Updated on 03.16.11

Ten Pieces of Inspiration #11

Trent Hamm

Each week, I highlight ten things each week that inspired me to greater financial, personal, and professional success. Hopefully, they will inspire you as well.

1. Ralph Waldo Emerson on the “good old days”
Unemployment is at 9% or so and the media bemoans financial apocalypse. A few years ago, unemployment was at 5% or 6% and everyone talked about prosperity. I don’t seem to remember having mountains of money then, and I certainly don’t have mountains of money now.

“Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and the money not scarce?” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yes, some people have lost their jobs in the last few years, but for most Americans, 2006 wasn’t a period where we had fistfuls of money to throw into the air. The median income level then was largely the same as it is now. Emerson hits a home run here (as he often does – he’s one of my favorite writers of all time).

2. Tulips and the arrival of spring
For me, one of the surest signs of the wonderful arrival of spring is the presence of tulip bulbs at local gardening stores.


The sight of a tulip makes me ready for the steadily-growing warmth of spring. One particular highlight of spring for my family is a trip to Pella, Iowa, for their Tulip Time festival, which usually occurs on the first weekend of May (or so). I’m ready.

3. Albert Einstein on audacious ideas
Every big goal you set in life seems absurd when you start out.

“For an idea which, at first, does not seem absurd, there is no hope.” – Albert Einstein

The Simple Dollar seemed absurd when I started it. At best, the whole thing was a lark, an excuse to talk to my friends indirectly about personal finance.

Every big thing worth doing in life seems absurd at the beginning.

4. Weatherspark
I’m a weather fanatic. I’m constantly studying forecasts from lots of sources, trying to use those forecasts to plan when we’re going to take family excursions, when I’m going to plant the garden, and so forth.

Weatherspark (at http://weatherspark.com/) is just amazing. It’s a tool that basically merges weather data and forecast data for your location from a bunch of different sources and shows them to you all at once.

When you first look at it, it’s information overload. Start playing with it and studying it, though, and it will quickly become an indispensable tool.

5. Oscar Peterson’s piano solos
Oscar Peterson is one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. His solos are stunning. Here’s a particularly amazing one.

It sounds, to my ears, like this is a piano trio, not just one person. The skill and artistry on display here is stunning, even if you’re not a fan of jazz piano.

If you liked this, be sure to check out the Oscar Peterson mix on YouTube.

6. Thomas Edison on work and opportunity
I find that, over and over again, I’m rewarded by working hard for something. I am very rarely rewarded by taking the easy path to something.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison

Edison states this so well. It’s quotes like this that convince me to spend more time and effort looking for great ideas, great answers, and better ways to express them.

7. Daniel Pink on motivation
This is a great short speech on motivation from the 2009 TED Talks.

Motivation is a key part of moving yourself towards doing something amazing. Pink presents the ideas in an entertaining and enjoyable way.

8. Laura Czaja at FT Press
Dealing with PR people is simply part of my life. Simply because I’m a fairly high-profile blogger, I get MOUNTAINS of emails from PR people who want to tell me about the product they’re representing, some person they’re representing, or something like that.

I’ve complained on Twitter quite often about PR people who are, well, annoying. They send me these horribly impersonal emails that are full of marketing-speak and feel about as cold as an icebox. These emails sometimes match something that might be of interest to me – at other times, they’re completely useless to me. Whenever I attempt to interact with one because they mention something of interest to me, they respond with something that sounds like it was written by a robot. It’s awful and off-putting, and more than once it’s convinced me to not bother to look at a potentially interesting service or book or something like that.

Because of that, I really want to highlight someone who does it right – Laura Czaja at FT Press. She’s a PR person, obviously, but she does her job in a way that actually causes me to pay attention to her emails. For one, she’s really selective in what she sends me because she actually has a clue who I am and what I’m doing. At the very least, she’s bothered to take note of The Simple Dollar with enough detail to know about things that might actually match and things that won’t. For another, her emails aren’t impersonal. They’re friendly and polite and to the point in language that doesn’t sound like a machine. Brief and friendly are what works for someone like me – I want the point in a sentence or two, and she gives me that without sounding like a machine. When I reply to her, I either get a clear response or, magically, what I request just happens.

