Updated on 02.11.11

Ten Pieces of Inspiration #6

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. Sarah
This past week, my wife Sarah gave so much of herself that I was simply amazed, even though it’s just par for the course for her. She gave me a long hug and a pep talk when I felt down. She played a seemingly endless game with Dragonball action figures with our son. She scheduled an entire day to spend with a person who wanted to “shadow” her at work to learn more about teaching. She calmed our infant son in the middle of the night when he had an earache. She prepared an amazing meal plan for two different sets of houseguests. She picked out a perfect faucet to replace our broken one in the children’s bathroom. She held our daughter after the little one woke up from a bad dream.


She’s a whirlwind of energy and ideas and wonder in my life, every single week, and most of them involve giving of herself to others. It’s a daily inspiration just to try to keep up with her.

2. Egyptian protests
Regardless of the long term outcome of what happens in Egypt, I am always awed by the power of a large group of people who work together with a common voice. Something needed to change, and the people there have certainly caused change. I hope that the future holds a positive outcome for the people and nation of Egypt, but regardless of what happens, the determination of the people in Cairo is impressive.

3. S. W. Straus on thrift and character
Thrift is not an affair of the pocket, but an affair of character. – S. W. Straus

Straus was a Chicago investment banker in the early twentieth century who was an enormous proponent of being thrifty as a tool to improve your financial state. Here, he sums up something I’ve been feeling about frugality for a long time, that it has more to do with your character than anything. If a person has enough backbone to avoid all of the temptations of modern life and spend significantly less than they bring in, then that person is probably worthy of attention.

4. Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie
Mondrian’s art is something that I never really “got.” I would see it in art galleries and art books, look at it, shrug my shoulders, and move on.

One of my old friends, though, is a huge fan of Mondrian’s work, using it as her avatar on various social networking sites. Recently, she switched her avatar to this one and, for some reason, it just clicked with me.


There’s something about this painting that seems very alive to me, like there’s a huge amount of energy right under the surface, like I almost expect the lines to start moving because they’re holding back so much energy. Given the title – which I didn’t even realize until recently – I think that’s what the painter intended.

5. A good night’s sleep
In my opinion, the single biggest challenge of being the parents of young children is the lack of sleep. Between our five year old, our three year old, and our baby (who currently has an ear infection), most nights are interrupted by crying, a bad dream, a wet bed, or something similar.

This, of course, can result in some awfully tired parents during the day. I’ve truly come to appreciate good nights of sleep and I know that on days after I sleep well, I tend to amp up the productivity, focusing on getting things done above all else.

A good night’s sleep makes all the difference.

6. Michelangelo on hard work
If people only knew how hard I work to gain my mastery it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all. – Michelangelo

It’s worth noting that every person we think of as being great at something alomst always had to work what we would consider to be an insane amount at it to become great. Malcolm Gladwell estimates that the time investment for greatness is 10,000 hours of practice.

The thing that always comes to mind for me is that Kobe Bryant’s offseason workouts require him to make 1,000 baskets. Not attempt. Make. Every day. That’s why I’ll never be as good at basketball as Kobe, but I can certainly be inspired to work harder at the things that do matter to me.

7. Simone Dinnerstein on … many things
Simone Dinnerstein is the pianist who recorded one of my favorite albums of the last several years. This short interview of her (mixed with pieces of her playing) covers a lot of interesting topics at once.

My favorite part was her noting that becoming a parent caused her to wake up in regards to figuring out how to use her musical gifts and passions as the basis for a career. I strongly identify with that sentiment, though there are many other interesting elements going on here.

8. Chess videos on YouTube
Over the past week, I’ve started the first baby steps of teaching my five year old how to play chess. This has been a very enjoyable experience thus far, but I’ve been grasping for ways to teach anything beyond just how the pieces move.

So I went to Youtube, and I found the wonderful videos of chessvideos.

This is exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for when teaching my son some of the nuances of chess. He largely understands how the pieces move around. My challenge is to keep him interested via enthusiasm and also help him to feel like he’s improving but do that in a way that he understands.

Many of the concepts of this video are still over my son’s head, but such videos have helped me greatly as I teach my son and keep him excited about using his mind.

9. Peter Lynch summarizes my feelings on investment advisors
“In this business if you’re good, you’re right six times out of ten. You’re never going to be right nine times out of ten.” – Peter Lynch

For those of you who don’t know who Peter Lynch is, he had perhaps the single best run as a mutual fund manager of anyone ever during the 1980s. He managed Fidelity’s Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990, earning a 29.2% average annual return during that period. Simply put, he’s probably the best stock picker of the modern period.

Lynch directly says that the best stock pickers get only six out of ten picks right, and that much better than that is flatly impossible. To find someone even that good – good enough to get six out of ten right – you have to search, have a lot of money to invest, and have some luck, too.

On the other hand, you could just easily get five out of ten by investing in an index fund – and pay a lot less in fees, to boot.

I love how the best stock picker of them all makes a pretty solid case for not putting your money with stock pickers.

10. Piano solo of “Clocks” by Coldplay
My great piano teacher, Diana Helmer (who really needs a website of her own!), helped me make several breakthroughs on my piano solo of this song. Over the last few days, I’ve just been returning to the keyboard over and over to master the parts I now understand.

