Inspiration might seem like an odd topic for people who aspire to be better leaders. In my work as a pastor, “inspiration” is a word typically reserved for the Bible. To say that the Bible is inspired by God is to say that God influenced the writers of the Bible in such a way that the Bible itself is breathed by God and can be accurately said to come from God. I’m using “inspiration” here in the context of leadership to talk about a sense of purpose, a sense that you are almost being pushed by some other force and that you are up to something that matters.
Inspiration and aspiration
There’s a difference between inspiration and aspiration. Inspiration means something that has compelled action or change. Aspiration means a desire to reach a goal someday. A lot of folks have aspirations. But when you meet an inspired leader, it’s something special.
Bobby Knight said something that I’ll paraphrase here in my own language. “Everybody wants to win, only a few want to win so bad they’re willing to practice.” Many want to be a SEAL but few are willing to kick in the surf for hours at a time day after day. Planning and effort and character are often the difference between an aspiration that dies in gestation and an inspiration that leads to success.
Change is hard. Risk is scary. Work is work. Inspiration leads to facing all these things. Aspiration ignores it all and still holds out hope goals will be accomplished.
Inspiration and perspiration
Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” This right here is the difference between aspiration and inspiration. Aspiration is a wish. Inspiration leads to perspiration. It’s the wind that helps the sails carry the boat through the storms, even when there are significant challenges and dangers.
The whole point of being inspired is that you are inspired to feel something or to do something. If you are inspired, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will succeed but it does mean you will try. Sometimes the difference between aspiration and inspiration is sweat equity. It is showing up to practice week after week. Or writing that book chapter by chapter. Building that business day after day.
Or it is just a dogged unwillingness to quit. According to Edison (quoted above), he failed thousands of times before he successfully invented the light bulb. Sometimes I wonder if we have just never been taught to want something bad enough in life to work for it. Maybe we have sent or received the message that we deserve success and ought to be crowned just for showing up. Sometimes in the real world success is like a pickle jar you have to crank on ten times before it finally opens.
Inspiration and contagion
I said earlier that it’s a special thing when you find a leader who is inspired. When all the aspirations have died, the inspired are still chugging. A dirty little secret of leadership is that inspired leaders inspire others. It’s actually more of an open secret, not hidden from view but often disregarded. Inspiration is contagious. People find inspiration in an inspired leader.
It’s easy to get jealous of a leader who inspires people. When you see the contagious nature of inspiration, you might look at that leader and wish you were more like them. The way to be an inspiring leader is not to mimic another inspiring person. If you want to inspire others, you have to find your inspiration first. Where is your passion? Where is your purpose? What vision compels you to action? What cause is worth suffering for? What goal pulls you to feel and to act?
Finding your inspiration
Doesn’t this start to get to the core of things? I don’t know how you will find your inspiration. Everyone’s story is different and everyone’s story is the same. What I do know is that you’re not likely to find your inspiration by holding on to aspirations. If your goals don’t lead to intense feelings or any action, keep looking. Find a place to serve. A way to make a difference. Desire inspiration strongly enough that you not only aspire to have it but are inspired to look for it until you find it.
Everyone has 24 hours a day. We all have 7 days a week. Why do some people make more of a difference than others? What would it take to be a part of shaping the community? How could a person start an influential organization or an amazing business? Look for your inspiration. Or discover it right in your own history. I have a feeling you’ll know it when you see it.
I’d love to hear from you about what motivates you to action in your life and work. Check out Wymer.com anytime or send me an email about what you’re discovering for yourself. Life’s too short to settle for aspirations.