Inspiration from Rumi, Libby, Kurt Vonnegut, and More

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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. Please enjoy the archives of earlier collections of inspirational things.

1. Harry Truman on credit

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry Truman

Part of the reasoning for my goal of financial independence is that I want to reach a point where I don’t need or even want the credit. I just want to do good stuff.

Why do I need credit? One of the big reasons people take credit for things is that they want to secure their income. Many people take a very strong-arm approach when it comes to getting credit in their professional lives and even their community lives because their finances aren’t rock solid and they’re very wary about losing their job. It’s an extremely short term approach – over the long term, it’s much more valuable to have humble people who just want to produce things – but often some level of credit for hard work is needed just to keep one’s job and one’s career on track.

(The best thing you can do for your career, in my opinion, is to stand on a stage and dole out credit. You inherently get the credit for being in the spotlight, but you appear humble because you’re doling out the credit.)

I look forward to a day for me when credit essentially doesn’t matter and all that matters is the good results. I want to spend a day weeding a community garden or restocking a food pantry shelf or putting some vegetables on the front step of someone who is food insecure or fixing a maintenance problem in the headquarters of a charity or emptying the trash there. Those things don’t win you credit and they certainly aren’t going to earn you an income, but they do make things better.

2. Libby

The last five books I’ve read have all come into my hands for free using the Libby app.

Basically, it’s a very slick app for getting e-books and audiobooks from your local library for free. Most libraries check out books in a format you can easily read or listen to on your phone, and Libby lets you download them (or get into the reserve queue for them) at your leisure. And, again, it’s all free.

I have a whole bunch of books I’m waiting on in the Libby app and when one comes available, I can snag it with ease. Because several have come available in a very short succession, I’ve found myself using Libby a ton.

3. Marcus Aurelius on needing help

“Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?” – Marcus Aurelius

American culture often lauds the “go it alone” mindset, implying that “going it alone” makes you seem tough and leads you to accomplishing great things. The reality is often the opposite – many of the greatest moments in American history are almost purely team efforts, starting with the American Revolution itself and continuing with basically every significant development and moment in American history. Those moments are very rarely due to one person alone – they’re almost always a team effort, with people working together for some cumulative effort.

Even when you do hear stories about people “going it alone” and succeeding, you’re hearing the one success that stands in rare opposition to a thousand failures you never hear about.

Why does a team work better? Because, inevitably, some members of a team will struggle, and there are teammates around to lift that teammate up and get that teammate back on track. Without a team, if that person starts to struggle, they fall.

You don’t have to “go it alone” with anything in your life. It might seem like a better storyline, but it’s much less likely to lead to success. Surround yourself with people who will help pick you up when you slip, and help pick other people up when they slip.

4. George Harrison – All Things Must Pass (demo)

This song has gotten me through many rough moments in my life – not the overly loud album version, but this stripped down demo (and this even more stripped down earlier demo).

For me, it’s a gentle audio reminder that bad things will happen in life, but they will pass and joy will be fond again. Furthermore, the people in my life that brought about the pain – often people I loved passing away – would never want me to dwell on that pain. They would want me to remember them fondly with a laugh and a smile, not tears.

Things in life can hurt, but if they were worthwhile, they shaped you in a positive way. As they pass, remember not the pain of losing them, but the shape they impressed on you while they were with you.

5. Paul Gauguin on learning

“The public wants to understand and learn in a single day, a single minute, what the artist has spent years learning.” – Paul Gauguin

I take this in two ways.

On the one hand, many people want to become masters of a particular craft super quickly when, in reality, you cannot master some crafts without a lot of work. I think it’s possible to become competent in a particular area pretty quickly, but to master it? That takes a long time. I understand the feeling of having worked for many years to build a particular skill, watch someone else build a skill to a reasonable level quickly, and then feel like they’ve achieved equal mastery. It can be frustrating.

On the other hand, isn’t the purpose of art to make the viewer see the world a little differently, and doesn’t that rest on the back of many years of skill built by the artist?

I think this quote speaks to two different things, depending on how you read it. A craftsperson who has achieved a lot of skill thanks to a lot of work can be frustrated by other craftspeople. At the same time, a craftsperson who builds a high level of skill deserves appreciation from the general public.

This quote made me think, and anything that makes me think and keeps resonating in my head inspires me.

6. C.S. Lewis on someone

“There is someone that I love even though I don’t approve of what he does. There is someone I accept though some of his thoughts and actions revolt me. There is someone I forgive though he hurts the people I love the most. That person is …… me.” – C. S. Lewis

Literally no one on this earth is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all do things that hurt the people around us, often without even realizing it. We all let our emotions get the best of us sometimes.

It happens. It’s life.

All you can do is pick yourself up, do what you can to honestly admit your sorrow and make amends, and then strive to do better the next day. You have to do those things with honest intent, though. Apologize honestly, with true intent. Aim to do better, with true intent.

No one is ever going to be perfect, but we can all be better than we used to be.

7. Robert Wright – Why Buddhism Is True

This is a book that I’d be very tempted to write a full “Books with Impact” article on if it wasn’t just a bit too far outside of the purview of what makes sense on this site.

The point of this book is simple: Wright takes the secular elements and practices of Buddhism and analyzes them from philosophical, psychological, and medical perspectives and makes a pretty good argument for the life benefits of secular Buddhism, which I’ve written about before.

