Inspiration from Seneca, Rhiannon Giddens, Babish, 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. Please enjoy the archives of earlier collections of inspirational things.

1. Seneca on happiness

“Happy the man who improves other people not only when he is in their presence but even when he is in their thoughts.” – Seneca

I can tell you from personal experience that one of the best feelings you can have is a realization that someone you’ve helped and influenced in a positive way has gone on to do good things without your involvement whatsoever.

You don’t have to be a teacher or a social worker to have this kind of experience, either. Just be an example of the kind of person you want society to be filled with. Have a set of core values, share them when asked, and most importantly, live by those values every second of the day. Listen to the other person when in conversation with them and don’t just use the time when they’re speaking to formulate your response.

Those kinds of things are easier said than done, of course, but those who do them have an outsized positive impact on those around them, and that positive impact often has ripple effects of positivity. The moment when you realize those ripples exist and you had nothing directly to do with them is a moment where you feel really, really good.

2. Jocko Podcast Episode #174 – Set Standards. Aspire to Achieve Them. Become an Eminently Qualified Human

This is a powerful episode of a very good podcast that’s managed to stay in the 20 or so podcasts I listen to for a few years now. The subject of this episode is the value of setting standards for yourself so that you know exactly whether or not you’re living up for what you expect from yourself. The hosts get to this point by going through the personnel review standards that the Navy and Marines use for evaluating service members and discussing the value of standards-based review and how to apply it to yourself.

In short, the episode suggests that you strive to become a better person in every area of life and take steps to do so every single day. In doing this, they propose coming up with clear standards with which to evaluate yourself in terms of today’s performance, meaning you do it every day.

This is actually very much in line with the ideas discussed in the books Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith and Atomic Habits by James Clear, both of which I have lauded in the past couple of years on this site. I’ve spent time over the last few weeks combining all of these ideas into a system of my own of sorts that takes elements from all three.

What I’m trying to do is define what a truly great person is in each of the different spheres of my life and how that great person lives out a day in their life, in detail and in terms of things that are applicable to me. What does a physically healthy person do each day? What does a fit person do each day? What does a taekwondo master do each day? I’m just writing out what kinds of things those roles embodies. Then, I’m using that to figure out what a “10/10” day is for me as I try to fulfill that role or at least move in that direction to the best of my ability, with my primary interest being effort and gradual refinement. In the end, I aim to reach a point where I’m scoring myself each day on a healthy handful of categories, then revising the standards every few months so that I continue to get better in all areas.

I’ve found that trying to develop this kind of personal standard for myself has filled up a ton of journal entries as I work out the details of everything. It’s been enlightening, and it’s also made me realize that I’m not always choosing the best goals and targets for what I want out of life.

To me, this kind of stuff is pure inspiration. Anything that makes you think about the life you want to live and the person you want to be in great detail is hugely inspirational.

3. Eric Thomas on the next 24 hours

“Don’t think about what can happen in a month. Don’t think about what can happen in a year. Just focus on the 24 hours in front of you and do what you can to get closer to where you want to be.” – Eric Thomas

Focus on today. Today is literally all that matters. Make today great. Worry about tomorrow when it comes, but make it great, too.

What does it mean to make a day “great”? That’s up to you to decide, of course. Most of us have a good sense as to what makes a day pretty worthless, but what makes a great day? You really have to define that for yourself.

Then, aim to get as close to that great day as you can every single day. If you do that, your life is going to be really good in the short run and the long run.

4. Google Chrome Library Extension

If you’re an avid reader like me, this extension for the Google Chrome web browser is an amazing thing. Whenever you visit a page for a specific book at several different websites, including Amazon, it pops up and lets you know automatically if that book is available at a library near you. It picks a few nearby libraries by default and you can change those libraries in the settings.

In the last few weeks alone, this popup has kept me from three different unnecessary book purchases that I was considering (not sure I would have actually bought any of them, but I was thinking about it). Rather than whipping out the credit card, I whipped out the library card instead.

Of course, right now I have more books on hold at the library than I can probably read in the time that I’ll have them.

