As a writer, reading the work of journalist and author David Brooks of the New York Times always wakes up my brain. Here’s his take on inspiration: "It's a much-used, domesticated, amorphous, and secular word for what is actually a revolutionary, countercultural, and spiritual phenomenon."
I love that, but let’s get grounded here. What exactly is inspiration? The very sound of the
word makes me perk up my ears, listening for a whisper of something remarkable (maybe a great story idea?). How does inspiration serve us, and equally important, how does it find us?
An article titled “Why Inspiration Matters” in the Harvard Business Review says, “Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations. Recent research shows inspiration can be activated, captured, and manipulated, and it has a major effect on important life outcomes.”
Talk about potent: Inspiration is a magic elixir that can enhance one’s sense of well-being, stimulate creativity, motivate people to achieve their goals, and even heighten leadership mojo.
Psychologists Todd Thrash and Elliott developed a tool called the “Inspiration Scale.” It measures how often people experience inspiration in their daily lives. As it turns out, inspired people are more open to new experiences and more absorbed in their tasks. "Openness to experience" often came before inspiration, suggesting that those who are more open to inspiration are more likely to experience it. Also, according to the Harvard Business Review article, inspired individuals weren’t more conscientious, supporting the view that inspiration is something that happens to you and is not willed.
An assertion from Thrash and Elliot: “Inspiration involves both being inspired by something and acting on that inspiration.” I’m no expert, but I don’t completely agree with that assessment. Sometimes, the gift of inspiration is simply the power to transport us to a higher ground where our imaginations can play and our spirits are unleashed —both personally and professionally.
Here’s how several individuals I admire encounter inspiration:
1. Mary Jane Alagheband, Coyne Insurace Representative, Evanston, IL:
"What really moves me are the clients that appreciate that I can help them. Insurance doesn’t bring the same excitement as buying a new pair of shoes, but I have clients that appreciate that I care. I work with a young couple that flips homes. They could really go anywhere and get insurance. I explain what they need and help them decipher what is being requested of them. That is what gets me through those days that are just like, "Are you kidding me . . . it is only Monday?"
2. Colin Bartlett, middle school teacher, Chicago (Full disclosure: Colin is my son.):
"I receive inspiration from my students, my fellow teachers, and from a variety of education-related resources I encounter online. Sometimes a student will say he’d like to do a certain activity or project, and I'll think to myself, 'Hey, that really is a good idea.' Oftentimes, when I am developing lesson plans, I research the topic about which I'm planning and just by learning more about the subject, an idea for how to teach it arises.
"As far as what inspires me to simply do the work, regardless of activity, self-help books (as cliche as that may sound) really do help. When I read 10 pages of a book like Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and hear about athletes, scientists, etc. giving it 110 percent, it charges my battery, and makes me want to be productive as well."
3. Helene Bergman, retired entrepreneur, Blue Bell, PA:
"Dog sports became my retirement passion, and it happened quite by accident. I acquired a puppy, simply as a companion and a pet. She had other ideas. This incredibly talented and driven young dog needed a job and led me into a world that I didn’t know existed. We travelled extensively, training and entering American Kennel Club events. Each of her successes — and there were many—inspired me to learn more and train smarter and to try to live up to her potential. When I lost her, training was put on the back shelf. While I loved my younger dog, she simply couldn’t measure up. My passion was gone. Or so I thought. I pushed through with training once or twice a month. Then, during a recent session, Tessa showed brilliance and comprehension of a particularly challenging concept. That small success changed everything. Once again I’m gung ho. I’m back to studying, diagramming, and analyzing training sessions. I wake up thinking about what we will do that day and how I can best help her learn. Success is the elixir that inspires me to achieve more."
4. Katie Brown, regional vice president, Arbonne International, Northbrook, IL (More full disclosure: Katie is my daughter.):
“First, I am inspired by podcasts on a variety of topics, primarily relationships, personal growth, and entrepreneurship. Some favorites include “Unlocking Us” and “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown and “We Can Do Hard Things" by Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach.
“Second, on social media, I follow positive, inspirational people who are somewhat “aspirational” (further along in the journey of business/motherhood/fitness than me) but also relatable.
“Third, a few of the books I like in the area of personal growth are those by John Maxwell (The Miracle Morning) Mel Robbins (The Five Second Rule), and Brendan Bouchard (High Performance Habits).
“Fourth, I am inspired by taking direct coaching from business mentors and following their advice. I see what they’ve achieved, and if am I open to what they suggest, I do the same.
"And last, my parents — for real. In different ways, my Mom and Dad have taught me these essential lessons: (1) Working hard pays off. (2) Helping others is the most important thing. (3) You only get what you go after.”
5. Kim Downey, owner, Lake Life Feng Shui, Winnetka, IL:
"I am inspired by my coaching circle with Sarah Centrella and the women who are a part of it, women who show up for the calls even when it is late at night in their countries. Sarah’s book, Hustle Believe Receive, is one I return to often to inspire myself when I need to push through to reach a new level. I also am inspired by the members of Women Belong, a membership organization that connects a diverse group of working women at all stages and levels of their careers.
"Another book I go to often is Simple Abundance, 365 Days To A Balanced Life by Sarah Ban Breathnach. I love the quotes, especially this one: “There is nothing more powerful or radical or stunningly beautiful than a women who chooses to rebuild her life day after day after day. No matter how many pieces there are to pick up, or how many mistakes she must spin into gold.”
Last, I’ll finish with my own ways of encountering the muse. As a writer (betsystormwriter.com), it’s no surprise that I find meaningful motivation from the written word in all its forms. These three quotes resonate.
1. “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” — Jack London 2. “Wake up determined, go to bed satisfied.” — Actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson 3. “Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” — Author Elizabeth Gilbert
The books that beckon me often do so with spiritual and personal growth themes, especially: The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav.
Switching to poetry, you can’t top 13th-Century Persian poet, Rumi, and American master Mary Oliver. Rumi knocks me out every time with lines like this: “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground; there are a thousand ways to go home again.” And these words from Oliver’s “Summer Day” are treasured by many: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your own wild and precious life?”
To close, I hope that your sources of inspiration keep you poised to achieve new goals.