J.K. Rowling took inspiration from her experiences to create the Harry Potter universe. Hearing “no” from so many publishers inspired her to keep going until she got to “yes”. Amelia Earhart was inspired by another aviation pioneer, Anita Snook. Tory Burch’s designs are often inspired by black and white photographs from her family. Marie Van Brittan Brown was inspired to invent a new type of security system because the crime rate in her neighborhood was increasing.
Inspiration matters. It stimulates in us a profound sense of creativity and positivity that ultimately opens our minds to new possibilities.
As I was writing this article, I asked my children, husband, friends, clients and colleagues what inspires them? Their answers are quite telling: A history teacher lecturing with incredible vividness and flair inspired a newfound love of the subject for my son. A coach’s optimism and praise inspired my daughter to play ice hockey at a higher level. Clients have been inspired by charismatic business leaders and mentors who lead by example and courageously persevere through hard times. Listening to classical music inspires my husband to be mindful and present with his team. Even a character in a book, or a beautiful mountain-top vista can serve as inspiration. In each of these instances, the person, action, or thing is inspirational because it resonates with us in a way that makes us want to do better, be better, and exceed our perceived personal limitations.
In essence, inspiration is the ultimate self-motivator.
No one can force us to feel inspired. It has to come from within. But once we feel it, it propels us in a direction we may not have known we could or needed to take. As impact-driven women we are used to thinking about being propelled forward. Sometimes, though, like when we look out at the vastness of the ocean, we are inspired to slow down, to take a breath (or two!) and re-set ourselves.
Yet, inspiration doesn’t just “happen”. Instead, we have to be ready to be inspired – that means being open to new, broader possibilities, without judgement or criticism. We have to believe that while our personal status quo may be ok, there might be something more that will enhance it, improve it, or make it more meaningful.
In his 2014 article, The Psychology of Inspiration, Chris Johnstone writes, “Inspiring examples … provide a new reference point that ups our bar when considering what we might do. As we learn by watching others, one of the biggest influences on human behavior is what we see other people do.”
Personally, I am constantly seeking inspiration and cherish the ability to inspire others. Six years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Up until that time, my children and husband had always relied on me to “be there” for them – and I was. In fact, I came to realize I have always been on the giving side of help to everyone around me. Yet in the blink of an eye, I found myself needing someone, something to help inspire me to stay positive through the upcoming operations and subsequent healing process. I found it when I became willing to learn to ask for help. Suddenly, friends, mentors, and indeed, my husband and children were on hand with more gestures of kindness and goodwill than I could have imagined. They came by with books and cards filled with words of encouragement; they sat with me and told stories as we laughed and cried together. However, I was most inspired by the time they took out of their busy days to be present with me. Without knowing it, my community set an example that reiterated in me the notion that anything is possible when we put our minds to it. That became the motivation that kept me going.
In turn, the positivity that I gained from my community has given me, as a coach, the courage and wisdom to inspire other high-achieving women. It is highly satisfying to help motivate and empower them to be their best by demonstrating what’s possible when inspiration comes from within.
The great thing about inspiration is that it’s more than a two-way street. Yes, it can happen to us, when something makes us feel inspired; equally it can happen by us, when we inspire someone else. Inspiration is also one of the few “gifts” we can take and give simultaneously. Think about someone like Serena Williams: she is inspired by her love of tennis to continue playing her best. At the same time, her tenacity gives inspiration to countless girls and women willing to persevere to achieve their own dreams. Williams famously said, “The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another…” I couldn’t agree more.
Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922 – 1999)
American nurse Marie Van Brittan Brown was concerned about safety when she was home alone at odd hours of the day or night; the crime rate in her neighborhood in Queens, New York, had been increasing, and police response time was slow. She realized that she would feel less vulnerable if she could see who was at her door — without opening it. Working with her husband Albert, an electrician, Brown created a system of four peep holes and a movable camera that connected wirelessly to a monitor in their bedroom. A two-way microphone allowed conversation with someone outside, and buttons could sound an alarm or remotely unlock the door. The Browns received a patent for their security system in 1969, and Brown received an award from the National Science Committee for her truly innovative idea. Her idea became the groundwork for all modern home security systems, and she’s also inspired many fellow inventors, including her own daughter, who also holds multiple patents.