Inspiration from The Avett Brothers, Stacey Abrams, John Wooden, 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. Dale Carnegie on conquering fear

“If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie

I’m an introvert. While I don’t exactly have social anxiety, my natural tendency in a group of people I don’t know well is to clam up and not say too much.

What exactly is it that I’m afraid of, though? Am I afraid that they’ll think negative thoughts about me? Am I afraid that they’ll judge me? Perhaps. But if I think about virtually every social situation I’ve ever been in, I rarely have a negative thought about anyone there unless they’re being intentionally rude or standoffish… and the truth is that me sitting quietly in the corner might very well look standoffish.

The truth is that the only bad outcome from a social event that’s even possible, provided I don’t say something monumentally rude, is simply sitting in the corner not saying anything at all. I am far better off participating in the conversation, some conversation, any conversation.

So I stand up, swallow my fear, and stop thinking about it so much. I just go over to someone else that seems to be alone and introduce myself, or I wander through and find a conversation about something that I’m at least mildly interested in. It’s time to go out and get busy.

2. Overcast

I listen to a ton of podcasts. In fact, whenever I’m not trying to focus on a specific task (work, family time, etc.), I usually have one playing from my phone, usually to a Bluetooth speaker somewhere nearby.

Overcast is hands down my favorite podcast app, for two reasons. One, it has a feature called Smart Speed that trims out some of the silence in podcasts, trimming off a fraction of a second of silence whenever a silent period comes up. It does this so intuitively that you don’t even notice, but it can shave a surprising amount of time off of a podcast listen.

The other reason is Voice Boost, which basically means that it normalizes the voice volume across podcasts so that all podcasts play at roughly the same volume. You don’t have situations where you jump from one podcast to the next and the next podcast has their voice level at half the volume of the first – it just automatically adjusts for you.

Combine that with easy podcast discovery and subscription and the ability to listen at a slightly faster speed (I usually listen at 50% faster than normal speed), it just fits what I want. It enables me to listen to an hour’s worth of normal speed podcasts in about 35 minutes or so (with the extra speed and the silence chopped out), moves from podcast to podcast seamlessly without me having to touch the volume, and helps me find new podcasts really easily while managing the ones I’m subscribed to. That’s really all I want in a podcast app.

3. George Carlin on hard work

“Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.” – George Carlin

For me, this is an inspiration to work a little harder, to go beyond what is my usual minimum level. The truth is that it honestly doesn’t take that much to stand out as exceptional because so many people really are doing just enough not to get fired. They do the mechanics of their job without much flair and they do just enough to keep their job and meet minimum quotas.

It doesn’t really take that much more effort to provide a lot of value beyond that, and when you do that, you set yourself up for raises and promotions and a much stronger resume.

Remember, a lot of your competition out there is content to just do the absolute minimum. Some of them struggle to do even that much. You don’t have to be Superman to stand out from the pack.

4. Alex Rosenthal on the joyful, perplexing world of puzzle hunts

From the description:

Welcome to the strange, deviously difficult and incredibly joyful world of puzzle hunts. Follow along as Alex Rosenthal lifts the veil on one of the world’s most complex puzzle hunts, the MIT Mystery Hunt — and reveals how puzzles can be found in the most unexpected places.

The best way to think of a puzzle hunt is that it’s a mix of a scavenger hunt and a really hard book of puzzles. Typically, there’s some entry fee, and then you and a team go out into a community to solve a sequence of puzzles that’s often a mix of real-world elements and information on your smartphone.

I really enjoy puzzle hunts. Not only are they a great way to stretch your mind and make yourself think way outside the box usually in a team environment, but you’re also (typically) enjoying both a story and a competition, as you’re competing against other teams.

This is probably the best explanation I’ve seen of what’s so appealing about puzzle hunts. If they sound appealing to you at all, see if there are any regular puzzle hunts in your community.

5. Dita von Teese on finding your niche

“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” – Dita Von Teese

I intentionally chose to write The Simple Dollar in a friendly, earnest tone, something that I find is fairly rare online. It’s something that clicks with a lot of people, but it really doesn’t click with others.

And that’s okay.

The truth is that you can do something amazingly well, but if the other person doesn’t like that thing in general or doesn’t have a need for that thing, they’re still going to pass you by. You can be the best bluegrass musician in the world busking on a corner somewhere, but most people don’t want to hear bluegrass right then and will keep on walking – some might even give you a sour look.

You can never be good enough for everyone. It is literally impossible. Instead, try to be great for a smaller group of people. Be the juiciest peach in the world – sure, some people don’t like peaches, but for those who do… mmmmm.

6. Alexander den Heijer on feeling tired

“You often feel tired, not because you’ve done too much, but because you’ve done too little of what sparks a light in you.” – Alexander Den Heijer

At the end of a day where I didn’t do anything worthwhile, I always feel exhausted. The reason, I think, is that I didn’t really do anything that genuinely sparks a light in me. I just wasted time.

