Inspiration from Alan Watts, Henry David Thoreau, Stutterer, and More

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. Alan Watts on change

“You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were 5 minutes ago.” – Alan Watts

Part of the reason that change seems so challenging is that we feel restricted by the patterns we’ve already established in life. While there might be aspects of ourselves that we want to change, we’re also often comfortable with the patterns that we’ve established. On some level, we’re comfortable with who we are, or at least more comfortable with that than the prospect of change.

The thing is, our lives really are whatever we make of it. The person we were yesterday doesn’t have to be the person we are today. We can always strive to be better. We can always improve our lives.

Don’t commit yourself to a painful future just because of the mistakes made in the past. You don’t live in the past. You live in the present, and your present self can always change your future. It starts with making good choices today.

2. Jim Hemerling on five ways to lead in an era of constant change

From the description:

Who says change needs to be hard? Organizational change expert Jim Hemerling thinks adapting your business in today’s constantly-evolving world can be invigorating instead of exhausting. He outlines five imperatives, centered around putting people first, for turning company reorganization into an empowering, energizing task for all.

During the last decade of my life (well, actually, the last two decades, to an extent), I’ve wound up in more leadership positions than I would have ever expected earlier on in my life. I’ve wound up as the president of a charity, the defacto leader of a research project, the head of an internet business… sheesh.

The thing is, I don’t actually like leading. I don’t feel that I’m very good at it, so I mostly rely on everyone else on the team as a crutch. I have no idea what I’m doing, so I just go around to everyone and ask what they’re doing and just try to see where it fits together and what I can do to help it fit better.

The thing is, I think that’s really the key. A leader is just the person who tries to help everyone fit together, and you do that by listening, by putting things in place to help people fit together better, and occasionally pull out a piece that isn’t working or put in a new piece that’s needed. That’s it. The key is listening and then trying to do something about it.

If you’re ever stuck leading something, just do that. Ask everyone what they’re doing and what their personal vision is and what they want to be doing, and do your best to make all of that work together. If everyone’s happy, they’re going to try to make the project succeed and the best way to make people happy is to just listen without interruption and then try to help and try to make things fit.

3. Dale Carnegie on dealing with others

“When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.” – Dale Carnegie

This somewhat overlaps with the above video. People might be logical when solving some problems, but most of the time, everyone operates out of a sense of pride and pre-existing opinions. People want to feel important and appreciated.

Over the years, I’ve figured out one thing that has really, really helped me every time I’ve had to work with other people: give an overabundance of credit to others. Whenever someone compliments you, give credit to people who have helped you. When you present something, find ways to single out others for credit.

The thing is, doing that takes nothing away from you, but it gives a lot to the people that helped you. People still know and respect that you put forth a lot of effort, even when you dish tons of credit to others, but then people know that there are a lot of additional people that helped. They also know that you’re a team player, so if anything it actually helps you a little.

Every single reasonable time you can, give credit to others. Feed their pride a little, their vanity a little. There’s no drawback to it, only benefit.

4. Darebee

I am a huge fan of bodyweight exercises – in other words, exercises you can do at home without any additional equipment that pushes both your strength and cardio health. Think jumping jacks and sit-ups and push-ups.

For many years, I used something called the “Lifetime Fitness Ladder,” which is basically just a routine of simple bodyweight exercises. The goal of the ladder was to work through the same loop of exercises every day, adding more reps over time. While it did a great job of pushing cardio health, I found that it didn’t do as great of a job at strengthening lots of muscle groups. It mostly just worked the same few muscle groups.

I tried a lot of different approaches for fixing that problem, but in the last month or so, I’ve really found the best solution for me: Darebee. It’s simply a daily bodyweight fitness routine with three different challenge levels. Each day, the challenge is far different, but it always mixes cardio exercise (meaning it gets you breathing hard and gets your heart racing) along with exercises that challenge different muscle groups each day.

