Inspiration from Fred Rogers, Benjamin Franklin, David Foster Wallace, Marcus Aurelius 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. Fred Rogers on compromise

“It’s very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It’s easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.” ― Fred Rogers

It is so easy today in America to simply demonize those who disagree with you and pretend that they’re evil just because they see a different path to the same goal as you do. Almost everyone alive wants a better life for everyone. The difference is that different people see a different path to that life and sometimes become so committed to that path that anyone else who subscribes to a different path must be kicked to the curb.

Look at the people you disagree with the strongest. It’s very likely that you both hold many of the same core values. The only difference is in the exact method you choose to apply them to the world.

The world would be a far better place if everyone would calm down, stop decrying everyone who doesn’t precisely agree with their viewpoints as wholly evil and not worthy of regard, and sit down at the table together to talk out some solutions that work for everyone. The danger isn’t in disagreement. The danger is in even refusing to talk about it and refusing to even consider compromise.

fred rogers

2. Regina Hartley on why the best hire might not have the best resume

From the description:

Given the choice between a job candidate with a perfect resume and one who has fought through difficulty, human resources executive Regina Hartley always gives the “Scrapper” a chance. As someone who grew up with adversity, Hartley knows that those who flourish in the darkest of spaces are empowered with the grit to persist in an ever-changing workplace. “Choose the underestimated contender, whose secret weapons are passion and purpose,” she says. “Hire the Scrapper.”

The secret weapons are passion and purpose. I can’t even tell you how much I agree with that.

I think almost every hiring manager will tell you the same thing: a person with passion and purpose that’s directed in a way that coincides with the job is almost always the best hire. The problem is figuring out who those people are on the first screening or two because you can’t tell that from the resume.

That’s why I often encourage people who are really excited by a particular field to get out there and start discussing them publicly. Get on Twitter and get involved in discussions in your field. Look for community groups related to your areas of interest and get involved. Start a blog or a Youtube channel and share what you know. Make sure to include these things on your resume, but only if you’re putting up good stuff.

If you’re passionate about something, show it. The worst thing that happens is that someone you don’t know doesn’t understand your enthusiasm. On the other hand, it opens the door to making new relationships based on things you value and inspiring others, even among those who don’t share your interests. Don’t keep them hidden. Share them.

3. Benjamin Franklin on apologies and excuses

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” – Benjamin Franklin

If you make a mistake, apologize for it. It’s good advice, but even people who manage to muster an apology after making a mistake feel the need to tack an excuse for their bad behavior on the end of it.

Don’t. An excuse just tells the person you’re apologizing to that you really don’t think you did anything wrong and that something or someone else was actually to blame. It doesn’t show any actual contrition or sorrow for having made a mistake, and it definitely doesn’t show any desire to do things better in the future.

If you’re going to tell someone that you’re sorry, never, ever follow that statement up with a “but…” It just undoes the entire apology.

Instead, if you think an apology is in order, think about how you can do better in the future. How can you take action to not repeat this mistake that you made? Even this can turn into an excuse, because you can say things like “I should not hang out with person X any more,” which means you’re excusing your bad behavior on that person. It should come down to one simple thing: you won’t do the thing that caused harm again. You. No one else. No excuses.

4. Workflow

This is a simple app for smartphones that enables you to do some pretty amazing things.

The reason I discovered it is that I had a simple need that wasn’t met by anything I could easily find. I wanted an app that allowed me, at the push of a button, to text my wife my current location and my ETA at home. When I go to community events by myself, I usually like to share this info with her, especially during the winter, so she can know if something isn’t going right during the drive home.

Workflow does exactly that, as well as a bunch of other things. While I’ve experimented with many other uses for the app – and I’m sure to find a few essential ones – it still comes back to the simplicity of that automated text to my wife. The fact that the app can take something fairly complex – figuring out my current location, automatically calculating a route home and how long it will take, texting that information to my wife – at the push of a single button is really impressive.

5. Marcus Aurelius on wrongdoers

“The best way of avenging yourself is not to become like the wrongdoer.” – Marcus Aurelius

We’ve all felt wronged at various points in our lives. Someone did something horribly unfair to us and it hurts.

