Inspirational Quotations by Vincent van Gogh + A Précis of the Troubled Life of an Extraordinary Man

Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh

It’s the birthday of Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853–90,) the prominent Dutch painter who is renowned for his characteristic style of undulating lines and bold colors. He produced a great number of masterpiece paintings and sketches in just 11 years dedicated to art. In fact, it was during the last two years of his life that Vincent produced all of his best-known pieces. Though it may surprise us in retrospect, his work was not widely appreciated during his lifetime. Now, of course, he is considered one of the most eminent post-Impressionist painters.

Equally fascinating are the tragic circumstances of Vincent’s short life. His productivity and artistic genius are especially remarkable in the context of his debilitating illness, which caused the self-mutilation of his ear and ultimately his fateful suicide. Even to this day, the trials and tribulations of a man posthumously discovered to be an extraordinary artist elicit haunting curiosity and even sympathy.

Vincent’s letters to his brother Theo and others offer a profound, soul-searching description of the jagged life of a genius who achieved much in the face of adversity. Scholars have even wondered if he was rather a great man who painted great pictures. When understood in a certain light, Vincent’s troubled life, his devotion to art, and his sense of purpose make one of the most inspiring stories in the world.

This article provides a brief story of Vincent’s life followed by inspirational quotations chosen from his letters to Theo. A subsequent article will delve into his philosophy of work and his sense of devotion.

Vincent van Gogh’s Quest for Meaning

Young Vincent van Gogh Vincent was raised in a religious and cultured atmosphere. Growing up, he possessed a difficult temper and lacked self-confidence. All through youth, Vincent struggled to find his place in the world. This was a precursor to his life-long struggle to find meaning and establish some kind of harmonious relationship with the outer world.

Vincent began his artistic career at the relatively advanced age. Until then, he held a variety of occupations where he had proved deficient. At age 26, Vincent started work as a lay preacher in a mining community in southern Belgium. As was his habit, Vincent quickly developed great empathy for the miners and fully committed himself to this job. He wanted to be like the poor miners—he even smeared his hands and face with soot and dirt. He gave away his belongings, lived on bread and water, and slept on a sack spread out on the floor of his miserable shed. The church’s committee of elders chastised him for his excessive zeal and fired him. His mother complained of his uncompromising stubbornness: “He will never comply with the wishes of the committee, and nothing will change him.”

Soon thereafter, Vincent’s younger brother Theo visited to discuss Vincent’s future. Theo declared that the van Gogh family was worried about Vincent’s lack of direction in life, especially after several false starts in various vocations. The ensuing dispute marked a serious turning point in Vincent’s life: he resolved to become an artist. He would build on what was once a mere pastime.

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

The Art of a Self-Taught Genius

Vincent van Gogh - Self-Taught Genius For the next nine years, with Theo’s financial and emotional support, Vincent traveled around Europe teaching himself to draw and paint. He struggled financially and even starved sometimes after spending the entire stipend that Theo sent him on art supplies rather than on the necessities of living. After a great deal of meticulous experimentation and assiduous practice, Vincent developed his artistic expertise to a level where he could execute art swiftly.

Vincent was an artist for just 11 years before his death. In those 11 years, he completed more than 2,150 pieces, including 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings, and sketches. Vincent was exceptionally productive towards the end of his life, churning out work with incredible speed—he sometimes executed up to three pieces a day. His most notable paintings are Starry Night, Portrait of Dr. Gachet, Portrait of Joseph Roulin, Bedroom in Arles series, Sunflowers series, Church at Auvers, and several self-portraits including the iconic Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear.

