Great Quotes: Bill Watterson on Life and Success

Bill Watterson, creator of comic series Calvin and Hobbes, gave an inspiring commencement speech at Kenyon College in May 1990 and it made for a very interesting read. Here is an excerpt from this thought-provoking speech:

Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Glorious words of wisdom that got me thinking.  People work long and hard, achieve the so-called success and still feel desperate and incomplete. Why? Probably because they keep doing something they don’t love, just because it pays.

There are plenty of jobs for people who prefer money over meaning. The key to professional success, fulfillment and happiness is to find work you love and a way to get paid for it. Making meaning (and difference), it turns out, is the most potent way to make money.

Watterson concluded his speech with this brilliant quote:

Your preparation for the real world is not in the answers you’ve learned, but in the questions you’ve learned how to ask yourself.

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Bonus: Here is Seth Godin’s view on Doing what you love. He says,

Doing what you love is as important as ever, but if you’re going to make a living at it, it helps to find a niche where money flows as a regular consequence of the success of your idea. Loving what you do is almost as important as doing what you love, especially if you need to make a living at it. Go find a job you can commit to, a career or a business you can fall in love with.

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In 100 Words: The Art of Seeing Possibilities

Benjamin Zander’s book “The Art of Possibility” starts with this story:

A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business.

One sends back a telegram saying, SITUATION HOPELESS. STOP. NO ONE WEARS SHOES.


How often does fear win over our hopes and dreams? We constantly keep thinking about our frustrations but not about the potential that we still have in us. Don’t let your failures so far interfere with what is still possible for you to do.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Bonus: See Benjamin Zander in action in this Pop!Tech 2008 Video where he shows what it means to live in a world of possibilities.

In 100 Words: To Be Creative

Here’s a story from Sir Ken Robinson.

A little girl was sitting at the back of the classroom and drawing something. When teacher asked, “What are you drawing?” the girl replied, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl promptly replied, “They will in a minute.”

Kids don’t fear taking chances. They fail, fall but never stop exploring. They don’t worry about what others think of them – if they did, how dare they try giving shape to something they had never seen before?

How would they be so creative?

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

Great Quotes: Focus on Experience

In a competitive world obsessed with goals, people recommend that we should periodically review our performance. Performance appraisals in organizations are almost a necessary evil. The problem with focusing excessively on our ‘performance’ is that performance is always judged by others, by some external entity. When you constantly try to align yourself to external expectations, you dilute your own expression and voice.

I read the following quote in Peter Bergman’s recent Harvard Business Review post titled “Stop Focusing on Your Performance”. He says,

When you’re performing, your success is disturbingly short-lived. As soon as you’ve achieved one milestone or received a particular standing ovation, it’s no longer relevant. Your unending question is: what’s next?

When you’re experiencing though, it’s not about the end result, it’s about the moment. You’re not pursuing a feeling after, you’re having a feeling during. You can’t be manipulated by a fickle, outside measure because you’re motivated by a stable internal one.

Here is a related quote from my 2010 post titled “Enjoy the Process”:

Focusing on the moment, on task currently on our hands enables us to fully express ourselves. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is to enjoy the work while we are doing it (being in the moment) – and expressing our skills fully. It is both gratifying and satisfying.

The joy is in the work itself. Focus on experience and performance will eventually take care of itself.

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Photo Credit: Stephan Comelli’s Flickr Photostream

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Related Posts at QAspire:

Enjoy the Process

Enjoy the Process – 2

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12 Lessons on Life and Leadership From Photography

When you take up a new passion, it is so amazing to see how things unfold. Since last few years, I have turned into a photography enthusiast, an avid learner of the art. No, I am not taking any formal photography classes but am learning it by doing in my spare time. You can view my photographic adventures at Flickr.

In Hindi, the word “Drishti” means vision. In Sanskrit, it means a focused and concentrated gaze. Photography requires both. Here are some life and leadership lessons that pursuit of photography has enriched me with:

1. Photography has shown me that life is more beautiful that we think it is; all you need is to see it through a right set of lens (attitude).

2. If you are intentional, you can notice extra-ordinary elements even in most ordinary things and people.

3. It has taught me the importance of seeing, noticing the details and appreciating the elements may not be visible but can still be felt.

4. Someone said, “To photograph a bird, you need to be a part of the silence.” Photography teaches me to remain silent and immerse myself in the current moment. Only then, the magnificent reveals itself.

5. To get your shots right, you need a lot of patience. If you don’t get the right shot, take another. The key is to keep clicking, trying and looking.

6. Sometimes, even most mundane things can extend some profound perspectives. That noticing and enjoying small things is important.

