Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. Below are a few inspirational excerpts from her New York Times article ‘Advice for Living,’ as adapted from her forthcoming book My Own Words. Her life’s advice is a continuation of what others told her when she was growing up.
First, a mother who, by her example, made reading a delight and counseled me constantly to “be independent,” able to fend for myself, whatever fortune might have in store for me.
On the power of words
At Cornell University, my professor of European literature, Vladimir Nabokov, changed the way I read and the way I write. Words could paint pictures, I learned from him. Choosing the right word, and the right word order, he illustrated, could make an enormous difference in conveying an image or an idea.
On listening and marriage
“In every good marriage,” she counseled, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.” I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.
Do what you love. Love what you do. These cliches, however, are missing important pieces: Do the work and be good at what you do.
People think they can write a book, but they never set aside the time to work on it. People want to get in shape, but they never hit the gym. People aspire to be an artist, but they never go to the studio to paint.
“Everything is work,” writes Brianna Wiest. She continues:
“People usually can’t differentiate what they really love and what they love the idea of.”
Instead of doing what you think you love, do something you’re already good at and that other people find useful. Never underestimate your innate talents. “Do what you have to give,” Briana implores.
Briana’s advice is the opposite of a book I read this summer entitled Grit by Angela Duckworth. In it, the author praises the ethics of pertinacity. The book’s message is trite but true, assuming the person succeeds. Other times, it might be wiser for people to quit and move on.
But there’s also a third way to look at careerism. Instead of accepting your God-given skills or striving for success, you try new opportunities that come your way so you can grow your mindset/skillset. You decide to challenge yourself, fail, and learn quickly which takes a lot of courage.
People that excel at their job still need to be tested. Skills get you places. But so does curiosity and reflection. Remember Steve’s wisdom, “don’t settle.”
Blair Small is an entrepreneur, musician, and photographer based out of New York City. He’s also one of my best friends so I’m happy to feature him as the first guest on this blog.
Who are you and what do you do?
I am Blair Small. I’m a personal trainer, a wedding photographer and a musician, in no particular order. I like to take the “Rennaissance man” approach to my life, and pursue multiple crafts at the same time. I don’t consider any of these things jobs, and for that I’m grateful.
What are you currently working on?
Having my own personal training business has given me the freedom and time to pursue 2 other passions – music and photography. The inherent need I feel to create is fulfilled here. I write music on the the name Georgica, and just released a 7-song EP.
Making music that I’m proud of is what I live for. Wedding photography is a relatively new part of my life. My good friend is an amazing and really successful wedding photographer, and has been training me for the last year to be his associate shooter. Having the opportunity to be under such great and constant tutelage has been unbelievable.
How would you rate your photography skills so far?
Shooting weddings is not easy. It’s probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I was sort of thrown into the fire and given a lot of responsibility from the beginning. At first everything was moving 1000 miles per hour, but as I get more comfortable, things seem to slow down and fall into place. I see improvement every wedding.
“Composing a great photograph is a skill that everyone should have.”
Where do you like to work?
I produce all my music in my apartment, which isn’t ideal, but with today’s software and equipment is very doable. Believe it or not, I often write using my iPads virtual instruments on the train. As far as photography goes. The lesson I’ve learned is shoot everything everywhere. There is never a bad place or opportunity to take a good photograph.
What motivates you?
Improving my craft is what motivates me. Creating something great is what I live my life for.
What was your earliest ambition?
My earliest ambition was being good at basketball. I remember 6th grade tryouts, all I wanted to do was shoot a 3 pointer, because prior to that, we didn’t play on courts with three-point lines.
What’s one work hack you use that others may find helpful?
With music, there will be times when you don’t have inspiration, or can’t seem to write anything. Don’t force it. Even if it takes a year, that will pass, and you will get into an amazing zone at some point. With photography, you must fail to succeed. Learn from your mistakes. Work to perfect your craft.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about working or life so far?
I know I’ve been lucky, but…
“if you ever have the chance or opportunity to work for yourself, take the risk and do it. You will NEVER EVER regret it.”
The U.S. is addicted to advice. Americans honestly believe that someone out there knows how to fix all our problems. Maybe Oprah. Maybe Dr. Phil. Maybe Barack Obama. Maybe Ayn Rand. Newspapers, magazines and television are filled with advice about health, finances, raising children, dieting. Don’t smoke. Don’t text on I-95. Don’t allow your teenage son Vlad to disappear into his bedroom for the next decade. Exercise 30 minutes a day. Never buy stocks from men wearing ostrich-skin shoes.
Why, then, are so many of us miserable, bankrupt, overweight chain smokers with horrible, illiterate kids? The advice was out there.
The smartest workers will be able to leverage technology to their advantage and be able to recognize the big-picture ways to utilize it. The technology will change. The means of accessing will change. But strategically implementing it will remain in constant demand for tomorrow’s workforce. – Tyler Cowen
There’s more to the future of creation than just coding. Work still requires big ideas, marketing, management, and sales. You don’t necessarily need to learn how to code but you do need to learn how to exploit technology to help you connect, explore, and mash up ideas.
Ideas can be sticky. Too sticky. The last few months I’ve been working on a book called Train Diaries, based off a series of posts on Medium.
After rereading the first draft last night, I immediately felt agitated. I felt like I was forcing myself to publish a book on an idea just because I did months of work.
Sometimes, you can’t see the whole product until you put the pieces together.
Don’t get me wrong: I still think using the train as a metaphor to predict the evolution of technology and social media makes sense. A lot of the things that happen on the train eventually happen at large.
But quitting can be an absolute relief, especially since I’m not even sold on the book. I’m actually just going to let this concept sit. It may just be a chapter of another book. I always go back to Seth Godin’s advice:
“Don’t publish everything you write, but the more you write, the more you have to choose from.”
My first draft is shit. I’m not going to force oil under a rock for a book that has already has a small digital shelf life.
Books are like my little startups. And just like that , I’m moving on to the next one.
Steve Jobs recounts his advice to Google CEO Larry Page:
“The main thing I stressed was focus. Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up. It’s now all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft. They’re causing you to turn out products that are adequate but not great.”