Updated on 05.11.17

Inspiration from Casey Brown, C. S. Lewis, Michele Sullivan, and More

Trent Hamm

A Dozen Pieces of Inspiration #34

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. Nelson Bunker Hunt on goals

“First, you decide what you want specifically; and second, you decide if you’re willing to pay the price to make it happen, and then pay that price.” – Nelson Bunker Hunt

Achieving goals requires sacrifice. You can’t just set a goal of becoming wealthy or becoming perfectly fit or becoming the world champion at some competitive hobby, then magically expect that to happen. It requires paying some sort of price to make it happen.

The thing is, most people aren’t willing to pay the price for major goals. They’re either not willing to do so or not able to do so. That’s why everyone isn’t a millionaire. That’s why everyone doesn’t have a perfect BMI. That’s why everyone isn’t an amazing star at their preferred sport or competition. They’re not willing to work hard and sacrifice for what they want.

A goal worth achieving is one that you invest some of yourself into – your time, your money, your energy, your contentment, your pleasure. Maybe you don’t eat everything in front of you … and you keep doing it. Maybe you don’t buy everything that you see that you happen to want … and you keep doing it. Those are real prices, and the question really is whether you’re willing to pay them to get what you want.

Most of the time, the path to a goal is pretty simple. For money, it’s spending less than you earn – not hard. The challenge is gearing yourself up to pay the cost of doing that simple thing.

2. Casey Brown on knowing your worth and then asking for it

From the description:

Your boss probably isn’t paying you what you’re worth — instead, they’re paying you what they think you’re worth. Take the time to learn how to shape their thinking. Pricing consultant Casey Brown shares helpful stories and learnings that can help you better communicate your value and get paid for your excellence.

The single most useful tool I’ve found in terms of asking for a raise is to have something in hand that clearly demonstrates your value, and that’s usually a job offer from someone else. If you don’t have that, then you don’t really have a lot of leverage. Thus, you should always keep your resume sharp, your skills fresh, your professional network strong, and your ears open for opportunities.

Why doesn’t everybody do that? Complacency, I think. It’s easier to just go to work, come home, do other non-work things, sleep, go to work…. over and over again. It’s the people that actually go the extra mile and keep themselves polished up that end up getting good pay.

Remember, you’re an asset. Think of your career as being like a house that you’re trying to sell. If you just go to work and come home and don’t do much to maintain or shine it up, it begins to look shabby. There’s not much curb appeal. You’re not going to get paid a lot if you sell it. On the other hand, if you maintain your career (and your house) a little bit and keep it nice and clean and with some nice decoration in the front, it has curbside appeal and will put some dollars in your pocket.

3. C. S. Lewis on gradual change

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes but when you look back everything is different.” – C.S Lewis

This hits home hard for me. Sometimes, when I look at my children, I am just stunned as to how much they’ve grown up.

I was recently at my oldest son’s soccer game and I noticed that he looked downright athletic running down the field. He slipped right by a defender and just booted the ball high into the net for his first goal of the season. He then high-fived his teammates and then flashed a thumbs-up over to me and his mother. In those moments, he didn’t look like a little boy any more. He looked like someone well on his way to adulthood.

When I just look at him day after day, it seems like he’s the same kid. It seems like all of my kids are just kind of the same, day in and day out. It’s only when I step back a little and see how much they’ve changed that it really jumps out at me how they’ve grown so much.

Appreciate today, because tomorrow won’t just be more of the same.

4. YouTube’s #Education meta-channel

This is basically a huge repository of educational videos, posted by schools and universities and people with channels dedicated to learning. Going here feels like drinking from a fire hose if you’re a curious person and a lifelong learner. In other words, I absolutely love it.

Things like this are why YouTube is gradually replacing a lot of other sources for watching video for me – television programming, as it has been for the last several decades, is simply going by the wayside because of this kind of thing. Between YouTube “channels” like this and the offerings on services like Netflix, it’s becoming harder and harder to justify paying $100 a month for cable.

