Inspiration from Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Carrie Fisher, 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. Abraham Lincoln on believing in friends

“I’m a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.” – Abraham Lincoln

If you’re trying to take on a major life change or work on a major project, there are few things in life that are more helpful than a supportive friend or two. Not only is a supportive friend often full of good ideas and suggestions and positivity, you also often cultivate a sense that you want to succeed at your goal in order to not let that friend down. You want to succeed because they want you to succeed, and it becomes a boost to your own motivation for success.

Talk to your friends about your goals, particularly the ones that you know are positive and supportive. They’ll be there for you along the way, if you let them, and you’ll find that before long your desire to not let them down adds to your desire to succeed at your goal.

2. Draw a Box

I am absolutely terrible at drawing. My drawing and sketching skills basically extend to drawing stick figures or following along with step-by-step Youtube videos and still ending up with crude results. My nine year old daughter produces substantially better results than I do.

I’ve tried a lot of different online tutorials for drawing and none of them have ever really clicked until I tried this one. Draw a Box is the first online drawing tutorial I’ve ever done that’s actually resulted in significant improvement in my drawing ability and the entire website is free.

What I’ve come to realize is that I was doing a bunch of things fundamentally wrong and that by getting rid of those bad fundamentals and working to replace them with good fundamentals, I’m naturally able to draw a little better. For instance, when I draw, I used to work almost entirely with the wrist, but after using this tutorial, I’m using my shoulders a lot more and the result is far better flowing lines on the page rather than bumpy weird lines.

The site explains things very well and offers up tons of exercises and practice “homework” for reworking fundamentals. I’m admittedly moving through it slowly and really hammering repetition on some of the fundamental things before I move on, but when I sit down with my daughter now, I notice already that there’s a big improvement in what I’m producing. It’s far from great yet, but this is the first time since I was a kid where I’ve seen real improvement.

3. Anaïs Nin on how love dies

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.” ― Anaïs Nin

I started dating my wife more than twenty years ago (in the summer of 1996), and I know by now that time can really see a relationship fade if you don’t pay attention to it and nurture it. It is very easy to fall into a routine of everyday life where little forgotten things and little unintended things add up and the everyday dance of love falls away. There are few things truly sadder than that.

Never let a day go by without wrapping your arms around your partner and telling him or her that you love them. Never let a day go by without a kiss, a hug, and a warm embrace. Never let a day go by without a conversation where you actually listen rather than just waiting until your next chance to say anything.

You’re going to mess up sometimes and do things in a way that hurts your partner. Quite often, you’ll never notice yourself doing it. But you can go a long way toward healing those things if you simply do the work to keep your relationship alive, every day. It’s worth it.

4. Videos on better ways to do everyday things

I love videos like this one on how to fold a fitted sheet:

… or how to insert a duvet into its cover:

… or how to fold a t-shirt quickly:

… or how to test your oven temperature, which can really help with making sure recipes turn out right:

For some reason, videos that show off how to do some of these simple household tasks really appeal to me. Usually, the solution is something so comically simple that I almost slap myself in the head for having not thought of it before, like taking advantage of the melting point of sugar to check oven temperature or tucking together the corners of a fitted bedsheet to fold it.

I think the appeal is similar to why I keep digging into frugality tactics. I love to know how to do the ordinary things that I do just a little bit better.

5. Socrates on being what we pretend to be

“The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.” – Socrates

All of us have this image of ourselves that we want to present to others. An image of kindness, of wisdom, of being organized, of being a functional and mature adult, of being a leader. However, there are a lot of times, particularly when we’re alone, when we feel like we fall far, far short of that image that we want to project.

I often don’t feel like I’m frugal, though it’s an image that I want to present here. I often feel like I’m not the best parent or the best husband, though it’s an image that I want to present to many people in my life.

The further I feel I am from the image I want to project, the worse I feel about myself, and it’s a feeling that doesn’t really dissipate. The best solution I’ve found for feeling comfortable and happy in the world is to live as close as possible to the image I want to project to others. If I want to project an image of being frugal, I need to actually be frugal. If I want to project an image of being a good parent, I need to actually be an attentive and involved parent.