Following years of depression, frequent bouts of mental illness, struggles with personal relationships, and tumultuous romantic pursuits, Vincent shot himself at age 37, just when his artistic genius was starting to be acknowledged. In an unfinished final letter found on his person when he shot himself, he declared, “Well, the truth is, we can only make our pictures speak.” And speak they did: even today, art lovers marvel at Vincent’s attention to color, his ability to convey emotions, and his unique sense of observation. Although he was poor and practically unknown most of his life, Vincent’s work greatly influenced 20th century art.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

'Ever Yours: The Essential Letters' by Vincent van Gogh (ISBN 0300209479) Despite suffering from mental illness, Vincent possessed an extraordinary unity of mind and spirit. This is evident in the 700 letters he wrote over a period of 20 years, primarily to his beloved brother Theo. These letters are a marvelous record of his life, art, and philosophy. They are the primary source and substance for scholarly studies on Vincent’s life and work, particularly by art historians and psychiatrists.

“Ever Yours: The Essential Letters”, an absorbing anthology of correspondence between Vincent and Theo, sheds light on the shifting quality of his moods, his turbulent life, and philosophical evolution as an artist. Few other men and women have written such letters that reveal the inner workings of their minds and hearts.

I also recommend Steven Naifeh and Gregory Smith’s brilliant biography, “Van Gogh: The Life and Anthology”, and Michael Howard’s “Van Gogh: His Life & Works in 500 Images”.

Inspirational Quotations by Vincent van Gogh

The more I think about it, the more I realize there is nothing more artistic than to love others.
Vincent Van Gogh

In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.
Vincent Van Gogh

I must continue to follow the path I take now. If I do nothing, if I study nothing, if I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it — keep going, keep going come what may.
Vincent Van Gogh

Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again.
Vincent Van Gogh

Some good must come by clinging to the right. Conscience is a man’s compass, and though the needle sometimes deviates, though one often perceives irregularities in directing one’s course by it, still one must try to follow its direction.
Vincent Van Gogh

If one were to say but few words, though ones with meaning, one would do better than to say many that were only empty sounds, and just as easy to utter as they were of little use.
Vincent Van Gogh

But what is your final goal, you may ask. That goal will become clearer, will emerge slowly but surely, much as the rough draught turns into a sketch, and the sketch into a painting through the serious work done on it, through the elaboration of the original vague idea and through the consolidation of the first fleeting and passing thought.
Vincent Van Gogh

Love is something eternal; the aspect may change, but not the essence.
Vincent Van Gogh

What has changed is that my life then was less difficult and my future seemingly less gloomy, but as far as my inner self, my way of looking at things and of thinking is concerned, that has not changed. But if there has indeed been a change, then it is that I think, believe and love more seriously now what I thought, believed and loved even then.
Vincent Van Gogh

One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul and yet no one ever came to sit by it. Passers-by see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on their way.
Vincent Van Gogh

Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.
Vincent Van Gogh

For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.
Vincent Van Gogh

If you hear a voice within you saying, “You are not a painter,” then by all means paint… and that voice will be silenced.
Vincent Van Gogh

Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.
Vincent Van Gogh

No matter how vacant and vain, how dead life may appear to be, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, who knows something, will not be put off so easily.
Vincent Van Gogh

I tell you, if one wants to be active, one must not be afraid of going wrong, one must not be afraid of making mistakes now and then. Many people think that they will become good just by doing no harm — but that’s a lie, and you yourself used to call it that. That way lies stagnation, mediocrity.
Vincent Van Gogh

Conscience is a man’s compass.
Vincent Van Gogh

If one is master of one thing and understands one thing well, one has at the same time, insight into and understanding of many things.
Vincent Van Gogh

Life is not long for anybody, and the problem is only to make something of it.
Vincent Van Gogh

It is with the reading of books the same as with looking at pictures; one must, without doubt, without hesitations, with assurance, admire what is beautiful.
Vincent Van Gogh

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?
Vincent Van Gogh

The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.
Vincent Van Gogh

Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.
Vincent Van Gogh

A weaver who has to direct and to interweave a great many little threads has no time to philosophize about it, but rather he is so absorbed in his work that he doesn’t think but acts, and he feels how things must go more than he can explain it.
Vincent Van Gogh

One must work and dare if one really wants to live.
Vincent Van Gogh

Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.
Vincent Van Gogh

Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it.
Vincent Van Gogh

It is better to be high-spirited, even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent. It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love, is well done.
Vincent Van Gogh

