Updated on 12.02.16

Inspiration from Galileo, John McWhorter, Robert Louis Stevenson, and More

Trent Hamm

A Dozen Pieces of Inspiration #29

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. Galileo on learning

“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.” – Galileo

At first, I thought this quote was silly. How can you expect someone to have knowledge of a topic inherently within themselves?

That’s not what Galileo is talking about here, though. Galileo is talking about the willingness to learn and other foundational elements of character. A person with poor character and habits can’t be taught to have better character and habits. All you can do is lay the information at that person’s door; it’s up to them to do something with it, and that willingness comes from within.

I am close friends with quite a few public school teachers and they all more or less say the same thing: there comes a point where it doesn’t matter how much effort you put into teaching, the student is either going to make the effort to meet you in the middle and absorb some knowledge or that student will refuse and probably fail. Some students are chomping at the bit to learn; others learn a ton on their own and barely need instruction at all. Almost universally, they feel that the biggest (and best) part of their job is reaching the people who put forth that basic effort to learn but struggle to get there.

The number one biggest thing that you can do to succeed as a person is to put forth genuine effort in whatever it is that you’re doing. That simple step alone puts you ahead of a lot of people.

2. John McWhorter on why you should learn a new language

From the description:

English is fast becoming the world’s universal language, and instant translation technology is improving every year. So why bother learning a foreign language? Linguist and Columbia professor John McWhorter shares four alluring benefits of learning an unfamiliar tongue.

I summarized his reasons for those who don’t want to watch the video.

Reason one: if you want to really understand and absorb the culture, you need to learn the language that it’s spoken in, because without that you miss almost all of the nuance of communication.

Reason two: if you speak two languages, you’re less likely to suffer from dementia and you’re more likely to be a decent multitasker.

Reason three: learning and using languages is simply fun.

Reason four: we live in an era where it has never been easier to learn a language, especially with tools like Duolingo out there.

I’ve found that learning someone else’s language – or at least trying to – is one of the most effective ways there is to build a bond with someone from a different culture. It’s almost always a fun experience, particularly when you’re also helping them to learn your language at the same time.

I once worked at a shared desk with an individual from China. He was new to the United States and spoke very halting English, though he could read it fairly well. I made it a point to have several conversations with him in English every single day, but our relationship didn’t start clicking until he started teaching me how to converse in Cantonese – his native tongue. I was awful at it and he thought this was positively hilarious. Apparently, every other sentence out of my mouth was an unintentional obscenity. It helped us to bond, it helped me to learn just a little bit of Cantonese, and it also helped me to understand him a little better.

3. Robert Louis Stevenson on judging each day

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Over the past few months, I’ve been focusing quite a lot on planting seeds for the future. I’m not talking about literal seeds, of course, but metaphorical ones: things that won’t pay off in any real way today or tomorrow, but something that will pay off way down the road.

For me, the biggest seeds I am planting are my children. I’ve been dwelling heavily on the question of what I can do as a parent to help them to become functional, independent, successful adults. I want them to not only be able to handle adult and professional life on their own, but to want to do it. Not that they’ll forget about ol’ dad, but that they won’t need me to help them manage their daily life and that they’re making good choices on their own.

I’m also planting a ton of career and community seeds by trying to build relationships with people and break through my own natural introversion. This is hard for me – I’m just not naturally the kind of person that dives into conversations.

4. The Avett Brothers – No Hard Feelings

The Avett Brothers are my favorite musical act of the last fifteen years or so (along with Old Crow Medicine Show – maybe). I absolutely love their harmonization, their soulful Americana musical choices, and their laid back style. So, whenever they have new stuff out, I’m going to be sharing it here because their music has brought so much value to my life.

Although I absolutely adore this newest song, I almost always point people to the two brothers singing an acoustic duet of their great Salvation Song in a park on a cold day. You’re going to be struck right off the bat by the fact that it’s bluegrass-y to the core, but listen to the lyrics and how their voices harmonize and don’t be surprised if it hooks you hard.

Bluegrass music works for me because it takes concerns of the modern world and makes them timeless, or, depending on how you look at it, it’s about timeless concerns. It makes me realize that my grandparents and great-grandparents and their grandparents felt heartache and love and worries about the world, and my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will feel those same things, too, and it’s done entirely with the instruments they each could have used. It’s eternal. It’s the human experience. And it can be beautiful, even when it hurts.

5. Tom Bodett on the keys to happiness

“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” ― Tom Bodett

Quotes like this that just break through the layers of modern life and cut things down to the basics really hit home for me.

Something to do. Someone to love. Something to hope for. That’s pretty much the definition of a good life. I put that right up next to Jim Valvano’s definition of a great day: you learn something, you laugh, and you cry.

Really, what else do you need in life? What else do you even want out of life? If you’re able to learn, laugh, and cry every day, and you have someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for… what else is there, really?

6. Ellen Goodman on normal

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.” – Ellen Goodman

This is a life cycle that many, many Americans find themselves in. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why it occurs – people are chasing their dreams. I just can’t help but wonder at times whether those dreams really come from within or whether they’re delivered from outside.

In my own life, I’ve found that the greatest joy – even when I’m working hard on something challenging – comes about when I’m working toward my own dream. My own dream is financial independence. It is not a beautiful house. It is not a shiny car. It is not a $1,000 suit. It’s the ability to wake up some morning in the near future knowing that all of my basic needs are taken care of for pretty much the rest of my life and then deciding what the day is going to hold.

