Inspiration from Kurt Vonnegut, Sarah Rozik, Lao Tzu, 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. Kurt Vonnegut on building and maintaining

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” — Kurt Vonnegut

This is one flaw (among many) that I see in myself.

I find writing the first draft of an article far more inspiring and enjoyable than editing the article, for example.

At my previous job, I found writing the first version of a software application much more enjoyable and interesting than maintaining and updating that software application.

I find the early stages of any big, long-term goal to be much more invigorating than the long process to actually make it to that goal.

Why is that? Why do I enjoy the creation more than the maintenance? Why is it true for so many others, too?

A big part of the journey I’ve been on over the last several years, as I’ve moved from a financial turnaround to a long journey toward financial independence / early retirement has been figuring out how to enjoy the maintenance in addition to the creation. It’s not easy, but there are tricks. Part of it is figuring out how to build things that fall within the maintenance of a bigger goal… but that in itself could be another article someday.

2. TasteMade

My kids have joked before that I treat Youtube like it’s a cooking channel, and I have to agree. There’s something about the focused food videos on Youtube that I really like. I find them to be (usually) far more focused on practical recipes and kitchen techniques than most modern food shows.

I tend to go through “phases” with new cooking channels on Youtube. I’ll subscribe to them, then gorge on their archives. Then, they’ll stay on my subscription list, popping up new things to watch regularly.

I often watch food videos – well, honestly, I listen to them mostly – while actually in the kitchen doing something. I’ll just set up my laptop off to the side when I’m in the kitchen making a batch of sauerkraut or washing a pan or making supper and listen to the audio and bookmark any videos that I like by using a keyboard shortcut with one hand.

Tastemade my most recent cooking channel “phase.” This is definitely a channel with a lot of different hosts – it doesn’t seem particularly driven by personalities, which I like. I like how it mixes together technique with fairly simple recipes and also show off how you can synergize well by cooking multiple things at once and combining them.

Here’s a great example

This is a video of one of the hosts, Erwan, cooking Filipino fried rice. To me, it sums up what I like – it’s not about Erwan’s personality, though he comes off as friendly, but instead the focus is on technique and why you use particular ingredients. That’s what I want from cooking videos. This actually convinced me to make a very similar fried rice a few days later, and I loved it.

My only minor quibble is that I wish the music on some of the videos was just a touch lower. I don’t mind quiet background music, but this is just a touch louder than I want. Not nearly enough to keep me from watching, though; this is definitely on my food video list.

3. Louis C.K. on erasing mistakes

“If you went back and fixed all the mistakes you’ve made, you erase yourself.” – Louis C.K.

I can look back over the years and see tons of mistakes. I was an absolute financial disaster during most of my twenties. I was really bad at building lasting friendships for most of my life and I’ve set fire to many friendships inadvertently. I see mistake after mistake after mistake when I look backwards.

Yet, now that I think about it, I wouldn’t change any of them, because if I did, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, and I’m pretty happy with where I am right now.

The only use for looking backward is to teach yourself things that you can use going forward. Lamenting the past doesn’t help. Wishing you could change things doesn’t help. Moving forward with a better mindset? That’s what matters.

4. Ryze

One of my big personal initiatives in 2017 has been to build up my friendships. I want to resuscitate a few old fading friendships, work on turning a few acquaintances into stronger friendships, and maintaining and strengthening some of my key friendships. I’m just not very good at doing this, and I often let friendships and relationships fade simply because I’m not good at it. At all.

In terms of my mind, I don’t want to take relationships for granted at all. In terms of my behavior, I sometimes do.

My initial strategy was to try doing this by adding items to my to-do list. I came up with this way-too-complicated system where I made lists of my friends and tried to make sure I was keeping in touch with them regularly and managing it via to-dos, but the whole thing fell apart out of needless complexity.

Ryze is basically an app that does exactly what I was trying to kludge together on my own. Exactly.

It’s basically a contact management tool, except that it encourages you to contact people regularly. Each day, it’ll say “contact these people – you’re letting these relationships erode” and it will immediately provide you with some things you want to touch base with them on.

I started using it a few months ago and it’s been an absolute godsend. I feel like most of my interpersonal relationships are in better shape than ever before.

Honestly, you can do everything that Ryze does on your own with other tools and using Ryze made me realize that some elements of my home-brew system could have been far better, but the tool just works. It’s really effective at keeping relationships straight.

5. Lao Tzu on acceptance and approval

“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” – Lao Tzu

Whenever I try to mold myself to others, they’re never happy with the changes. They always want more and more changes. They’re never satisfied.

Whenever I ignore them and simply try to mold myself to what I want, other people can choose to accept that or not. Most of the time, they do. If they storm off because I won’t change to suit them, that relationship wasn’t valuable, anyway.

This doesn’t mean I should ignore others. I value people’s input and thoughts and ideas. I love helping my friends.

I’ve just come to realize over time that the real standard that matters is inside of me, and I need to strive to meet that standard. Other standards don’t really matter (unless, of course, I’m being paid to match their standards).

