Inspiration from Brittany Packnett, Marcus Aurelius, Simon Sinek, 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. Simon Sinek on passion versus stress

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stressed; working hard for something we love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek

It feels good to work hard on something that you love and really care a lot about. It’s even better when you’re paid to do it and there aren’t other elements making it less enjoyable.

It feels bad to be made to work hard on something you don’t care about at all because of professional pressure and the need for a paycheck. Call it stress or something else, but it’s not pleasant or joyful.

It’s worth noting here that very few people love deadlines. Often, they don’t care that much about them, so they can sometimes transform things we love into things we don’t care about because we’re forced up against a deadline.

2. Brittany Packnett on building your confidence and discovering it in others

From the description:

“Confidence is the necessary spark before everything that follows,” says educator and activist Brittany Packnett. In an inspiring talk, she shares three ways to crack the code of confidence — and her dream for a world where revolutionary confidence helps turn our most ambitious dreams into reality.

Those “three ways to crack the code” are permission, community, and curiosity. In simplest terms, reflect on when you’ve been confident in the past, find a group of people you feel safe being confident around, and use that confidence at first to follow your own curiosity through self-learning.

This hits upon something I’ve found that’s very true with my own kids. One of the best confidence builders I’ve found for them is to encourage them to seek out answers for their own questions. I always encourage them to ask lots of questions, but when they want answers, I often don’t give them tidy packaged answers. Rather, I encourage them to go find the answer and report back. I give them permission to go out on their own, a community in which they feel engaged, and the curiosity to go do it.

That mix creates confidence, and I often see that confidence spreading out into other aspects of their life. They’re not afraid to try things. They’re not afraid to be leaders with their friends. It’s something that’s really beautiful to behold.

This talk really cinched something I’ve always felt, that my encouragement for them to go out there and seek answers to their questions and report back was a confidence builder. I felt that it was there, but I didn’t really put it together until I heard this talk.

3. Tim Kreider on the sanest people

“The sanest people, I think, are those happily unafflicted with ambition — whether for power, wealth, fame or achievement — who want only to work at some useful job, to love someone and to live in a nice place with some wind chimes on the porch.” – Tim Kreider

There was a point in the history of The Simple Dollar where I had some opportunities on the table to turn the thing into what you might call a small media empire. At the time, I had a couple of virtual assistants helping me run the site, an ad agency wanted to partner with me, and there were a few additional deals floating around that would have made me a ton of money, including a multifaceted deal with a pretty large entertainment conglomerate. Yep, Trent Hamm would have been on your television and your magazine aisle.

Here’s the thing – had I jumped on board with those deals, I would have found myself doing a lot of things I was just not very interested in doing with my time. I would have been spending a lot of time managing people, negotiating deals, and so on. I actually talked seriously with some people I trust about hiring a business manager and an agent.

I just realized I didn’t want any of that. What I really wanted more than anything was to have a useful job where I actually helped people, a family that I loved and a bunch of good friends, and a nice home to go home to.

So I said no to almost all of it aside from a book deal that I largely regretted. I eventually sold the site with an arrangement me that allowed me to stick around and do what I love, which was write.

That quote sums up how I feel about the whole thing now. Sure, I would probably have more than enough money in the bank to retire now and I’d probably have some lifestyle accoutrements that would be really nice, but I would have missed a lot of my kids growing up and I would probably not have a strong marriage.

I think… no, I know I made the right choice for me.

4. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

You might think “this is just an autobiography of a stand-up comic,” and you’d be right, but like every really worthwhile autobiography, it manages to say a whole lot more than just the simple recounting of the details of one person’s life.

In the 1970s, Steve Martin became the most popular stand-up comedian on Earth. In 1981, he walked away from it forever. This book has a dual nature, then; it explains how he was able to come from a modest background to be an incredibly successful stand-up comedian, and it also deals with why he walked away from it.

The issues he goes into are ones that we all deal with. How do I get better at something? (Practice, practice, practice, seems to be the answer.) What really matters in my life? What’s worth giving up and what isn’t?