5. Joseph P. Kauffman on being judged

“Any time you worry that someone is going to judge you, that is really you judging yourself.” – Joseph P. Kauffman

The idea that someone else will judge you is simply the assumption that other people will think the way you think and that other people will give you the same level of consideration that you give to yourself. Neither one of those things is ever true.

First of all, no one thinks in the way that you do. The things you notice and value in other people is a set of things that’s different from everyone else. Thus, your opinion on things is likely to be somewhat different than everyone else, and that includes your opinion of yourself.

Second, no one is ever going to go over you in the detail in which you go over yourself. They’ll usually pull out two or three traits about you and stop there.

The things you’re judging yourself over are things that likely won’t be noticed, and if they are, the other person likely won’t think negatively about it. Worrying about it is doing nothing other than bringing down your mood, which will definitely impact how you present yourself and is more likely to be noticed than whatever it is you’re worrying about.

You’ve got this. Don’t worry about what other people think. You got this.

6. Lao Tzu on time

“Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time’ is like saying ‘I don’t want to.'” – Lao Tzu

Whenever you say you don’t have time for something, what you are really saying is that something else is a higher priority in your life for your time use.

Look around your life. Is everything you’re doing a higher priority than this? Are you sure you’re not just committing to things because they’re urgent and not actually important? Are you sure that you can’t actually commit time to this thing or this person?

My philosophy is this: if something is really important to me, like doing something with a friend, and I am really booked up right now, I flat-out tell them that and I try to schedule something in a week or two right then and there so that they know that they’re actually important to me. If I just say that I can’t because I’m busy, it doesn’t matter how important they actually are to me or how important this particular matter is to me, I’m giving off an indication to others that it’s not important to me.

Similarly, when people never seem to want to do things with me, I eventually stop asking.

7. Rhiannon Giddens – Tiny Desk Concert

From the description:

There is an intensity to Rhiannon Giddens I could feel from the moment she arrived at the Tiny Desk, and her songs reflect that spirit. “Ten Thousand Voices,” the first song in the set, was inspired by Rhiannon reading about the sub-Saharan slave trade. The follow-up piece was inspired by the American slave trade and a New England newspaper ad in the late 1700s of a young woman “for sale” and her 9-month old baby who was “at the purchaser’s option.” Rhiannon Giddens’ thoughts of this young woman and how her life and her child were not under her control prompted the song “At the Purchaser’s Option.”

Despite its weightiness, Rhiannon Giddens’ music is entertaining, and her voice, the melodies, and her accompaniment are engaging. But it is music infused with lessons and deep purpose — something all too rare in popular music in my opinion.

Three of the songs performed at the Tiny Desk are from her recent release, There Is No Other, recorded with her musical partner Francesco Turrisi. Francesco plays banjo, piano and frame drum here and is joined by Jason Sypher on upright bass. Rhiannon picks up a replica of an 1858 banjo for “I’m On My Way,” which she says helps her access her ancestors. “So much beauty and so much horribleness wrapped up together seems to be our story,” she says.

For her closing number, she focuses on the beauty. “You can call it whatever you want, ‘gravity,’ ‘God,’ whatever. There’s a force that I believe in, and that’s what I focus on.” And with that the band takes us out on the beautiful gospel tune, “He Will See You Through.”

SET LIST “Ten Thousand Voices” “At the Purchaser’s Option” “I’m On My Way” “He Will See You Through”

MUSICIANS Rhiannon Giddens: vocals, banjo; Francesco Turrisi: banjo, piano, frame drum; Jason Sypher; upright bass

Rhiannon Giddens is one of my favorite musicians of all time. Her wonderful voice, unquestioned skill on the banjo and other instruments, and the way she uses her music to deeply explore issues makes her more than deserving of the MacArthur Genius Grant she received recently.

Please, have a listen.

8. C.S. Lewis on pain and happiness

“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.” ― C.S. Lewis

I believe the opposite is true, too. Often, the happiness I feel now is the pain I had before.