When we are working at a difficult task and strive after a good thing, we are fighting a righteous battle, the direct reward of which is that we are kept from much evil. As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed.
Vincent Van Gogh

If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.
Vincent Van Gogh

The best way to know God is to love many things.
Vincent Van Gogh

What is true is that I have at times earned my own crust of bread, and at other times a friend has given it to me out of the goodness of his heart. I have lived whatever way I could, for better or for worse, taking things just as they came
Vincent Van Gogh

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.
Vincent Van Gogh

I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.
Vincent Van Gogh

It is a pity that, as one gradually gains experience, one loses one’s youth.
Vincent Van Gogh

Love always brings difficulties, that is true, but the good side of it is that it gives energy.
Vincent Van Gogh

Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney and then go on their way.
Vincent Van Gogh

The thing has already taken form in my mind before I start it. The first attempts are absolutely unbearable. I say this because I want you to know that if you see something worthwhile in what I am doing, it is not by accident but because of real direction and purpose.
Vincent Van Gogh

People are often unable to do anything, imprisoned as they are in I don’t know what kind of terrible, terrible, oh such terrible cage.
Vincent Van Gogh

It is better to be high-spirited, even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent. It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love, is well done.
Vincent Van Gogh

Lessons from a Social Media Disaster

30-year-old Justine Sacco made headlines in December 2013 for insensitive remarks on Twitter during her journey to visit family in South Africa.

  • Sacco tweeted about a fellow passenger on her flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, “‘Weird German Dude: You’re in First Class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.’—Inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank God for pharmaceuticals.”
  • And then, during her layover in London, she tweeted, “Chilly—cucumber sandwiches—bad teeth. Back in London!”
  • Subsequently, before boarding her aircraft for the final leg of her trip to Cape Town, she tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Justine Sacco published a tweet: 'Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm White!'

Sacco Should Have Known Better

Justine Sacco was the senior director of corporate communications at the digital media conglomerate IAC/InterActiveCorp. Her career centered on managing the intent and vocabulary of internal and external communications at a large multinational company.

Sacco’s last tweet sparked an immediate furor. By the time she landed in South Africa, thousands of angry tweets responded to her remarks. Reactions ranged from “Sorry @JustineSacco, your tweet lives on forever” to “How did @JustineSacco get a PR job?! Her level of racist ignorance belongs on Fox News. #AIDS can affect anyone!” to “I’m an IAC employee and I don’t want @JustineSacco doing any communications on our behalf ever again. Ever.”

IAC/InterActiveCorp, her employer, tweeted, “This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question currently unreachable on an intl flight.” By the time she landed in South Africa, IAC had fired Sacco and released a statement saying:

The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question.

There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally. We hope, however, that time and action, and the forgiving human spirit, will not result in the wholesale condemnation of an individual who we have otherwise known to be a decent person at core.

That One Stupid Tweet Blew up Justine Sacco’s Career

Lessons from Justine Sacco's Social Media Disaster Justine Sacco later apologized for her insensitivity and stated, “Words cannot express how sorry I am, and how necessary it is for me to apologize to the people of South Africa, who I have offended due to a needless and careless tweet. … For being insensitive to this crisis … and to the millions of people living with the virus, I am ashamed. … This is my father’s country, and I was born here. I cherish my ties to South Africa and my frequent visits, but I am in anguish knowing that my remarks have caused pain to so many people here; my family, friends and fellow South Africans. I am very sorry for the pain I caused.”

Sacco is now a communications manager for a small startup in New York. Even if she realized social media’s power in the most awful way possible and learned her lesson the hard way, the chances of her ever getting another significant job in corporate communications or public relations are remote. Presumably, it will take a long time for her to rebuild her career.

Alas, Humor is a Difficult Thing

Sacco probably isn’t racist or one who doesn’t sympathize with people with AIDS. Her tweet was simply a bad tweet.

Sacco, who deleted her Twitter account right away, had a history of tweeting sarcastic remarks and offensive little jokes. “I was so naive,” she later admitted to a Gawker columnist, claiming she never expected that her tweet would be misunderstood and misconstrued in such a way. She insisted her message was an attempt to mimic what a truly racist or ignorant person would say.

