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. Martin Luther King, Jr. on friendship
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
While King spoke these words on behalf of the civil rights movement, they have always struck me as being deeply true with regards to human friendships. We often don’t remember the true cruelty of the words of our enemies; what we remember instead is the betrayal of our friends. The people who we believed would always have our backs, who instead chose to stay silent and not be there when we needed them most.
When I read this quote, it calls me to be a better friend, to not let my friends down in their moments of need, whether intentionally and otherwise. It reminds me to keep in touch with them, to understand what they’re going through, and to be there when challenges face them.
That’s what I want out of my friends, and it is wholly unfair to expect that out of them if I am not willing to do the same.
What kind of friend are you? Are you there during the good times, but silent and withdrawn during the bad when your friends truly need help? If that is you, then you will be remembered, but not in the way you might hope.
2. Manoush Zomorodi on how boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas
From the description:
Do you sometimes have your most creative ideas while folding laundry, washing dishes or doing nothing in particular? It’s because when your body goes on autopilot, your brain gets busy forming new neural connections that connect ideas and solve problems. Learn to love being bored as Manoush Zomorodi explains the connection between spacing out and creativity.
My mind wanders a lot when I’m doing household tasks or taking a shower or brushing my teeth. I’ll jump from idea to idea like a jackrabbit in a carrot farm.
The thing is, I don’t view that time as “boring” or think of it as wasted time. I actually view it as being pretty valuable time, indeed. It’s in that time that I make a lot of unexpected connections between very different ideas.
Most of the time, when I’m focusing on something, I don’t make those connections. I’m bearing down on a single task.
I think that you need both to come up with worthwhile ideas. You need to bear down sometimes on learning and deep understanding in order to have the raw materials with which your mind can make those connections when you’re in the shower.
3. Linus Torvalds on good and bad programmers
“Bad programmers worry about code. Good programmers worry about data structures and their relationships.” – Linus Torvalds
One of my mentors once told me – and I’m paraphrasing here – that the best way to solve a problem is to keep asking questions about the problem until the answer is obvious (or at least much simpler). If you jump straight to trying to solve it, you’ll find it incredibly difficult and the person you’re solving it for probably won’t be happy, either.
That idea turns out to be true for a lot of things in life. Almost everything we do is better served if we ask questions and try to understand the problem a little better before jumping straight to the solution.
This quote just expresses that idea in terms of computer programming. When you’re writing code, you’re working on the solution. When you’re figuring out data structures and relationships, you’re still trying to understand the problem.
Spend more of your time understanding the problem and less of your time on the solution and you’ll be better off.
4. Hidden Brain
From the description:
The Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain’s host Shankar Vedantam reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.
Hidden Brain is a podcast from NPR that presents a mix of psychology and self-improvement and science in a wonderful mix of facts and storytelling. I found myself on a very long road trip in August with a driver who wanted to listen to archives of a podcast that I didn’t enjoy very much, so I got cozy in the back seat and devoured about fifteen hours of the archives of this podcast over the course of two days.
While the entire archives of the series is worth listening to, I highly recommend the six part “You 2.0” series that was recently aired. Here, have a listen to the first part of that series:
The episode centers on a wonderful interview with Cal Newport on the value of “deep work” – focused work without interruption where you can delve deeply into a particular task. It’s something that I’ve come to find incredibly valuable in my own life, and the interview with Newport covers the idea very well, with lots of little bits to leave you thinking.
That’s just the start. I highly recommend subscribing to Hidden Brain.
5. Carl Jung on loneliness
“Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.” – Carl Jung
Lonely doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re alone, though being alone can certainly lead to loneliness. A person can be lonely in a crowded room.
Loneliness is simply being unable to communicate the things that are important to you. That can happen when you’re with other people, whether in a crowd or in a small group or even one on one, if you don’t think the others are ever receptive to what you have to say.
I often cure my own loneliness by finding outlets for expressing myself. I also find, strangely, that it helps to do things to ensure that others aren’t lonely, by actively soliciting conversation with people who seem lonely. I’ll ask questions of the quiet person and try to bring them into conversation… and, somehow, that makes me feel better, too.
6. Ingrid Betancourt on what six years in captivity taught me about fear and faith
(Be aware, Ingrid speaks in Spanish, but you can turn on English subtitles by clicking on the CC button.)
From the description:
In 2002, the Colombian guerrilla movement known as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) kidnapped Ingrid Betancourt in the middle of her presidential campaign. For the next six years, Betancourt was held hostage in jungle prison camps where she was ravaged by malaria, fleas, hunger and human cruelty until her rescue by the Colombian government. In this deeply personal talk, the politician turned writer explains what it’s like to live in a perpetual state of fear — and how her faith sustained her.
What I found inspirational here is that, in her terrible journey, the idea of a light at the end of that tunnel sustained her. It kept her going through things that would have otherwise made her give up.
She found that sustenance through her religious faith. Others may find it in their family, or in a particular vision for the future.
I know this much: without something to guide you, it’s hard to achieve anything. Without a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s very hard to make it through a difficult journey.
Find your light.
This past month, I joined a beginner taekwondo class, one within the same martial arts school that my children and wife have been members of for a while. I’ve begun by getting involved in beginner’s classes, which are meant to teach a bunch of basic techniques and really boost physical fitness.
Every single class I’ve attended has left me with a sweat-soaked shirt, so they’re not kidding about the fitness part.
Why join, aside from the family connection? Well, for starters, to add me in is pretty inexpensive since we already have a family plan, so there’s very little cost. I decommitted from a few things recently to give myself time and room for this, too. I want to get myself into better physical shape.