Martin’s gift as a writer is on full display here, because as he’s tackling those questions in his own life, he’s also effectively asking you those questions about your own life. If you want to get really good at something, here’s how you do it, but it’s going to require sacrifices. Are you willing to make those sacrifices? What’s actually important to you? How important is your integrity? How important is your family?

I couldn’t put it down and it left me thinking a lot afterwards.

5. Henry David Thoreau on time and money

“The true price of anything you do is the amount of time you exchange for it.” ― Henry David Thoreau

In this quote, Thoreau was basically laying down the groundwork for my own personal finance philosophy, which is pretty similar to that embodied in the seminal personal finance book Your Money or Your Life.

The truth is that everything you buy with your money was, in the end, bought with the hours of your life, and there are really only so many hours we each have in our lives. How do you want to spend those hours? Do you want to spend them so you can then use the money you earn on forgettable things? I think that’s a waste of a life.

Use your life’s energy earning money so that you can spend it on things that really mean something to you. If you’re not sure, bank it for later and use it to buy freedom.

6. Alice

Recently, my youngest child participated in a weeklong summer program centered around Alice, which is a simple 3D modeling tool and scripting language that you can use to tell digital stories.

At the end of the week, he gave us a demonstration of what he’d learned, starting with a few simple things that were clearly oriented around learning how to use the software and culminating with this great animated story about the friendship between a dragon and a ghost, culminating in the revelation that the ghost was actually the ghost of the dragon’s mother.

Not only was this story impressive (and his use of the medium and the tools to tell it), but his sister immediately grabbed onto the software and started creating things of her own. She’s now in the midst of creating something absurdly elaborate – all I can really tell is that it involves a flock of birds and it’s quite long.

We currently have just one family computer and the two of them have been taking turns (with varying levels of cooperation, as one might expect from siblings) working on various stories.

It’s amazing to see a tool like this unlock both their creative and logical natures. (It also makes me want to make an Alice story as well.)

7. Binging with Babish

Binging with Babish is a Youtube cooking channel that features two distinct types of videos – “Basics with Babish,” which are basic kitchen technique tutorials, and “Binging with Babish,” which is kind of the “main” show in which the host shows how to make some kind of dish that has some degree of pop cultural relevance.

For me, this channel not only hits on an interest of mine (home food preparation), but I love that over the course of the history of the channel, you can see the evolution in Babish’s presentation skills and the quality of the information provided. The early videos are definitely good, but he’s really in a groove in the later videos, melding useful and entertaining almost perfectly.

A great example of this is the recent “Basics with Babish” on coffee:

The video does a great job of presenting the basics of making coffee at home, mixing a breezy tone with his guest, a lot of useful information for someone new to home coffee preparation, and keeping it in a relatively short video. There’s a ton of info that’s just set up perfectly for people to jump off into more specific topics if they’re interested while still communicating what you need to know and still being entertaining.

On the other hand, this episode of “Binging with Babish” where he tries to make eggs Florentine from “Frasier” is great (and actually works really well – I used this as a guide to make eggs Florentine one morning for fun, and I made the English muffins multiple times):

This is a very information-rich walkthrough with lots of useful videos and just enough humor to keep it entertaining without detracting from what’s being made. Perfect.

I am really careful with the Youtube channels I subscribe to so that my Youtube subscriptions page is always loaded with stuff I want to see, and Babish’s videos are always a welcome presence there.

8. Marcus Aurelius on your thoughts and your life

“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius

Perhaps the single biggest revelation I had during the last ten years is that I have a ton of control over what I think about, and what I think about ends up shaping how I feel about a lot of things, how I react to things, and what I choose to do in life.

An example: if I spend my time thinking negative thoughts about working out, it’s not going to be long before I’m simply completely uninterested in working out and I’m going to stop any sort of workout routine. Rather, if I catch myself thinking negative thoughts about it, I intentionally kill them and start thinking positive thoughts instead. “This will feel good. This will make me healthier. This will be fun. Remember how much you enjoyed that workout a few weeks ago? What did you do during that? Let’s recreate it!” Thinking thoughts like that intentionally gets me more excited about exercising, makes it go better, and makes me feel better about it afterwards, and eventually I don’t really have those negative thoughts any more.