However, along the way to that dream, I want to be an involved father and husband and I want enough space so that I can recharge that creativity that I use to fuel my work.

That dream sometimes leads to different choices than others might make, and that’s okay. Just make sure that the things you’re working for are the things that you really want, not just what someone else tells you that you should want.

7. Time’s 100 Most Influential Images of All Time

Earthrise - Apollo 8

A friend shared this image gallery with me a few days ago and I spent far longer than I should have browsing through this gallery.

Most of the images were familiar, but not all. Some shared iconic moments in history, while others simply showed everyday life. I thought of a couple that I might have included that weren’t there, but I think that feeling would be true of any such collection.

In the end, it’s a wonderful retrospective of the world over the last hundred and fifty years or so. It has a Western slant, of course, as it’s where photography was born and where it exploded in popularity so there’s much more to draw from, but these images do cover the whole world, from rich to poor, from West to East, from the variety of human experience.

Spend some time browsing through it. You’ll be glad you did.

'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California'

8. Eckhart Tolle on unhappiness

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” – Eckhart Tolle

I’ve learned over the years that whenever I have an emotional response to something – meaning that something makes me sad or angry or overjoyed – that emotion is almost always useless and often dangerous. Whenever I dwell on something with negative thoughts, it’s almost always useless and often dangerous.

The reality is that I have a lot of control over my emotions and thoughts. Yes, sure, sometimes emotions flood out, but most of the time, I get to actually decide whether I’m happy about something or whether I’m sad about something or whether I’m angry about something. I get to choose whether I think about things in a positive light or a negative light. It’s my choice, and when I make that choice, I end up shading how I feel about and how I respond to things in my life.

Take a person in your life. Any person. If you spend a moment thinking about that person’s positive traits – their humor, perhaps, or their honesty – you’re going to end up feeling a bit more positive about that person. If you spend a moment thinking about that person’s negative traits – their public outbursts, perhaps – you’re going to end up feeling a bit more negative about that person.

The thing is, you get to choose what you think about. You get to decide whether you’re going to dwell on their negative traits or their positive traits, and what you dwell on shapes how you feel toward that thing and how you respond to that thing. That’s your choice.

9. Dropbox Paper

I’m involved with a few different collaborative projects of different kinds. Most of them heavily revolve around sharing information and ideas – ideas for podcast episodes, ideas for visual designs, ideas for video storyboards, ideas for code structures, and so on.

These different projects have used different tools to share ideas. A couple just use email chains. A couple others use Google Docs. One seems to rely on an endless group Facebook message.

One of them, however, recently switched to using Dropbox Paper and it’s been a godsend.

Dropbox Paper is basically like a digital version of a giant piece of scratch paper where you can basically cut and paste and write anything you want. Everyone else (with a Dropbox account) can see it and edit it and it tracks the changes effortlessly.

It just works. There are other collaborative tools that are kind of like this, but this just works effortlessly for group brainstorming.

I’m trying to get some of my other projects to move to Dropbox Paper for idea sharing and brainstorming. I hope it sticks.

10. Seneca on aim

“Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.” – Seneca

Whenever I don’t have a big goal in life, I flounder. Badly.

I’ll fall back on just going through a daily cycle that just repeats the same things over and over without meaning, without heart. As hard as I try, my thoughts eventually turn negative.

I need something big to be working on. Without that big thing, I just regress.

It’s a deep truth about who I am, and it’s something that I think is true for a lot of people (though not everyone). If I have a direction, I get enthusiastic about building plans and executing them and working my tail off. I do everything I can to move toward that destination. Without it… I just idle in place and eventually I grow unhappy.

11. Casey Neistat’s final vlog

For about a year and a half, filmmaker Casey Neistat made a daily video that served as something of a record of his life. He experimented with all kinds of different things throughout the series, trying different things and using different filmmaking techniques to make them interesting and look great.

He’s choosing to end that series, and his reasoning is great. He basically doesn’t feel that it’s challenging him any more. He’s found a formula and a routine that makes it so he can just churn out videos, and for him, the joy in doing it is in discovering, not pumping things out. So he’s moving on.

This is basically a perfect example of why financial independence is so valuable. It’s impossible to do things in that way if you’re not financially independent or at least close to it. If you need that next paycheck, it becomes very hard to move on to the next challenge in life. You’re stuck with what you have.

That’s why creative freedom often rests on the back of either poverty or financial independence. Both enable you to take risks that you can’t take if you need that next paycheck to sustain your life.

12. Mark Twain on good cheer

“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.” – Mark Twain

Try this. It works surprisingly well.

Go to a public event of some kind and just make yourself be social. Make it your goal to put a smile on the face of each and every person in the room, one on one. Just make that your intent when you go there.

Go around and talk to each person. Be as positive as you can, especially if they’re down. Look for positive things to say and try to lighten the mood with a bit of humor if you can muster it.

Do this with each and every person in the entire room. See if you can raise a smile.

Do you want to know a secret? When you leave that room, even if you’re really introverted and socially worn out, you’re going to feel really upbeat. You’re going to have collected a lot of smiles and a lot of good little moments and it’s going to lift your sense of well being.

Even better, over the long run, if you do it again and again, you’re going to start establishing some great relationships. People are going to be happy to see you walking into the room. They’re going to start reaching out to you on their own and including you in things and in ways you never expected.

Make it your goal to bring good cheer to everyone. You’ll be surprised how much it does for you.

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