Why? There are a lot of reasons. Things change. The things you love don’t stay the same, and you don’t stay the same, either. It takes work to keep that relationship alive, and if you don’t invest, it’ll fade. You’ll wake up one morning thinking that things are as they always were and … it isn’t. That can hurt.

Even when things don’t fade away, they can suddenly be lost. I’ve lost loved ones very abruptly, and it hurts. That thing that was happy just yesterday is painful today.

The reverse is true, too. If you take something that’s important to you and you pour a lot of yourself into it, it builds into something that you can be proud of, something that does bring you happiness.

Even more than that, I don’t think you can feel happiness without pain. If your life never has difficulty or pain or challenge, it’s hard to feel happiness. It’s hard to feel the joy of something if your life is loaded with it. Treats become rote and routine and ordinary if you repeat them constantly.

9. Margaret Heffernan on the human skills we need in an unpredictable world

From the description:

The more we rely on technology to make us efficient, the fewer skills we have to confront the unexpected, says writer and entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan. She shares why we need less tech and more messy human skills – imagination, humility, bravery – to solve problems in business, government and life in an unpredictable age. “We are brave enough to invent things we’ve never seen before,” she says. “We can make any future we choose.”

Modernization has been so effective at taking away a lot of the dangers of daily life for most of us that we don’t confront the unexpected all that often, and we often don’t know how to handle it well. Yet it’s that ability to confront unexpected situations that often separates success from failure.

Unexpected events are messy, but so are the tools for handling them. I think this video gives a great look at those skills and why they’re valuable.

10. Susan Ertz on immortality and a rainy afternoon

“Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” – Susan Ertz

A rainy Sunday afternoon is a wonderful thing to me. It’s a time to play a game with my family or some friends. It’s a time to read a book. It’s a time to make a batch of fermented food. It’s a time to pull out a cookbook and find something interesting to make. It’s a time to learn about a topic I’ve always been curious about. It’s a time to call my mom. It’s a time to write a letter to someone. I would love to have more lazy rainy Sunday afternoons.

To me, the sadness in this quote is that people don’t know how to fill those afternoons. Time is the most precious resource we have and the desire to live forever is purely a desire to have more time, yet so often we waste that time.

Don’t waste those rainy Sunday afternoons. If nothing else, spend it curled up next to someone you love, or if they’re not nearby, call someone you love and catch up.

11. Basics with Babish – Poutine

From the description:

Poutine is the stuff of legend to our Northern neighbors…so let’s hope I don’t screw it up too bad! Even if you can’t find yourself real cheese curds, this rich and savory sober-up-snack is worth adding to your cheat day menu.

I’ve shared a few videos from Babish over the past year or so. Not only does he prepare dishes that are enticing and still achievable in a normal home kitchen, he does it with production values and humor that are just absolutely perfect for what I want out of an instructional cooking video on Youtube.

His videos achieve that level of getting everything so right that it looks effortless, half-convincing me I could make good cooking Youtube videos because it looks easy. It’s not. There are so many details in this video that are just perfect.

As I’m admiring that, at the same time, I’m learning how to make really good poutine. That’s excellence all around.

12. Jon Stewart on values

“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.” ― Jon Stewart

The time when values really matter is when they’re hard to stick to. It’s those moments when you feel really conflicted, where part of you wants to go one way and another part wants to go another way. It’s when you hear that everything is fine but something inside of you is saying it’s not fine and you feel conflicted. That’s when values matter.

If you walk away from your values during those moments of conflict, are they really your values? No, they’re not. If you have to really twist a situation to try to halfway convince yourself that something is in line with your values, are you really living in line with your values? No, you’re not.

We all have a sense of right and wrong inside of us. It’s not necessarily exactly the same from person to person, but many of the broad strokes are the same. The question is, do we live by those values? Or do we abandon them whenever it’s expedient to do so or whenever someone says something appealing to us?

The choice is up to each of us, but let’s not kid ourselves: when we do things and believe things and buy into things that aren’t in line with the values we supposedly hold, those values aren’t really our values.

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