The Pitfalls of Social Media

Three Lessons from Justine Sacco’s Tweet: The Pitfalls of Social Media

  • Companies, publish social media guidelines for employees: Social media users easily blur the lines between their personal and professional personalities by openly declaring their affiliations on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other sites. Consequently, when they use social media in their professional or personal capacities, they can seriously harm their employer’s reputation. Whereas policing technology use or monitoring all published content is impractical, companies must educate employees about the pitfalls of social media. For example, the U.S. Air Force has a thorough handbook to help its employees engage online (and offline) communities in a positive way.
  • Folks, be mindful of your digital footprint; watch what you write. Social media has not only made us more accessible to one another, but also more accountable. Many prospective employers search social networking websites and the internet for more information on job candidates. Your online presence can be an asset or a liability. Any remark you post in the public domain can be distorted or misinterpreted. Refrain from venting complaints, writing crude posts, portraying organizations and individuals in negative light, bad-mouthing, and posting opinions on sensitive topics. Maintain a professional tone and post insightful content that appeals to prospective employers.
  • Be cautious with humor and sarcasm. “Humor is inherently ambiguous. That’s how it works. You’re saying more than one thing, and it’s never clear exactly what the message is,” says Prof. Rod Martin, who has researched the nature of humor at the University of Western Ontario. It’s amazing how quickly a well-intentioned remark or an offhand comment, when taken the wrong way, can completely derail communication. Humor and sarcasm are complicated. No matter how funny you think you are, you’ll stand the risk that people won’t “get it.” This is especially true in written form, which lacks the helpful subtext of tone and facial movement. It can be very difficult to foresee how others may receive humor or sarcasm: as a clever comment, show of callousness, or as passive-aggression. Exercise caution when it is necessary to use humor; don’t let it get out of control.

Idea for Impact: Social media mistakes may have serious consequences. Once made, those mistakes are not easy to fix. Be mindful of what you share on social media.

Postscript: While I understand the power of social media as an efficient medium for how our world currently interacts, I must admit I don’t understand why intrusive micro-blogging on Facebook (and worse, Twitter) is interesting. Personally, I find social media a gross distraction and invasion of privacy. This is besides the fact that, frankly, nobody cares where I am or what I am doing on an hour-by-hour basis. I deliberately choose to reduce my technological footprint and connect with people in more thoughtful and meaningful ways.

Inspirational Quotations #572

Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.
Albert Einstein

Great talents, such as honor, virtue, learning, and parts, are above the generality of the world, who neither possess them themselves, nor judge of them rightly in others; but all people are judges of the lesser talents, such as civility, affability, and an obliging, agreeable address and manner, because they feel the good effects of them, as making society easy and pleasing.
Earl of Chesterfield

We must give more in order to get more, It is the generous giving of ourselves that produce the generous harvest.
Orison Swett Marden

A great many worries can be diminished by realizing the unimportance of the matter which is causing anxiety.
Bertrand A. Russell

Success serves men as a pedestal; it makes them look larger, if reflection does not measure them.
Joseph Joubert

Truth is the secret of eloquence and of virtue, the basis of moral authority; it is the highest summit of art and of life.
Henri Frederic Amiel

As you seek new opportunity, keep in mind that the sun does not usually reappear on the horizon where last seen.
Robert Brault

Never forget the three powerful resources you always have available to you: love, prayer, and forgiveness.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

A mind always employed is always happy. This is the true secret, the grand recipe, for felicity.
Thomas Jefferson

The art of using moderate abilities to advantage often brings greater results than actual brilliance.
Francois de La Rochefoucauld

You cannot consistently perform in a manner which is inconsistent with the way you see yourself.
Zig Ziglar

The Trouble with Targets and Goals

The Trouble with Targets and Goals

'The Balanced Scorecard - Translating Strategy into Action' by Robert Kaplan and David Norton (ISBN 0875846513) In a well-known 1992 Harvard Business Review article as well as a book on translating strategy into action, Robert Kaplan and David Norton explained the need for a “balanced scorecard.” They encouraged leaders to develop tools with which to monitor the performance of any organization. The authors explained, “Think of the balanced scorecard as the dials and indicators in an airplane cockpit. For the complex task of navigating and flying an airplane, pilots need detailed information about many aspects of the flight, like fuel level, airspeed, altitude, bearing, etc.”