I tend to view Buddhism as two distinct pieces: a secular philosophy free of theological entanglements and as a religion. I’m also of the belief that the secular philosophy couples well with handling modern life, and it couches itself well with other religions. You can practice secular Buddhism hand in hand with any religion you want, including atheism.

What does it address? As I wrote in the other article, secular Buddhism tackles the problem of desire. We all desire things, and at times those desires can become all-consuming. Secular Buddhism is effectively a set of practices for helping you quell endless desire. This doesn’t mean you don’t have goals or other things, but that you’re able to quiet the constant churn in your gut of wanting more and more and more things.

This book does an amazing job of addressing desire and it’s well worth reading.

8. Mary Anne Radmacher on courage

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

Life knocks all of us down sometimes. There are days where you spend all day working and feel like you didn’t make an iota of difference. There are days where you just feel defeated and don’t make any real progress on anything.

Many times, courage is simply getting out of bed and tackling it all again. Courage is someone who is really struggling who managed to make it out of the house this morning. Courage is a 16 year old girl, almost completely forgotten by her parents in their alcohol and drug-fueled world, managing to make it to class most of the time.

Courage often doesn’t scream. You often don’t see it. But it’s all around us.

9. Herman Narula on the transformative power of video games

From the description:

A full third of the world’s population — 2.6 billion people — play video games, plugging into massive networks of interaction that have opened up opportunities well beyond entertainment. In a talk about the future of the medium, entrepreneur Herman Narula makes the case for a new understanding of gaming — one that includes the power to create new worlds, connect people and shape the economy.

I am an enormous believer that games – in reasonable moderate amounts – are a profoundly powerful way to connect with other people while nudging you to think in different ways, a true social art form like music can be and painting can be. The downside of games is when they become too much and you allow them become too much of your life – they work best in moderation.

Over the years, games have led me to connect with many, many people, build quite a few lifelong relationships, learn how to think in new ways (both creatively and strategically), and learn new ideas (like, for example, the history of Afghanistan).

There’s a lot of power and beauty in a good game, both for the thinking it nudges in your brain and for the connections it nudges you to make.

10. Stephen King on talent and persistence

“Talent is a wonderful thing, but it won’t carry a quitter.” – Stephen King

You can have all of the talent in the world, but if you don’t put in the work, it won’t take you to where you want to go. At the same time, it doesn’t take much talent to be wildly successful – less than you might think – if you combine it with tenacity and hard work.

Hard work is the key. Almost all of the time, when you see someone who’s wildly successful, there has been a ton of work done in the background that you don’t see, even when you might not think so. There’s often considerable planning, considerable thought, and tons of effort.

Effort is the magic, not talent.

11. Kurt Vonnegut on six seasons

“One sort of optional thing you might do is to realize that there are six seasons instead of four. The poetry of four seasons is all wrong for this part of the planet, and this may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time. I mean, spring doesn’t feel like spring a lot of the time, and November is all wrong for autumn, and so on.

Here is the truth about the seasons: Spring is May and June. What could be springier than May and June? Summer is July and August. Really hot, right? Autumn is September and October. See the pumpkins? Smell those burning leaves? Next comes the season called Locking. November and December aren’t winter. They’re Locking. Next comes winter, January and February. Boy! Are they ever cold!

What comes next? Not spring. ‘Unlocking’ comes next. What else could cruel March and only slightly less cruel April be? March and April are not spring. They’re Unlocking.”
– Kurt Vonnegut

This absolutely nails something I’ve long felt about the seasons, that there is a distinct difference between early and late fall and early and late spring.

In my part of the world, early fall is when you’re harvesting from your garden, and late fall is the season of frosts and minor snowfalls and cold weather that’s cold enough that you bundle up but you still want to go on walks. Here, the transition between the two happens sometime between October 15 and, say, November 30 most years; I’d estimate it happened around October 24 this year.

In the spring, the reverse is true. Early spring is a period where the days are consistently above freezing and the winter snow accumulation slowly melts, but it’s not warm enough to really encourage much green growth. That’s usually March to mid April or so. At some point, it kicks to a warmer level and the green growth takes off – grass becomes bright green and starts growing rapidly, trees and bushes bud and grow leaves, the asparagus grows like wild, you can find morels in the forest. This usually hits sometime around April 10 or so and lasts until maybe mid-June, when summer begins in earnest.

This passage struck me because it was one of those moments where someone expressed something I’d understood and felt before but never really expressed, and it’s those moments that the beauty of human communication really comes through.

12. Rumi on your words

“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grow flowers, not thunder.” – Rumi

If you want to say something meaningful, shouting it won’t get the message across. People might hear you, but they won’t listen. People listen to words, not shouting. In fact, a loud voice often harms the message you’re trying to share. All it often gets across is intense emotion.

A much better approach: learn to craft your words to say what you mean rather than shouting to try to get a message across.

This was a lesson I had to carefully learn after becoming a parent. When a toddler does something wrong and you know it’s going to be a lot of work and a lot of frustration to fix it, there’s a desire sometimes to shout. Yet, again and again, I found that kneeling down to their level and talking to them quietly with carefully chosen words was far more effective than shouting 99% of the time, and if you save the loud voice for very rare occasions, it has far more impact.

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