before I woke up, sleep about half of the day, and the be around during the afternoon and evening hours. My grandmother also worked, but she worked during the daytime hours. I was on summer break, so I mostly just hung out around the place taking care of a few chores like mowing the grass and so on.

Due to their schedules, I actually spent more time with my uncle than with my grandmother. He and I didn’t know each other really well before I went to stay there, so there was some “getting used to each other” for the first few days, but before long we settled into a very familiar routine, a routine centered around Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show was on at two different times during the day, showing two different episodes. It was a show that we both agreed on, so it gradually became the centerpiece of our days – one episode in the early afternoon and another one just before he left for work.

The really great part about this routine was the discussions that the show spawned between the two of us, something that ended up playing a huge role in the development of my values as a person.

To this day, I have an incredibly soft spot in my heart for Star Trek: The Next Generation. It reminds me of my uncle, who has long since passed, and the great conversations we had. I miss him, but I know he’d be glad to understand how much impact those things had on me.

4. Trampled by Turtles – Wait So Long

I love a wide variety of music (as you’ll see a bit later in this article), but bluegrass music has always had a special place in my heart. Part of it comes from my paternal grandfather, who was an incredibly skilled banjo player who could play almost anything by ear. It was an amazing skill, but it was one that I simply didn’t inherit.

Bluegrass music makes me think of the wide open spaces in the world, with beautiful trees and green grass. At the same time, it reminds me that it doesn’t matter where you are, you take the joys and the sorrows of life with you, on the inside.

This is a splendid example of modern bluegrass music, mixed with a bit of other musical types as well. Trampled by Turtles fits in perfectly with many of my other favorite musical acts, such as Old Crow Medicine Show and The Avett Brothers.

5. L.R. Knost on parenting and cruelty

“It’s not our job to toughen up our children to face a cruel, and heartless world. It’s our job to teach children how to make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” – L.R. Knost

I feel as though this quote goes hand in hand with that earlier video on the value of teaching children – particularly girls – the importance of being brave more than the importance of being perfect.

In the end, perfection is a false front. No one is perfect. However, trying to maintain perfection can often end in cruelty. If you surround yourself with a facade of perfection, what happens to the imperfect things, the imperfect people? They’re discarded for no real reason.

The world can be a cruel place. It takes a brave person – not a perfect person – to make that world a little less cruel for others and to know how to handle the cruelty yourself. That’s the kind of person I want my children to be, and that’s a big part of the goal of my parenting.

6. Deep Work by Cal Newport

I’ve deeply enjoyed reading this book in the past week, and I think at some point it deserves a longer review here on The Simple Dollar. However, it’s been incredibly inspiring and I wanted to mention it while it was all incredibly fresh in my mind.

The idea behind Deep Work is simple: the truly valuable creative and intellectual work in this world is deep and focused, not shallow and multi-tasked. It requires people to bear down and dig deep into the task at hand, without distraction, so that the piece can be understood in a way that’s impossible to reach if you’re constantly pulling your mind away from that task.

It’s a wonderful read, full of smart ideas and suggestions for doing deep work even in a crazy and distracted professional environment. It’s one of the best books on doing quality work that I’ve read in a very long time.

7. AlphaGo versus Lee Sedol

Lee Sedol is without a doubt one of the best go players in the world.

Wait, let’s back up a second. Go is a classic abstract strategy game for two players that originated in China thousands of years ago. The game itself is simple – players simply alternate placing stones on a 19 by 19 grid, and pieces are captured by surrounding your opponent’s pieces with your own. Playing it well is incredibly difficult, however.

Up until now, computers haven’t done very well at playing go. Unlike chess, go isn’t a game that can really be played by simply looking at a huge database of older games. Virtually every go game played winds up with unique board positions that have never existed in a game before, once you get past the first dozen or two moves or so. That means that the records from classic games won’t necessarily provide you with the best move in a given situation. Plus, there’s the issue that there are thousands of moves you can make on a given turn, and your opponent then has thousands of responses to that, and so on, so it’s really hard to plot more than a few turns down the road. Computers haven’t been able to handle that.

Until now.

In the last few weeks, Lee Sedol played a five game match against AlphaGo, a program developed by Google DeepMind, which specializes in artificial intelligence. Not only did AlphaGo win 4-1, it made some brilliant moves that were outside of the expectations of Lee and every observer of the game. In other words, the program was actually coming up with moves that humans would have never considered – it was essentially thinking on its own about an incredibly hard problem and coming up with novel solutions.

That’s simultaneously amazing and a bit scary. The ideas behind AlphaGo are applicable to lots and lots of different real world problems, and as computer hardware gets better and better, they’ll be able to tackle more and more sophisticated problems. It’s a matter of time before computers are fully designing cars, houses, and countless other things. The pieces are already there for it – it’s just a matter of time before it happens.