Goals are effective apparatus—a persuasive system indicating what achievements matter the most to an organization. Well-defined objectives, expressed in terms of specific goals, often direct an organization’s performance, sharpen focus on the execution of the organization’s strategic and operative plans, and boost productivity.

In terms of an individual within a company, goal-setting is especially important as a way to provide ongoing and year-end feedback. You can give employees continuous input on their performance and motivate them by setting and monitoring targets.

Still, there are four things to look out for when setting and managing targets:

  • Some organizations get so overwhelmed with setting and meeting targets that managers tend to adopt whatever behaviors necessary to meet the goals set by their superiors.
  • In goal-setting, less is more and simple is better Some organizations get carried away and set too many targets. While goals are beneficial, having more of them is not necessarily better. In fact, too many targets can lead to stress, muddled efforts, and organizational atrophy. In this instance, employees feel as if they’re being asked to throw darts in multiple directions all at once. Adding to the confusion, priorities can even conflict with one another—e.g. decreasing production cycle-time while not hiring more workers or buying more equipment. According to a 2011 study by consulting firm Booz (now named Strategy&), 64% of participating global executives reported facing too many conflicting priorities. The celebrated management consultant Peter Drucker famously advised his clients to pursue no more than two priorities at a time:

Develop your priorities and don’t have more than two. I don’t know anybody who can do three things at the same time and do them well. Do one task at a time or two tasks at a time. That’s it. OK, two works better for most. Most people need the change of pace. But, when you are finished with two jobs or reach the point where it’s futile, make the list again. Don’t go back to priority three. At that point, it’s obsolete.

  • Sometimes, organizations can be so eager to reach a target that they institute an overly aggressive system (unreasonable “stretch goals“) in an attempt to drive people to heroic levels of performance. Instead, it’s best to have goals that represent what senior management thinks ought to happen, not the contents of their wildest dreams.
  • When grading an employee’s performance depends heavily upon that individual meeting his targets (e.g. bonuses promised to salesmen who achieve certain revenue targets,) it can pit employee against employee. This tends to create an unhealthily competitive environment with colleagues scrambling over each other to get to the client or show off their achievements to management. Conflicts and rivalry between employees is one of the dominant criticisms of the individual performance rating system and the forced ranking system that many companies currently practice.

Idea for Impact: In goal-setting, less is more and simple is better. A few well-chosen, consequential targets and goals can sharpen an individual’s or an organization’s focus and boost productivity. Too many targets can lead to stress and even disaster.

Inspirational Quotations #571

No habit or quality is more easily acquired than hypocrisy, nor any thing sooner learned than to deny the sentiments of our hearts and the principle we act from: but the seeds of every passion are innate to us, and nobody comes into the world without them.
Solon

They were so strong in their beliefs that there came a time when it hardly mattered what exactly those beliefs were; they all fused into a single stubbornness.
Louise Erdrich

All great men are gifted with intuition. They know without reasoning or analysis, what they need to know.
Alexis Carrel

Learning is about more than simply acquiring new knowledge and insights; it is also crucial to unlearn old knowledge that has outlive its relevance. Thus, forgetting is probably at least as important as learning.
Gary Ryan Blair

Contrary to what most of us believe, happiness does not simply happen to us. It’s something that we make happen, and it results from doing our best. Feeling fulfilled when we live up to our potentialities is what motivates differentiation and leads to evolution.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The poet can only write the poems; it takes the reader to complete the meaning.
Nikki Giovanni

We can do whatever we wish to do provided our wish is strong enough. But the tremendous effort needed – one doesn’t always want to make it – does one? … But what else can be done? What’s the alternative? What do you want most to do? That’s what I have to keep asking myself, in the face of difficulties.
Katherine Mansfield

Wife asks “When is it going to be time? Our time? My time?” and Google CFO chooses to retire

To supplement yesterday’s article, “When Can Your Loved One Become an Important Client?” on making time for ourselves and our loved ones, here’s a memo published yesterday by Google CFO Patrick Pichette announcing his retirement after a 30-year career that he deemed left him with too little time to pursue anything else.