The strange part is how often I see people start doing those very same things to others, as though having been wronged once gives them a license to treat others in that way.

The reality is that such people have become their wrongdoer. They have become the very thing that hurt them.

Don’t do it. When someone hurts you, it is the injurer who is clearly in the wrong. When you choose to do the same thing that was done to you, all you do is pay that damage forward to someone who hasn’t done anything to deserve it. You needlessly add pain to the world.

6. Woody Guthrie’s “New Years Rulin’s”

On January 1, 1943, American folk singer Woody Guthrie wrote down a list of resolutions for the coming year that he entitled “Rulin’s.” While the actual journal pages are wonderful examples of handwriting and doodling – click the link above to see it – the list itself is just as memorable, providing a pretty good guide to living a decent life. Take a look:

1. Work more and better
2. Work by a schedule
3. Wash teeth if any
4. Shave
5. Take bath
6. Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk
7. Drink very scant if any
8. Write a song a day
9. Wear clean clothes — look good
10. Shine shoes
11. Change socks
12. Change bed cloths often
13. Read lots good books
14. Listen to radio a lot
15. Learn people better
16. Keep rancho clean
17. Dont get lonesome
18. Stay glad
19. Keep hoping machine running
20. Dream good
21. Bank all extra money
22. Save dough
23. Have company but dont waste time
24. Send Mary and kids money
25. Play and sing good
26. Dance better
27. Help win war — beat fascism
28. Love mama
29. Love papa
30. Love Pete
31. Love everybody
32. Make up your mind
33. Wake up and fight

That is a pretty good list of things to take on, I must say. If everyone on earth did most of those things, the world would be a much better place.

7. Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear – Tiny Desk Concert

From the description:

There’s sweetness to Madisen Ward And The Mama Bear’s music that makes me smile, and then there’s so much more. I first saw the Kansas City mother-and-son duo perform last fall in Nashville’s Blue Room, a small, perfect-sounding stage at Third Man Records. The bluesy roots of the music suited the space, and the sound — with young Madisen Ward’s powerful, quivering voice backed by his mother Ruth — had a homespun feel. But there’s vitality to the pair’s music that kept it from feeling like a throwback or a gimmick.

Yep, this is a mother-son duo, something that, as the description says, can feel like a throwback or a gimmick of some kind. Somehow, though, there’s magic spun here. It’s a bit quirky but very technically strong and very rhythmic folk music, the kind you can imagine a really good acoustic musician playing almost anywhere and getting everyone around them to start tapping their toes.

I found myself humming the first song, “Silent Movies,” for days after I heard it the first time. I played it again and again and it got stuck in my head, as great songs do.

Great music can come along when you least expect it.

8. Seneca on your past

“Don’t stumble over something behind you.” – Seneca

The one part of your life that you can never change is the past. It is what it is – you can’t change it. The only thing you can really do is learn from it and then move forward with that new knowledge.

Too often, people don’t learn from their past. They don’t see where they messed up and then they wind up tripping over the same things and repeating the same mistakes in life.

As hard as I try to watch for such things, I find myself repeating the mistakes of the past sometimes. Sarah and I often recite the same disagreements. I often fall into the same traps when I’m working, getting distracted by the same things. I have certain personal relationships that would probably be better for me if they just ended.

Let the past be the past. When something goes wrong, figure out why it went wrong, then move forward. Don’t keep repeating the same mistakes with the same people and the same situations.

9. Alan Watts on the nature of money and wealth

From the description:

Alan Watts was one of the great thinkers of the 20th Century and had many interesting things to say about money and wealth. I compiled a couple of sound recordings of him that I feel summarise his thoughts on the very fundamental nature of wealth and money, and put them together with some inspiring footage and music. I hope you enjoy.

The core idea here is that money comes from prosperity, but that many people think that prosperity comes from money. It doesn’t matter what the economy is doing or what the money supply is doing – neither one affects the number of people willing to work or the amount of natural resources out there. Prosperity comes from those things, not money.

Real wealth consists of material, resources, time, energy, and intelligence, not money. People exchange their resources, time, energy, and intelligence for money all the time, but the value isn’t in the money. It’s in the resources, the time, the energy, and the intelligence.

