Updated on 09.09.15

Make Each Day Your Masterpiece

Trent Hamm

woodenThose who have followed this blog for a long time know that I don’t have many personal heroes. There are a lot of people who have valuable things to say, but there are very few people who have reached such a trusted level with me that I tend to put extra value on the things they say just because that person said them.

One of those few people was John Wooden, who passed away this past week (I mentioned it briefly in my reader mailbag on Monday). A few years ago, I wrote about how John Wooden had taught me a lot about personal finance and over the years, I’ve read his books and a big pile of interviews he’d given.

Of all of the things I’ve taken away from the things he’s said, one stands out above all others.

Make each day your masterpiece.

In other words, how would you spend today if it were the one day by which your entire life would be judged?

This is something I make a genuine effort to keep in mind every single day of my life.

What would I write if I knew I only had one shot at making a difference in someone’s life?

How would I spend the next hour with my four year old son if I knew it was the only hour he’d remember from his childhood when he was an adult?

How would I spend this evening with my wife if it were the last evening we would spend together?

How would I spend my money today if I knew that today spoke financially for the rest of my days?

Would I hold my temper? Would I stop being such a slob? Would I set a good example? Would I not worry what the neighbors thought and just run through the sprinkler in my clothes, laughing with my children? Would I make a perfectly delicious, tasty meal and smile at my daughter across the dinner table – or would I just throw a box of Tuna Helper out there?

Every single day, we’re making an impact on the people around us. The people we love. The people we merely like. The people we will never directly know. Even on ourselves – our future health and happiness and relationships and skills and finances.

Every single day, we have a chance to really make all of those things shine – or we can buy a sack full of double cheeseburgers and sit in the basement all evening watching Seinfeld reruns.

Today is really the only day that matters. You can’t make your past self do anything. You can’t make your future self do anything, either. Your only freedom of choice is right now, and thus today is your one chance to paint your masterpiece.

What are you going to do today to make it your masterpiece?

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  1. Crystal says:

    I have lower standards than you on “masterpiece” obviously.

    I consider it an awesome day if I get my work done well, help a few people have a better day, don’t have to clean up dog pee when I get home, and get to joke with my husband in the evening – even if that’s just us watching our favorite shows or making fun of a bad movie or getting into a good movie. I also love talking to him right before bed…rehashing the day, planning the next, and just throwing thoughts back and forth for a half hour.

    In short, doing a good job at work and having a mellow evening sounds like a fantastic day in my opinion. On the weekends we throw in friends and family to balance out the perfect week…

  2. wanzman says:

    Its a grand idea to consider living each hour and each day as its the most important, or the last.

    But the fact is, this hour likely won’t be the last, and if we fail to plan for the next hour or the next day, we likely won’t enjoy that time.

    Plus, its pretty unsustainable to live that way, even if you wanted to.

    To me, its all about keeping things in life in proper context. Sure, I may not be enjoying what I am doing right now (working, perhaps), but I do enjoy the money I earn which allows me to live a good life with my wife.

    Every minute, hour and dau cannot be the best ever. If it kept going that way, just think about how high your standards would eventually be.

  3. Anna says:

    I think this is a great post. Obviously not everything can or will be 100% perfect all the time, nor is it possible to 100% enjoy everything you do at all times. You might not enjoy being at work, but you can still make sure you do the best job you can despite that.

    I don’t think this post is about being snobby or having impossible standards for life. I think it’s more about being aware that you have a choice about what your attitude towards things is. If you can’t change your circumstances (e.g. being at work), then you can at least change your attitude and make the best of it.

  4. Erick says:

    I agree with you to a point but does every day have to be a “masterpiece” day? For example, regarding my kids, I don’t spend time thinking about making the next hour one they will always remember.

    I guess I am saying that sometimes, you have to deal with life and all the mundane things that go along with it (chores, home maintenance, etc.) I don’t get caught up in evaluating my life constantly and whether I finished my to-do list. I let things go sometimes. I relax in the garage and smoke a cigar. I have a drink or two and watch the cars drive by. In no way do I ever feel guilty for that. I think that a lot of people are so concerned with trying to fit everything in that they lose sight of the fact that sometimes, you just need to slow down and smell the roses (sorry, I hate that term but then again, I don’t make my living as an author….)

  5. brad says:

    any day that includes seinfeld reruns is automatically a masterpiece.

  6. Keith says:

    I think it’s a great sentiment, but for me it generates a tremendous amount of pressure to expect each day to be lived as if it was my last. Or, a “masterpiece”.

    I think it’s better to just do your best, try your hardest and if you create a masterpiece in the process then you can reflect on that day and determine that it was good.

    If it doesn’t happen, then you don’t have the weight of a lost magnum opus hanging over your head.

  7. Gretchen says:

    I like to spell check my masterpieces, personally.

