Looking for inspiration? Sharpen your tools
This made me think. What is inspiration? Can one simply “be” inspiring? How can you decide if somebody is inspiring or not? How could I be inspiring or provide inspiration to the people who were going to take the time to come to listen to me?
I put a lot of thought into each event that I do and on reflection, I realised that to me inspiration doesn’t come from the outside. You can’t inspire someone unless they want to be inspired. And “inspiration” in the abstract isn’t much help. You need to be inspired to do something in particular.
But if I didn’t believe inspiration was an external influence, then how come I myself was inspired? Where did my own inspiration come from?
It turns out that there was a reason I was asked to be inspiring. I realized I know how to create my own inspiration. I have been lucky that my life experiences and the people I have met have taught me how to inspire myself.
Let me share my inspiration toolbox with you.
Inspiration is perhaps a feeling you’d like to get more of in your life. It’s a little like motivation, but it’s rather the lofty ideals and dreams that create or facilitate (or inspire!) motivation. Perhaps you’re wondering where you are going, whether you have a direction or not. Perhaps you wonder whether this is all there is to life, and you wish it would be a little less routine, a little less drab.
Inspiration – now that would be nice. What would inspiration feel like? Perhaps you would feel excited in the morning, bounding out of bed to seize the day. Perhaps inspiration would mean that you are rising up to a challenge, that you are taking on a big goal, that some bigger vision is making you excited, and perhaps not a little nervous!
Here is how I create that feeling for myself:
An image of your ideal future
What are the elements that you can already have? What, in your future vision, can you achieve right now? What doesn’t need to wait?
First, you need an image of your ideal future. For me, this means a fantasy world map with many lines going from Ireland to other countries, like the route lines you see in airline magazines, representing all the airline’s destinations – this is my growing international business. I can see myself heading a board meeting about our expansion strategy.
This vision was instrumental in my decision to start exporting, and in taking the first step of going to Malta. But to go back to the very beginning, there was a time when I didn’t even have an office, let alone a reason to bring a business suit when packing for a flight. (Note: I’m writing this as I’m sitting in Dublin airport waiting for the gate to open for the first “red-eye” flight leaving this morning! See, this toolbox does produce results!). And still, even then, I thought: “What elements of this dream vision don’t need to wait? What can I have, do or be, right now? What is achievable today with what I already have?”
Among several things, a key development was a weekly board meeting with my business partner to develop and execute an internationalization strategy. Stripped bare, a board meeting is an important business meeting, in which you discuss your business’s strategy and what next steps you are going to take.
So every Friday evening, I go to a restaurant with my partner, and we discuss our strategy in great detail. To have a board meeting, you don’t need leather armchairs, wood panelling on the walls and several non-executive directors. You just need somebody to meet with, something to discuss – and remember to put some action behind the ideas fleshed out!
So indulge in your dream vision, and then ask yourself: “What element of this dream doesn’t need to wait until the dream itself comes true?”
Take yourself seriously
My board meetings are the source of some hilarity for the people who know me and my business partner. Yes, sure, two people going for dinner on a Friday evening. Why not give it the fancy name of a “board meeting”? Why not make it sound much bigger than it actually is? Surely these things are only for large companies with “serious” issues to talk about.
Well, if you sat through one with me, you would see that I am dead serious about them. No small talk, no chitchat (well at least not for a while!). Spreadsheets and “next actions” lists. Have we done this week what we agreed last week would be complete by now? If not, why not? Where are our KPIs at? What is the next stage of our internationalization strategy?
Education will inspire you
It will expand your horizon, give you another perspective, and arm you to surpass yourself, to achieve things that you never thought were possible. Deciding that you would like to improve your skillset, recognizing that you don’t know everything and that you have much to learn is hugely positive: it means you won’t remain stuck in a rut. As Chester Barnard said ‘It is what we think we know that keeps us from learning.’