Plus, with channels like these, you can clearly feel how the people making the videos are typically small operations, usually one person with a passion about the topic and another person with a passion for videography. I like watching things made in that way – there’s something very natural and honest about it.

5. Ralph Waldo Emerson on happiness

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I didn’t understand this quote for a long time. Why would you live life in a way that intentionally didn’t aim for happiness? It didn’t make sense to me.

Here’s the secret: if you do the second part with your whole heart, the first part comes naturally. If you spend every ounce of your effort being useful and honorable and compassionate and trying to make some difference in people’s lives, then happiness just happens. It’s automatic.

The happiest moments I have when working on Google-X are when I actually see that something I wrote has helped someone. The happiest moments I have as a parent are when I see something I’ve worked on with my children coming to fruition in their actions and behaviors. The happiest moments I have in solitude are when I feel an idea clicking together in my head.

None of those things have anything to do with seeking happiness. Happiness is just the natural outcome of a life well lived. If you intentionally try to seek happiness, you generally won’t find it, at least not for very long. Happiness is something that happens on the journey to a worthwhile destination.

6. Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day by Leanne Brown

This is an excellent little cookbook, intentionally targeting low-cost recipes. I considered giving it a full review, but what I’ve found is that it’s just a book that embodies a lot of my own philosophy on food and money. It’s honestly not too different than what I would publish if I wrote a cookbook, and it’s not too far off of many of the food articles that have popped up here on Google-X.

Yet, in reading it, I still learned a few new things. I snagged some recipe ideas. I tried some new angles on make-ahead cooking.

Why? It’s because books like this aren’t just a set of instructions to follow. They’re a smorgasbord of ideas, where you take from it what you need for your own situation. Some of them won’t be new, but some of them will be. Some of them won’t fit your life, but some of them will. It’s that set of new ideas that fit your life that make books like this useful and worth your time.

7. Zapier

I use a lot of different tools to keep track of the things I’m doing and that I need to do. I have notes stored in Evernote, to-do lists in Todoist, files stored in a Dropbox folder, and on and on and on.

It’s pretty useful for me to find ways to automate some routine tasks. For example, if I have a post idea, I want to be able to just type in the idea as a task on my task list and automatically start a note related to that post idea in Evernote and a file related to that idea in my Dropbox folder. If it’s a certain type of post, I want to have some templates already used. If I can make all of that automatic, that’s really useful.

I use IFTTT to automate some pieces of this, but it doesn’t do everything I want. I have a few scripts on my computer that do other parts, but it’s not robust, either.

On the other hand, Zapier solves almost everything I need. In fact, it’s almost like drinking from a fire hose when all I really need is a sprinkler. There’s only one problem – the basic features of Zapier only do part of it, while the full featured version that covers everything costs $20 per month.

Still, Zapier is a tool that’s so incredibly powerful for linking together various systems I use to keep track of what I’m working on that it inspires me to more and more new ideas for automation. There’s going to come a point where I reach a critical mass of ideas that I can’t quite flesh out with the basic version, and at that point, I’ll probably upgrade.

8. Henry David Thoreau on the greatest compliment

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.” ― Henry David Thoreau

There is no better compliment you can pay to your friends and coworkers than asking for their opinion on things and really listening to the answer and actually utilizing what they tell you.

Think about it for a minute. Think about situations where people have asked you what you honestly thought about something, listened to it carefully, asked follow-up questions, and then actually took action based on that? Didn’t it feel great?

There is no better compliment than respect, and there’s no clearer sign of respect than someone who asks you for help, truly listens to you, and then takes action based on that suggestion.

9. Michele Sullivan on why asking for help is a strength

From the description:

We all go through challenges — some you can see, most you can’t, says Michele L. Sullivan. In a talk about perspective, Sullivan shares stories full of wit and wisdom and reminds us that we’re all part of each other’s support systems. “The only shoes you can walk in are your own,” she says. “With compassion, courage and understanding, we can walk together, side by side.”