Laura, you are a shining example of how the PR industry can actually work by being selective and being human, and because of that, you’re one of the very few people I pay attention to from the PR industry. PR firms, you’d do yourself a great favor by having Laura on your staff. Laura’s employers, you need to give her a raise.

People who do their jobs well are always an inspiration.

9. Jump for Joel
I wrote about Jump for Joel a few years ago, but every time I have an interaction with someone involved with J4J, I’m thoroughly impressed.

As I stated then:

Jump for Joel‘s mission is to directly improve the baseline living conditions and educational opportunities for impoverished children in sub-saharan Africa, particularly in orphanage situations. They do this through directly sponsoring volunteers to travel to that region in Africa, as well as directly buying supplies for children in such situations (school supplies, toilets, etc.).

The charity was started in 2007 by a University of Illinois – Springfield student who spent two weeks on a volunteer project at the Gathiga Children’s Hope Home in Nairobi, Kenya. The conditions that the orphaned children lived in shocked her into action, bringing her to start Jump for Joel (named after one of the children in that orphanage).

I became aware of Jump for Joel through my sister-in-law, who spent much of the summer of 2008 volunteering in an orphanage in Romania. It was through this experience that she became acutely interested in what she could do here at home to help out children in such impoverished situations, and through that she became a part of the Jump for Joel team.

I absolutely love their Tumblr blog, outlining what volunteers are actually doing while they’re working in the field for Jump for Joel. It’s the humanity of the whole thing that comes shining through.

10. Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice
This is another TED talk I enjoyed this week. Barry Schwartz talks about the challenges that the overflow of choices has added to our lives.

I think he’s on to something here. When there are 175 choices of salad dressing at a grocery store, it becomes much more difficult to make a great choice about them. Great food for thought, thoughtfully presented.

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  1. jackson says:

    I would like to quote Michael Jordan, probably the best basketball player ever, on his quote on failure. “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan.

    Here is a link for the eight truly inspirational people. http://www.oddee.com/item_96763.aspx

  2. Maureen says:

    It’s always been my understanding that tulip bulbs (and most spring flowering bulbs) should be planted in early to mid fall. Summer flowering bulbs (such as gladiolus) should be planted in spring.

    It is nice to see BBQs and lawn furniture in the ‘seasonal’ departments rather than snow blowers!

  3. Kathryn C says:

    “For an idea which, at first, does not seem absurd, there is no hope.” – Albert Einstein

    I love this! I always think my ideas are absurd but that’s what makes me want to pursue it even more! Mental? perhaps.

  4. Lucia says:

    Here is another inspiring quote from Woody Allen


    “I think that the biggest life lesson I learned as a boy, that has helped me and is still with me, is that you really have to discipline yourself to do the work. If you want to accomplish something, you can’t spend a lot of time hemming and hawing, putting it off, making excuses, and figuring ways. You have to actually do it…. I want to write, so I get up in the morning, go in and close the door, and write. You can’t string paper clips and get your pad ready and turn your phone off and get coffee made. You have to do the stuff. Everything in life turns out to be a distraction from the real thing you want to do. There are a million distractions, and when I was a kid I was very disciplined. I knew that the other kids weren’t. I was the one able to do the thing, not because I had more talent, maybe less, but because they simply weren’t applying themselves. As a kid, I wanted to do magic tricks. I could sit endlessly in front of a mirror, practicing, because I knew if you wanted to do the tricks you’ve got to do the thing. I did that with the clarinet. When I was teaching, I did that with writing. This is the most important thing in my life, because I see people striking out all the time. It’s not because they don’t have talent or because they don’t want to be, but because they don’t put the work in to do it. They don’t have the discipline to do it.”
    –Woody Allen

  5. thank you for the link to weatherspark. It truly is a unique website that I intend to explore. Love your 10 pieces of inspiration. We need to be inspired.

