Inspiration from Ukranian Music, a Report Card, Walt Whitman, 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. Friedrich Nietzsche on stupidity

“The most basic form of human stupidity is forgetting what we are trying to accomplish.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

The greatest challenge I have as a person is to keep an eye on the larger things I want to accomplish in life while struggling through the flood of small things that life constantly tosses my way.

There are always little urgent things that need to be dealt with. There are always little distractions. There are always little problems. There are always little pleasures.

Those things can grab your attention. They can pull your eyes down from the horizon and fix them on the ground right in front of you, and when your eyes are on the ground in front of you, you walk aimlessly. You’re no longer headed toward that goal on the horizon.

Look up. Look far away. Do it as much as you possibly can.

2. Matthieu Ricard on the habits of happiness

From the description:

What is happiness, and how can we all get some? Buddhist monk, photographer and author Matthieu Ricard has devoted his life to these questions, and his answer is influenced by his faith as well as by his scientific turn of mind: We can train our minds in habits of happiness. Interwoven with his talk are stunning photographs of the Himalayas and of his spiritual community.

For me, there are several daily habits that do an incredible amount to lift my mood. A daily walk is one. A brief spell of meditation is another. A little bit of intense exercise is another. Playing with my children without distraction is yet another.

Yet, sometimes, I skip over those habits. I convince myself that there are other things that are more urgent or more important.

And my mood slowly spirals downward.

The thing I always need to keep in mind is that I get far more done if I make my personal happiness a priority. If I’m happy, I tend to work much more quickly and much more effectively. I tend to enjoy life more and be much more available to the important people in my life.

3. Carl Sagan on technology

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” – Carl Sagan

Every day, I see people using technologies that they don’t understand – the internet, Facebook, cell phones – to decry other technologies that they don’t understand.

Every single day, we rely on thousands of technological advances, the vast majority of which we don’t understand on any deep level. Everything from the food on our table to how we communicate with others is influenced by technologies that we don’t understand but merely trust.

Often, that trust is borne by accepting the extremely obvious benefits of the technology without considering the negatives that are often hidden within the technology. Or, in some cases, the reverse happens – we focus strongly on the negative and decry something with a lot of positive in it.

The thing is, almost all of us are very ignorant as to the benefits and costs of technologies, especially new ones. We are very poor at assessing risks. Many people refuse to believe scientific studies on the impacts of new technologies.

Few things scare me more than anger and destruction based on limited and biased knowledge. Sagan states that feeling very beautifully and succinctly.

4. DakhaBrakha’s Tiny Desk Concert

This video’s description explains it better than I could:

People always ask me, “What’s your favorite Tiny Desk Concert?” Well, right now it’s the one recently performed by DakhaBrakha. The creative quartet from Kiev, Ukraine make music that sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard, with strands of everything I’ve ever heard. There are rhythms that sound West African and drone that feels as if it could have emanated from India or Australia. At times, DakhaBrakha is simply a rock band whose crazy homeland harmonies are filled with joy. All the while, they play tight-knit tunes featuring accordion, drums, reeds and shakers while wearing tall, Marge Simpson-looking wool hats that made me jealous.

I want the world to see this Tiny Desk Concert more than any other right now. It’s refreshing to hear the power of acoustic music and the many worlds of sound still waiting to be explored. — BOB BOILEN

This music sounds like happy folk music from another planet… and then it gets stuck in your head.

5. A report card

Sarah and I have always wanted to strike a balance between congratulating our children on doing well in school and also encouraging them to improve in the area where they struggle the most. Working on an area that’s personally challenging is an incredibly powerful way to build character and also teaches you how to learn something that isn’t easy.

This year, we really focused on this with our two oldest children. One of them struggles with handwriting clarity, while the other struggles with organizational skills.

In both cases, when we received their end of the year report cards, we could see an obvious improvement throughout the year in those areas. In our school district, both of those areas receive a grade at the middle elementary level, and our children’s grades went up steadily in their challenging area throughout the year.

It is wonderful to see their successes in other areas, but it is by far the best of all to see the progress of their effort in an area that’s challenging to them.

If a seven year old and a nine year old living in my house can take on their weaknesses and succeed, why shouldn’t I?

6. Walt Whitman – A Summer Invocation

Thou orb aloft full dazzling,
    Flooding with sheeny light the gray beach sand;
Thou sibilant near sea, with vistas far, and foam,
    And tawny streaks and shades, and spreading blue;
Before I sing the rest, O sun refulgent,
    My special word to thee.

Hear me, illustrious!
    Thy lover me — for always I have loved thee,
Even as basking babe—then happy boy alone by some wood edge—thy touching distant beams enough,
    Or man matured, or young or old—as now to thee I launch my invocation.
(Thou canst not with thy dumbness me deceive.
    I know before the fitting man all Nature yields.
Though answering not in words, the skies, trees, hear his voice—and thou, O sun,
    As for thy throes, thy perturbations, sudden breaks and shafts of flame gigantic,
I understand them — I know those flames, those perturbations well.)

