Guest Entry: Inspiration is Everywhere

This is a guest entry by fellow 9rules member, Dave Seah. We started this entry swapping venture as an exercise in writing outside of our normal styles. It also let us see how differently we would explore a topic that was defined by a single sentence, which was “Inspiration is everywhere”.

I approached Dave because he writes with a deep insight in his words while presenting it with a light candor that draws the reader in. Not only do I admire his writing style and content, I’m envious of his ability to come up with creative, phenomenal ideas. I’m glad that he agreed to participate in this exercise, and leave his words and ideas as part of my personal journey.

You can read my take on the subject at Dave’s site here.

If I were in your shoes and got hit with an happy-sounding phrase like INSPIRATION IS EVERYWHERE, I’d mentally spring into one of three mindsets: 1. Skepticism 2. “Amen, Brother!” or 3. Apathy. I’d also make a few assumptions: that the intention behind such a proclamation was to be inspirational in itself. Furthermore, the meta-assumption is that we’re all looking for it, or need it real bad.

Let’s consider the mindsets I was just talking about:

For skeptics: A phrase like “inspiration is everywhere” doesn’t work on you because you haven’t felt inspired lately, or you know you’re inspired only by very specific things. You may feel, intuitively, that if everything is inspiring, that’s equivalent to saying nothing is. Which isn’t very inspiring…a HA! On the other hand, if you’re not feeling it, there may be some root causes. For example: (1) you’re too tired, (2) you’re too stuck in a rut, or possible (3) you are already sure of the way your life is going. In any case, you can’t allow yourself to be bothered by crazy new-age artsy-fartsy huggy-kissy “make love, not war” sentimentality. There’s work to be done! Inspiration is a luxury for the lazy and the lost. That’s a perfectly fine philosophy of life. People who are so sure can be highly productive, and so I applaud you. Still, it doesn’t exactly help me: I’m still lost!

For the members of the choir: “Inspiration is everywhere” is the phrase by which you live your life, so you’re already singing its praises with me. As my generation’s spiritual leader said best: Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you…me…the tree…the rock…everywhere! Yes, even between this land and that ship! You’ve arrived, somehow, in a special place where you’ve discovered what makes you happy. Or…you’re deluded and crazy, and are livin’ it up. Either way, you’re having a good time, and I’m envious.

For the apathetic: I’m guessing you arrived here through sheer accident, perhaps while googling for Yoda quotes. It was irresponsible for me to quote him so broadly (sorry), but I may have done you a big favor by pulling you here. Browse around, why don’t you? And thank you for reading this far.

I tend to think that when it comes to inspiration, you either feel it, or you don’t. And, we can’t have a good conversation about inspiration being E V E R Y W H E R E unless we have an understanding of the meaning of the phrase. For me, that means transmuting “the simple why” — that we’re all looking for inspiration — into the language of desire: we want to be in motion, doing the things that we like doing, even if we have no idea what the heck they are. Inspiration is about the hope that joy may follow if we act on our instincts.

For me, true inspiration is comprised of two parts: a feeling and a trigger to action. This latter point is critical: it’s one thing to feel inspired, but quite another thing to actually do something about it. As a self-proclaimed “productivity enthusiast”, it’s important for me to see some kind of result from my inspiration, hopefully leading to a state of lasting goodness. Otherwise, inspiration is just another form of escape. Taken in moderation, escapist inspiration feels good, but if you have found your true inspiration and don’t act, it can turn to poison and rot you from the inside out. That empty, hollow feeling will stay with you till the end of your days, until you can fill it with something good.

The second part of inspiration — the trigger — is the impulse that causes you to act. When you’re truly inspired by something awesome, it’s hard to know where to start because it’s so far from where you are right now. In the beginning, you can really just start anywhere. Here’s an exercise that helps you see connections is a way to help you map out your possible starting points:

  1. Grab the first thing that you see on your desk, the weirder the better.
  2. Ask yourself where it’s from and why it exists.
  3. Repeat ad nauseum until you find something that personally relates to you in an important way.