A good day is one in which you do some things that feel genuinely meaningful to you, whether they’re hard things or easy things.

If I spend a day watching television aimlessly or browsing the internet or playing games I’m not genuinely excited about, I can feel just dead at the end of the day. I try very, very hard to avoid that feeling. Each day that passes should have a healthy dose of meaningful things in it, whether it’s time spent with people you care about, engaging in hobbies you genuinely care about, or whatever the case may be.

Make sure that each day contains something that you genuinely care about. Never go to sleep with a tired spirit, just a tired body and a tired mind.

7. Carla Harris on how to find the person who can help you get ahead at work

From the description:

The workplace is often presented as a meritocracy, where you can succeed by putting your head down and working hard. Wall Street veteran Carla Harris learned early in her career that this a myth. The key to actually getting ahead? Get a sponsor: a person who will speak on your behalf in the top-level, closed-door meetings you’re not invited to (yet). Learn how to identify and develop a productive sponsor relationship in this candid, powerful talk.

Carla Harris uses the term “sponsor” here, but I find that what she describes overlaps heavily with what I think of as a “mentor” – someone much further along in their career that can not only help you figure out what to do in your career, but can be your advocate when you’re not around. A “sponsor” just means that the person is higher up the food chain at work than you are. In my experience, a good mentor is usually a good sponsor, too.

I was lucky enough to have three or four mentors/sponsors in my professional career. Each one helped me in uncountable ways, advocated for me when I wasn’t around, and put me in position for the next step in my life. It wasn’t a one way thing – I definitely helped them as well by taking care of things for them, too – but if any of those four people were to call me right now and ask for a favor, I’d move mountains for them. They changed my life, not just in terms of how they directly helped me, but how they advocated for me when I wasn’t around. I appreciate it more than they’ll ever know.

This is a great description of how to find a sponsor at work, but I often find that sponsors and mentors are the same people, so much of this advice works well for finding a mentor, too.

8. John Wooden on failure

“You are not a failure until you start blaming others for your mistakes.” – John Wooden

Everything in life falls into two categories: things you can control and things you cannot. The greatest mistake you can make in life is trying to divest yourself of responsibility for the things you can control by blaming the things you cannot.

Whenever something goes wrong, start evaluating it through the lens of your own actions and your own thoughts. Where did you go wrong? I will virtually guarantee you that when you make a mistake, there is, at the core, a misstep in your own actions and your own thoughts, and likely multiple missteps.

Stop worrying about what other people did or didn’t do. Focus on what you did and didn’t do. Repair that going forward. Apologize for your mistakes. Use this as a lesson so that you don’t repeat that mistake.

Everyone makes mistakes. Failure happens when you blame others for them and don’t look at what you can improve.

9. The Avett Brothers – No Hard Feelings

Sometimes, there’s a song for you in a moment when you need it.

10. Terry Pratchett on the end

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.” – Terry Pratchett

Did I genuinely have a profound positive influence on someone else during my time on earth? If so, did that person have a genuine positive influence on others? How far out do those ripples go?

This is something I hold near and dear to my heart. What can I do to have a genuine and profound positive impact on someone else’s life? Something that lasts and matters and makes that person’s life better or their character better?

To me, that’s what life’s meaning really is. It’s to create as many positive ripples in the world as I can. What am I doing today to try to create a positive ripple?

11. Stacey Abrams on three questions you should ask yourself about everything you do

From the description:

How you respond after setbacks is what defines your character. Stacey Abrams was the first black woman in the history of the United States to be nominated by a major party for governor — she lost that hotly contested race, but as she says: the only choice is to move forward. In an electrifying talk, she shares the lessons she learned from her campaign for governor of Georgia, some advice on how to change the world — and a few hints at her next steps. “Be aggressive about your ambition,” Abrams says.

Even if you don’t politically agree with her, Abrams’ story is a compelling one. She was born as the child of Methodist ministers, not very well off (she tells a story of not having a car as a child), and built an impressive career and public life on the back of a lot of hard work.

The three questions? What do you want? Why do you want it? How do you get it?

Those questions pretty much get to the core of anything you want to do. If you can deeply and honestly answer those questions, they’ll guide you to almost anything you want to do.

12. Victor Hugo on educating children

“Don’t educate your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy, so they know the value of things, not the price.” – Victor Hugo

Parenting is a strange job. It really can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be.

If you want to simply get your kids to adulthood, it’s not too hard. Put food on the table. Put clothes on their back. Put a roof over their head.

If you want to help build strong, independent adults with good character, the task becomes quite hard. You have to be that example of strong, independent adulthood with character, for starters, and you have to pay attention to what your kids are doing and have meaningful conversations and activities with them on a very consistent basis. Even then, you don’t fully shape things – you just provide some additional form to the direction in which they grow.

This somewhat ties into the “ripple” thing mentioned earlier. How can I create positive ripples in my children’s life, lifting them up to be better adults who will then have positive impact on others? That’s the challenge, and it is a real challenge.

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