This is true for everything. You have so much power over what you choose to think about things, and if you choose to think negative thoughts about the better but more challenging things in life, things will go poorly. Save your negative thoughts for the things that actually harm you and then let them fly, but give positive thoughts to the good things in life, like the person who’s nice to you even when you feel grumpy. That person is awesome. Think about how awesome that person is.

9. The Avett Brothers – Tiny Desk Concert

From the description:

With all due respect to its terrific albums and kinetic, frenetic live shows, if The Avett Brothers could put on a three-song acoustic concert at every workplace in America, the band would be a world-beating colossus. For proof, listen to this performance in the NPR Music offices.

The Avett Brothers are one of my favorite musical acts of all time. NPR’s series of “Tiny Desk Concerts,” where a musical act performs in the corner of a rather small office at NPR, is one of my favorite things to listen to. How did I somehow not know that the Avett Brothers had done one of these?

This is an excellent sampling of their earlier music which is very bluegrass/Americana oriented, rather than the somewhat more pop-friendly sound of their later stuff. They came off as so scruffy and passionate back then. I could listen to all of it hundreds of times and it would never grow old.

10. A.R. Moxon on the unjust person

“‘Meet me in the middle,’ says the unjust man. You take a step towards him, he takes a step back. ‘Meet me in the middle,’ says the unjust man.” – A.R. Moxon

I think, in some part of our lives, we’re all the unjust man, and in other parts of our lives, we’re all the person taken advantage of by the unjust man.

The thing is, I don’t think many of us recognize we’re being the unjust one. We feel like we’re merely sticking to our guns and simply aren’t seeing that others are trying to cooperate with us.

Similarly, it can be incredibly frustrating when people in our lives (or people whose choices affect our lives) are the unjust one. We feel like we’re compromising and cooperating, and they don’t care and just take and take and take.

The only solution to this is communication. Open your ears and you might hear more communication and conversation than you think you do.

11. Timery

So, let’s back up for a bit here. In about 2015, I got really into time tracking. I wanted to get a clear sense of how I was spending my time at a scale beyond just a day or two. I could usually tell if a single day was productive or not and have a good idea of what was unproductive and productive about the last day or two, but in terms of larger trends and a bigger picture, I was pretty blind.

I started using Toggl as a time tracking tool and stuck with it for a couple of months really well. There were a number of things I really liked about Toggl, but the actual use of it when I just wanted to tap a button to track my time was always really awkward. It felt like I had to tap several times to do anything, and that meant it kind of got in the way of being productive. It was that lack of ease of use that got in the way.

Well, Timery is basically an extremely well designed free app and widget that sits on top of your Toggl data and makes tracking your time really easy. I’ve jumped back into time tracking over the last few weeks mostly because Timery makes it easy to do what I want to do – do all of the setup, then after that, I mostly just tap once on my phone when I want to track something different. It’s great, and the data is already useful. It kind of slaps me in the face with how I use my time poorly, much like a credit card statement can sometimes do when your spending is all out of whack.

12. Catherine Wallace on parenting

“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” – Catherine M. Wallace

There are few things I enjoy more than my children telling me something about their lives: something they care about, something they made, something they accomplished. The thing is, if they’re telling me about it, it’s not small to them.

This isn’t just true for other kids. Most of the time, aside from a small minority of people who just talk all the time about whatever comes to mind, people who are talking to you about things are bringing them up because they care about them, and at the very least acknowledging that is a huge part of building trust with other people. You don’t have to love what the other person is talking about. You just have to recognize that it is important to them. If you do, you’ll build a connection rapidly.

The things I consider unimportant are regularly things other people consider important, and vice versa. If I just act like those things are unimportant, I’m effectively telling them that they’re unimportant, too, or at least that I view the things they care about as unimportant.

If you want to build a deep relationship with anyone, keep that in mind.

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