The main reason, though, is not so much physical, but mental. It’s an hour I can just set aside to be mindful of my body, of my physical motion, and of the moment itself. I focus wholly on the motions and basic forms that I’m doing while simultaneously wearing out my body.
It’s been great so far. I typically feel very exhausted after exercise, but taekwondo, even though I leave with my shirt soaked with sweat, doesn’t leave me exhausted. It leaves me feeling alive.
8. Ernest Hemingway on unappreciated work
“You must always be willing to work without applause.” – Ernest Hemingway
Most of the time, when I finish an article, I simply read through it, think that it’s pretty good (or, sometimes, that it’s mediocre), and submit it quietly for posting on The Simple Dollar or elsewhere. There’s no fanfare. There’s no celebration. There’s just completion… and then the realization that there’s another one to complete.
It is not the idea of applause or adulation that keeps me writing. It’s the sense that each article might reach one or two people and help them find a better path in their life, and that in all likelihood I’ll never hear from those one or two people.
I’m okay with that.
Sometimes, writing helps me dig through things I’m struggling with in my own life and, by the time I’m done drafting an article, I’ve figured out a solution, but there’s no applause for that, either.
I’m okay with that, too.
The only joy that matters is the one that comes from within. Applause always fades. Adulation always fades. Those are outside factors. What matters are the inside factors.
9. ALA.NI – Tiny Desk Concert
From the description:
The moment you get a look at ALA.NI behind the Tiny Desk, you’ll notice it in the foreground: The singer asked us to record her set using her vintage RCA Ribbon microphone, which she carries around in a small briefcase between shows. It’s a security blanket, a bit of visual branding, a statement of stylistic intent — and, not for nothing, a big reason ALA.NI’s voice carries with such warmth and intimacy.
The microphone isn’t the only element of ALA.NI’s sound that seems to have been transported from another era. The London-born, Paris-based singer draws inspiration from her uncle, a British ’20s and ’30s cabaret star by the name of Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson, and writes her own songs in the style of the standards he sang. You & I, her debut album, reverberates from the same spirit: It captures and conveys a reverent love of early-20th-century music, while injecting those sounds with charisma and charm well suited for any era. Here, she performs four songs from You & I, before closing her set with a heartwarming, crowd-aided “Happy Birthday” to her accompanist, Marvin Dolly.
The best way I can describe the music here is that it’s a mix of a 1930s nightclub act mixed with modern folk sensibilities in about a 60/40 split. What makes it work is her voice, which is simultaneously smooth and warm and yet haunting.
The first song leads you to expect something, the second song manages to turn that on its ear, and the third shows you how important the guitarist really is, something I didn’t pick up on at first.
I absolutely love the Tiny Desk Concert series; they constantly introduce me to new music that I want to shout from the rooftops.
10. George Matthew Adams on the “self-made man”
“There is no such thing as a ‘self-made’ man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.” – George Matthew Adams
I was born without much money. I went through college paying every dime of it myself, either through scholarships I earned or student loans. Today, I’m on the road to financial independence. I have a stable career and a great family and a nice house. Most of my income in my adult life was earned purely through small businesses and self-employment.
I was not self-made in any way, shape, or form.
I’m not in this position if it wasn’t for my second grade teacher, who believed in me and kept me focused when I felt like a social outcast and had no interest in going back to school. I wouldn’t be here without my high school English teacher, who never let me think that my writing was “perfect.” I’m not here if it weren’t for my grandma, who gave me a journal for Christmas when I was twelve along with a booklet of journal writing prompts, and told me to fill it up. I’m not here without the constant care and love and ideas and examples from my parents.
The idea that I made it all by myself? It’s utterly ridiculous.
Intelligence Squared is a Youtube channel focused on actual debate of issues shaping the modern world. It’s heavily moderated discussion by people who aren’t allowed to interrupt or shout over each other, but are given the room to share their ideas in great detail, even when they often don’t agree with each other.
One of my favorites that they’ve posted is Is the Party Over for Economic Growth?, in which Stephanie Flanders (JP Morgan’s chief market strategist for Europe), Deirdre McCloskey (US economic historian), and Tim Jackson (professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey and author of Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet). The discussion is incredibly respectful and everyone involved gets a chance to spell out their ideas, but they clearly disagree and it is through those disagreements and contrasts that you can dig deeper into their key question, whether or not economic growth can continue as it has over the last century.
Most of their videos are these kinds of lengthy debates; some are short clips from other debates with key thoughtful exchanges. Regardless, whenever a new video shows up from them, I watch. They almost always make me think.
12. Sam Harris on moral progress
“We will embarrass our descendants just as our ancestors embarrass us. This is moral progress.” – Sam Harris
It’s easy to look back at earlier generations and judge them harshly by the morals of today.
Yet, a hundred years from now, I suspect that my generation will be judged harshly by the light of that world.
People grow over time. The idea of what’s right and wrong doesn’t stay absolute, particularly as technology changes and we learn new things about ourselves and about the earth. As we learn more, we begin to see that some of the patterns of the past were wrong, and the further we travel, the more errors we see.
The moral mistakes of the past are a strong lesson for us today. They’re proof that the journey to the whole truth is an incomplete one.
This is a good thing. I hope my generation is a better steward of the world around them than previous generations, and I hope the next generation is better still, taking what they have learned from us and from new discoveries and applying them to the world to make it an even better place.
I am inspired by this idea to raise my children with a sense of curiosity and a sense of wonder, one where they will always ask whether things that they might take for granted are truly right.