If I do that, then the image comes naturally and it doesn’t feel false. It feels like an authentic picture of who I am. And that feels good. Really good.

6. NOVAE – An aestethic vision of a supernova

If you can watch this in full screen, do so.

From the description:

Novae is a movie about an astronomical event that occurs during the last evolutionary stages of a massive star’s life, whose dramatic and catastrophic death is marked by one final titanic explosion called supernova.
By only using an aquarium, ink and water, this film is also an attempt to represent the giant with the small without any computed generated imagery.
As a tribute to Kubrick or Nolan’s filmography, Novae is a cosmic poem that want to introduce the viewer to the nebulae’s infinite beauty.

This is just a gorgeous video to watch. Turn it on, turn up the sound, and let it flow over your eyes and ears. You’ll be incredibly glad that you did.

The simple effect of using an aquarium, water, and ink in the water to describe an enormous natural phenomenon in such a stunningly beautiful way is something that’s well worth enjoying. I’ve watched this with my children several times and my youngest wanted to watch it again and again and again.

Don’t miss this. It’s well worth your time.

7. Adam Galinsky on hotw to speak up for yourself

From the description:

Speaking up is hard to do, even when you know you should. Learn how to assert yourself, navigate tricky social situations and expand your personal power with sage guidance from social psychologist Adam Galinsky.

The biggest concern that many people have with speaking up – including myself – is the sense that by doing so, you’ll come off as a negative person and be less likable. Speaking up often comes with this air of being rude or intrusive, attributes that people don’t want to have.

The truth is that the ability to speak up often comes down to one’s sense of power in the room. If you feel powerless, you won’t speak up, ever. If you feel powerful, you’ll speak up all the time, perhaps even too much. The thing is, people don’t like to be surrounded by powerless peers unless they just want to run roughshod over them. They want people who speak up when it’s actually important, because that indicates that the person has useful beliefs and the power to express them when it matters.

That’s the key: knowing when it matters. Don’t speak up when there’s no benefit for anyone in doing so. If you’re just being negative toward someone, literally no one benefits when you speak up and many involved suffer. Save speaking up for the moments when a comment can really help and provide a positive impact. Couch it in a positive way, but still, go for it. Speaking up when it’s actually useful gets you noticed in a positive way, and that’s something that’s beneficial for you and beneficial for the recipient of your actual useful comment.

8. C.S. Lewis on reading great literature

“But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.” – C.S. Lewis

I’ve been asked before why exactly it is that I read so much. It’s almost hard to find me without my nose in a book or without my Kindle at arm’s length.

The biggest reason I read so much is because it is the only window I have into the souls of other people. Great books provide that window; truly great writing can open up ideas and open up people in a way that nothing else I’ve ever experienced can pull off.

I read because I need to understand the world. It’s a drive that’s deep inside of me. Experience can teach me a lot about what’s on the surface, but there are some things I can only get by looking at the world through the eyes of others, and books achieve that more reliably than anything else.

9. Health Care Triage

I wasn’t even aware of this Youtube channel until recently, when a friend of mine shared with me their paid sick leave video, which you can see here:

Health Care Triage is a Youtube channel devoted entirely to well-produced and well-researched and actually entertaining videos on health care issues of all kinds.

Whenever you manage to perfect the “triage” of being entertaining, being informative, and backing that information up with sources, you’re probably going to attract me as a viewer, and Health Care Triage absolutely did that. I spend a few hours nearly drowning myself in videos from this channel and walked away with new ideas on why the “five second rule” doesn’t work, the interconnection between SNAP and the obesity epidemic, the amazing return on investment from Medicaid, and countless other things.

I firmly believe that channels like this are part of the future of video media: small producers with editorial freedom who really truly care about the topic and back it up with public facts and research. Health Care Triage is a great template for it. Great job, guys.

10. Haruki Murakami on money and time

“Spend your money on the things money can buy. Spend your time on the things money can’t buy.” — Haruki Murakami

There is no amount of money in the world that will keep my kids young forever. They’re growing up. There is a limited amount of time left in their childhood, before they spread their wings and fly.