  8. T'Pol says:

    Duck Trent! Duck fast! I saw thousands of rather angry Seinfeld and double cheeseburger fans coming your way:)

    On a serious note, living today well is important. Constantly yearning for the past or not being able to forgive past mistakes was a problem for me. So, lately I have started reading the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

  9. David C says:

    I don’t want to peak out early with a masterpiece day and then not have something to strive toward.

  10. Gemond says:

    Hmm. Seems as if some of those commenting here missed the underlying point of Trent’s comment about making each day a “masterpiece.” I can understand where they are coming from, because there was a time not all that long ago when I would have been echoing their sentiments almost exactly.

    However, I didn’t take that Trent meant a perfect day (if there is such a thing)–and FYI, even a masterpiece is not perfect. What I got was the issue of intention. Something most people seem to forget about and which is why people often approach each day as just another “list” of to-dos to be checked out. (Also known as auto-pilot in some cases.)And why the days blend into each other without meaning for many folks.

    Too often we approach each day without intention, without a real plan and without a sense of where “this” day falls in our overall plan for life.To most people, it’s just “another day.” But…as so many find out, a life can change in a heartbeat and what started out as just another day, can change in ways we cannot and would not imagine.

    To me, Trent is saying that we should basically pay attention to the day and our activities and realize that it’s all a part of something bigger. And put more of ourselves into it, not be on auto pilot.

    Trent writes: “Every single day, we’re making an impact on the people around us.”

    That’s what he’s really saying: Think about your actions, your intention, your words, your behavior, your choices. BE AWARE! Doing that, your day IS a masterpiece. It’s NOT about results per se, in a moment, or over 24 hours.

    Trent, I think your audience isn’t quite “there” with you about this. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t necessarily agree with you on, but on this, I think you are right on target.

    This post reminds me of something I’ve said, over and over, to a brother whose marriage is faltering. “How would your day change if, each day on waking, you asked yourself: How can I make this a better day for my family? How can I make this a joyous day for my family?”

    We can do that for each other, no matter how mundane our days seem to be. THAT is what I think Trent was trying to remind us.

    THink everybody focused too much on the word “masterpiece” while missing the actual thought/sentiment.

  11. Happiness is something different to every person. None of us value exactly the same things in life, and while I agree with the premise of this article, I can’t help but wonder why in the midst of inspiration you feel the need to slam on people who don’t meet your own idea of what constitutes a “masterpiece”.

    I can honestly say that there are moments when a box of Tuna Helper makes me day a little better because I actually enjoy it once in a while. I haven’t eaten a bag of cheeseburgers in months, but if I want to eat cheeseburgers and watch Seinfeld, who are you to criticize my choice?

    We all value something different and this article could have gone much further (with me, at least) if you left out the gentle stabs at folks who derive satisfaction from their lives in a way that you don’t personally value.

    We all do it, though, right? We all make ourselves feel better by looking down our noses at people who we think we are “better” than. Maybe this wasn’t your intention, it probably wasn’t, but I think you ought to be mindful of how your words can come across to others. It isn’t only in this one subject but others articles across this site are filled with the “look down my nose” attitude about people who don’t find value in exactly the same things as you might.

    It reminds me of how materialistic people look down on frugal people as poor or cheap and then we do the same thing by calling them wasteful and ostentatious.

    Otherwise, good article. :)

  12. Kerry D. says:

    I love the concept of the article. Let’s make today count, period. In whatever way is meaningful for us and also the people around us… where we are at (i.e. mundane responsibilities) and that means that the “masterpiece” will take very different forms.

    For me, like some of the previous comments, that can include some kickback time watching TV with my family and dogs snuggled all around.

    But the post really reminds me, for example, that getting dinner on the table can either seem like drudgery or an act of love. My attitude is key, and that attitude might impact the choices I make.

  13. DiscoApu says:

    Ok I definately agree, make the most out of life.

    But do you really think your frozen egg burritos, red beans and rice or pretzel chicken fingers are better then a bag of double cheeseburgers? Maybe slightly healthier and a few pennies cheaper.

    Is seinfeld worse then some of thecrappy books you read?

    Just because your crap is cheaper, does it make it better? Seinfeld and burgers seem pretty cheap.

  14. Jaime @ Like a Bubbling Brook says:

    Wow, Trent, you have some rather nasty readers/commentors. Not quite sure where they came from, or why they frequent your blog. It seems every time I read through the comments here they nag, and nag, and nag some more. I find it very frustrating, so I suppose it is about time for me to say it. Not that it will do much good, I’m sure :o) At least it is off my chest. Maybe I just need to stop reading through the comments!

    That being said, I loved this post. I agree; it’s important to make every moment special, to be aware of the time that we are in and the time that we have. We are not promised another hour or another day. This moment is the only moment there is.

