Inspiration from Massimo Pigliucci, Chris Stapleton, Rhiannon Giddens, 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. Yogi Bhajan on how others behave toward you

“If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time, cease to react at all.” – Yogi Bhajan

This quote has been hugely influential on my thinking over the last month or so.

For most of my life, I have taken criticism very hard and I’ve also allowed compliments to really buoy my emotions. That’s because I often bought into the idea that the spotlight of their comments was fully on me – if someone’s criticizing me or complimenting me, then it must be fully about me, right?

I’ve come to realize, after reflection on my own behavior and on this quote, that that’s not true at all. Many compliments and criticisms are self-serving and often have very little to do with the person being complimented or criticized (not always, but quite often).

The truth is that most compliments and most criticism is mostly just a reflection of the person issuing it. It has far more to do with their emotional state at the moment and what things are on their mind. Yes, you might be an element of that, but you’re often a small element.

Now, there are compliments and criticisms that are worth paying attention to, but those tend to come from people who actually have a stake in your life and are being thoughtful and careful to point out both positive and negative things. The vast majority of criticism and compliments that you get don’t fall into that category, and it’s easy to figure out when they’re serious.

Serious compliments and criticisms are usually detailed, with words chosen carefully as to make their meaning clear and not unduly critical, and they’re rarely self-referential to the person giving the compliment or criticism.

The thing is, the vast majority of compliments and criticisms that you hear don’t fall into that category, and thus they’re really not worth paying any attention to or giving any weight to.

Reflect on that regularly and you’ll find that a lot of offhanded compliments and criticisms quickly cease to mean anything to you.

2. Adam Carroll on when money isn’t real

From the description:

Adam Carroll talks about his $10,000 Monopoly game with his kids and how to teach finance management in a cashless society.

This video demonstrates a simple truth: the closer people are to actual money, the more likely they are to take it seriously and behave in a sensible and smart way with it.

That’s why credit cards are pushed so heavily by financial institutions. Credit cards abstract your money. They take it from cash in hand into a form that’s easy to spend because it doesn’t really seem like money – it seems like just swiping this magic plastic card, after which people give you stuff!

If you carry that thought forward a little bit, it makes a lot of sense to switch to cash-only living if you find yourself struggling to make ends meet and to keep your credit card spending in check. If you switch to a cash-only lifestyle for a while, your financial choices suddenly become much more tangible. You’re actually spending your hard-earned cash for this thing you want in the moment, and that really changes things.

3. Massimo Pigliucci on friendship (via Aristotle)

Aristotle’s opinion was that friends hold a mirror up to each other; through that mirror they can see each other in ways that would not otherwise be accessible to them, and it is this (reciprocal) mirroring that helps them improve themselves as persons. Friends, then, share a similar concept of eudaimonia [Greek for “having a good demon,” often translated as “happiness”] and help each other achieve it. So it is not just that friends are instrumentally good because they enrich our lives, but that they are an integral part of what it means to live the good life, according to Aristotle and other ancient Greek philosophers (like Epicurus). Of course, another reason to value the idea of friendship is its social dimension. In the words of philosopher Elizabeth Telfer, friendship provides “a degree and kind of consideration for others’ welfare which cannot exist outside.”
– Massimo Pigliucci, Answers for Aristotle

I originally wanted to include a quote from Aristotle on friendship here, going directly to the source, but Aristotle’s source quotes were wordy and no single one really summed up what I wanted to say. Pigliucci’s summary here really ties it up.

A friendship worth having is one in which both people involved are made better because of it. Honestly, I’ve come to the point where I judge friendships from that light. If we’re not making each other better, what is the point?

That doesn’t mean you drop a friend when they’re at a low point, but that you should drop a friend when they’re not there when you are at a low point. Be there for your friends when they are low, but remember those who were there for you when you were low.

4. The daily walk

A nice walk has been a part of my day for many years. I usually try to go on a three mile or so walk each day, wandering either through the town in which I live or the countryside near the town, as we live on the outskirts.

