Inspiration from Pat Summitt, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, 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. Ralph Waldo Emerson on success

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children… to leave the world a better place… to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I view success as leaving the world a better place than where I found it. Have I improved the lives of others? Have I contributed something to the world? Have those contributions been worth the negatives I have brought – the waste I’ve produced and so on?

I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure. That sense of not being sure gets me up in the morning. It motivates me. It makes me want to make sure that today is a day where I do something positive in the world.

2. Van Gogh’s paintings redone with a “tilt-shift” effect

Recently, a friend of mine showed me this set of wonderful images of van Gogh’s paintings redone using a “tilt-shift” effect in what I assume must be Photoshop, though this is a Photoshop technique that’s out of my rudimentary image processing skill set. I find these images hauntingly beautiful, as they take some of the paintings I most love in the world and transform them in stunning ways.

I was able to figure out that these alterations were done by a reddit user named melonshade; kudos to him or her for the absolutely stunning works. Melonshade claims to have primarily used the blur tool within Photoshop to create these effects, which must have taken some time. It certainly produced some amazing results.

In fact, I actually wouldn’t mind having prints of a few of these on my walls, though I have no idea as to the legality of selling prints of such works. Images like these – digital modifications of digital reproductions of old paintings – get into really strange areas of copyright.

3. John Steinbeck on summer and winter

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” – John Steinbeck

I actually think the reverse is true as well, but I’m a northern Midwesterner, so by default I appreciate the cold weather.

In a broader sense, though, it’s all about being on both sides of the fence so that you can see that the grass is always greener on the other side. On a scorching hot summer day, I sometimes long for winter. On a frigid winter day, I sometimes long for summer.

The truth is that they both bring something wonderful to the table, something I wouldn’t really trade for anything else. The promise of summer makes winter bearable, and the promise of winter makes summer bearable. The truth is that both are wonderful and it’s only the extended periods of extreme weather that really make me desire the other.

4. Tom Hulme on what we can learn from shortcuts

From the description:

How do you build a product people really want? Allow consumers to be a part of the process. “Empathy for what your customers want is probably the biggest leading indicator of business success,” says designer Tom Hulme. In this short talk, Hulme lays out three insightful examples of the intersection of design and user experience, where people have developed their own desire paths out of necessity. Once you know how to spot them, you’ll start noticing them everywhere.

You really need to watch this video. Hulme lays out a concept called a “desire path” that is going to stick in your head. You’re going to see it over and over and over again in life once you understand what it is.

What I find interesting is that these things don’t just pop up in physical paths. They pop up on websites. They pop up in our own time use. They pop up in how we do our work and how we spend our time. Desire paths are everywhere.

To me, it’s just another way of looking at the idea of “the path of least resistance.” People are going to consistently root out the method of least effort to get the result that they want. You do it yourself, and so do I. The real question is what we can learn from those paths of least resistance. What is it saying about what we desire? What is it saying about how we do things?

Look at what you do every day. You can learn a ton.

5. Abraham Lincoln on preparation

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

This is a quote that I see popping up from time to time in email signatures or in the forewords of books. It’s a quote all about the value of preparation, of course; a sharp axe will be far more effective than a dull one, so much so that the time spent in sharpening the axe will more than pay for itself later on.

I learn that all the time in almost everything that I do. The more I prepare to write an article, for example, the faster by far the writing process actually is, so much so that in the end it’s actually shorter to go through a sensible process for preparing the article.

The trick, for me, is figuring out when to stop sharpening my axe and to start cutting. I fully understand the value of axe sharpening, but sometimes I tend to sharpen too much, not leaving myself adequate time for the task at hand.

6. Tristan Harris on how better technology could protect us from distraction

From the descriotion:

How often does technology interrupt us from what we really mean to be doing? At work and at play, we spend a startling amount of time distracted by pings and pop-ups — instead of helping us spend our time well, it often feels like our tech is stealing it away from us. Design thinker Tristan Harris offers thoughtful new ideas for technology that creates more meaningful interaction. He asks: “What does the future of technology look like when you’re designing for the deepest human values?”

My cell phone is a giant distraction. In fact, quite often, when I need to work, I literally put my cell phone in another room. I don’t need to hear the beeps or dings from my phone because the vast majority of the things that my phone tells me are urgent but not in the least bit important.

What I would love is a phone that’s truly smart enough to only actually alert me when there’s something genuinely important happening. A phone that can figure out when something is truly important and only lets me know about those things would be great. I’d still want to be able to review the less important things, but on my own terms.

For me, the risk of missing something important – something more important than the task I’m working on at the moment – is pretty small, so it’s worth it for me to just drop distractions entirely. It’s sad that it has to be that way, that there’s no way to be connected and not distracted, and it’s a useful puzzle to solve, because when it’s actually solved, it will make technology far, far more useful than ever before.

7. Marcus Aurelius on pain

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” ― Marcus Aurelius

There is a lot of pain in life. Physical. Emotional. Spiritual. It can add up and really drag you down.