  6. kristine says:

    Wow! That’s an oldie but a goodie- The Barry Schwartz book came out in 2005, and I was the creative director in charge of advertising it at the time. We all loved this book, and it was a fun topic of conversation at a few meetings. I think we used a shot of a million kinds of jeans on store shelves as our illustration. An overabundance of choices leaves even the most minute decision open to analysis paralysis. It becomes overwhelming, and then there is guilt involved when you just give up, and grab something familiar. Or worse, a sense of dissatisfaction , you never feel like you chose the “best”.

    On the flip side, “mass customization” is the new growth market. There is a huge market for anything that can be customized, even simple stuff, by choosing components of a finished product- bicycles, sneakers, etc. Every aspect a la carte! It gives you the feeling of custom made, without having to pay for actual craftsmanship- it is instead inventory/assembly based.

  7. AnnJo says:

    I watched the Barry Schwartz video and find his basic argument specious. He cites too much choice, brought on by too much affluence and not enough income redistribution, as the culprit for disappointment, dissatisfaction, self-blame and even some suicides, when it is quite obvious that the culprit is some people’s habit of thought ABOUT choice, not the abundance of choice itself.

    Mr. Schwartz has taken his own and others’ surface responses to abundant choice and constructed an elaborate theory around them, rather than engaging in a little mental exercise to control and redirect those responses.

    Sure, when faced with 175 choices of salad dressing you can obsess about choosing the right one, obsess later about whether you succeeded and feel let down and blame yourself that, with so many choices available, the one you chose isn’t absolutely perfect. You can do that if you want to or, not wanting to, if you totally lack any mental self-discipline, but you don’t have to respond to choice that way.

    I happen to know that there wouldn’t be 175 salad dressings available if they didn’t each have a market – people who, for whatever reason, prefer that one salad dressing to all the other choices. Since I usually make a variety of my own and like them fine, I’m not usually part of that market (and when I do buy a commercial product, I’m likely to tweak it anyway) but it doesn’t bother me that it’s there, as it seems to bother Mr. Schwartz.

    Unlike Mr. Schwartz, when I make a choice among products, I already know the prospect of perfection is slim, I don’t ruminate afterward about whether I chose ‘the best’ and I’m either satisfied with the choice or chalk it up to a learning experience and make it do. These are habits of thought that I intentionally adopted at some point, and by now they’re second nature.

    Mr. Schwartz’s argument would be easy to ignore and I would ignore it, if I didn’t see it used regularly these days by those who see it as a good reason to limit not just their own choices, but other people’s. Mr. Schwartz uses it, at the end of his talk, to argue that policies of income redistribution will, as he says, “make everybody happier.” One more policy argument whose proponents rely on the notion that dissenters are just too stupid to know what’s good for them.

  8. Sonja says:

    Thank you for the link to WeatherSpark! I know my husband will LOOOOVE this. Looks really useful for all home gardeners – really a great tool.

  9. DeeBee says:

    The Daniel Pink TED video was excellent. I can apply these principles right now at my job, as both an employee and a (probable) future supervisor.


  10. valleycat1 says:

    Most of my family members are weather geeks, so WeatherSpark may become an obsession around here.

    If you like amazing solo musicians, check out guitarist Tommy Emmanuel.

    Thanks for an interesting assortment of links today!

  11. Henry says:

    I have some questions for Barry Schwartz.

    What Federal or Super-Governmental agency will decide which salad dressings are going to be available at my local grocery store?

    Will it be illegal to make my own 1,000 Island Dressing if it is not available?

  12. deRuiter says:

    Thank you AnnJo#3 and Henry #7 for pointing out so neatly that Leftist / Commie / Socialist Mr. Schwartz wants to shift us further to central planning where HE and his Socilaist hierarchy buddies will decide FOR US that the supermarket should have only 10 salad dressings and the cell phone company offer only 2 phones, FOR OUR OWN GOOD. Save us from the Commie Central planners like Barrack Obama and his death panels who will decide when our elderly had lived long enough and need to stand down for the younger, more productive worker. Very soon the central planners like Mr. Schwartz will also decide FOR YOU that your slightly defective newborn is not suitable for their grand scheme and will have to be put down for the good of society, you will not have the choice to keep your child alive if Mr. Schwartz and his ilk decide you should not have the choice. Trent, and all you college educated Lefties, America became a great country BECAUSE of choice. You have the choice to work, save, be thrifty, prosper. You have the choice to soar with the eagles on your own brain power, a la bill Gates and Jobs. You should also have the ability to fail through drugs and alcohol, WITHOUT THE TAXPYER MONEY BEING REDISTRIBUTED TO PUT YOU ON DISABILITY to live life supported by the productive class when you choose to drink and drug instead of work. A pox on all the “redistribute the wealth” types who want to redistribute my hard earned money to the welfare broodmares who are cranking out inferior children in droves to repeat that birth cycle and swell America’s criminal underclass. Mr. Schwartz wants to decide how many salad dressings in your grocery, they way the Obama central planners took over Government Motors and PUT MANY AMERICAN CAR DEALERS AND THEIR STAFFS OUT OF WORK. They decided which dealerships could remain (did you vote Democrat and contribute Democrat appears to have been the criteria to determine a “keeper” car dealership) and which were forced TO CLOSE. This contributed to the current economic decline. What business of the central planners was it to decide which car dealerships to close? If a dealership made enough money to operate, pay salaries, pay taxes, and support the owner in a style which suited him, WHY DID THE CENTRAL PLANNERS FORCE THESE DEALERS TO CLOSE AND LAY OFF STAFF, LEAVE THE DEALERSHIP BUILDINGS CLOSED AND VACANT? You want to hear about “less choice is better for you”, you talk to chefs in the old East Germany, who talk about the period when there were no non German, non Russian foods to cook. You see the look of far away longing as they say, “There was nothing interesting to cook, we did not have those wonderful long green things the West had to cook.” and you realize the poor sods were longing for zucchinis to cook which were not available (not a choice) in communist East Germany or Russia! Screw the central planners and Mr. Schwartz, Americans need MORE choices, not less. Consider that regardless of his “passion for writing”, Trent would be digging ditches due to his size and strength, or working on computers due to his education, because Trent’s lack editing his writing, refusal to run spell check and poor grammar would disqualify Trent, according to the central planners, from being a writer. Consider that Trent, before you prostrate yourself at the alter of central planning and limited choice.

  13. Amy says:

    I found Barry schwartz’s speech much more frightening than inspiring, but I am grateful that Trent had the choice to post it. And also grateful that I had the choice to turn it off! God Bless America.

  14. Bipper says:

    I, too, am a weather junkie. Another site you might find intersting is DataStreme from the American Meteorological Society. It is a program used to apply real-time data to teach meteorology. The maps and data will provide any information you might need. If you combine it with the GOES (Geostationary Orbiting Environmental Satelite) Project from NASA you can use a real-time image of North America and compare it to a weather chart. Hope these are helpful. Clear skies, GH

  15. Jules says:

    Thank you for mentioning the tulips. They are my favorite flower and put a smile on my face. I have always wanted to go to the Pella Tulip Festival, but never made it. Now that I don’t work weekends I will have an opportunity…just need to plan for the gas money as it’s a couple hours or so away from me.

  16. socalgal says:

    @DeRuiter–Paranoid much?

  17. Chuck says:

    @socalgal, I would have agreed with you about DeRuiter a few years ago but with the current administration “passing” laws without reading them and forcing the American people to comply with them or face jail/fines when the majority disagree with the law, it’s not impossible to see the government forcing their will on the people in other areas of life.

  18. Cat says:

    Loved the videos. Both interesting and thought provoking, though I don’t think Mr. Schwartz is going to try and take over the world and limit all of our salad dressings. I think he just misses a life of simplicity which he once had.

  19. Allie says:

    Excellent, now I know to just disregard everything DeRuiter says outright.

  20. Priswell says:

    Sorry, I have to make the observation that tulip bulbs do not show up in the gardening section in the spring, as they are planted in the fall. If they do show up in gardening stores in the spring, they are in a pot, and fully grown and flowering.