It’s truly an amazing world we live in.

8. Friedrich Nietzsche on corruption

“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Again, this harkens back to the earlier thoughts about perfection, parenting, and cruelty. Striving for perfection means ironing out the surfaces that aren’t smooth, and that often means discarding those who think differently in favor of those who think just like you.

That’s a mistake for children, and it’s a mistake for us as adults, too. The modern world makes it easy for us to wrap ourselves in a cocoon of people who think like us, and often those people treat those who don’t think in the same way with disdain, often to the point of hatred and cruelty. Hasn’t this current political season shown us many, many examples of this?

Step back. Don’t just shut out those who think differently. Listen to them. Often, their ideas and statements come from the same place as yours do – they just follow a different path to their conclusion. The more we can recognize that we’re all humans and we’re all stumbling through life, the better off we all are.

9. Anthony Hamilton – NPR Tiny Desk Concert

From the description:

Anthony Hamilton’s soul sound was refined in the churches of Charlotte, N.C. Watching the Grammy winner perform, you get the hunch that it’s harder for him to keep the soul inside than it is to actually unleash it. What he and his backup singers, The Hamiltones, do would be better classified as a musical purge, with a stage show that can double as couples therapy and church service. Their warm harmonies have the ability to shrink theaters and stadiums, so we knew this intimate setting was perfect for them.

Following a spot at the final In Performance show of the Obama presidency, the singer, The Hamiltones and his band made their way over to our offices to give us a dose of what’s to come, as well as a heavy helping of what fans have grown to love about him. He opens the set with “Amen” — the debut single from his introspective new album, What I’m Feelin’ — and followed it with three songs that have defined his career.

This is just gorgeous soul music from beginning to end. The phrase “a stage show that can double as couples therapy and church service” is a beautiful description of what’s on offer here.

Anthony Hamilton has one of the most soulful voices I’ve ever heard and he’s surrounded it with wonderful vocal and instrumental accompaniment. This music deserves to be heard.

10. Cory Booker on the true showing of religion

“Before you speak to me about your religion, show it to me in how you treat other people. Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children.” – Cory Booker

I very rarely talk about my own religious and spiritual views on The Simple Dollar because, like many things in life, it’s just talk. When I talk about financial or career advice, it’s tangible – I can point to specific things I’ve done and the outcomes they’ve produced in my life that can be demonstrated with the dollars in my bank account or the free time I have. When it comes down to things like spirituality and faith, it’s not so cut and dried.

To me, the words of someone telling me about their faith mean very little unless I have seen the actions of that person acting out that faith first. I’m far more likely to listen to the spiritual views of the woman in my town who spends countless hours each week keeping the lights on and the shelves stocked at the food pantry, or the guy who greets everyone kindly almost everywhere he goes without any self-promotion, simply out of kindness.

Those people have earned the privilege of my attention when it comes to their thoughts on God, because they’ve earned it with how they live their lives.

If you want my attention on matters of the spirit, show me your love for others.

11. Audrey Choi on making a profit while making a difference

From the description:

Can global capital markets become catalysts for social change? According to investment expert Audrey Choi, individuals own almost half of all global capital, giving them (us!) the power to make a difference by investing in companies that champion social values and sustainability. “We have more opportunity today than ever before to make choices,” she says. “So change your perspective. Invest in the change you want to see in the world.”

This is a very interesting look at what “profit” really is.

Let’s say you’re an investor and you have a million dollars to invest. You could earn 10% by investing in a company doing something that’s great for the world or earn 20% investing in a company that’s doing something that’s destructive to the world. Which one do you invest in?

Of course, most investment choices aren’t that stark, but simply investing purely for profit means that you’re openly supporting the worst that humanity is doing to our planet and to our people.

It’s definitely something worth thinking about.

12. Ali ibn abi Talib on detachment

“Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you.” — Ali ibn abi Talib

Modern life gives us constant opportunities to put ourselves in servitude of the things that we own. We take out a car loan and suddenly we’re finding ourselves having to pay out hundreds per month for years. We take out a mortgage and suddenly we’re paying thousands per month for many years. Even the little things, like buying expensive foods, ends up draining our pocketbooks.

Those types of choices, from the big to the small, restrict our choices in other aspects of life. We have to work certain jobs. We have to work lots of hours. We have to put up with certain types of mistreatment. We often end up feeling miserable about ourselves and our situation.

My entire goal in life is to reach a point where nothing owns me, where I can make my life choices without worry or constraint. That means downsizing, and it also means saving for the future. It means working for freedom.

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