The number one most valuable skill I have ever learned in my life is the ability to put it out of my mind for a while. It doesn’t matter how bad things are screaming, I can shut down pain for at least a while when I want to.

When I was a little kid, I had an extremely painful surgery. During the recovery process, my doctor told me that it was going to hurt a lot in the coming weeks. It did. I put it out of my mind a lot in those weeks. At first, it was just to give me peace to rest. Soon afterwards, it was to give me peace while I did things with friends. Eventually, I found that the pain wasn’t there at all.

I’ve done the same thing with lots of different pains in my life. I woke up once in such bad back pain that I literally couldn’t bend myself into a standing position for fifteen minutes. I then proceeded to fly cross country that day while carrying several heavy bags through the airport on both ends of the flight.

I had a girl dump me once. I thought it was the end of the world. I put it out of my mind and within three days my future wife had asked me out on a date. She didn’t know that anything was bothering me.

You can revoke the pain in your life if you want to, at least for a little while. You can sink it and submerge it and perhaps find that you really can deal with it.

8. Pat Summitt on losing

“Losing strengthens you. It reveals your weaknesses so you can fix them.” – Pat Summitt

A few days ago, I was joking about the graveyard of other blogs that I attempted to launch over the years, either prior to The Simple Dollar or even after The Simple Dollar launched.

I had a blog devoted to parenting issues (that one was actually kind of successful). I had a blog devoted to board gaming (an utter failure). I had one devoted to personal productivity (it had potential, but it ended up being more useful to me than to anyone else, I think). I had one devoted to philosophical issues (I deeply, deeply enjoyed writing this one – it had almost no readers).

All of those blogs failed for various reasons, most of them related to time, but at least in part due to the fact that they just didn’t catch on for one reason or another. Maybe the topic was too narrow, for instance, or maybe I didn’t promote it.

Each time I saw a blog fail, though, I learned something. I learned about how not to attract an audience. I learned about good topic selection. I learned about how to write in a way that engaged people.

And, from all of that, The Simple Dollar was born. It rests on a foundation of a lot of failure.

I failed. Many times. It strengthened me. It made everything I did after that much stronger.

9. Sajay Samuel on how college loans exploit students for profit

From the description:

“Once upon a time in America,” says professor Sajay Samuel, “going to college did not mean graduating with debt.” Today, higher education has become a consumer product — costs have skyrocketed, saddling students with a combined debt of over $1 trillion, while universities and loan companies make massive profits. Samuel proposes a radical solution: link tuition costs to a degree’s expected earnings, so that students can make informed decisions about their future, restore their love of learning and contribute to the world in a meaningful way.

10. Buddha on happiness

“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” – Buddha

There is literally no cost to me to be happy in public. There’s no cost to me to smile at someone. There’s no cost to me to laugh at someone’s joke. There’s no cost to me to express sympathy to someone. There’s no cost to me to stop and ask someone if they need help.

Each one of those things, though, offers a huge benefit. Each one of those things makes someone else’s life better. It makes them smile, too. It makes them feel self-confident. It makes them feel less confused. It makes them feel like someone cares about their problems.

If these things can happen with literally no cost to you, why not take that step to make them happen. Smile. Listen. Share condolences. Laugh. Give some simple help. It doesn’t cost you anything, but it makes the lives of everyone around you a little better, and the waves will eventually bounce back to you.

11. Daisy

Over the years, I’ve tried out a bunch of habit-promoting apps that were designed to encourage me to build better personal habits and routines, like making sure that I exercise each day and such. These are things that I sometimes put into my to-do list, but, honestly, it’s kind of weird to have a to-do to remind me to floss. I want that habit to just become natural over a long period of time, just something I do each day.

I think Daisy is that app.

It basically just sits on your phone and sends you reminders of the things you’re trying to do each day. I find myself flipping over to that app each time a reminder comes up just to see what I missed, and usually I just do it to take care of it.

The whole app is about as simple as can be. It also generates good statistics along the way, so it’s good for “chaining” sequential days of good habit performance.

In other words, it’s basically the perfect habit building app, in my opinion. It’s free, too, unless you are wanting to build a ton of habits at once, in which case it’s $3.

12. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on regarding others

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This quote has been the signature of my email for the last year or two. It’s been changing and shaping the way I look at other people.

The truth is that everyone you meet has been through some sort of pain in their life, and some have been through far more than others. Everyone has the capacity to bear some burdens, but sometimes people have more thrown on their shoulders than they can stand.

As human beings, even if we’re not willing or able to help that person, the least we can do is respect that person. It is far, far too easy to judge someone else through the eyes of our own experiences and burdens, because that’s all we have. It’s very likely that the person you see on the street, having been given your burdens and your advantages, might have turned out very much like you. But they weren’t given those burdens and they weren’t given those advantages.

The vast, vast majority of people are trying to do the best they can with the situation they’re in, with the burdens they’re carrying and with the advantages they have. Some people simply have fewer advantages and more burdens, often through no fault of their own.

Keep that in mind as you interact with the people around you. Ask yourself what burdens they carry. You might end up seeing that person a little differently, and that might end up shaping how you see the world a little bit, too.

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