Have high standards for yourself. Do your best to live up to them. When you do, people in your life will respect that, and if they don’t, how much do they really value you, anyway?

6. The Other Pair

The credits for this film are in Urdu, but the film is effectively silent except for the music. Words are not needed – the excellent actors evoke everything that’s necessary.

Just watch it. You’ll be glad you did.

7. Larry Smith on why you will fail to have a great career

From the description:

Throughout his three-decade career here at the University of Waterloo, Larry Smith has inspired legions of students to take up the mantle of economics with his passionate and homespun tales of economic wizardry. A renowned story-teller, teacher and youth leadership champion, Larry has also coached and mentored countless numbers of students on start-up business management and career development strategies.

His message is simple: people fail because they consistently choose the easier and more straightforward path that they’re not particularly excited about rather than the harder path that they’re excited about and passionate about. People that get into “good” career paths rarely make it to “great” because they’re not passionate about it, and the people who are merely “good” usually wind up getting grunt work dumped on them because they’re capable but not exceptional.

His argument is that you’re better off being exceptional in a lesser field than being capable in a higher-value field, and passion is the key difference between capable and exceptional. He presents it in a wonderful way, too.

8. Mark Twain on reading

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” – Mark Twain

When I see this quote, I often mentally substitute the phrase “thoughtfully acquire knowledge” for the word “read.” In other words, “The man who thoughtlessly acquires shallow knowledge from just one source has no advantage over the man who doesn’t acquire information at all.”

Read things and listen to things and even watch things that make you think, but intentionally seek out quality sources. Then, if you find yourself slipping into truly believing some ideas, read a complete counterargument with an open mind.

I truly believe that every major problem facing the world today could be solved with an informed population that understood and respected different sides of the key issues. Instead, what happens when we don’t spend the time and effort to really inform ourselves is that we allow others to make up our minds for us. The people we allow to do that are the ones that use comforting language, maybe those who call us “real Americans” or those who simply label all other viewpoints as being “lies” without any real effort at counterargument.

Don’t give into that. If you truly think your beliefs are the right ones, challenge them. Don’t just make low-effort attempts at knocking down other viewpoints or knocking down people who present those other viewpoints.

9. David Gilmour – Wish You Were Here (unplugged)

This is the best song about lost friendship that I’ve ever heard, bar none. It captures the feeling of a lost friend, one whose absence that you grieve.

You may be able to tell from some of the other entries here that lost friends have been on my mind lately. There are people who were once such a core part of my life that somehow drifted away. I can’t recall ever really diverging from them in terms of who we were, but that familiar rhythm of seeing each other nearly every day just slowly fell away.

This song captures that feeling so perfectly.

10. Buddha on today

“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” – Buddha

If you’re progressing toward a big long-term goal, today is the only day that matters. The actions you take today are the only ones you actually have control over. You can’t change the past – it’s already happened. You can’t control what you’ll do in the future, either. You can only control what you do right now.

So, right now, are you going to do something that helps your goal? Or are you going to do something that works against it? Are you going to go above and beyond today to make this happen? Or are you uncommitted, more interested in doing other things today?

One path leads straight to your goals. The other does not. It’s your choice, and today is what actually matters.

11. Pharrell Williams’ Happy (trombone loop), performed by Christopher Bill

A few days ago, I was trying to explain how recorded music was made by recording different bits and pieces at a time. Often, those different bits are looped to create a very standardized feel throughout the song and they can be mixed up, too.

I was stretching for a way to really show it to them. I attempted to do a simple version myself using a clapping rhythm and GarageBand software, but it wasn’t really clicking due to my lack of musical talent.

So I went searching, and I found this.

My children quite like the original song, Happy by Pharrell Williams. This is a talented trombone player who basically recreates the loops from the song on the fly using a computer. He plays pieces, then hits a button on his computer to add them to loops. He starts off with a bit of body percussion to get it started, then adds trombone pieces as he goes.

This is the video that made the idea click for them. It’s not about telling, it’s about showing the process at work, and this one does it with no explanation, just demonstration. The guy’s exceptionally talented and this not only shows off both his musical skills and engineering skills, but it also makes it clear how modern music is constructed. Everything beyond this is specialized tricks, really.

Our family has made some atrociously bad looping music since watching this. It’s awful, but the creation process has been fun.

12. 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

If someone is causing you emotional pain – making you worry or making you angry or making you upset – you have the power to control that emotion. You have the power to decide whether to feel worry or anger or upset or sadness.

They may have questionable character for having done something to trigger those feelings within you, but you have the power to control those feelings. You get to decide whether that anger or worry or sadness or upset controls your life, or whether you control those emotions.

Do not let the actions of others steer you into sadness. Step back. Recognize that other people often take actions that are not in your best interest. They usually take actions that are in their own best interest alone and that can often leave you in a worse place. Accept it. Reform your opinion of their character, and move on from there to things that bring joy and contentment rather than sadness or anger.

Good luck.

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