I can work and work and work right now to make money so that they can have some sort of perfect life, but when I look back on my childhood, the things I remember aren’t the things we had or the trips we went on. It’s the time we spent together. It’s the dinner table conversations. It’s the board games played on a lazy afternoon. It’s the baseball games and basketball games we watched together. It’s my mom’s constant presence at my school events. It’s fishing with my dad.

I’m willing to earn a little less in my life right now so that I can be there for them when they get home off the bus, so that we can spend an hour or two together each day, so that if they have troubles in life they can talk about them, so I can help them with their homework, so we can have a family dinner together.

Before long, I won’t have that choice. I already can’t hold them as the babies and toddlers that they once were. I don’t mind that, but I don’t want to miss a thing as they move forward. I want to be here when they need me and be accepting of the times when they don’t.

Time trumps money, every time.

11. Roger Antonsen on math is the hidden secret to understanding the world

From the description:

Unlock the mysteries and inner workings of the world through one of the most imaginative art forms ever — mathematics — with Roger Antonsen, as he explains how a slight change in perspective can reveal patterns, numbers and formulas as the gateways to empathy and understanding.

The world is full of patterns. Mathematics is the universal language of patterns. It’s a way to explain them and compare them and understand them. Thus, the better your understanding of math, the better your toolkit for understanding the world.

The interesting part of this video is how smoothly that extends to humanities and social sciences and philosophy. Math shows up in surprising ways in areas you’d never expect, even in the most human of emotions.

Antonsen does a great job of touching on all of that in an easy to understand way in this video. It’s very much worth watching.

12. Carrie Fisher on doing it anyway

Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” ― Carrie Fisher

I don’t think this edition of Pieces of Inspiration would be complete without talking a bit about Carrie Fisher.

One of my most vivid memories of childhood comes from when I was about ten or so. I had a tiny color television with manual dials in my bedroom that could pick up about four channels and one of those channels was showing one of the Star Wars movies – I couldn’t tell you which one. I was hiding underneath a bedsheet with my pet dog, peeking out and watching it.

The Star Wars movies changed my life. I saw them for the first time on broadcast television when I was very young and they ignited a fire inside of me for fantasy and science fiction. My grandmother fed that fire very nicely, buying me tons of books in that genre for birthdays and holidays and even slipping me a book as a surprise here and there. My mother fed it, too, by taking me to the library quite often and letting me check out whatever I wanted with no filter whatsoever. She didn’t censor my reading habits at all.

Those books introduced me to many different ways of thinking and seeing the world, from the libertarian views of Robert Heinlein to the personal explorations of Samuel Delany. They eventually led me to reading a great deal of science nonfiction, then into philosophy and other areas. I ended up studying in the hard sciences in college largely because of those endless adolescent and teenage days spent reading science fiction and philosophy and science.

Even today, I read a lot of science fiction, and it still exposes me to new ideas and new ways of seeing the world. It still pushes me to think differently and often pushes me into reading science nonfiction, philosophy, history, and other things.

It all started with Star Wars. I owe a great deal of the directions and choices of my life to the original vision of George Lucas and the onscreen performances of Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill. They came along at just the right moment to have a tremendous impact on me, helping me to understand myself and the world and start that fire of curiosity that is still burning.

They’re all getting old, now, and I’m older, too. It was a painful surprise to find that Carrie Fisher had passed away, one that impacted me a lot harder than I would have expected.

Carrie Fisher isn’t just a part of my distant past, though. She’s a part of a very fond memory I have from the last year. I sat in a theater watching The Force Awakens with my daughter and a much older Carrie Fisher was on screen. No longer the young Princess Leia I remember from my youth, she was instead a general, someone who had devoted her life to leading others and making hard decisions. She was strong and tough and had made countless sacrifices and hard decisions in her life. She was a leader of people, one who had overcome challenges. It was a vision of womanhood that is rarely portrayed in movies, one that I was really glad that my daughter could see on the screen.

Thanks, Carrie, one more time.

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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