Google CEO Larry Page called the memo “a most unconventional leaving notice … Well worth reading — it will warm your heart.”

Google CFO Patrick Pichette and wife atop Mt. Kilimanjaro

A trip to Africa in September 2014 was the genesis of Pichette’s choice to retire at age 52. One morning, Pichette and wife Tamar were watching the sunrise from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and appreciating the expanse of the Serengeti Park beneath. Then,

And Tamar out of the blue said “Hey, why don’t we just keep on going”. Let’s explore Africa, and then turn east to make our way to India, it’s just next door, and we’re here already. Then, we keep going; the Himalayas, Everest, go to Bali, the Great Barrier Reef… Antarctica, let’s go see Antarctica!?” Little did she know, she was tempting fate.

… then she asked the killer question: So when is it going to be time? Our time? My time? The questions just hung there in the cold morning African air.

A few weeks later, I was happy back at work, but could not shake away THE question: When is it time for us to just keep going? And so began a reflection on my/our life.

… I am completing this summer 25-30 years of nearly non-stop work (depending on how you wish to cut the data). And being member of FWIO, the noble Fraternity of Worldwide Insecure Over-achievers, it has been a whirlwind of truly amazing experiences. But as I count it now, it has also been a frenetic pace for about 1500 weeks now. Always on – even when I was not supposed to be. Especially when I was not supposed to be. And am guilty as charged – I love my job (still do), my colleagues, my friends, the opportunities to lead and change the world.

Third, this summer, Tamar and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary. When our kids are asked by their friends about the success of the longevity of our marriage, they simply joke that Tamar and I have spent so little time together that “it’s really too early to tell” if our marriage will in fact succeed.

If they could only know how many great memories we already have together. How many will you say? How long do you have? But one thing is for sure, I want more. And she deserves more. Lots more.

Allow me to spare you the rest of the truths. But the short answer is simply that I could not find a good argument to tell Tamar we should wait any longer for us to grab our backpacks and hit the road – celebrate our last 25 years together by turning the page and enjoy a perfectly fine mid life crisis full of bliss and beauty, and leave the door open to serendipity for our next leadership opportunities, once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted.

… In the end, life is wonderful, but nonetheless a series of trade offs, especially between business/professional endeavours and family/community. And thankfully, I feel I’m at a point in my life where I no longer have to have to make such tough choices anymore. And for that I am truly grateful. Carpe Diem.

Pichette has sounded affable when I’ve heard him lead recent Google corporate earnings calls. CEO Larry Page hasn’t been talking at events since 2013 because of vocal cord troubles; Pichette has been the one to answer for Google’s large spending and disappointing earnings numbers. He has persistently defended Google’s moonshot projects and speculative investments in many new products and acquisitions that haven’t made money for stockholders.

Pichette’s memo is perhaps the finest “spend more time with family” message ever written in announcing a retirement (or resignation.) Although it’s “carpe diem” for the immediate future, he’s left the door open for more opportunities “once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted.”

Idea for Impact: Get Your Priorities Right

Undeniably, Pichette’s decision to retire and my own ‘retirement’ for identical reasons (my decision came about on a trip to Alaska in March 2009) are outside the realm of possibility for 99% of people. Yet, this inspiring memo serves as a reminder to us to invest more time on our loved ones and on ourselves. We don’t need to constantly succumb to the demands of the world at the expense of the needs of our loved ones and our own deep-held aspirations.