This, in a way, overlaps the previous quote. It is hard to ask for help. Asking for help can make us feel like we’re weak, and we don’t want to feel weak.

The reality is the opposite, though: asking for help is a sign of strength. It’s what leaders do, to gather good people around them. It’s what wise people do, to gather wisdom. It’s what effective workers do, to gather intelligence and skills.

When you shoulder more than you can handle because you’re afraid to look “weak” by asking for help, you eventually can’t carry the weight. You slip and fall and that’s when you appear weak, as though you can’t handle what’s before you.

Ask for help. Seek out the wisdom and insight of those around you. Alleviate some of the burden on your shoulders so that you don’t fall and knock others down as you slip. You’ll become stronger than ever before.

10. Robert McNamara on good and evil

“In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.” – Robert McNamara

I’m not including this quote because I agree with it. I’m including it because it has fostered a ton of discussion in our house over the last few weeks. I’ve had many, many conversations with my children about situations where it is okay to do the “wrong” thing because it serves a greater good.

The source of all of this was a situation that occurred on the playground during a school recess. A fight occurred, and my oldest son was really torn on whether he should tell exactly what he saw or not. He witnessed one of his friends – but not one of his closest ones – get into what sounded like a pretty brutal playground fight. When the teacher asked for witnesses, he was really torn on whether to say anything and the window of opportunity to speak up passed before he could make up his mind.

This grew into a more general conversation about times when it is okay to disobey in order to do some other good. When is it appropriate to speed? When is it appropriate to interrupt a quiet period? When is it appropriate to fight back against negative behavior on the playground that isn’t being resolved by a teacher?

Those aren’t easy questions. Sometimes, we’re all put in situations where we have to either choose doing the right thing in the short term, which may have a long term bad outcome, or the wrong thing in the short term, which may have a long term benefit. How do you choose?

It’s not easy, but life isn’t easy. Neither is parenting.

11. Pilot Juice 0.38 mm pens

As many of you know, I pretty much always have a notebook and a pen in my pocket. I’m always jotting down notes and sketches and diagrams of all kinds. Part of doing that relies on having a very reliable pen in my pocket, one that won’t leak and will consistently just work on a variety of paper types.

For many years, I’ve used a Uniball 207 pen, but I recently found a really good deal on the above pens and bought a large handful of them after trying one and reading about them online, and I must say that they simply work like a charm. They write really well on all kinds of paper, haven’t leaked yet, seem to have tons of ink in them, and are available at a good price.

Yes, I could spend a lot more on pens, but I’m more interested in functionality than aesthetics. Yes, I could spend less on pens, but my experience with cheap pens has involved leaking all over my pocket and ink clogging in the tip and making the pen non-functional. I’m looking for a balance – the least expensive pens that just write when I want them to write on a variety of paper types – and these just do the job.

12. Epictetus on embodying your beliefs

“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” ― Epictetus

Actions speak louder than words. If you believe that people should behave in a certain way, you’re going to be far more effective at spreading that belief by actually acting in that way than by talking about it.

If you want people to be kind to their neighbors, be kind to your neighbors. If you want people to care about their community, then care about your community and do things to make it better. If you want people to be more forgiving, forgive people who have wronged you. If you want people to be more willing to talk to people with different political views, have lots of open conversations with people with different views than yourself.

Be the person you want the world to be filled with. Don’t just think about it and talk about it and wish for it. Be it.

That way, you’re leading by example. That way, you’re actually filling the world with the things that you claim to want. That way, when someone asks you for life advice, you have authority because you actually walk the walk in terms of the life philosophy you’re offering. If you say one thing and then do another thing, it’s pretty hard for people to respect you. If your ideas and words are in alignment with your deeds, then respect comes naturally.