Inventor Thomas Edison is credited with the aphorism: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
While that may be true, it’s that one percent that sparks the whole process in the first place. There are times in everyone’s life where we “just don’t feel it.” Nothing seems to create the spark, and days roll by of the same old, same old. But here’s a tip that Edison didn’t include: Inspiration isn’t always a bolt from the blue. Sometimes you have to go after it, seek it out. Sometimes, it’s that very “perspiration” that ol’ Tom referred to that causes the spark to flame into life.
So where do you find inspiration? The answer to that question is as diverse as humanity. Yet there are obvious places to start. For example, think back. What did you really love to do as a child? Was it sitting in the backyard and drawing, from life or from your imagination? Was it building a treehouse with your friends and then making up stories about your “fort?” Was it the thrill of skateboarding as fast as you could, jumping on and off and feeling an adrenaline rush?
As adults, many of us believe we can’t love those things anymore. The pressures of work and family may seem to preclude taking the time to “indulge” in activities for pure pleasure. But cutting yourself off from what you love doesn’t make you mature—it just makes you feel deprived and maybe even depressed.
So let’s take the three things mentioned above: You loved drawing…so how about getting one of the adult coloring books that are everywhere right now and spending a little time remembering what fun it is to color the sky turquoise, if you feel like it. You loved your treehouse…how about redoing a garage, a room or even just a section of a room as your “playhouse” where you can build a catio for your cat, a model truck for your child, or a “my favorite books” bookshelf for you? You loved skateboarding…so how about buying some inline skates (and a helmet!) and finding a place to glide for a while? Any or all of these things can inspire you with more enthusiasm, not just for that activity, but for the rest of your day.
Another obvious source of inspiration: Causes, or, perhaps putting it a better way, things bigger than yourself. Everyone feels passionate about something, and in certain people’s cases, a lot of things. Rather than feeling overwhelmed, which is easy to do in a world that needs so much help in so many places, pick one. And then find a way to get personally involved. Being a “clicktivist” isn’t nearly as inspiring as getting hands-on with something you really care about.
Is it the environment? Almost every city, town, and even rural area has clean-up projects you can participate in. Ask your boss if you can start a recycling project at your job. Be the first person in your neighborhood to create a drought-tolerant front-of-house landscape.
Is it helping your community? A multitude of programs exist that build homes for people, run foodbanks for families who need them, offer after-school tutoring for kids trying to catch up in school. A few volunteer hours can make a big difference for a lot of people—and you’ll be inspired you were able to help.
Is it animals? Shelters everywhere need people to walk dogs, play with cats or even donate a few hours of bookkeeping. If you live in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets, this is a way to be with animals, truly one of the best sources of unconditional love. Their example is an inspiration to us all.
These are just a few suggestions; the list goes on and on. Becoming a part of something bigger than yourself is one of the very best ways to become inspired about your life.
Looking Up To Someone
There’s a very good reason why successful people are often asked who inspired them. Whether it was a family member, a teacher, or a person from the news or history, those iconic figures continue to be a source of inspiration—often because they too, have had to overcome obstacles.
Was your grandfather, like mine, a pillar of honesty and hard work? Then you know he faced challenges and overcame them without sacrificing his integrity. You face challenges, too—let him be your inspiration in how you handle them.
Was your grandmother, like mine, an amazing natural storyteller? Then unlock the storyteller inside you, whether it’s making up a bedtime story for your child or starting to scribble down some of those ideas that keep poking into your dreams (a dream journal, kept by your bed, is a wonderful way not to lose some of those “crazy” inspirations).
Did you have a teacher somewhere along the way who really stood out as an inspiration? Listen to famous people talk about this—they almost all have at least one teacher who believed in and encouraged them. Who was that person for you? Have you forgotten what they said and why they said it? Bring their words back, try to live up to them—and try to be that teacher in someone else’s life.
Perhaps there’s someone, living or dead, who accomplished things in their life you admire. OK, so you aren’t Abraham Lincoln, or Marie Curie, or the Dalai Lama, or Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. Scientists use the term “the butterfly effect.” It’s explained this way: “The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly's wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in another location. The butterfly does not power or directly create the tornado, but the term is intended to imply that the flap of the butterfly's wings can cause the tornado…Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different.”
The point here being that even if you aren’t Lincoln or Curie, who’s to say you can’t be a pair of butterfly wings? Your “small” contribution, in whatever form it takes, can have consequences you can’t imagine. Use the person who inspires you to “be the change you want to see in the world,” as Mahatma Gandhi said.
The main reason so many people fail in their well-meant New Year’s resolutions is that they try to take on too much. They’re too hard on themselves when they can’t accomplish “Lose 30 pounds this year,” “Learn to speak French” or “Write the Great American Novel.”
It’s wonderful—and inspiring—to have goals. But try setting the goal line a little closer and see how good you feel when you’re able to make progress toward it. How about “Lose five pounds this year and take better care of my skin.” Those are two small goals that are achievable. Reward yourself with a day at the spa or some new skincare products when you get there.
How about “I will learn one new French word a day”? After a couple of weeks, use the internet to frame them in a sentence. Reward yourself with a glass of champagne!
How about taking Hemingway’s advice on writing to heart? Write 100 words a day. That’s only a couple of paragraphs! Staring at the blank page, even on a computer, is intimidating…but just aim for those 100 words. They start to add up fast! And how about aiming for a short story, as opposed to a novel? Reward yourself with time to read that new book by your favorite author.
Creativity, in whatever form it takes, is life changing and life inspiring. There is no such thing as someone who isn’t creative; but there are people who just don’t give themselves credit for their special forms of creativity. Give yourself that credit. Be your own source of inspiration, and in being, the butterfly flaps its wings…again.