Inspiration from Rhiannon Giddens, Arthur Schopenhauer, James Clear, 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. Arthur Schopenhauer on buying books (and other things)

“Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them; but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

This is true of so many things in life. So often, we throw money at things that we want to be able to spend quality time with, but we lack that time and energy and focus, so the purchase itself becomes something of a mental substitute for the time and energy and focus we would otherwise spend.

I do it myself. I buy a book that I’d love to read, but putting aside the five to ten hours (or more, depending on the book) is harder than it seems. However, that action of buying that book makes me feel like I took some sort of action on that book I want to read, so I get a fraction of the good feeling of actually reading it in a tiny, tiny fraction of the time.

It’s a shortcut so many of us fall into when our lives get busy, and I’m certainly guilty of it. The best way to fight it is to be aware of it, focus on actual achievements far ahead of purchases, and block off time in your life for the things you yearn to do.

2. Chip Conley on what baby boomers can learn from millennials at work and vice versa

From the description:

For the first time ever, we have five generations in the workplace at the same time, says entrepreneur Chip Conley. What would happen if we got intentional about how we all work together? In this accessible talk, Conley shows how age diversity makes companies stronger and calls for different generations to mentor each other at work, with wisdom flowing from old to young and young to old alike.

The key thing that struck me here is the value of listening and not thinking of others as being “too old” or “too young” to have useful insights. The thing is, everyone views the world somewhat differently, especially when there’s a demographic gap between them.

People of significantly different ages can learn a ton from each other. People from different places can learn a ton from each other. People of different races can learn a ton from each other.

The world gives us each a different journey, and when you intentionally try to learn from someone who is on a very different journey than you, you often see things in a very different way. Simply seeing things in a different way can often guide you on a different path and help you find solutions and see the world differently than you did before.

3. Marcus Aurelius on not living forever

“Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.” – Marcus Aurelius

It is so easy to put off the “urgent but not important” things until tomorrow. I can call my mom tomorrow. I can tell my wife I love her tomorrow. I can spend quality time with my kids tomorrow.

The thing is, tomorrow might never come. Tomorrow, I might not be here. Tomorrow, my wife might not be here. My kids. My mom.

This is true for almost everything of importance in our lives, especially those things we deem “not urgent.” It’s so easy to put off the things that aren’t screaming for our focus.

There are few things you will do that will wind up being more meaningful than intentionally taking time each day to mark off a few of those “important but not urgent” things. Give your spouse a hug and a kiss and whisper that you love them. Give your kids a hug, turn off your cell phone, and spend a couple of hours with them. Call your mom and actually listen. Read that challenging book on your nightstand. Volunteer for that charity.

You won’t regret it.

4. Atomic Habits by James Clear

This is probably the best self-improvement book I’ve read this year. The core argument in this book that virtually all permanent personal change is made up of some number of new atomic habits or breaking old atomic habits. Thus, if you want to improve a particular element of your life, the key is to establish very small simple habits that you repeat frequently until they become naturally a part of your life and functionally change your identity of who you are.

The main idea of the book is to develop “atomic habits” that’s obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying that, if repeated, will naturally progress you toward the person you want to be, and as this habit becomes natural, will nudge your identity in that direction.

While I’ve definitely used elements of what Clear is talking about in this book in the past, it was very worthwhile to see all of those elements lined up next to each other. I’ve been using Clear’s strategies when thinking about my goals for 2019, which really center around establishing a few strong atomic habits in my life (and that might just be an article itself by the end of the year).

If you’re struggling to figure out how to become the person you want to be, this is a great place to start.

5. Aristotle Onassis on leadership

“One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” – Aristotle Onassis

The key to this, in my opinion, is reflection. Sit down regularly, take clear stock of your own life and the things you’re responsible for in life, and ask yourself honestly whether those things are headed in the direction that you want. Are there any issues that could blow up?

One of the biggest themes in my life over the past few years has been to establish patterns of reflection and meditation. I’ve found that the more I reflect on the things I learn and observe, the things I’ve done in the past in terms of what worked and what didn’t, and the things I know are to come, the better equipped I seem to be in terms of handling life in a successful manner.

I might see major mistakes without much reflection, but I don’t see minor ones unless I reflect. I might see major problems without much reflection, but I don’t see minor ones that could easily grow into major ones. I might see big things coming up in the future without much reflection, but I don’t consider how to deal with them or see smaller ones coming up without it.

6. Darren Hardy on being important

“Most people spend time trying to be someone important, instead of doing something important.” – Darren Hardy

Do something important. Do something that matters to other people, that influences their life. If you do that and put that first, you’ll naturally come to the respect you’ve earned.

The problem is that so many people want to skip the hard work of doing things and creating things that matter and want to skip straight to the respect. That’s not how it works. You don’t demand meaningful respect. You earn it through your actions and creations.

Do important things and you’ll become important. Demand to be treated as important and you’ll never get there.

7. Rhiannon Giddens on songs that bring history to life

From the description:

Rhiannon Giddens pours the emotional weight of American history into her music. Listen as she performs traditional folk ballads — including “Waterboy,” “Up Above My Head,” and “Lonesome Road” by Sister Rosetta Tharp — and one glorious original song, “Come Love Come,” inspired by Civil War-era slave narratives.