When Can Your Loved One Become an Important Client? [Work-Life Balance]

A 1997 advertisement for AT&T Wireless speaks to one of the greatest challenges faced by working parents: balancing the responsibilities of their jobs with those of their families. This is especially difficult for parents of children under age 18.

The desire to balance work and family life is often stronger for women who tend to take on more of the responsibilities of housework and childcare.

The AT&T Wireless advertisement features a professional woman, three daughters, and an adolescent babysitter. The mother rushes to get herself ready to go to the office while her three daughters are preparing their own breakfasts. Here’s a condensed version of their conversation:

Oldest daughter: “Mom, why do you always have to go to work?”

Mom: “It’s called food, video, skates…”

Oldest girl: “Can we go to the beach?”

Mom: “Not today honey, I’ve got a meeting with a very important client.”

Four-year old daughter (sadly): “Mom, when can I be a client?”

Mom (after a moment of contemplation): “You have five minutes to get ready for the beach or I’m going without you.”

At the beach, the mom’s cell phone rings. She answers it while her middle daughter shouts out, “Hey everybody, it’s time for the meeting!”

Idea for Impact: Make Your Loved Ones Your Most Important Clients

Striking that delicate work-life balance has puzzled people for ages. Personally, I’m not fond of the term ‘work-life balance’ because it offers a false dichotomy and implies that one’s personal and professional lives are separable. I prefer the term ‘work-life choices.’

It’s not so much about balance as it is about understanding what you value and setting the right priorities. Learning to balance the demands of conflicting priorities is not simply a thought exercise.

As I’ve detailed and exemplified in my three-part course on time management (time logging, time analysis, and time budgeting,) successfully organizing your life hinges on three key habits.

  1. Decide your life’s values. Decide on what truly matters to you and why.
  2. Rank those values according to their respective priority levels. The American philosopher Henry David Thoreau once wrote in “Journals” (1838-1859,) “the cost of a thing it will be remembered as the amount of life it requires to be exchanged for it.” Each decision you make involves tradeoffs: choosing to do one thing entails not choosing to do some other thing.
  3. Allocate your time, money, and other limited resources on what matters most to you. As I wrote in The World’s Shortest Course on Time Management, discern the few things that you must do; then, focus on those and avoid the rest.

Postscript: Remarks on the AT&T Wireless Advertisement as A Great Example of Emotional Advertising

  • The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Field Guide for Effective Communication remarks, “Ads like this one show how the cell phone becomes a solution to a problem for working mothers. It captures an element that the cell phone is not only an instrument of freedom, not only an instrument of wealth creation, but also an instrument that makes it a little easier to have fairness in a world with a lot of stress.”
  • Robert Goldman, Professor of Sociology at Lewis & Clark College, notes, “A 1997 AT&T ad opens with scenes calculated to evoke the everydayness of home life, bringing forth the feel and texture of real—unreconstructed and un-retouched by the camera— interactions from that messy area we know as family life. The video of the ad exemplifies Hyperreal Encoding designed to make a case about the realness of the story being told, perhaps even making the case that it bears some resemblance to “your” own life. A woman scrambles to get herself ready to go to the office while her three girls are taking care of their own breakfasts. The oldest is preparing eggs for breakfast, while the baby plays with food containers from the open refrigerator door, and the four-year old disinterestedly spoons her cereal around her bowl, onto the table, and perhaps the floor.”

Inspirational Quotations #570

A homely face and no figure have aided many women heavenward.
Minna Antrim

When the anger of the gods is incurred, wealth or power only bring more devastating punishment.
Euripides

It doesn’t take great men to do things, but it is doing things that make men great.
Arnold Glasow

It is not because the touch of genius has roused genius to production, but because the admiration of genius has made talent ambitious, that the harvest is still so abundant.
Margaret Fuller

The person who knows one thing and does it better than anyone else, even if it only be the art of raising lentils, receives the crown he merits. If he raises all his energy to that end, he is a benefactor of mankind and its rewarded as such.
Og Mandino

There is one fact that can be established. The only phenomenon which, always and in all parts of the world, seems to be linked with the appearance of writing
Claude Levi-Strauss