    So sorry to hear about the passing of your friend and mentor. Keep up the good work. I really enjoy your posts!

  15. Ashley says:

    Trent didn’t coin the “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” quote…John Wooden, his hero, did. All Trent did was describe how Wooden’s words impact him personally.

  16. David @The Frugality Game says:

    After all, what is life but a series of “today”s?

  17. Sunny says:

    What are you going to do to make today a masterpiece? Hmm, I guess the answer for a lot of folks is to read a blog post and totally bypass its beautiful sentiment.

  18. KJ says:

    Spot-on sentiment, sir. :D

  19. Angie says:

    mmmm… cheeseburgers…

  20. Eric says:

    I really appreciate this post Trent.

    For the last 4 years, I have been a proud Bruin and in 3 days, I will graduate from UCLA with my bachelor’s degree.

    The passing of Coach Wooden, as you can probably guess, has devastated our campus, especially in light of the final week of school and the festivities it usually entails. As UCLA students, we know John Wooden wasn’t only a UCLA hero but also a hero for all kinds of people everywhere. I’m glad you were one of them. :)

  21. Carrie says:

    From C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters: http://www.ccc-nl.org/mn/ScrewTape_Letter_15_and_questions.pdf

    “For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

    He goes on to make the point that the past is ‘fixed’, and thoughts of the future can be good or bad; but we can control RIGHT NOW.

  22. Karen says:

    @Gemond: Ditto.
    Brilliant post, Trent. Thank you for sharing.

  23. Kristine says:

    Great article. Another thing I like to ask myself is if the choice I choose is a strengthening or weakening choice. Does the choice align with my goals and values or not?

  24. Joanne says:

    It’s quite obvious to me what the intent is here. Its one thing to say, “Hey, it’s been a long week and we’ve been working too hard and not spending enough time together. How about I pick up a bag of cheeseburgers on the way home and we put everything else aside for the night and just snuggle up under a comforter and watch Seinfeld reruns?” It’s quite another to go through the day in a blur and escape the reality of life by driving through the local fast food joint and idly passing the night in front of the television without any forethought or objective; merely passing the remainder of the day until bedtime, only to possibly repeat the same thing the next day in one form or another. I am amazed when I talk to co workers or friends and learn that they are up to date on all the weekly TV shows. I wonder how on earth they can hold down full time jobs, own homes, have families and yet find the time to watch tv every night. This is not a bash on TV, but so many people do not give thought to how they use their time. We miss so many opportunities to enjoy what is right under our noses; our family, friends, opportunities to brighten somebody’s day by lending a helping hand, a word of encouragement, a simple inquiry as to their well being. We intend to visit that certain elderly family member “eventually”, have a game night with the kids, go on that picnic with our spouse, or any number of smaller things; mail a simple thank you to a friend, call to check on a neighbor, light candles at dinnertime, try a new recipe. The point is to choose how to spend our days and live our lives, not just go through them mindlessly. I don’t understand the criticism from some people who have made comments. We need to read in context.

  25. littlepitcher says:

    The more I read concerning the late John Wooden, the more I want a complete collection of his aphorisms. He sounds like the coach/second parent his students (and many of us adults) need to complete our educations in real life, especially those of us who were “jerked up (or f…up) instead of raised up”, as we say down here in Dixie.

  26. Mary says:

    Nice post, your readers are right, if they don’t like your posts don’t read them. There are always a select few who pick everything apart, take it out of context, maybe they are just unhappy with where their lives are now. It’s sad that someone feels a day with Seinfeld is important (I hope you were kidding), BYW I’m not knocking you, maybe you just need to look around.
    The thing is people may only cross your path once in this life and it would be nice to be remembered as the person who held the door open, smiled at someone who looked like they needed it, etc. A couple of weeks ago a lady at the cashier was short a couple of bucks and was looking at what she could put back, it all looked like necessities to me so I slipped her the balance. I wasn’t going to be seen as the person rolling their eyes making comments like the person behind us.
    And as far a remembering this day, a close friend lost her mother and they hadn’t been on very good terms over something stupid. She will live with that for the rest of her life.

  27. AmyG says:

    I think it’s kind of interesting when I scroll down the comments by readers. The first 5-10 posts are almost always filled with vitriol, criticism over lack of spellchecking or good grammar, and nit-picking. Then the next batch of posts is usually folks who see the big picture and whether they agree or disagree, make some good points and provide additional food for thought. Guess I just need to learn to skip over the first several posts to find what’s worth reading. Good post, Trent. Though my days are rarely masterpieces, just striving to make them the best I can works for me.

  28. Lynn says:

    Your commenters crack me up, Trent.

  29. Lynn says:

    Your commenters crack me up, Trent. I agree with AmyG in that the first 5-10 posts are usually so unnecessarily mean. *shakes head* Simply don’t read it, people. Just walk away.

