Inspiration from Aristophanes, The Staples Sisters, Benjamin Franklin, 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. Jim Rohn on finding a way

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” ― Jim Rohn

The important thing to remember with a quote like this is that Rohn is referring to things that are under your control, like losing weight or spending less money to achieve financial success or tackling a difficult subject. You can do those things if you really want to do them.

It’s not always the same story when you’re choosing something that relies on the judgment of others. For example, as much as I love baseball, I’m never going to be a professional baseball player. It’s simply not happening. I don’t have the skills to be a professional baseball player.

However, if my goal is something different – say, I want to be better at hitting the ball tomorrow than I am today – then that’s something that’s entirely within my grasp. I can actually achieve that if I put my mind to it, if I commit the time and energy to it.

The truth is, though, that I often won’t do that. Instead, I’ll look for excuses. I couldn’t do it because I had to take my kid to soccer practice. I couldn’t do it because I was worn out from the day.

An excuse is just a way to give yourself permission to not bother to achieve the great things you’re capable of. A life full of excuses is a life empty of greatness.

2. Learning How to Learn

I’m an enormous fan of Coursera, which is a website that offers free online courses on a huge variety of subjects. Perhaps my favorite course of all time on there is called “Learning How to Learn.”

The description of the course sums it up better than I can:

This course gives you easy access to the invaluable learning techniques used by experts in art, music, literature, math, science, sports, and many other disciplines. We’ll learn about the how the brain uses two very different learning modes and how it encapsulates (“chunks”) information. We’ll also cover illusions of learning, memory techniques, dealing with procrastination, and best practices shown by research to be most effective in helping you master tough subjects.

Using these approaches, no matter what your skill levels in topics you would like to master, you can change your thinking and change your life. If you’re already an expert, this peep under the mental hood will give you ideas for: turbocharging successful learning, including counter-intuitive test-taking tips and insights that will help you make the best use of your time on homework and problem sets. If you’re struggling, you’ll see a structured treasure trove of practical techniques that walk you through what you need to do to get on track. If you’ve ever wanted to become better at anything, this course will help serve as your guide.

I’ve wanted to mention this course several times on here, but I’ve not done so because the course wasn’t starting at a time that matched up well with my posting schedule. Now, however, things line up perfectly.

The next session of this course starts on June 6, which is two days after this article goes live. If you want to give it a shot, sign up. I highly recommend it.

3. Aristophanes on demagogues

“You demagogues are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it’s only in troubled times that you line your pockets.” – Aristophanes

We currently live in a world where the media makes money by telling everyone bad news. The world is full of good news, but the media relentlessly focuses on the bad, which then convinces everyone that we are in troubled times.

As Aristophanes points out, it’s in troubled times when demagogues arise that exist primarily to further their own goals and line their own pockets. They prey on the fears of everyone else who is worried about the changes and the troubled times and tell them the words they want to hear, that things will change, that those who would take things away from us will be struck down.

And then we cede power to them. Money to them.

And then nothing changes.

Keep your eyes open for demagogues. Keep your eyes open for those who make everyone seem like the enemy. Keep your eyes open for those who use coarse language to describe others, words that do nothing to create new ideas and move us forward but seek only to belittle and insult individual people and groups.

Keep your eyes open for the demagogues.

4. Neil Young – Heart of Gold

Several years back, I was attempting to teach myself how to play acoustic guitar, and this was the song I was primarily trying to learn. (I wasn’t playing the harmonica; I was merely humming those parts.)

The song itself is pretty easy to play on an acoustic guitar. It’s also a very soulful song.

The real reason that I wanted to learn it, though, was that it was one of those songs that takes me back to a particular place and time in my life. I was about twenty years old and living in a tiny apartment. I had a beat up old record player and a pile of records that I had bought at a garage sale as a bundle for less than $5. Most of the records were awful, but a handful of them were truly great, and one of them was Harvest by Neil Young, upon which this song appeared.

I listened to those records every night as I drifted off to sleep. It was a time in my life where my worldly possessions could fit inside a single storage tub and I carried about a third of them every day with me in my backpack.

It was actually a very happy time in my life. There are some things that were much better then, just as there are some things that are much better now. Revisiting those times every once in a while feels pretty good, and this song really captures it better than anything else.

5. Will Smith on those who do little for you

“Stop letting people who do so little for you control so much of your mind, feelings, and emotions.” ― Will Smith

The television does little for you. The internet, in the end, does little for you. People on the street? They do very little for you. The people who live at the far end of the block? They do very little for you.

The people that matter are your family, your closest friends, and your coworkers (and customers). Pretty much no one else really matters that much in terms of how you live your day to day life.

If that’s the case, don’t spend a dime trying to impress those people. Don’t spend an ounce of energy or a second of thought on them. They’re not worth it.

Focus instead on channeling your energy into those that do matter. Your loved ones. Your close friends. Your professional associates. And, most of all, you.

6. Donovan Livingston’s 2016 Harvard Convocation speech

A friend of mine who happens to be a teacher sent me this video, saying that it gives him a lot of hope for the future.

I wanted to share this because, while I am not a teacher myself, I am close friends with several teachers and professors.

The ending is just spectacular:

Education is no equalizer —
Rather, it is the sleep that precedes the American Dream.
So wake up — wake up! Lift your voices
Until you’ve patched every hole in a child’s broken sky.
Wake up every child so they know of their celestial potential.
I’ve been a black hole in the classroom for far too long;
Absorbing everything, without allowing my light escape.
But those days are done. I belong among the stars.
And so do you. And so do they.
Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness
For generations to come.
No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning.
Lift off.

