Inspiration from Carl Sandburg, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jon Ronson, 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. Eleanor Roosevelt on pushing your limits

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

One of the most inspirational things I’ve ever seen was Jim Valvano’s speech from the 1993 ESPY awards. I’ve linked to it many times before, but I wanted to highlight one particular bit because of how it lines up with Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, above.

To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.

The more I think about it, the more I think that Eleanor Roosevelt might be onto something with a great fourth ingredient for a great day. Do something that scares you a little bit.

Fear is often what holds us back and keeps us from doing the great things that we’re all capable of doing. For example, I have a fear in my gut that the fiction I write isn’t very good, so I’m often really afraid to show it to other people. I have a fear of writing some of the more “out there” ideas I have for The Simple Dollar because I don’t think they’ll click with readers or add any value to their lives.

This quote tells me otherwise. It tells me that if I don’t ever do anything that scares me a little, I’ll never get better. I’ll never go beyond where I’m at right now. And that would be a true shame.

2. Jon Ronson on how one tweet can ruin your life

From the description:

For the longest time Jon Ronson reveled in the fact that Twitter gave a voice to the voiceless … the social media platform gave us all a chance to speak up and hit back at perceived injustice. But somewhere along the way, things took a turn. In this passionate, eloquent talk, Ronson explains how too often we end up behaving like a baying mob — and that it’s time to rethink how we interact with others online.

Social media gives people a chance to fight back against the injustice they see in the world around them, but that power is a double-edged sword. It also punishes people greatly for making a mistake or having a viewpoint that doesn’t exactly match everyone else. Rather than being freeing, social media often has the opposite effect.

I often get very upset with the things people say online, but it is absolutely imperative that people be able to express their ideas, learn where those ideas are strong and where they’re weak, and learn and grow online without having their personal life destroyed. Even if someone says something cruel that stabs directly at the heart of who you are, it doesn’t give you the right to destroy their life.

What it does is gives you the opportunity to change someone’s mind and someone’s heart. That’s a lot harder. It takes a lot more courage. But it is the route to a better world.

You will never change a person who believes something different than you if you wield a sharp sword of justice against them and try to destroy them and invalidate everything about them. Respond with compassion and logic, not anger and rage.

3. Maya Angelou on change

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” ― Maya Angelou

Whenever I look at my financial situation today, I don’t just feel good that I have no debts and some money socked away. Instead, I feel good because I know how many years of hard choices went into achieving that financial state.

That experience has really changed how I view the world. Whenever I see someone in really good shape, I don’t just marvel at the natural beauty of their body. I also respect the tremendous amount of work that went into making that body beautiful.

Whenever I see someone that has created a small business out of thin air with little more than a lot of sweat equity, I’m impressed by the business, but I’m more impressed by the hard work and sacrifice it took to build that business.

When I see that someone has lost a bunch of weight, I’m not just impressed by their physical changes, but by the intense willpower and effort it took to bring about those changes.

Don’t focus on the result. Instead, think about the huge amount of work that went into making that result. That’s far more impressive.

4. The Byrds – My Back Pages

Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

I’ve always had this deep affinity for 1960s folk music. Part of it comes from the fact that both of my parents listened to various strains of it when I was a child and “oldies” stations were something we often listened to on the radio. Another part of it is that I find music most appealing when the instrumentation is simple. I am always more drawn to a guy playing an acoustic guitar on a street corner than I ever am to electronic beats in a club.

The other thing that always comes through for me is that folk music feels like the expression of the life lessons of a previous generation, expressing the things they went through, the battles they fought, and the lessons that they learned. Folk music is perhaps the most direct form of that, at least in my ears.

There are a handful of folk songs that have really encouraged me to learn how to play a guitar. This is one of them, with a refrain that really strikes home with me lately. I was much smarter 10 years ago – and twenty? I was a genius back then. Today, I don’t know all that much.

5. Marcus Aurelius on what you can and can’t control

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” ― Marcus Aurelius

You can’t control what other people do, but you can control what you do. You can’t control what other people think, but you can control what you think. You can’t control what other people say, but you can control what you say.

Every time you waste an ounce of energy on things you can’t control, you’re wasting an ounce of energy that could be using on things you can control.

You control how you spend money. You control how you spend time. You control how you spend your energy. You control your emotional responses to things.

Spend your efforts making those things as good as possible. Stop spending your efforts on what other people are doing or thinking. You’ll be so much better off when you do that.

6. Papaly

This has become my browser homepage. There’s really nothing else to say.

Basically, this is an ultra-flexible way to collect all of your bookmarks. When I first looked at it, it looked way too busy, but after a while I began to realize how it worked and then shortly after that I spent an hour centralizing all of my bookmarks there.