  21. deRuiter says:

    Dear socalgal, Better to be paranoid and defend our country from the Commie central planners, than to have your not quite perfect newborn taken and put down because the central planners (who know what is best for the peasants) feel that he is not perfect so living is not a good choice for him. Better to have 175 different salad dressings in the supermarket, instead of the central planners deciding one company (which votes democrat and contributes democrat) can produce only 10 varieties and all other companies producing salad dressing must go out of business. The EU with its soft socialism is big on central planning. Take a certain now abandonded farm just north of Seville, Spain. For five generations the same family raised cattle there and the family prospered, there were local men working on the ranch. The EU central planners decided (in Brussels) that the location was unsuitable for cattle ranching and that the ranchers must move to another location if they wished to continue to raise cattle. The central planners decided that the area was only suited for sheep raising. The ranch is now abandonded, the local men who once worked there are unemployed. We need lower taxes on the productive class, fewer stupid government regulations and restrictions, fewer people on welfare, norplant for any woman on welfare so she can not churn out more of the underclass. I make my own salad dressing, and raise most of my own vegetables, but I WANT 175 different salad dressings, made by a variety of of companies, preferably small, local companies, not one mega company ownd by the government. Otherwise we will have the salad dressing equivalent of stupid, pointless fiascos like the overpriced, inefficient, unpopular VOLT which is only sold with enormous taxpayer paid subsidies. The Volt costs $40,000 retail and you can get a non subsidized, non Government made car which is similar, efficient, but much better for perhaps $17,000. If you think I’m paranoid, you must have some government job and be just panting with enthusiasm to tell the rest of us what we can choose and how to live our lives. No thank you.

  22. christine a says:

    The Barry Schwartz TED talk has been a long time favorite of mine; thanks for reminding me about it Trent. I wholeheartedly concur with the view that we are “haunted by the missed opportunties of rejected alternatives” after we have selected the salad dressing or career path or whatever! (Michael Foley – The age of absurdity)

  23. kristine says:

    It is odd to read about “cranking out inferior children”. yet in the same breadth decide that anyone with a college education (liberal=educated?) will want to decide what baby lives or dies?
    I see you have no trepidation deciding what children are worthy of being born. Last time I checked, must liberals were pro-choice, as opposed to the state-mandated enforced infertility you prescribe.

    That whole argument is filled with such vitriol, and such inconsistency, judgmentalism and intolerance that I am amazed it made it through.

    You actually had 1 or 2 interesting points, but they were buried in the tangent shrill screed. Like Allie, I now will skip over you. Not because you may have something provocative to say ( I like to keep an open mind, and try to understand many points of view), but because the unsavory bitterness and and negativity you spew…well…I just have no need to emit that into my life.

    Wow. I actually feel sorry for you. What a miserable thing to be so angry at the world.

  24. Lou says:

    @ deRuiter —
    “Women on welfare churning out more of the underclass”? That is misogynist, class-ist and just plain ugly.
    deRuiter – take a chill-pill

    I thought the comments section was monitored? Negativity not welcome? Trent – tune in!

  25. Shana says:

    Trent! Hello from Kenya! Thanks so much for the J4J shout-out! I’m glad you like our Tumblr – I’ll have to post more often!

  26. Riki says:

    Unfortunately, Trent seems to be unwilling to remove offensive posts. I requested he remove one of deRuiter’s posts several weeks ago and did not receive a response. In that particular case, deRuiter was spewing hate against Islamic cultures and I found it horribly offensive. It is still up today.

    I suppose that’s the cost of our wonderful internet debate — being forced to endure comments from close-minded, hate-filled, paranoid folk who do nothing but try to convince the world that anything that is “other” is bad. As much as it vexes me to do so, I try to ignore it.

  27. Riki says:

    I also wanted to say . . . I love tulips! I’m in Canada and we’re just barely starting to see spring here. No flowers yet, but there are a few sprigs of green creeping up in the flower gardens. Soon, very soon.

    Buh-bye Winter!

  28. marta says:


    “That is misogynist, class-ist and just plain ugly.”

    Add a healthy dose of racism and xenophobia and that describes most of deRuiter’s comments in a nutshell.

    Whenever you see a huge block of text with random capitalisation, just skip it and move on. Your day will be better for it!

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