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  1. kjc says:

    “To find someone even that good – good enough to get six out of ten right – you have to search, have a lot of money to invest, and have some luck, too.”

    Why would you have to have a lot of money to invest in order to find someone with a great track record? And why is luck involved? What’s involved is research.

    There are funds out there that have lower Beta values (= less risk) than the Vanguard 500 Index fund, and which have WILDLY outperformed it over both the short and LONG (10 year) term. And no, it isn’t that difficult to find them.

    I’m not saying index funds are bad. They’re great for the passive investor, but if the market tanks, so does your index fund. IF you are willing to do some basic research, there are excellent alternatives out there which offer very solid returns and do NOT involve excessive levels of risk.

  2. lurker carl says:

    You will seldom again experience good and restful sleep after raising your children. Even when they’ve grown up and left the nest, you’ll still listen for them throughout the night. Old habits are hard to break.

  3. KJ says:

    You should have Diana make (or find someone who will make Diana) a Google Site. I’m not involved with the company, but I love mine as a promotional tool, an archive of work, and a “presence.” All you need is a Gmail account to get started.

  4. Jules says:

    I often tell my boyfriend that, if he knew how many duds I write for every blog post that goes up, he’d rethink my “talent”.

  5. GayleRN says:

    One of my sons told me that for years he was afraid to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night in his own apartment because he was sure I would hear it and immediately phone him to ask if something was wrong.

    You might want to read Peter Lynch’s books on investing. He is not a fan of index investing. Examine another point of view.

    So your piano teacher could use a website. Easy for you to say. She probably hasn’t the faintest idea how to do that. Are you going to do something about it?

  6. threenorns says:

    hi! normally, i just enjoy your newsletter but i do have a couple of points to make this time around:

    first, about the haircut thing: it’s easy enough to say “do it in front of a mirror with scissors and clippers and save $15” if you’re a man with short hair and it’s a basic “short back and sides” or (gods forbid) mullet.

    however, if you have long hair or are a female, then you do NOT EVER do your own hair. i won’t even cut my daughters’ waist-length hair myself. when i and my two older daughters lived with a guy and his two sons, i would do the guys’ hair no problem and they looked neat, clean, and very tidy. the one time i was foolish enough to trim my daughters’ long hair, it hung around their face and shoulders like wet laundry. no movement, no shape, no life – horribly unflattering.

    when it comes to cutting long hair, my own experience is that getting it done by a non-professional (or by a badly-talented professional) is a waste of money because i won’t be happy with the result and i’ll end up going somewhere else to get it corrected.

    second, about the website: speaking from experience, it’s a pita to maintain and run a website if your main business depends on a high turnover. can you perhaps negotiate some kind of barter deal with her where you (or someone you designate) set up and maintain a web presence for her in exchange for a discount on lessons?

  7. threenorns says:

    oops – wrong page – i came in through the website and thought it was the same format…. mea culpa

  8. Janet says:

    Just as a hint for the future, whenever your son has an earache a very easy and safe remedy is to heat a bath towel (I do it in the microwave but you need to do it for only a couple of minutes and watch it) and then have you or your wife put it folded on your chest and then lay your little boy down on it with his sore ear against the towel. The warmth of the towel will take away all of the pain. I have had two children who used to suffer terribly and my mother gave me this as a solution and I am telling you, it worked fantastic. One or two heats and earache is gone. As to the haircuts for those who wish to have their own hair cut by someone else, seek out an old-time barber (ours is 83) and he still gives $5.00 haircuts. With two boys and a husband this is great. As for my hair, contary to threenorns comments, I cut my own hair all the time and cut it and color it myself and it is almost waist length and I get good comments all the time.

  9. Carol says:

    I think it is a great idea to teach young children chess. My son showed interest in chess at 4 and he still plays at 11. We have a great time as a family and danged if he doesn’t beat me 4 of 5 times…he is a much better strategist than I. I like to think this skill will carry over to other areas in life. As for haircuts, for us it depends on the style. We usually get styled once a year, maybe twice depending on what occasions might come up, and then take the scissors to our hair when we need trims.
    I was really glad to read that quote from Michaelangelo. There is talent and there is the work that is required to live up to that talent.
    Good post.

  10. Mary says:

    I am female with long hair & I cut it myself, in front of the mirror.

    That Boogie Woogie art? My first thought was it looks like a video game! :)

  11. Kate says:

    Speaking as a former piano teacher, you’re doing extremely well, if that’s you on the “Clocks” video! (It didn’t look like you, but it’s rather hard to get a good look at the performer.) Very nice voicing.

    I also have to salute your taste; from this, to “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” to the Goldberg Variations! Those last two were both favorites of mine to play, back when I was still decent on the piano, although unlike Simone Dinnerstein, I never mastered the entire thing well enough to play end-to-end in ninety minutes! Your original post about the pieces you wanted to tackle this year served as my introduction to “Clocks;” somehow I’d missed that one, but it’s terrific and I understand why you chose it.

    My husband cuts his own hair, and has for the entire 36+ years we’ve been married, and it looks fine. But I’m another woman who needs a pro to cut hers. When we can’t quite afford it… well, that’s when I go back to wearing it long for a while! :)

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