7. Longfellow on how we are judged

“We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When I look at my life, I feel disappointment, if anything. I look at this gigantic list of things dreamed of, of things left undone, of things I want to do and know I can do if I take the time and make choices to allow it. I see mostly the undone, and I feel unaccomplished, like a failure.

When others look at me, they instead see what I have done. They see the things ticked off my life’s to-do list. I’ve graduated from college, built a business, had three children, own a home. I’ve helped lots of people, been involved in the community, and put myself on a path to financial independence.

It’s not as if I can’t see those achievements, but I view my life as being a 1,000 item long to-do list with the first ten items checked off. When others view my life, they don’t see those 990 unchecked items.

Of course, there’s really only one solution to that problem, and that’s to do more interesting things.

It helps me because I can start checking things off of that internal list of mine, making me feel better in terms of my own judgment. It also helps me because, as I check things off of that internal list, I inevitably also add things to that external achievement list, which lets me have more trusting and valued relationships with the rest of the world.

Time to get to work.

8. Buddha on the difference between like and love

“What is the difference between ‘I like you’ and ‘I love you’? When you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower, you water it daily. One who understand this understands life.” – Buddha

You can usually tell the value of a relationship by the reciprocation of time, love, and energy.

At different times, everyone needs a helping hand; at other times, everyone is capable of giving a helping hand. In a relationship where people care about one another, they step up for each other, taking and giving from each other, and thus making each other stronger.

If you don’t really value the other person, then the relationship changes. The relationship centers around what you can get out of it. You take and take and take, and only give back enough to keep the engine running in your favor. Regardless of how much you’ve taken, if there ever comes a situation where you’re expected to give a little more – as is the course in a healthy relationship – you check out.

I’ve found, time and time again, that giving a large priority to the healthy relationships in life over the unhealthy ones bears fruit.

So what does that have to do with the Buddha quote? Every relationship you have with another person in your life is like a flowering plant. If the relationship is strong, the plant grows strong and offers lots of flowers to both of you. If it’s not, then one person is plucking all of the flowers and the plant is weak.

Don’t water the plant unless you’re both picking flowers. Don’t pour time and energy into a relationship if you’re not getting anything out of it. Save your time and energy for the relationships where you’re both getting something out of it.

9. The Staple Singers – I’ll Take You There

Sometimes, you hear music that just makes you feel good all over, music that makes you want to get up and dance. This is one of those songs.

10. Henry Kissinger on the results of success

“Each success only buys an admission ticket to a more difficult problem.” – Henry A. Kissinger

When I first realized I was in bad financial shape, my initial goal was to simply get all of my bills paid. That was an easy task – I just sold off a few things and paid my bills.

After that, I wanted to get all of my credit cards and student loans and my car loan paid off. That took about a year. It was substantially harder.

After that, my goal was to get through a car rotation for me and my wife as well as pay off our mortgage in full. That took about four years. That was far harder, but we were finally completely debt free.

Right now, we’re about five years into a journey toward complete debt freedom. It’s one of the biggest, most challenging goals we’ve taken on, ever.

Every time we completed a financial goal, we found another, harder one. Every time we reached a mountaintop, we looked up and saw a higher peak.

You can look at it as depressing. I look at it as exciting. There’s always a mountain to climb, and the journey is always wonderful.

11. The Most Dangerous Writing App

This is, hands down, the best tool I’ve ever used for breaking through writer’s block. I have never used anything like it, and it has quickly become an essential part of my everyday work.

Here’s how it works. When you load up the tool, it tells you to select a time limit – one minute, five minutes, ten minutes, or so on. I usually choose ten minutes.

Then, as soon as you click start, you’re dropped into a very simple word processor with a timer running along the top, counting down from the time you selected. When you’re ready, you start writing. Then, after that, if you ever stop writing for five seconds, everything you’ve written is deleted.

That’s right. You might be writing for seven minutes or so and get several hundred rough words written down, only to watch them go *poof* if you pause.

If you reach the end, the timer stops and you can copy and paste anything you’ve written out of the tool.

So why on earth would I use it? I use it because it puts a certain kind of pressure on my brain. I usually load it up with only the vaguest semblance of an idea and no idea how on earth I’m going to put that idea together. I usually know the first sentence or so when I click start, so I type it in immediately… and the pressure is already on. My brain tries really hard to follow that sentence up with another idea, then another, then another.

And it somehow works.

I find myself turning to this tool every time I’m experiencing any level of writer’s block. My personal challenge isn’t the core idea of an article – I have literally hundreds of those written down in various places – but weaving that core idea into something both entertaining and useful. Sometimes, it just doesn’t click. This tool seems to be very effective at making things click when nothing else is working.

12. Benjamin Franklin on preparation and failure

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

For more than two years, this quote served as my desktop wallpaper on my computer, next to a wonderful portrait of Benjamin Franklin. It’s a quote that rings so true to me that it almost feels perfect, as though it cuts right to the center of some fundamental truth of life.

We don’t know what the future holds. However, if we look around, we can learn a few things about what it might contain.

It probably contains a life in which we don’t have quite as much energy as we used to. I can see it already. I used to be able to stay up all night, but now? I fall asleep in the evening every single day, whether I want to or not. It probably contains a life with potential health problems, too. It contains economic uncertainty.

On the other hand, it contains a life that’s full of a lifetime of earned experiences and knowledge. It contains experiences – or at least the opportunity for experiences – that I can’t even imagine. It offers the potential of a life without the pressures of work.

What’s the sum of all of those parts? It adds up to a wonderful life if I’m adequately prepared for it. It adds up to a pretty miserable life if I do not.

Right now, I have a great opportunity to prepare. I’m in good health. I have plenty of energy (though maybe not at the level where I can pull all-nighters any more).

If I want that great future, it’s up to me. Right now. I need to use what I have right now to lift up my future self.

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