In the past, I would listen to a podcast on my walk, or an audiobook, to give my brain something to chew on while walking, but what I’ve been doing lately is listening to nothing at all. Instead, I spend about five minutes before my walk going over something that merits more thought in my life, then heading out with nothing to distract me – no phone at all, just my pocket notebook and a pen in case I want to jot something down.

On the walk, I just let my mind wander without any sort of interrupted distraction. I look at the natural beauty around me. I let that initial problem float around in my mind, but I don’t intentionally focus on it. I’ll think about whatever book I’m reading, or some parenting issue, or what I might want to fix for supper.

The thing is, when I come home, I feel incredibly primed to do something creative – usually writing, but sometimes it’s other things.

I’m permanently switching to leaving my phone at home on my walk, or else stowing it on silent in my back pocket if I’m tracking distance. The benefits of an uninterrupted walk have been amazing.

5. Muhammad Ali on the pebble in your shoe

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe.” – Muhammad Ali

It’s funny how your biggest goals are often upended by the littlest things.

My exercise regimen is often interrupted not by laziness, but by my own tendency to fall into a “zone state” when working, where I completely lose track of time and snap back to reality by the noise of my children coming in the door at the end of a school day.

My dieting regimen is often slowed greatly not by hunger or temptation, but by dinner parties at the homes of friends and family, where I try to eat a polite amount of food but inevitably blow away my daily calorie goals.

The problems that I expect to have at the start of taking on a big journey often end up not being the challenging ones. The ones that actually tend to derail me are ones that I never even think of at all before I start.

I don’t find this despairing. I find this inspiring. It makes me step back and look at my goals and my plans again in a new way. It makes me stop and shake that pebble out of my shoe rather than just deciding that the goal is unreachable.

6. Chris Stapleton – Tiny Desk Concert

From the description:

As a songwriter in Nashville, Chris Stapleton has written hits for Kenny Chesney, George Strait and Darius Rucker. As a singer, he once led the bluegrass band The SteelDrivers, and more recently stepped into the solo spotlight with Traveller, his debut album. It’s the kind of country record that gets better the more you wear it in: When NPR Music named it one of our favorite albums of the first half of 2015, critic Ann Powers compared it to a “soft denim jacket … pulled out time after time, lending comfort, suiting every occasion, with treasure stuffed in every pocket.”

It’s easy to understand why other singers took to his songs — Stapleton writes lyrics that sound classic but never dated — but his softly creaking voice gives them the home they deserve. And even though those songs stand plenty well on their own, it’s nice to have a little support. When Stapleton stepped behind the Tiny Desk to play selections from Traveller, he was joined by his wife Morgane on harmony vocals. Between patient, detailed songs of devotion to love, Los Angeles and liquor, they paused for banter about the summer heat in D.C. and the large number of guitars Chris owns (“Not supposed to tell that part,” he said to Morgane).

Watch him hide behind a large hat, a beard and a battered vintage guitar; watch her smile at him during “More Of You” with a combination of admiration and affection. Like the songs themselves, their performance is full of private moments worth sharing widely.

It’s no secret to those of you who have followed these “pieces of inspiration” articles over the years that I enjoy bluegrass and folk music, but I rarely post what would be called “country” music. The reason being is that music works for me when it can strike an emotional chord with me, and the country genre rarely does that, particularly in its current very pop-oriented “bro-country” flavor. It just doesn’t… mean anything.

To me, great music gins up emotion in your heart, even when you’re not feeling it. It pulls you along for the ride. It draws forth joy, fear, pain, relief – all kinds of emotions. It takes a gift to do that through music. I certainly don’t have it, and I know many very skilled musicians who don’t, either.

Chris Stapleton excels at this, with just his voice and a beat-up guitar. He knows how to use every string and every hint of his voice to basically pull a feeling out of my gut, whether I know it’s there or not. That’s a gift.

7. Longfellow on the secret history of our enemies

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It is so easy to put everyone else’s behavior in the context of us. Is that person doing right by us? Is that person exhibiting behavior that makes sense by my standards?

The thing is, we don’t know that other person’s story. Is that glance at us a mean glare, or is that just the person’s face and they’re not even thinking about us? Is that grouchy person on the bus really hateful to us or are they just having a bad day?