7. What is within invariably manifests itself through our work. We express ourselves with our work and this is true for photography, writing, leadership and everything else we do.

8. Preparation is the key. You have to keep your batteries charged.

9. Create memories even when moments right now may not seem very significant. But with passage of time, those moments get very precious. Life is in the moments.

10. Photography keeps me hooked to possibility thinking. Everything can be seen in multiple perspectives. There are angles and dimensions to everything, only if we are open enough to explore them and pick the right ones.

11. Getting good shots is as much serendipity as preparation. Plan for things, prepare well but never forget that most good shots have an element of serendipity into it. We need to remain open to unexpected encounters and happy accidents, for they shape a great deal of us.

12. Finally, tools and equipments only enhance the vision and are almost never a substitute of a powerful vision. That intrinsic is more powerful than extrinsic.

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Join in the Conversation: Do you engage in alternative pursuits beyond your core area of work? What do you learn from them?

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Also Recommended: Engaging in Alternative ‘Creative Pursuit’ to Be More Effective

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Usman Riaz and Attitude of Self-Directed Learning

One of the most critical skills for modern day students and professionals is ability to learn beyond the confines of a class room. We are fortunate that so much of profound learning is available for free – why do we not learn then?

There is a saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. One can have presence on all sorts of social media channels but that does not ensure learning. Because learning starts with an intent, an inner force to know more, dig deeper and understand. It expands as we internalize what we learn and then do something about it. Learning is not one-time-4-year-degree-course, but a lifelong commitment. Degree may be a launch pad, but ability to learn beyond the classroom, self-directed effort to learn and do are wings!

Consider the story of 21 years old Usman Riaz, a Pakistani music composer and an ace acoustic guitar player. Usman grew up learning the art of percussive guitar by watching videos on YouTube.

Usman recently played onstage at TEDGlobal 2012 followed by a brilliant solo performance from the master of percussive guitar, Preston Reed. These two guitarists then took on a very spur-of-the-moment improvisation to stamp their mastery.

Watch this demonstration of what wonders self-directed learning can do.

In an interview, Usman Riaz says (emphasis added),

I think my generation is one of the luckiest generations of people because up until the Internet became such an integral part of our lives (for me it was around 7 or 8 ) I had seen how the world functioned without the Internet, which just made me appreciate it even more and not take it for granted.

We have so much knowledge available to us at our fingertips. I try to use it to the best of my ability. I want to get better everyday. You can never stop learning.

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You may also like reading:

  1. Lifelong Learning: Lesson From A Cab Driver

  2. On Personal Mastery and Commitment to Learning

  3. Lifelong Learning – 20 Lessons

Wisdom on Creativity


I recently read a fantastic book titled “Creativity: Unconventional Wisdom from 20 Accomplished Minds” by Herbert M. Meyers and Richard Gerstman. This book features 20 accomplished creative individuals from different walks of life and they narrate their journeys on creative path. Here are some unconventional and thought-provoking insights from the book:

Money and Creativity

I don’t think money stirs creativity. I think if you are naturally creative, you end up doing it because you cannot do anything else. If you think “I want to be famous” or “I want to make a lot of money,” my sense is that you don’t go into most creative jobs. – David Halberstam

Taking Risks

I think to be creative, you have to resist taking the easy path. You have to resist common truths, and you have to take certain risk. Not risk for the sake of taking risk, but risk to delve into territories that are not well traveled. – Daniel Libeskind

Business Creativity

To my mind, a lot of business creativity has to do with visualizing the future that others don’t see. In business, success comes when you see something – you see a pattern, and may be you look at different things that are not completely related – and when you look across those things, you suddenly see a kernel of an idea. And that has the potential of making an impact. – Nandan Nilekani

Surrendering Yourself

…the process of creating the work is a process of discovery, both inner and outer discovery. It cannot be forced and you don’t know where it comes from, but in surrendering yourself to the process, you make discoveries. – Erica Jong

Creativity raises questions

My creations try to be a question, rather than an answer – James Rosenquest

Method of Creativity!

My method is more like golf, which is the only sport where you move from general to specific in an ideal number of discrete, correcting moves. The first stroke is just out there, the second stroke corrects that, and the third corrects that further. – Chuck Close

Essence is in the act

When I attended art class in college we would argue for a whole session over “What is Art?” Someone suggested, “It’s something you do and not something you just talk about. – Chris Bangle

Ultimate Human Creativity

Creativity within an individual can manifest itself in many different ways such as in somebody actually being an amazingly good parent. There’s nothing at the human life level that’s more fundamental than being a fantastic parent. That’s the ultimate – that’s probably the most creative act. – Paul Warwick Thompson

Also Read:

– Posts on “Being Creative” at QAspire Blog