Inspiration has traditionally been discussed as a passive factor beyond our control. Something which comes to us from an otherworldly, external source and settles into us when we are ready. When we are worthy.
In many ways we have been encouraged to stop trying so hard to wrangle it and wrestle it into submission. Inspiration is not ours to own. It is something which a select few are privy to. And these select few are the artists, the thinkers, the philosophers. It is their job to inspire through their work. Should the remaining masses want to inspire, they have been encouraged to do so through their actions/deeds, setting a good example for others to follow (this is often aligned with a particular religious or spiritual dogma).So, a few people can be privy to inspiration. The remaining can act as we have been told in hopes it will “inspire” others to also act in a similar way.
*Sigh*. If you have read here for even just a short while it should come as no surprise that I really dislike this line of thinking.
To me, this conceptualization of inspiration comes from an allegiance to the notion of scarcity.
It comes from the belief that the world is a place of dearth, that there will never be enough of anything to go around, and that most individuals (save for a privileged few) will never have enough inherent within them to access true inspiration (not dogmatic doctrine masked beneath the guise of inspiration) and share it with others.
I want to debunk this traditionally passive and privileged notion of inspiration. I want to assert that inspiration is intimately connected to creativity. It is an active force accessible to anyone willing put in the work required to attain it.
Yes. You must do the work–when it’s easy, when it’s hard, when it’s a struggle, or is a mess.
If you do this, eventually inspiration will descend, an idea will take root, and the work will take flight. But that ONLY happens when you put your nose to the grindstone. It only happens if you are continually curious and open to the help, advice, and inspiration of others.
Mihaly Csikszentmichalyi, father of the notion of Flow, writes in his book Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention:
“An idea or product that deserves the label “creative” [or “inspired”] arises from the synergy of many sources and not only from the mind of a single person… A genuinely creative accomplishment is almost never the result of a sudden insight, a lightbulb flashing on in the dark, but comes after years of hard work.”
To truly believe that sitting around and hoping that inspiration will descend from the heavens is hopeless; waiting for that good idea will simply leave you waiting a very long time.
Walking toward inspiration can sometimes feel like we are walking through a swamp. It is hard work but it is the only way you’ll get close to the thing. The process is like working a muscle. We have to flex and work our inspiration muscles everyday so that when the right circumstances arise, we are open and ready to grab it and run with it. For me, this means working through the assignments and tasks that I am not as excited about or interested in, but also actively seeking and creating tasks for myself that I am excited about. This helps me to prevent myself from getting stagnant or allowing my energy and excitement ready from waning.
I have found to occasionally stumble upon inspiration, I need to continually challenge myself to find the specific areas of research and study that I am personally interested and pursuing them. This can be hard, especially in grad school or in a hierarchical organization, but it is possible if you are willing to continually ask questions and be curious.
It is possible if we are curious not only about the world around us, but also about our own potential. This means pushing ourselves to new places and trusting in our potential.
We can do whatever it is we set out to do, as long as we approach it with an open mind, with a sense of curiosity, if we are not afraid to ask for help when we need it. It is also vital, in my experience, to strive to eliminate attachment to the outcome and, rather, invest ourselves more in the process.
And to me, this makes the practice and process of inspiration and creativity sustainable. I went into academia because it gave me the opportunity to pursue my interests, and be curious about how things work and operate. How I work and operate. I get to learn and grow on a daily basis and I get to make a career out of this. I am really lucky.
I am finding it is easy to lose sight of this at times. It is easy to get lost in the swamp-land of deadlines and expectations and forget that it is our right to live our lives anyway we want. I have to remind myself sometimes that we have a fundamental right to exercise our curiosity and be open to inspiration in any way which seems authentic to us. It many ways, it is our responsibility.
We have a responsibility to ourselves and to those in the future to be as authentic and curious as we can be.
And this responsibility affords an awesome opportunity to begin to shape our lives, our careers, our professional fields in a way which is aligned with values and interests. So what if no one else approves of what you do? What if no one likes it? If you do the work well, with a sense of integrity, it doesn’t matter because you have done it in a creative and inspired way and this makes it invincible to judgment, by yourself or others. And doing work in this way is exciting because it is from this place which others can be truly inspired.
I am so excited for the next generation of academics because I see us in a unique position to begin to move our fields toward a place where we are encouraged to pursue our passions and interests in a creative way, rather than in a way which simply supports the system that is in place. We have the opportunity to shape our fields and careers in a sustainable way. In a way which we can be excited to go to work on most days. In a way which we can live our careers out in an authentic and inspired way.
So this week, I hope you have the opportunity to work hard, be curious, be creative, and maybe wrap it up with a little inspiration 🙂