All of the stuff at Darebee is free. It’s fun. It offers variety. It helps get you into shape. It requires no additional equipment. It’s really easy to just pop over there and check out today’s exercise routine.

I love it. I hope you will, too.

5. Abraham Maslow on growth

“In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.” ― Abraham Maslow

Dozens of times throughout the day, we have a choice. We can do something a little harder that builds to a better future, or we can slack off and do the easy thing.

It’s hard to consistently make the better of the two choices. It’s hard to not just kick back on the couch after a busy day. It’s hard to push yourself to grow. On the other hand, it’s easy to just slack off. It’s easy to just browse social media or some website. It’s easy to burn a weekend binge-watching a TV show or swimming in sports.

No one is ever going to make the tough choice to step forward into growth every time. That’s not going to happen. It’s not realistic. Instead, the best way to become a better person is to simply make the tough choice a little more often and to keep it in mind when you’re making choices.

6. Isaac Lidsky on the reality you’re creating for yourself

From the description:

Reality isn’t something you perceive; it’s something you create in your mind. Isaac Lidsky learned this profound lesson firsthand, when unexpected life circumstances yielded valuable insights. In this introspective, personal talk, he challenges us to let go of excuses, assumptions and fears, and accept the awesome responsibility of being the creators of our own reality.

Every single person perceives the world differently. Some people see a hilltop as an adventure. Others see it as a challenge. Still others see it as something to fear.

The thing is, I want to perceive as much of life as possible as challenges and adventures, things that are joyful to overcome. However, it’s up to me to perceive the things life hands me as a challenge to relish, not something to fear.

If there’s something out there that scares you and overwhelms you, that feeling is yours and yours alone. You choose to interpret the world as you want to interpret it – as something to fear or as something to relish.

I want to relish all of it: the mundane, the challenging, even the frightening.

7. Walt Whitman, I Hear America Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day–at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

The measure of our success as a nation has been our hard work and our willingness to work toward a common goal, to share that song. Voices high and low have come together to blend their voices, to make it special.

Where is that song? We need this now, more than ever. It’s so easy to just blame someone else for not carrying that tune, but when we’re blaming, we’re not singing. We’re not contributing to that American song.

8. J.D. Vance on America’s forgotten working class

From the description:

J.D. Vance grew up in a small, poor city in the Rust Belt of southern Ohio, where he had a front-row seat to many of the social ills plaguing America: a heroin epidemic, failing schools, families torn apart by divorce and sometimes violence. In a searching talk that will echo throughout the country’s working-class towns, the author details what the loss of the American Dream feels like and raises an important question that everyone from community leaders to policy makers needs to ask: How can we help kids from America’s forgotten places break free from hopelessness and live better lives?

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance is far and away the best book I’ve read this year. It’s an incredibly insightful look at the consequences of economic inequality and how it begins to create a cultural shift over time. It’s personal, beautiful, and insightful – a trifecta that’s hard to pull off.

The thing is, there are no easy answers to the questions he’s asking, but simply paying attention to the questions and reflecting on the domino effects of globalism can bring about a lot of understanding.

I grew up in a situation not too different than J.D.’s experience. While my parents were very good people, I was surrounded by families who had gone through things much like what is described in this book and in this speech. It’s very, very easy to make a snap judgment and decide that people who make poor personal choices are somehow “bad” or personally flawed, but such outcomes are often the result of extremely uninvolved and abusive parents and a community that does very little to foster hope for a great future.

How do we fix it? I don’t know. I’m just glad that this guy is out there making it clear that cultural divides often aren’t what they seem to be.

It’s harder to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes than we like to think that it is.

9. Winston Churchill on making a point

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.” – Winston Churchill

This is something that I take to heart when I’m writing about personal finance or some other aspect of self-improvement. If I come across a principle that really works, something that benefits my life and/or my financial progress, I’m going to want to share it. I’m going to want to do everything I can to make sure that you hear about it and understand it.

