Choose to be Inspired, Deliberately
Inspiration is tricky business at the age of twenty-one, because one has had time to examine and reflect on its often unapparent duality. I can find inspiration in the most unexpected corner of a street in a conversation with the owner of a small business who tells me how he got his start. Daily, I read articles about people who are accomplishing, discovering and creating. Most importantly, the multiplicity of voices of today allows for incredibly diverse sources of inspiration that speak to many different personalities and circumstances, so to find sources of inspiration, one must only observe.
But at what point do sources of inspiration stop being meaningful and turn into clutter, distraction and noise instead? And more dangerously, when is inspiration, which is powerful but not always necessarily underpinned by reason, being manipulated into mindless clicks and endless ideas that sit atop our minds but never actually come to fruition, giving us a false sense that we are moving toward something concrete?
After years of mishandling and misunderstanding its use, I now think of inspiration as energy that should be redirected and channeled to tangible goals. It is not akin to erratic and undisciplined curiosity; it is less like starting a revolution and more like tending a garden, planting seeds that are likely to take root under the right circumstances. It is often the case in history that far-reaching change, although seemingly sudden, can be traced back to pre-existing conditions that facilitated rapid change. Similarly, I try to make a choice to be inspired, but in a way that is sustainable and carefully considered – a way that is primarily visionary, rather than necessarily radical, though the latter also has its use, and the two can obviously powerfully coincide and overlap.
Observation, Connection, Reflection and Dedication
The following are general approaches that I take to feel inspiration that is consistent and reliable:
Observation – Though we primarily tend to strive to highly individualized self-actualization, there is a lot of valuable insight to gain from the study of characters, life trajectories and work habits of people I admire through biographies, published journal entries, interviews, and other sources. At a time when I was interested in improving my writing and critical thinking, for example, the Paris Review interview archives were an excellent resource where I could learn about the creative processes of writers. Keeping notes and making thoughtful analyses and observations can lead to creating an inventory of sources that not only inspire in the general sense, but also suggest which steps need to be taken to move in the right direction. Of course, the challenge is to ultimately chart our own path to our own version of success, and there often is no formula or correct combination of steps.
Connection – Often my biggest sources of inspiration are people I can observe directly, that I know personally or are a part of my local community. For example, I find it especially useful when spending time with close friends to compare how they respond to situations that we experience together by virtue of being at the same place, and understand why they approach the issue as they do and what I can learn from them.
Reflection – Inspiration need not necessarily be external, or directed toward the future. I find that it is sometimes even more important to reflect on what has already been accomplished and how it can grow, and what has gone less than ideally and can be worked on. What was the expected outcome, and how is the actual outcome different? Practicing reflection regularly can lead to the discovery of interesting patterns in our behavior
Exploration – Not everything can fit neatly into the vision for our life project, and not everything should. Studies show that oftentimes boredom and leisure – in other words, unstructured time – breed creativity and interesting ideas.
Dedication – I try to understand the value and necessity of sacrifice often not examined in the condensed versions of stories about success. I want to know what someone lost in the process of achieving a goal, not only because it is humbling, but also because it gives me a more realistic idea of what to expect from my own outcomes. It is also helpful to be aware that sacrifice is a part of the process, so that we do not process it as a sign that we are not on the right path. Rather, it is good to always keep in mind that sacrifices are meant to be made and are a necessary part of moving forward.
Hard Work and Persistence
Finally, it is often the less-than inspired moments of hard work and persistence in spite of momentary lack of inspirational “spark” that could make or break, or at the very least incrementally influence the trajectory of our progress. And while inspiration can be a powerful reminder of why we are on this specific path in the first place, it isn’t always enough to push us past a momentary roadblock because it may be competing with a powerful negative feeling – tiredness, or anger, or any combination of physical and emotional responses to our day to day chaotic, busy lives. Creating resilient support structures and systems that help us direct our behavior efficiently without investing too much energy into recreating the original spark.
What I did not expect years ago is that a lot of what I do now to accomplish goals that I have set out for myself is not so much about listening to my inner voice or tackling problems with relentless independence, but honing my selectivity, and allowing things to impact me as they come, but not all the same time. The spark of inspiration will inevitably come – the trick is to channel it into meaningful ventures when it does.