Inspiration from Tara Brach, Skywatch, Sylvia Plath 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. Please enjoy the archives of earlier collections of inspirational things.

1. Martin Luther King Jr. on doing the right thing

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

Doing the right thing is often not the easy thing. It is easier to walk away. It is easier to think no one’s being harmed. It is easier to simply do nothing.

Every time you do nothing, though, a bit of your soul is chipped away. It becomes easier to do nothing the next time it occurs. It becomes more likely you’ll do nothing when something worse happens.

Eventually, we become the person we never thought we’d be.

Do the right thing, as often as you can, even when it’s not easy.

2. The “bored list”

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the book Getting Things Done and the productivity method of the same name. The author, David Allen, advised people to have a “someday/maybe” list of things you’d like to do someday as a way of getting things you might want to do out of your mind.

Over the last year, this strategy has become a lot more meaningful to me. In the past, I would use my “someday/maybe” list to mostly make note of huge things that, if I were honest, I’d probably never get around to doing. Things like “starting a basketball podcast” or “going on a 10-day meditation retreat” and so on.

Lately, though, I’ve moved it in a much smaller direction and it’s really paid off. I’ve simply started keeping a list on my phone of shorter things I’d like to do – things that take thirty minutes to two or three hours. They aren’t things that need to be done and aren’t urgent, but they’re things I’m interested in or excited about.

Make a batch of sauerkraut. Do a long meditation. Do a full stretching routine. Read this article. Read that article. Make a batch of kombucha. Play through a complicated board game to understand the rules. Write a scenario for the semi-regular role-playing game our family does on rainy days. There are a lot of more practical things to do on there as well, like replace the kitchen sink faucet (it doesn’t turn, but it still works without leaking). It’s just stuff that I’d like to do that I might not think about on a given day.

My wife jokingly calls it the “bored list.” I don’t really see it that way. Rather, I see it as a way to remind myself of smaller things I’m excited to do that I might not recall at the moment.

On a lazy Saturday afternoon, at least for the last few months, what I’ll do is call up my “bored list,” choose something and go with it. That “bored list” has turned some Saturday afternoons that might have been wasted away into time spent on one or two things that have been popping up in my mind for the last several weeks, which feels a lot more meaningful.

3. Sylvia Plath on fading out

“What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age.” — Sylvia Plath

When I was younger, I devoted a lot of energy and effort to learning new things, doing all kinds of projects, building skills, and so on.

Now that I’m older, those things are still a part of my life, but it’s different now. Why? I simply have a lot more responsibility in life. The big difference is that I have three children at home and the sheer time devoted to parenting and caring for them with any level of quality is a gigantic time and energy sink. I don’t mind it, but the truth is that the time and energy that I give to them was once directed toward other things.

Here’s the kicker: I still feel like I’m giving that energy to the world, it’s just channeled toward helping my children develop into good citizens of the world, independent and able to make their own decisions and forge their own future and help make the world better. I also apply a lot of effort into making myself better, so that I don’t charge through life like a bull in a china closet like I used to.

From the outside world, the light looks faded out, I suppose. I just tend to think that the light is directed in a different direction. Don’t worry about where your light shines, just that it keeps shining.

4. How an Opera Gets Made

This video shows what goes on behind the scenes of the Metropolitan Opera in the process of actually putting on a show.

I love videos (and books) that delve into what all goes on in the process of making something, and this is a prime example of that format. The layer after layer of effort and human activity that goes into pulling off something like an opera performance … or any musical or stage production … is just astounding to me.

For me, I find it easier to appreciate things like this when I know what went into making it happen. For example, take a very well-executed magic trick. My appreciation actually goes up when I see in detail how it’s done. Why? I start to appreciate all of the details and the thought that went into those details and how it all adds up into something that can completely fool the mind into believing something impossible.

That’s more magical to me than magic itself.

In all honesty, I could fill this whole list with videos about things like how golf balls are made, but that might get dull for everyone else.

5. Dalai Lama on listening

“When you talk, you’re only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” — Dalai Lama

I’m quieter than I used to be, and the reason is that I have found there’s a lot more value in listening to people than there is in simply talking endlessly. I often sit there, just listening to my friends in a way that I know I didn’t use to, and that somehow makes me feel closer to them. I understand them better.

Besides, if I’m just talking, I’m usually not saying much of importance 90% of the time. I might as well just save my words for when I actually have something of value to contribute to the conversation.

6. C.S. Lewis on being “grown up”

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” — C.S. Lewis

This really boils down to an extension of not really worrying about what other people think. I’m in my forties and I love playing tabletop games and reading science fiction and fantasy novels. By some people’s estimation, those are childish pursuits. I don’t really care, to be honest.