In general, people accumulate money because they find ways to exchange resources back and forth in a way that allows them to keep a little bit with each trade.

When we put the money at the center of it all, we make a grave mistake. We overlook where the real value is – time, energy, ideas, and resources. Those are the valuable things in the world, but the catch is that everyone has them. Why, then, do we pay so much for the time of some people and so little for the time of others?

When you start thinking about questions like that, my friend, then you start really challenging and understanding the world around you.

10. Albert Camus on other people

“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely trying to be normal.” – Albert Camus

I’m honestly not a big fan of “normal.” I understand the need to not harm others, but the idea that I have to act a certain way because others expect it or want it seems rather silly. I think it is much better to act the way that I am and let others decide for themselves whether they wish to associate with me.

Chasing someone else’s idea of normal all the time just so that they will walk by me on the street without comment seems like an enormous waste of time and energy and effort. I feel that if I’m being myself, then they’re probably going to walk by without comment anyway, but those that see something in common are much more likely to stop and I’m much more likely to gain a friend.

I’ll give you an example of this. Whenever I go to a community board game night, I usually take a giant tub of board games with me when I go. Is that “nerdy”? Maybe. I don’t really worry about it. 99% of people walk by me without comment and most probably don’t even notice. However, I’ve had a few people stop me while carrying that tub and ask about the games inside. One person wound up becoming a member of a community gaming club and a good friend of mine. If I hid my “nerdiness,” that type of thing would never happen.

Never, ever be ashamed of your non-destructive interests, even if others think they’re not cool. Never, ever be ashamed of the clothes you wear or the things you choose, provided they aren’t directly harmful to others. Sure, there will always be people who don’t like some of what you choose. However, that’s true of almost anything that you choose. I think you’re far better off just being who you are. Stop spending your energy trying to be normal and start spending your energy enjoying the things you enjoy and engaging with people who share that joy.

11. David Foster Wallace – This Is Water

I really enjoy listening to good commencement speeches. There are a lot of commencement speeches on Youtube that I’ll play and listen to while working on something else that doesn’t require my full focus, like answering emails or brainstorming (I actually brainstorm best when paying about half attention).

This is probably the best commencement speech I’ve ever heard. The point of it is that the point of education – whether in an educational setting or on one’s own – is to learn how to think and to learn to be a little less certain about the universe, because when you’re certain about the universe, you’ve chosen to close yourself off to new ideas. A big part of that is working to see the world through the perspective of others. What is it like to be of a different race or a different religion, for instance?

That can be really hard, because all of us are hardwired to be deeply self-centered. We know our own experience but we don’t have nearly that intimacy with other life experiences. Bridging that gap is very hard but it is incredibly valuable, too.

I absolutely loved his part in the middle about the difficulty of the average adult life, which I’ll just quote here:

Let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging white-collar college graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want to do is go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again.

But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping.

And the store is hideously fluorescently lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out. You have to wander the huge over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to manuever your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with junky carts.

And eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check out lanes open even though it’s the end of the day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

You finally get to the checkout line’s front and you pay for your food and you get told to “have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littered parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush hour traffic.

The idea is that everyone’s modern life is exhausting in countless ways – not just your own life, but everybody’s life. I feel exhausted just reading that, but yet it feels right because it matches my own experiences and probably yours, too. What’s the solution? Choice. Almost everything in that article is the result of some kind of choice, and it’s when we’re wise enough to step back and start making different choices that life becomes, step by step, a little better.

12. Aldous Huxley on experience

“Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.” – Aldous Huxley

Experience is useless unless it changes you, molds you, improves you. If you keep doing the same thing day in and day out without looking for ways to take what you’ve learned and improve, you’re not gaining experience. You’re gaining time.

When employers look for experience, they’re ideally looking for people who actually have that kind of experience, but usually they settle for “time served.”

If you want to really excel at whatever it is that you’re doing, don’t just try to build “time served.” Try to get actual experience. Look at what you’re doing, find ways to improve what you’re doing, add new skills (big and small) to the mix constantly, and keep getting better. That’s what experience really is all about.

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