I’ve shared the music of Rhiannon Giddens quite a few times here, but I recently stumbled across this short performance where she talks about how she connects the emotion of the histories she’s read to her music, a mix of genres that uses bluegrass as a backbone.

This really stands out because I’ve heard her speak about individual songs, but not about the overall connection of her music to history and the deep historical and emotional meaning of her music.

Her music has blessed my life more than I can ever share. I’m glad I have the opportunity to share her music with others.

8. Walter Heller on averages

“If a man stands with his left foot on a hot stove and his right foot in a refrigerator, the statistician would say that, on the average, he’s comfortable.” – Walter Heller

I really don’t trust averages. I get much more value from median numbers.

What’s the difference? Let’s say we have five numbers – 0, 1, 2, 97, and 100. The average of those numbers is 40 – 0 + 1 + 2 + 97 + 100 is 200, and you divide that by 5 to get 40. The median is 2 – you line them up and find the one in the middle. The average doesn’t really tell you that there’s something exceptional going on, but the median sure does.

I struggle with this a lot when talking about the stock market. Does it make more sense to talk about the average annual return of the stock market or the median annual return? Thankfully, in this case, they’re fairly close to each other – the median is a little bit higher because of the weight of huge negative years – but in general if I’m talking about a small number of years, I look at the median, but if I’m looking at a lot of years, I use the average.

Don’t fully trust averages. They don’t tell the full story. An average can be useful, but it often doesn’t tell you anything close to the full picture.

9. Dolly Chugh on how to become a better person by letting go of being a “good person”

From the description:

What if your attachment to being a “good” person is holding you back from actually becoming a better person? In this accessible talk, social psychologist Dolly Chugh explains the puzzling psychology of ethical behavior — like why it’s hard to spot your biases and acknowledge mistakes — and shows how the path to becoming better starts with owning your mistakes. “In every other part of our lives, we give ourselves room to grow — except in this one, where it matters most,” Chugh says.

Most of us want to think of ourselves as a “good person” and we adopt a very small handful of traits that we try to cultivate in ourselves that we think make up a “good person.”

There are several problems with this. The biggest one is that we’re often barely aware of our behavior or of situations around us that call us to be better people. Our mind filters out the vast, vast majority of information coming at us.

Another problem is that we often don’t choose the best traits to cultivate to fulfill our idea of a “good person.” The most powerful trait in being a good person is to recognize and own your mistakes and work to correct them, a trait that many good people completely overlook and many others don’t do well at all.

Making yourself into a better person is hard. Glomming onto the behaviors of what we initially think is a “good person” is much easier. As humans, we often choose the easier path.

10. Benjamin Disraeli on action and happiness

“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” – Benjamin Disraeli

If you want to succeed in life, if you want happiness and other things, you have to do something. You can’t sit around and wait for your ship to come in.

Happiness grows on fertile soil. It doesn’t grow on barren soil. Your job is to make your life fertile for happiness and then it will naturally grow of its own accord. However, doing the work to bring about happiness – cultivating relationships, doing good work, finding things you’re passionate about and giving them time, using your skills and talents to the maximum of your physical and mental abilities – is required to have that fertile soil in your life, and it is work. It doesn’t just come.

I feel as though my life is generally a happy one, but I have put a lot of work into fertilizing and cultivating the soil of my life. If I spent that time chasing short term bursts of pleasure, I would have never found fertile soil. Rather, I would have been running across barren soil, chasing momentary pleasures.

11. They Shall Not Grow Old

Wikipedia gives a great summary of this film:

They Shall Not Grow Old is a 2018 British documentary film directed and co-produced by Peter Jackson. The film was created using original footage of World War I from the Imperial War Museums’ archives, most of it previously unseen, alongside audio from BBC and IWM interviews of British servicemen who fought in the conflict. Most of the footage has been colourised and transformed with modern production techniques, with the addition of sound effects and voice acting to be more evocative and feel closer to the soldiers’ actual experiences.

World War I is in danger of becoming a forgotten war. Most of the people who lived through it have passed away – there are very, very few WWI survivors alive today. Furthermore, the footage we have of it is very old, making it seem like it’s from another world entirely.

This beautiful documentary brings it to life. From the trailer alone, you can feel the life breathed into that conflict.

A good friend of mine has described World War I as the first modern war and the line between the “old world” and the modern one. It’s hard to really understand that, but this seems to bring it all to life like nothing else.

This is going to receive a brief theatrical run this holiday season. I’m going to do everything I can to see it.

12. Leo Tolstoy on becoming a better person

“An arrogant person considers himself perfect. This is the chief harm of arrogance. It interferes with a person’s main task in life – becoming a better person.” – Leo Tolstoy

The biggest mistake a person can make is to believe that they can never be better than they are right at this moment. You can always be better than you are right now. No one is perfect. No one is beyond redemption, either.

Instead, we wake up in the morning as a mix of good traits and bad, a mix of gifts and flaws. What can we do with that mix? Our goal should be to go to bed having sharpened our gifts and good traits and put them to good use, while sanding down some of our flaws and bad traits, so that we wake up tomorrow in a slightly better starting place.

From that constant exercise comes almost every good thing in life: good health, good relationships, financial stability, a good reputation, things that bring us joy in life. Without that exercise, we jog in place and slowly decline over time as our natural gifts fall into disuse and our flaws become ever stronger.

There is nothing better we can be doing with our lives than improving ourselves and using our best traits to make the world around us a better place.