Do noble things, do not dream them all day long.
Charles Kingsley

The trouble with the future is that is usually arrives before we’re ready for it.
Arnold Glasow

Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure. But unfortunately, although it is true, it is difficult for us to accept it. Because we cannot accept the truth of transience, we suffer.
Shunryu Suzuki

Occupation was one of the pleasures of paradise, and we cannot be happy without it.
Anna Brownell Jameson

More business is lost every year through neglect than through any other cause.
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

When we argue for our limitations, we get to keep them.
Peter McWilliams

Seek Discipline, Not Motivation: Focus on the WHY

Motivation is glorified as a personal trait. While it is beneficial to be motivated, folks who actually manage to get things done are those who find a way to work at whatever they are interested in even when they do not really feel like doing it.

Discipline is Fixating on What You Want

“More than those who hate you, more than all your enemies, an undisciplined mind does greater harm,” the Buddha taught as per the Dhammapada.

Seek Discipline, Not Motivation Whatever form of personal character it takes—self-control, dedication, endurance, persistence, resolve, willpower, or self-regulation,—discipline is one of the biggest differentiators between successful and unsuccessful people.

The British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell wrote in “On Education” (1926,) “Right discipline consists, not in external compulsion, but in habits of mind which lead spontaneously to desirable rather than undesirable activities.” Discipline is the conscious ability to prevail over distractions, avoid opportunities for gratification, regulate your emotions and actions, overrule impulses, and exert mindful self-control to fulfill your immediate goals and aspirations.

A Simple Hack to Develop Discipline: Focus on the WHY

A Simple Hack to Develop Discipline: Focus on the WHY

Many of the goals you strive for—like losing weight—require you to choose between a smaller but immediate reward and a larger but remote reward. For instance, if you are dieting and are presented with a cake, you face a choice between the immediate indulgence of eating the cake and the more distant incentive of losing weight. Renouncing immediate pleasure in order to reap future benefits can pose an enormous challenge.

Research by Dr. Kentaro Fujita of Ohio State University shows that participants who considered why they had to do something were better able to inhibit their impulses when presented with immediate temptations. They also exerted greater self-control and stuck with a task longer than those who thought just about how they could do something. For example, Fujita’s research suggests that if you focus on your ultimate goal of losing weight, you are more likely to reinforce your dieting discipline. You are more likely, then, to indulge in a slice or two of pizza and avoid eating the entire pizza than if you would just try to fill up on salad and avoid eating the pizza altogether. This complements my “cut back, do not cut out” tip for dieting success based on how abrupt deprivation from pleasures often results in guilt and over-indulgence.

Idea for Impact: Focus on the ends rather than the means. To build up discipline and self-regulation, keep your goal itself at the front and center of your concentration instead of focusing on how to reach it.

Inspirational Quotations #569

Might I give counsel to any man, I would say to him, try to frequent the company of your betters. In books and in life, that is the most wholesome society; learn to admire rightly; the great pleasure of life is that. Note what great men admire.
William Makepeace Thackeray

You’ll break the worry habit the day you decide you can meet and master the worse that can happen to you.
Arnold Glasow

The first attribute that characterizes the greater man from the moron is his thicker layer of inhibition.
Martin H. Fischer

Time cools, time clarifies; no mood can be maintained quite unaltered through the course of hours.
Thomas Mann

Someone has defined genius as intensity of purpose: the ability to do, the patience to wait… Put these together and you have genius, and you have achievement.
Leo J. Muir

A man can only attain knowledge with the help of those who possess it. This must be understood from the very beginning. One must learn from him who knows.
Georges Gurdjieff

A marriage without conflicts is almost as inconceivable as a nation without crises.
Andre Maurois

Attach yourself to those who advise you rather than praise you.
Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux

The hallmark of our age is the tension between aspirations and sluggish institutions.
John W. Gardner

Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.
Richard Nixon

The good man is the man who, no matter how morally unworthy he has been, is moving to become better.
John Dewey

Every man, through fear, mugs his aspirations a dozen times a day.
Brendan Behan