Thou that with fructifying heat and light,
    O’er myriad forms — o’er lands and waters, North and South,
O’er Mississippi’s endless course, o’er Texas’ grassy plains, Kanada’s woods,
    O’er all the globe, that turns its face to thee, shining in space,
Thou that impartially enfoldest all — not only continents, seas,
    Thou that to grapes and weeds and little wild flowers givest so liberally,
Shed, shed thyself on mine and me — mellow these lines.
    Fuse thyself here — with but a fleeting ray out of thy million millions,
Strike through this chant.

Nor only launch thy subtle dazzle and thy strength for this;
    Prepare the later afternoon of me myself — prepare my lengthening shadows.
Prepare my starry nights.

Summer brings little miracles every single year.

7. Peering through the long grass

Peering Through The Long Grass

There is a grassy field not far from my house. During the summer months, our family will inevitably wander over to this field and explore it.

The grass is often tall enough to easily disguise our children, particularly if they crouch. As Sarah and I look about, we can often see where they are hidden, sometimes by a glance through the grass and sometimes simply by a depression in the carpet of green.

Few things are more beautiful in summer than this.

Many thanks to A Guy Taking Pictures for this image.

8. Henry van Dyke on using your voice

“Use what talents you possess, the woods will be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” – Henry van Dyke

If you are afraid to write, don’t be. The world is made better by your writing.

If you are afraid to record and share music, don’t be. The world is made better by your song.

If you are afraid to make videos and share them, don’t be. The world is made better by your recording.

Sure, the vast majority of the stuff will never reach a high level of popularity, but if one person sees it or hears it or watches it and gets some value from it, then it was well worth doing.

9. Graham Hill on less stuff and more happiness

From the description:

Writer and designer Graham Hill asks: Can having less stuff, in less room, lead to more happiness? He makes the case for taking up less space, and lays out three rules for editing your life.

I’m really beginning to understand where this perspective is coming from. I sometimes feel like I have more stuff to deal with and maintain than I ever want to and that the vast majority of the value in my life comes from a pretty small amount of stuff.

I guess, on the whole, I feel like I’m continually headed in a “downsize” direction. I think the happiest I’ve ever been was when all of my possessions fit in a Rubbermaid tub (yes, that was true, once upon a time). I just didn’t have much stuff to worry about and could focus on other things.

10. Barbara Kingsolver – Hope: An Owner’s Manual

Look, you might as well know, this thing
is going to take endless repair: rubber bands,
crazy glue, tapioca, the square of the hypotenuse.
Nineteenth century novels. Heartstrings, sunrise:
all of these are useful. Also, feathers.

To keep it humming, sometimes you have to stand
on an incline, where everything looks possible;
on the line you drew yourself. Or in
the grocery line, making faces at a toddler
secretly, over his mother’s shoulder.

You might have to pop the clutch and run
past all the evidence. Past everyone who is
laughing or praying for you. Definitely you don’t
want to go directly to jail, but still, here you go,
passing time, passing strange. Don’t pass this up.

In the worst of times, you will have to pass it off.
Park it and fly by the seat of your pants. With nothing
in the bank, you’ll still want to take the express.
Tiptoe past the dogs of the apocalypse that are sleeping
in the shade of your future. Pay at the window.
Pass your hope like a bad check.
You might still have just enough time. To make a deposit.

Life will never be easy.

But it will always be great, if you let it be.

11. A wonderful animated summary of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits

This is from a channel that summarizes books on a variety of topics, but this video really stood out to me for two reasons.

First, Covey’s 7 Habits is a really good book. It’s full of thoughtful ideas about getting all of the spheres of your life in the right order. I’ve taken a lot of pieces from that book and adopted them in my own life.

For me, the chief idea that really changed my life was that of the idea of rocks and sand. Some things in our lives are rocks – they are the big important things, and they should be the first things we put into the jar of our life. Smaller things are pebbles and sand – they should be added later, to fill in the space around the rocks.

Second, the video itself is well-executed. It compresses the ideas in the book down to seven condensed and rather entertaining minutes without really missing anything too big.

Good material and good execution always catch my eye. This video remixes Covey’s source material really well.

12. Steven Pinker on optimism

“We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naive to work toward a better one.” – Steven Pinker

I saw this on a bag at Chipotle a few weeks ago and I wrote it down on the first page of a fresh new pocket notebook that I had just started. For the next week or two, every time I opened that notebook, I saw that quote.

Every time I saw it, it challenged me a little. Am I focusing too much on the flaws in the world? Do I worry too much about how the solutions for a better world aren’t perfect and think too little about how they do help and how they are a step in the right direction?

The biggest mistake we can make as people is to insult and denigrate someone else who is striving for a better tomorrow. Even if we see their plan as flawed and imperfect, we must never, ever lose sight of the fact that someone is working to make the world a better place.

If you have anger for someone, save it for the person destroying the world, not the person trying to improve the world by following a path different than the one you would follow. Get angry at the people robbing billions from taxpayers, not the guy down the street with a different political focus than you who also wants a better tomorrow.

It is never bad to try to make tomorrow better.

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