To an extent, that means repeating it. A truly important point – which, in my case, means a principle or a tactic that has really made a difference for me – is something that I don’t want to be subtle or clever about. I want to drive it home. That means hitting it home as obviously as possible, then hitting it again, then again.

10. Rachel Barton Pine – Tiny Desk Concert

From the description:

The music of Johann Sebastian Bach is essential, like air and water, for many classical musicians. Pianist András Schiff starts every day with Bach — sometimes before breakfast. “It’s like taking care of your inner hygiene. There’s something very pure about it,” he says. Cellist Matt Haimovitz notes that he’s been playing and thinking about the Bach Cello Suites for more than 30 years. He even plays them in bars.

Violinist Rachel Barton Pine began playing Bach in church at age 4. Ever since, she’s been mastering and re-mastering Bach’s set of six Sonatas and Partitas—more than two hours of solo violin music that looms like a proverbial Mount Everest for any serious fiddler. The trick is getting the details down. Bach left us with the notes but not much else. Pine recently analyzed every measure of these works, and prepared a new edition of the music with her own dynamic markings, phrasing indications, bowings and fingerings.

For this performance, Pine chose three contrasting movements from the set and plays them on her Guarneri del Gesu violin, which was built in 1742 — eight years before Bach died. She highlights the spirit of the dance in the “Tempo di Borea” (a Bourée from the First Partita). She unfolds a serene melody, just lightly accompanied, in the “Largo” (from the Third Sonata), and she closes with the intertwining “Fuga” (from the First Sonata), which sounds like three violinists in deep discussion.

Although the Sonatas and Partitas brim with technical demands, Pine says that every time she plays them, it’s as if she’s “conversing with the very best of friends.”

Turn this on and then go about your day. Play it when you’re doing ordinary chores (that’s when I like listening to classical music). It’s really good.

11. Henry David Thoreau on the price of anything

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” – Henry David Thoreau

More and more, I’ve come to realize that this simple statement underlies so many of the decisions I have to make in my life. I’m left wondering what exactly is worth it – and what isn’t.

If I spend $5 on something, is it worth it? Every $5 I spend adds a little bit to the amount of time in my life that I’m going to have to spend working.

If I spend an hour on something, is it worth it? That’s an hour less of my life that I can spend on things that are truly important to me.

In the end, it’s all the same decision. What’s important? How can I spend as much time as possible on that? How can I spend as little money and time as possible on everything else that isn’t important? Can I keep distinguishing between the handful of things that really are important and the other things that are not?

That’s the daily challenge. Sometimes I succeed, and that’s a good day. Sometimes I fail… and that’s a shame.

12. Stutterer

Note: this would probably be rated PG-13 purely for language because of a couple of choice words. There’s nothing overly offensive (one internal thought and then a few words uttered by an angry man), but don’t watch it at the office or with younger children unless you want them to be repeating a choice word or two.

Like any great film, it gave me that emotional punch in the gut that art can really deliver, and managed to do it about four times in thirteen minutes. It won the 2016 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film and The New Yorker is essentially making it available for free via Youtube. Here’s their article on it:

Our new Screening Room short, “Stutterer,” won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film this year. It’s a thirteen-minute movie about a young London typographer named Greenwood (Matthew Needham). Greenwood stutters, to the extent that verbal conversation is difficult. When he tries to resolve an issue with a service representative over the phone, he can’t get the words out; the operator, gruff and impatient, hangs up. (For surliness, she rivals the operator in the old Yaz song.) When a woman approaches Greenwood on the street, he uses sign language to avoid talking. But in his thoughts, which we hear, he does not stutter. And when he chats online with a woman named Ellie (Chloe Pirrie) he can express himself freely, and is casual, charming, and content. When Ellie writes that she’s coming to London, he panics. How he navigates her visit provides the film’s narrative and emotional suspense.

Watch it. You won’t regret it.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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