Now? I basically can’t live without it. Whenever I fire up my browser, that’s the home screen. It has all of the links that I regularly visit all in one place without cluttering up the screen. When I click on a link, it just spawns a new tab, so then I check out that site, close the tab, and move on.

The ability to just drag and drop and organize everything into groups and see everything all together is so useful.

Remember, though, I have somewhere between 300 and 500 URLs that I want to keep track of, so this is a great way to consolidate everything.

7. Martin Luther on planning

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” ― Martin Luther

For some people, this quote is confusing. For others, it’s inspiring. I’m in that second group.

You might know what tomorrow holds… but tomorrow hasn’t come yet. Things can change. You don’t know if you’re going to die tomorrow or die 100 years from now or never die at all.

Given that uncertainty, I will always choose to plant that figurative apple tree. Why not do things today under the assumption that I will live forever? If I behave that way, no matter what comes in my life, I can handle it.

People always want to worry about planning everything out perfectly so that they don’t leave anything behind when they die. Not me. Sure, I’ll probably die someday, but why do things that way? Why not assume I’ll live forever, so that every single day I wake up for the rest of my life, I have things to look forward to?

8. Feisal Abdul Rauf on losing your ego and finding your compassion

From the description:

Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf combines the teachings of the Qur’an, the stories of Rumi, and the examples of Muhammad and Jesus, to demonstrate that only one obstacle stands between each of us and absolute compassion — ourselves.

We are always our own worst enemy when it comes to showing compassion for others. Our own predispositions and our own selfish need to feel “better” often comes out on top which leaves us feeling negative things toward others.

It’s very hard to overcome that. It is hard to put ourselves in the shoes of others. It is hard to care for others who we feel haven’t put forward their best effort. It is hard to recognize the advantages we have.

When you manage to do that, though, the world becomes a lot more peaceful.

9. Jack London on inspiration

“Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club.” ― Jack London

Many days, I find myself sitting behind my desk, typing away, throwing down words. That’s good, but it doesn’t inspire me. Mostly, it’s just completing the thoughts that I started elsewhere.

The ideas I have – the inspiration – is found when I’m out doing stuff. I’m hanging out with friends. I’m at the grocery store. I’m doing something.

That’s when inspiration strikes. It happens when I chase it, when I do things that open my life to it. It doesn’t happen when I’m sitting here.

If you’re struggling to be inspired, go outside. Walk around. Look at what people are doing around you. Look at the natural world. Inspiration will strike.

10. Zero

From the description:

In a world that judges people by their number, Zero faces constant prejudice and persecution. He walks a lonely path until a chance encounter changes his life forever: he meets a female zero. Together they prove that through determination, courage, and love, nothing can be truly something.

This is a great short animated film. Watch it by yourself. Better yet, watch it with other people – your spouse or your children or your grandchildren. It speaks for itself.

11. Donald Miller on resolution

“I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for 15 minutes, and he never opened his eyes. After that I liked jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way. I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before any of this happened.” ― Donald Miller

Not everything in life needs a neat answer or a solution. Most things don’t. If you worry too much about the happy ending, you’ll never be happy.

Instead, the joy is usually found in the journey. It’s found in the good feelings that you get as the song moves along. It’s in that sense of feeling great as you’re starting to lose weight or you’re starting to turn your finances around.

Don’t worry about the destination. Relish the journey. Relish the success of today. Relish the good feeling you have after exercising or the feeling of being able to pay your bills and watch that debt shrink.

12. A Father to His Son – Carl Sandburg

A father sees his son nearing manhood.
What shall he tell that son?
‘Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.’
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum monotony
and guide him among sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.
‘Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.’
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
The growth of a frail flower in a path up
has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
and left them dead years before burial:
the quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
has twisted good enough men
sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding
of a world numbering many fools.
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and above all tell himself no lies about himself
whatever the white lies and protective fronts
he may use against other people.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
Tell him to be different from other people
if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is born natural.
Then he may understand Shakespeare
and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
Bringing changes into a world resenting change.
He will be lonely enough
to have time for the work
he knows as his own.

It’s funny. When I was younger and thought about all of the things that I wanted to teach my children, I always thought about talking to them in their early teen years.

But that’s not the reality of a parent. What I’ve learned is that I’ve already been teaching a lot of those lessons now, even to my five year old.

You don’t “parent” kids by giving them big important talks when they’re almost grown up. Sure, you can do that, of course, but those talks are really just reinforcing the principles you’ve been building into them as babies.

The nuts and bolts of being a good dad aren’t in some kind of big “father-son” or “father-daughter” talk when they’re 12 or 14 or 16. They’re when you show them how to be courteous through your own actions when they’re three or put the stops to their dishonesty when they’re five. It comes from trying to spark their imagination when they’re seven and letting them take some risks when they’re eight.

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