What I ask myself is this: am I enjoying this? Am I getting value out of what I’m doing and reading? Am I harming anyone else with it? Those are the real questions I ask myself.

If I channeled all of those through whether or not something appeared “childish” or whether others “approved” of it, I’d miss out on a lot of things that I deeply enjoy and my life would be a much grayer place as a result.

7. Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

A few years ago, a good friend of mine insisted that I read this book. We had engaged in a number of conversations about how we both often felt inadequate and “not good enough” in our daily lives — personal, professional, marital, parental and everything else. Somewhere along the way, my friend found this book, read it, and told me it had changed her world.

I picked it up and read it, but it didn’t quite click with me. I finished it and put it aside and didn’t really think about it again.

Yet, there was something about it that kept popping up in my head. Whenever I’d find myself thinking about how I wasn’t good enough or that there was something wrong with me, some little thread of this book popped up in my head.

A few months ago, I read it again, and it was a gut punch. Around the turn of the year, I read it again.

This book does an amazing job of addressing that “not good enough” feeling in a sustainable and realistic way without falling into the “rah, rah, you’re great” generic cheering that doesn’t really help. Rather, it’s about practical steps for figuring out how to accept who you are and understand that what you are is enough.

It’s funny how the word “enough” keeps popping up in my life.

8. David Foster Wallace on getting smarter

“One of the real ways in which I have gotten smarter is I don’t think I’m that much smarter than other people.” — David Foster Wallace

I’ll go a step further: I’m definitely not smarter than most people, and I know many, many people who are smarter and wiser than I am. The best I can do is to spend time with them and listen to them, whether in person or through reading their writing or listening to their talks or whatever.

Here’s what I’ve learned: most people are really knowledgable and skilled at something, and often several things, but far from everything. In fact, what most people are good at and know a lot about is rather narrow, like one wave in the sea.

I want to surround myself with the waves of others and, if there is a chance, share my own. Almost all the time, in almost all respects, someone rises above me. All I can hope for is that their rising tide lifts me a little.

9. Having Christmas Dinner with 50 Strangers

From the description:

Last year I was alone for Christmas and it was one of the worst feelings to experience. And being alone for Christmas is something that no one should ever have to experience. So this year I had the idea to spend my holidays by having Christmas dinner with 50 strangers.

How does this happen? How does it come together? It’s a great story from beginning to end, with a wonderful underlying thread of generosity and how valuable giving someone a small helping hand can be. This came together because of lots of little helping hands.

Everything about this, from how the idea came about to how the invite list came together to how the meal was made and served. It’s all wonderful and inspirational.

10. Bill Watterson on gradual change

“Day by day, nothing seems to change. But pretty soon, everything’s different.” — Bill Watterson

I notice this sometimes with my own kids. Day to day, they seem about the same, but then when I look at them sometimes, I can’t believe that these were the same kids that I once fed with a spoon in their high chairs and changed their diapers. It feels like almost no time has passed, yet at the same time, it feels like so much time has passed.

It’s easy to get lost in the day to day flow of life and not realize how many things around you are subtly changing until you wake up one morning, look around, and recognize that everything has changed. You’re in an older body and your home looks different and the people around you have changed and the world has changed.

We often overestimate how much things change in a week or a month and then seriously underestimate how much the world changes in a decade or two.

11. Skywatch

This is a wonderful sci-fi short film (about 10 minutes), but even more interesting is the story behind how it was made. It’s about plugging away for literally years, getting a lot of little bits of help from a lot of people and shooting for the moon a few times.

I genuinely hope that Skywatch gets developed into a feature-length movie. It’s got the start of something very entertaining and more than a bit thought-provoking.

[Editor’s Note: Jude Law can do no wrong and has such a wide range of skills. See: Gattaca, Enemy at the Gates, The Holiday, Repo Men, Sherlock Holmes and Anna Karenina]

12. Kobe Bryant

“Pain doesn’t tell you when you ought to stop. Pain is the little voice in your head that tries to hold you back because it knows if you continue, you will change.” — Kobe Bryant

I’m not going to get into some lengthy remembrance of Kobe Bryant’s life — Zach Lowe did that far better than I could.

Rather, what struck me about Kobe’s passing was that he and I were basically the same age. We both had children that we’re trying to raise into successful adults. We both had periods in our life that were more public than we would have liked. We both made mistakes and had to figure out how to apologize for them, even if we couldn’t fix them.

What was his impact on the world? What will mine be?

Life can be taken away so suddenly. Let’s not waste it. Let’s not let our mistakes fester without apology. Let’s set things right.

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.