Inspiration from Arnold Toynbee, Bagel Sandwiches, Masego, 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. Viktor Frankl on living as though this is your second chance

“Live as though you’re living a second time and as though the first time you lived, you did it wrong, and now you’re trying to do things right.” – Viktor Frankl

This is something I find myself doing, except I use earlier stages of my own life as the “first time I lived” and now I’m “trying to do things right” as much as I can in the various areas of my life.

I messed up my finances badly in my twenties. I messed up some interpersonal relationships. I messed up some aspects of my health.

I want to do those things right this time. I saw what impact those bad moves had and can see from the examples of others what that can mean over the long term.

2. Johnny Sun on how you are not alone in your loneliness

From the description:

Being open and vulnerable with your loneliness, sadness and fear can help you find comfort and feel less alone, says writer and artist Jonny Sun. In an honest talk filled with his signature illustrations, Sun shares how telling stories about feeling like an outsider helped him tap into an unexpected community and find a tiny sliver of light in the darkness.

This talk manages to be simultaneously lighthearted, poignant, and thought provoking. It’s one of those things that I really don’t want to spoil, aside from saying that if you deal with loneliness in your life or if you really care about someone struggling with loneliness, this is well worth watching.

There are few things more difficult than feeling like an outsider and having no idea how to change that status in any meaningful way.

3. Mokokoma Mokhonoana on working and living

“There is more to life than making a living. Do not work more than you live.” – Mokokoma Mokhonoana

I did this for several years of my life. I thought I had walked away from it, only for it to pop up again. I never want to return to it.

Living to work is not a way to live. Going to work each day, leaving everything you have inside of you on the table, and then coming home mentally and physically taxed to the point where you can barely prepare food for yourself and fall into bed after staring at a screen for a while… I know too many people who did this or have done this (myself included) and it’s not living, no matter how good the money is or how distracting the treats are that you fill your life with.

Live to work. Find work that you enjoy doing that doesn’t eat you until you’re spent each day.

Driving your tank to empty means that it takes a lot longer to refill.

4. 144blocks

This is from the front page of the website:

Every day has 1440 minutes
Split into 10 minute blocks,
you have 144 blocks in a day
Where do your blocks go?

I recently discussed my passion for time tracking and figuring out how I’m misusing my time. This is a really neat simplified tool for that, something you can easily dive into for a few days and create an interesting simplified way to look at the data of how you live your life.

Are you happy with those blocks? Are there too many junk blocks or wasted blocks you’re unhappy with? Are there too many blocks devoted to things that leave you feeling unhappy?

I converted some of my recent days to the block views in this tool by clicking around for a few minutes, then tried to create my “ideal day” with this tool, too. Unsurprisingly, I found that the more my days diverged from my ideal day, the more unhappy I was with them and the more unhappy they made me. (Remember, an “ideal day” isn’t a day where everything is perfectly fun, but a day where you move forward in some positive way on everything you care about.)

5. Arnold Toynbee on the goal beyond

“It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.” – Arnold Toynbee

In other words, if you focus intensely on a short term goal that’s an important piece of that long term goal and you nail that smaller goal, you’re well on your way to that bigger goal.

A goal like “pay off this $1,000 debt in two months” is a great short term goal, but strongly achieving it goes a long way toward achieving the bigger goal of “debt freedom in two years.”

I find that being aware of that big goal and thinking about all of the benefits of achieving it while aligning all of my efforts toward shorter term goals that are pieces of the big goal is a great way to pull off both.

6. How to make a bagel sandwich from Binging with Babish

From the description:

This week we’re headed back to Beach City for some sammich inspiration, where Steven Quartz Universe repeatedly whips up (and is thwarted from eating) one of his favorite foods: bagel sandwiches. Can we upgrade this breakfast favorite with just a little boilin’ and bakin’?

One of my favorite types of learning experiences is when someone takes something that seems really obvious and simple and I think I know all about it, then they break it down and move through it slowly and thoughtfully, unveiling a whole new world of things to know that often brings about a huge leap in my ability and understanding of that thing.

That’s what this video does. It’s seriously just a bagel breakfast sandwich – egg and cheese on a bagel, basically – but there’s so much value in the little details and the nuances of it that you can easily make a pretty terrible sandwich or a pretty amazing sandwich with the same ingredients and the same general end product.

The difference is in those details, in doing things right at each step along the way. One turns into a doughy, soggy mess, and the other path produces something sublime.

7. The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks and the zones of genius, competence, and incompetence

While I didn’t find enough in this book to really write a full article about it, there was a thread in the book that I found really interesting.

One of the chief ideas in the book is that, within each of us, there is a zone of genius, a zone of competence, and a zone of incompetence. We have a handful of things we’re incredible at, a bigger handful of things that we’re reasonably competent at, and an infinite pool of things that we’re incompetent at. The trick for most of us is figuring out our zones of genius and competence and leveraging those things, mostly in combination with each other, to do things and produce things of exceptional value.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks thinking about what my zone of genius is and what my zone of competence is and, perhaps most of all, what my zone of incompetence is. It led me to see pretty strong revelations about what I should be doing with my time and energy going forward.

8. Muhammad Ali on pushing yourself

“I don’t count my sit-ups, I only start counting when it starts hurting because those are the only ones that count.” – Muhammed Ali

Whenever we try to do something to improve our situation, what we notice in the immediate moment is the painful bits. We don’t notice the changes that are positive or the ones that have little impact. We notice what hurts, and we often think of the entire change as painful as a result.

Success is often found when we fight through the pain, when we appreciate what that discomfort really means for us. It’s usually that momentary discomfort that makes us realize what really hurts and what’s just a form of healing ourselves and making ourselves stronger.