The idea is to get yourself thinking about how things and people connect in ways you’re not used to. A lot of us (me included) wander around not seeing where we are or what we’re doing , because we’re pre-occupied with work and things we are rushing to do. You know, “not stopping to smell the roses”. If you’re not a rose-smeller by nature, the rational approach of asking why until you get back to first principles that can be reduced no further works pretty well. In my experience, a lot of the “first principles” can be explained using something like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; we have fundamental human needs — sustenance, safety, social connection, and self-esteem — that need satisfying. This is what ultimately drives desire, which creates markets to fulfill those desires, by people all acting in their own interests — even charitable ones. The path to finding inspiration is often oblique; by coming at something sideways, or purposefully not looking for something, you can often find something novel and unexpected. The only caveat is that you must be aware as you’re doing this; the exercise I suggested will help you develop some of that awareness.

It just occurred to me that there’s another another group of people other than skeptics and enthusiasts: lapsed inspirationistas who’ve lost the faith. They are the people who love being inspired, but haven’t felt it in a while. There’s something missing, and I think it’s the feeling of connection with something or anything. Again, we come back to fulfillment: you need to connect with yourself, and with other people.

There are also a couple of special situations that prevent you from finding inspiration:

  • You either are not in a place where you can feel inspired, or you are blocked in your efforts to bring the inspiration to some kind of fruition. The key is to first have faith that you can change your situation, and then do what you need to do to make it happen. If you’ve tried this several times already, or have seen people try and fail dismally, this may be why you’re a skeptic. If you are utterly happy with being skeptical about such things, I’m not going to tell you to change. However, if you aren’t particularly happy about things, your skepticism is just a way of coping with your own inaction. It is potentially toxic.

  • It is possible that you are mistaking “inspiration” with “not being bored”. If you’re bored all the time, the best thing I’ve found to do is to get out of the old routine and try something — anything! — new. You will be exposed to other people are doing different things, and that’s a shortcut to finding new experiences. It’s amazing just how ripe with information people are, if you can find some way of asking about them. One thing I’ve taken to doing is asking what some people have been doing for fun lately, by way of looking for something new to try. People are often quite willing to tell you (hint: ask people who are in a good mood, not neutral or angry, unless you like being scowled at :-)

If you’ve resolved all the caveats I’ve described to this point, I suspect you may have found what really matters to you, and you’re ready to see inspiration frickin’ everywhere. My theory, which I am still testing, is this:

To really be able to see inspiration everywhere, you will need to learn to see the world through your own personal lens, one that frames everything in terms of what’s important to you.

It sounds selfish — and it is! In a good way! GOOD FOR YOU! There is no escaping yourself, so you might as well embrace it. Even things that don’t fit in your “picture of the world” can be seen as examples of what NOT to be doing…that saves you time! It’s fun, and even potentially profitable, once you can get in alignment with a few things that really get you inspired, constantly and continuously. Always in motion is the future, and that’s how we can be as well. The more we follow this, the greater the likelihood that we’ll find what we’re all looking for: Inspiration, in everything we do.

—Dave Seah


David Seah is an investigative designer, a productivity enthusiast, a writer, a developer, and all round nice guy based in the Boston / Southern New Hampshire area.

7 comments

  1. Dave & Jeff, Jeff & Dave, good job fellas. I enjoyed both perspectives. Fine writing and some good thoughts to boot.

  2. I like that I’m a “Special Situation.”

  3. Like the look at meta-assumptions. True enough, one is most motivated and energized when being “in it for #1”. It’s got an element like baseball. You have position yourself with alert mental agility, waiting expectation that you will catch inspiration even if it hasn’t happened yet.

    It’s not there all the time but when when it comes into your area of outfield, you’ve got to call it and run for it. It doesn’t always fall in your glove and you don’t have to change sport to get it.

  4. @Davey — Thanks! It was a fun exercise to see how we would approach the subject without any rules or guidelines.

    @xibee — Did the article help then?

    @Pearl — Hahahh…I never would have seen baseball as an analogy, but I think you’re right. For some players, it must be 10 minutes of waiting for 30 seconds of excitement. But in the proper circumstances, the excitement, the inspiration, is worth it.

  5. wellllllllll… firstly I’m an avowed goth grump; but also my situation is pretty unreconcilable with inspirational things currently. I’m holding on till it can change. Confident It will.

  6. oh gawd, does that mean I’m optimistic?.

  7. I think the key word is “currently”. As long as you know that it isn’t a permanent, then everything will be okay. And yes, that does make you optimistic. :)

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