The other day, I had someone literally bump into me roughly on the sidewalk and they seemed to apologize halfheartedly without even looking at me. Was the person rude? Did they dislike me? Actually, it turns out the guy was almost completely blind.

When you stop for a moment and consider what the other person’s life is like, it makes it a lot easier to just overlook quirkiness or perceived impoliteness. Maybe that person is having a bad day, or a bad week, or a bad life. Maybe that person was raised in a different culture than you, where your expectation isn’t theirs. Maybe that “bad driver” learned how to drive in a place where the customs of the road are a bit different.

Not everything has to bend to your expectation. A little bit of empathy and consideration goes a long way.

8. David Lee on why jobs of the future won’t feel like work

From the description:

We’ve all heard that robots are going to take our jobs — but what can we do about it? Innovation expert David Lee says that we should start designing jobs that unlock our hidden talents and passions — the things we spend our weekends doing — to keep us relevant in the age of robotics. “Start asking people what problems they’re inspired to solve and what talents they want to bring to work,” Lee says. “When you invite people to be more, they can amaze us with how much more they can be.”

Ask yourself this: what element of human work will be the most difficult for robots and computers to overcome? It doesn’t take a philosopher to know that it’s passionate creative work – work driven by creative minds applying their knowledge in unexpected ways to problems they care about.

The thing is, you’re basically describing hobby time here. You’re basically describing play – people applying their imaginations and creativity and domain knowledge to something they really care about.

I know that, personally, some of my most enjoyable experiences come from either learning new things or trying to solve problems that don’t have obvious solutions. In the future, I think that’s what all humans will be left with for work, because the other tasks will be handled by machines.

It’s an interesting future to think about, with a lot of implications.

9. Steve Maraboli on yesterday

“One day I just woke up and realized that I can’t touch yesterday. So why the heck was I letting it touch me?” – Steve Maraboli

Your past doesn’t define you. It never should. The only use for a person’s past is to provide lessons for the present and guidance toward the future.

I often look back at my own financial mistakes and, yes, I regret them. However, those mistakes don’t define me. Instead, I try to mine the mistake I made back then to improve what I’m doing right now.

Don’t let your past define you. You’ll constantly regret it.

10. Rhiannon Giddens – Come Love Come

From the description:

Rhiannon Giddens performs her song “Come Love Come” from her 2017 album, Freedom Highway. Filmed at the Breaux Bridge, LA, studio of multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, with whom she co-produced the album.

I mentioned Rhiannon a couple of years ago in an inspiration column, but her music has been something I’ve listened to a great deal since then and with the recent news that she’s a MacArthur Fellow, I wanted to share her music once again.

It’s well worth your time to dig into Rhiannon’s music, as well as the music of the band she’s a member of when she’s not doing her solo thing, the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

11. Elena Ferrante – My Brilliant Friend

This is a wonderful novel about two girls growing up in Naples, Italy in the 1950s and serves as the first in a series of four novels about their intertwined lives.

Why did I love this book? It’s the way that the author manages to balance the beautiful and plain. One might expect that a novel about two girls growing up in Naples is going to be glamorous, somehow, but it isn’t. It’s awkward and tough; you can feel the issues of class coming through almost on every page.

But in that, it manages to be beautiful. People are often more than their circumstances, even if they’re unable to escape them.

Wonderful book. Well worth your time.

12. Heraclitus on wisdom

“For to be wise is only one thing — to fix our attention on our intelligence, which guides all things everywhere.” – Heraclitus

This is one of those quotes that’s twisted around in my brain quite a lot over the years. I think part of what’s confusing about it is the impreciseness of translating it from the original language, but I think there’s a deep meaning there.

Heraclitus, I believe, is trying to make the point that wisdom comes from deliberately improving your “intelligence” in a broad sense. This doesn’t just mean an accumulation of knowledge, but a synthesis of that knowledge and understanding with one’s life experience.

What does that mean? It means a life committed to learning, but also to new experiences. On top of that, it also means a life committed to reflection on that learning and those experiences. What does it all mean? Where do things inform each other?

Do that enough, and you begin to form a pretty solid net of understanding of the world and of your own behavior. That net is wisdom.

The journey to wisdom is long, but it is well worth it.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.