I always make the time to attend courses for the company’s, as well as my own, development. I’m always on the lookout for sessions on the Chamber of Commerce’s and Enterprise Ireland’s websites to see when their next course starts, and if I can attend it.
There are lots of subsidized training provided by Skillnets. If this is intimidating, or you don’t quite know where to start yet, begin with a totally anonymous and non-invasive source of education: the Internet. You will find videos about learning anything under the sun on YouTube. And remember, “GIYF” (“Google Is Your Friend”).
Help and ask for help
Self-made people are rarely that: this is a dangerous myth if you take it too literally. Have you noticed how, when people accept entrepreneurship, sporting or artistic awards, they thank a list of people the length of your arm, just so they don’t leave anybody out? More than likely, they are sincerely grateful for the opportunities others have given them.
So make up your own Oscars speech: who will you ask for help, so that you can thank them publicly when you are wildly successful? Getting help, whether from friends, mentors or from paid helpers, can speed up your process no end. A knowledgeable tip can save you years of hard work and thousands of euros.
And then, pay it forward. For the sole reason that you are alive, you have amassed a wealth of experience that you might be underestimating, but that would be a huge help to somebody else.
Perhaps they are going through a difficult phase that you yourself went through, and they have no idea how to handle it. Reach out and let them benefit from your hard-earned wisdom. They will be grateful to find some guidance, and you will have that wonderful warm feeling of having been of help.
Before you think you don’t have anything to offer and you couldn’t help anyone, remember that in a lot of cases, just listening quietly and compassionately to somebody venting their troubles, without judging them, is a rare and precious gift to give someone.
There is bad fear, and there is also good fear
Fear is not good if it is debilitating to the point that you can’t move forward. Although you know what you should be doing, you are paralysed and can’t take the smallest step. Now would be a good time to ask for help (see above!). There is no shame, and much maturity, in recognising that something is too much for you to handle. If something scares you to the point of paralysis, you don’t have to face it now, or to face it alone.
On the other hand, there is a different kind of fear, one that is exhilarating and spurs you on. You are nervous but at the same time you are thinking “Bring it on!” This is the good kind of fear, the one that tells you you are expanding your comfort zone and boldly going after your goals.
The fear is there because there is a probability that you might fail, or that even if you do succeed, it’s a step into the wild unknown – after all, nobody can predict the future and if you’ve never done something before you can’t tell how it’s going to turn out. This fear is great, because it means you know the risks, but you are ready to at least fail trying, rather than not try at all. It grows you, so go for it!
It’s ok to want what you want
If you read, hear about or meet somebody inspirational and you find yourself saying “I could never be like them”, ask yourself the question – do I have twenty four hours in the day like them? If so, what exactly is it that I don’t have, and that they do?
Remember that according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everybody is born free and equal”. All that separates you from them is that you haven’t done it yet and you need to figure out a way of getting there… and then take action. Implement the next step of the journey.
Don’t think that, if you take a bigger slice of the pie, there will be less for others. No, by going after what you want, you are in fact making the pie bigger, showing others that it can be done.
And in going after a bigger pie, you will need help (see above!) – remember, it’s team work. Your going after bigger and better things means those around you get to go there, too. The rising tide lifts all boats.
It’s essential to take care of yourself
We have so many roles to fill, we can be a wife, a husband, partner, a son or daughter, a sister or a brother, a parent, a friend, a colleague. Are you running on empty? Are your supplies of generosity and productivity depleted, because you are always giving, and never allowing yourself to receive?
Once again, ask for help: with your career workload, the housework, direction, emotional support – with anything. Empower others to help you. Don’t grumble continuously that others are ungrateful – very often it might be the case that you don’t let yourself be helped.
Let yourself be taken care of sometimes, become better at asking for what you need, as soon as you need it. And become better at giving yourself what you need: don’t forget to celebrate your successes.
This is how you can inspire yourself. Build your toolbox, and share it with others – we all need a pep talk from time to time. Now go and do great things!
Are you on the list?