I've been thinking quite a bit about inspirations lately: what inspires me, why, and about why people are inspired in general. I've come to the conclusion that inspiration and passion are very closely related, because most people tend to be inspired by things that spur them to pursue their passions in some way. This is readily evident in my own children: Kai is inspired by Naruto because it validates and supports is passion for Karate, and Kade is inspired by musicians and artists because they show him it's okay to pursue his passion for creating.
Inspiration is not to be confused with motivation or incentive. For example, I am motivated to go to work so I can make money to support my family - a noble cause, but a motivation, not an inspiration. I am incented to eat well so I can be healthy and live longer, but I am not inspired to do so. For me personally, I tend to be inspired by people who follow their hearts and who will break down any wall to improve their own lives. Simply put, this is because that spirit embodies who I wish to be myself - someone who will follow their passion well past the edge of what most people would consider wise or prudent, all in an effort to achieve maximum peace and happiness for me and my family. I've met a number of inspiring people in my life, but there are two who have stood out to me in the past year. I'll call them Sally and Tom.
The Story of Sally
Sally was working at my company as a temp employee, and applied for a permanent job with us. As part of the application process, she had to fill out a background check form, but we noticed some irregularities in her education between the form and her application. When we dug in a bit deeper, she was unable to explain the irregularities, which meant that either the background form or the application had been falsified, so we did not select her for the role. A few days later, she was sitting in my office as I came in to work, with a pile of pictures and a scrapbook. She started out by telling me a bit of her background, about her dreams, about her family. She showed me pictures of herself as a 15 year old pregnant girl who attended more high schools than she could count, due to circumstances that most of us could not imagine. She told me how she had overcome that background and contributed positively to her family and the community. She apologized for what she wrote on the application, and explained why she wrote what she did. We spent an hour together, and I remember thinking how remarkable her approach was: open, candid, and direct. I also thought about how much she had overcome and accomplished, and it left me awestruck. I reversed my decision on the spot and gave her the job. She inspired me to remember that we all have backgrounds that we would love to escape, and that somewhere along the way someone had faith in us and believed we were capable of more and deserving of a chance to be more.
Before I went to grad school, I taught at an inner-city charter school for at-risk kids who had been kicked out of public schools. Whenever we got a new group of students, I would tell them this true story:
When I was in high school, I was a drug dealer and addict; I was suspended a number of times; I failed to graduate with my class, and eventually escaped with a 1.7 GPA and 75+ detentions on my record. When I got out, I did no better for 6 or 7 years, hopping from state to state and holding (or losing) more than 70 jobs, losing hope at each step along the way. By every possible definition, I was not a success and was incapable of becoming a success. And now, I'm in a much different place. I could have let those numbers define me and control the rest of my life, but I didn't; I accepted responsibility for making the mess of my life that I had, and then let myself off the hook and strove to create a new story of my life that I would be proud to tell forever. You all have the same opportunity, if only someone can give you a hand and show you how. That's what we're here for; the time is now.
I am grateful to Sally for taking the time to remind me of this lesson.
The Story of Tom
Tom and I have spent time together, but we don't know each other deeply. I've always admired Tom as a wonderful dad and husband; he seems to carry himself with a natural humility and grace, but truly connects with his family and is always present and engaged. A few months ago, Tom listened to his heart, which was tugging on him to pursue a completely different career. That tug happens to all of us from time to time, when we haul ourselves to work in a job that seems dull and ask "What the hell am I doing with my life?" Unlike most of us, Tom had the courage to listen to that tug, be okay with it, and act on it. He has a clear vision of what his passion is and how to pursue it, and so he has dropped down to working part-time and pursuing a rigorous education that will set him up for a career that he is passionate about. There is nothing easy about that choice: income is reduced, the workload increases, the level of ambiguity skyrockets, and your limited "personal time" decreases to zero. However, I get the sense that Tom never really viewed it as a choice, with costs and benefits on either side. I get the sense that he viewed it as a requirement to his own happiness, as a good example to set for his children, and as a path to his own completeness. He was able to trust that it would be okay, despite the risks, and that he and his family would learn and grow from this journey and the journeys to come. That dogged pursuit of what is right for him is certainly an inspiration, and a great reminder that pursuit of passions is a fundamental need and right for all of us.
But What Does it Mean?
That all leaves me wondering if the world wouldn't be a better place if we were able to be inspired more often. It's hard; we do tend to get jaded by negative experience, and misdirected by false positive experience. And we do tend to distance ourselves from our hearts and our passions, for a variety of reasons. But if we could find our centers and open our eyes, I bet we'd see things that most people take for granted, but that for us as extraordinary sources of inspiration. Hope you can all take the time to do just that.