  30. Sandy L says:

    I love this concept but I often feel like I have the opposite problem. I want to fill every moment with something of value and not waste time.

    If I sit on my patio, I don’t relax but instantly zoom in on the weeds that need to be pulled, instead of enjoying the few nice months of weather we get a year. I feel guilty about the time I spend reading blogs, when I do enjoy some immensely.

    Balancing the need to make every moment meaningful with just chilling out and relaxing is the hard part for me.

    Gretchen’s comment did make me laugh out loud….because I’m horrible at spelling and grammar. Proofreading is how I define my masterpieces.

  31. Claudia says:

    One thing that has always stuck with me since I first read the play “our Town” in high school (lots of years ago). It’s the scene where the dead Emily is allowed to relive one day of her life. As she observes the day of her 10th (or so)birthday. Her mother is busy getting breakfast ready and does not look at the birthday girl. The dead Emily cries out (I’m paraphrasing, I don’t remember the exact wording) “Look at me, Mama, look at me. Oh, why can’t we live every minute of every day?”

  32. travelerkris says:

    Every time I think the comments to one of Trent’s posts will be beaming with positive feedback there are so many negative responses! I don’t get it.

    Well done Trent- you inspire me with posts about positive thinking, positive actions, planning to succeed and remembering to make your day count. I appreciate the reminders coming to my email each day.

  33. Kittie says:

    to AMY G: ditto
    to Claudia: well said
    to Trent: I loved it and plan to use it in my bible study group.
    for the negative people out there, I ‘ll pray things get brighter for you.

  34. Good stuff-

    One thing I love about this blog is that you can get some good “pearls of wisdom” about topics not necessarily financial.

    As the country song goes (and I really dislike country music)

    “Live like you were dying…”

  35. What an inspiring post! I’m a teacher and I am constantly trying to teach my kids to remember that this is the only [insert date] that they will ever live through, and how are they going to use that day?
    However, I have to admit that a bag of hamburgers and some episodes of Seinfeld has been a fun “date night” for my husband and I:). Makes me laugh every time!

  36. anna maria says:

    I try to do something that will make this day memorable, something to remember and smile or think about at the end of the day, when I am about to fall asleep. I follow many terrific blogs which are a great source of the greatest ideas that help you live better (I just added “Make each day your masterpiece.” into my ideas treasure chest). I try to keep in touch with people, give them support or advice when necessary. Making just one person feel better already makes a day worthy.

  37. Brandy says:

    Fantastic post, Trent! Thanks for a great reminder.

  38. LMR says:

    Wow! I really feel the pressure now and I’m pretty sure that was not the point. I am a big believer in the idea that ordinary moments in life can turn into the best moments and the best memories. So what if you did spend your last evening with your spouse eating cheeseburgers and watching Seinfeld if that’s something you both enjoy doing?
    My mom died of cancer in 1997 at the age of 51. She was plagued with illness and disability her entire life, so watching TV and movies was her main form of entertainment. I have good memories of watching French films with my mom, but some of the best memories I have are of watching ordinary shows like Star Trek (I liked Seinfeld, but she wasn’t a fan). Yes, I also remember important conversations we had of her unpleasant and abusive childhood and of the kind people who helped her. But I also remember the fun conversations we had about “Amok Time” and “Trouble with Tribbles” and comparing and contrasting TOS with TNG. So, from a completely geek-based point of view, those days were masterpieces! :D

  39. Kai says:

    I don’t find this a valuable theory. If every moment had to be a masterpiece, we would never get to the gritwork that needs to be done.
    Who would choose to spend the last day of their life cleaning the house? But this too needs to be done for any time it turns out to be not your last day.
    In fact, if it were your last day, wouldn’t you feel more free to spend wildly, and stop saving for the future you won’t have?

    ‘Do things that matter to you, and outsource what you can of the rest’ makes sense. ‘Live every day as a masterpiece’ does not.

  40. Martha says:

    It frightens me, a little, that a website feed that I subscribed to to get tips about personal finance has kind of become the “can’t miss” email for spiritual growth. Not because I worship money, but because of posts like this. And the finance tips are great, too!


  41. Jack says:

    Years ago I worked at a residential school where the kitchen was run by Gracie, an 82 year old African American with a lot of spunk. We had returned from a two week vacation & I asked her how things had gone for her around town…I was sure that she probably just puttered around the local area…probably staying at home most of the break. She went on to describe her trip to NYC, a 4 day cruise & a major family reunion somewhere in the South. She could see I was stunned & that’s when she laid down a line I’ve never forgotten, “honey, when I works I works, but when I plays…I plays.” There is a time & season for everything. When it’s time to work put your all into it, but when it’s time to recreate & create memories, do it with gusto!

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