The last few pushups in a set, the last few seconds of a long plank, the item or two you really want to buy but you leave on the grocery store shelf – they’re all uncomfortable in the moment but they lead to something much, much stronger.

9. Bundyville

“Bundyville” is a fourteen part audio series (spread across two “seasons”) produced by Oregon Public Radio and Longreads about the conflict between Western ranchers and the federal government over land use, centering on the family of Cliven Bundy, who were at the center of that controversy in recent years that culminated in the Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

It is easy to have a black and white view of the actions and political stances of people, and nowhere is this more true than in this case. Many Americans view the Bundys as absolute heroes against an oppressive government, while others view them as hateful lawless individuals abusing the property and property rights of all Americans.

What I liked about this series is that it delves in deep enough into that divide to show a lot of grey, no matter which side you initially find yourself on, and in doing so, reveals that there is a lot of grey in the issue, as there always is when you look closer, and that understanding spreads to some of the broader divides in America.

The more you understand any issue, although you may have strong feelings about the conclusion, you often come to understand where people are coming from and what issues have brought them to that conclusion, and it’s in those core issues that we often find we have more in common than we think, even if we don’t necessarily agree on the next steps.

In general, I want to understand people, why they do what they do, and how they think. It is often hard to get to that depth in a culture that is deeply defensive and reactionary and tends to want to idealize people that we agree with and demonize those that we don’t. This podcast series manages to get past that, and that’s why it’s well worth a listen.

Start with Episode 2 from the first season (Episode “1” is basically just a trailer and can be skipped).

10. Bruce Springsteen on idealism and innocence

“The great challenge of adulthood is holding on to your idealism after you lose your innocence.” ― Bruce Springsteen

This quote came so close to being a full article this month. I actually wrote a full article about it and then decided it was just too far off of the beaten path for this site, but there’s definitely room for it here.

When I was a kid, I had all of these big dreams for my life. I wanted to be the perfect parent. I wasn’t going to make the mistakes my parents did. I wanted to be the perfect spouse. I wasn’t going to do the things I saw other adults in my life doing. I was going to have this great job and really change lives and make lots of money and do it super-ethically.

Then the reality of adulthood hit and I realized that those things require a level of perfection that life simply doesn’t afford you. You can call it a loss of innocence, I suppose. I call it a spoonful of reality.

So, what happens to the idealism of youth? You either give up on it entirely, or you find ways to be a better person than you were yesterday. My experience has been that the people with lots of idealism in their youth that figured out how to channel it into molding themselves into being as good as they can be end up being the kind of low-key heroes that are the cornerstones of families and communities and meaningful initiatives. They’re truly great leaders that don’t cast themselves in the spotlight but make things happen.

Those people aren’t Gandhi, but to me they’re the embodiment of what idealism can become. They don’t change the history books, but they do change the world and make it better.

I tend to believe that the world isn’t made great by a handful of great leaders and innovators, but by a larger group of people who still believe in a personal ideal and try to mold themselves to get as close to it as possible, and that effort ends up leaking out into the world making it a better place. I see it all the time with great people in my own life, and I hope to, in some ways, be able to count myself among them.

It starts with me and being the best me I can possibly be, and that’s a journey that never rests.

11. Masego – NPR Tiny Desk Music Concert

From the description:

Imagine for a moment if Cab Calloway, the Cotton Club’s exuberant bandleader, was reincarnated in the 21st Century. Now imagine if he was dropped in the middle of the music world of today. He’d no doubt be a tall and slender, silky-wearing goof ball with a moisturized braid-out, instruments inscribed as knuckle tattoos and a penchant for genre-blending. Yes, the spirit of Cab lives on in Masego, the singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist who surprised NPR’s Tiny Desk audience with a zany sense of showmanship and a demonstration of his own genre, TrapHouseJazz.

Masego’s five-song set at the Desk wound up feeling something like a jam session — props and surprise guests included. First, before opening with the jazzy “Tadow,” Sego pulled off a quick, mini-prank by sending his friend, comedian Lorenzo Cromwell, up to the mic before stepping forth himself. Next, Sego tossed up 100 dollar bills with his face on it and beckoned the crowd into a call-and-response of “hi-di-hi-di-hi-di-ho.” Finally, to have a few more moments of fun after “I Do Everything” — and to prove he really does do everything — Sego juggled water bottles to the rhythm of the luscious music his band providing.

Born in Jamaica and raised in Virginia, Masego grew up on gospel, jazz and hip-hop. With an appetite for all genres and an ambidextrous nature for learning music, the 26-year-old’s been mixing all his influences up, traveling the world and collaborating with the likes of GoldLink, SiR and Ari Lennox. Where his sound takes him next is anyone’s guess, but at the Tiny Desk, the multi-hyphenate found his sweet spot.

This is an incredibly entertaining set of songs that simply wouldn’t work well in the hands of someone less talented and less versed in such a wide variety of musical styles. It’s easy to see these kinds of performances quickly unraveling in the hands of someone with lesser ability.

Somehow, Masego is able to handle all of these varying threads and weave them together into a unique musical tapestry that manages to be incredibly fun and yet unusual and distinct at the same time.

This one’s been played many, many times at my desk in the past week or two.

12. Marcus Aurelius on criticizing faults

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?” – Marcus Aurelius

When you find a fault in someone else, are you sure that you don’t have the same fault? Maybe you haven’t committed the same exact act, but are you sure you haven’t failed in a similar way at some point?

Once you see that, it’s pretty easy to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Is a bunch of negativity really going to help here? What will help?

While this doesn’t excuse someone’s fault, it does help you to understand it, and understanding it is often the key to making a situation work. You can’t expect to be perfectly on the same page with everyone all of the time; sometimes, all that takes to get you close enough to the same page is a little bit of this kind of understanding.

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