Where energy and inspiration come from

Anton Chekhov once said – “Any idiot can face a crisis. It is day-to-day living that wears you out.” And, day-to-day living can play havoc with our ability to sustain positive, optimistic energy. That is especially the case if we don’t understand where energy and inspiration come from.

Where energy and inspiration come from, energy, optimism

Energy and inspiration come from a clarity of purpose – a clear understanding of why we’re doing what you’re doing. Absent this clarity, the day quickly becomes a grind. It is this clarity that enables us to be energetic and, then, inspirational. Our energy translates to inspiration when we’re able to communicate that clarity of purpose and transmit that energy onto others.

When we run out of energy, we’re often taught to look outside – “find some motivation.” So, we spend time surfing the internet looking for ways to inspire ourselves during a difficult workday with a nice article, video or song. But, motivation is extrinsic. It is a short term boost that may work for a few minutes, perhaps even a few hours. If we have to find a longer term solution, we will have to look within and answer that difficult question – “Does what I do matter? Why?”

There are no shortcuts to harnessing that internal energy. We need to take the time to lay out a hypothesis for why we think we exist and then be able to explain why what we spend time doing fits into that hypothesis. And, we have to remind ourselves about this why every day.

That’s how great things are built and great obstacles are overcome – one energetic, inspired, optimistic day at a time.

Inspiration without structure

Many organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring in inspirational speakers to speak to their employees. When employees walk away from these talks feeling inspired, it all seems worth it.

structure, inspirationSource

But, when they go back to their desks and get to work, reality hits them. While the talk inspired them to think about innovative ideas, their organization never really encouraged innovative ideas. Sure, they said they wanted more of them. But, you always found yourself embroiled in organizational politics when you attempted to push change through.

Leaders and managers often wish for a more inspired work force. But, in situations like this one where there are no structures to support inspired employees, inspiration can often be counter productive. Employees in such organizations walk away from attempts at inspiration feeling frustrated and cynical.

There are two important takeaways for us as leaders –

1. If we seek to inspire our team, the most important thing to do isn’t to give an outstanding talk about why we do what we do. It is to provide the structure within which our team can go out and express themselves. This means providing them clarity on why we do what we do, establishing clear norms and expectations on how we do our work (our culture) and being open to helping them define goals that help the team move forward while also helping them to learn, grow and hone their abilities. Structuring work well requires openness to change and a great deal of thought as good structure needs to provide a certain amount of flexibility without it feeling like anarchy.

2. If we seek to be inspired ourselves, no amount of inspiration will help if we don’t have structures in our life that help support doing work that matters. This means a world class collection of habits that help us focus through the day, be present with our loved ones and take care of ourselves.

Inspiration without structure is like an artificial flower – it looks good from a distance but it doesn’t feel or smell like the real thing.

Working hard and offending people

I thought I’d channel some inspiration from G B Shaw for this weekend. Thanks to a wise friend for sharing..

“..this is the true joy in life — being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one… being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.”  | GB Shaw

There are so many interesting things about the quote. Especially, the idea of “the harder I work, the more I live.”

Sam Altman, from Y Combinator, had a wonderful post on how the days are long but the decades are short (thanks, Sam, for sharing). One of his points were –

On work: it’s difficult to do a great job on work you don’t care about.  And it’s hard to be totally happy/fulfilled in life if you don’t like what you do for your work.  Work very hard—a surprising number of people will be offended that you choose to work hard—but not so hard that the rest of your life passes you by.  Aim to be the best in the world at whatever you do professionally.  Even if you miss, you’ll probably end up in a pretty good place.  Figure out your own productivity system—don’t waste time being unorganized, working at suboptimal times, etc.  Don’t be afraid to take some career risks, especially early on.  Most people pick their career fairly randomly—really think hard about what you like, what fields are going to be successful, and try to talk to people in those fields.

I’ve found Sam’s point about “a surprising number of people will be offended that you choose to work hard” to be very true. Many unfortunately view work as a chore. It can be, of course, but it definitely doesn’t need to be the case. It becomes a chore the moment you view it as a means to achievement. Then, it becomes all about minimizing the amount of work necessary to achieve what you set out to achieve. However, if you do things that flow from a sense of purpose, it doesn’t feel like work at all. You don’t yearn for “balance” because none is necessary. It just becomes a fluid continuum of things you enjoy and a state of “balancing” and constant prioritization and re-prioritization among these priorities.

Contrary to popular belief, we don’t find happiness when we achieve. We find happiness when we pursue ideas and goals that we find meaningful. Success and happiness ensue from that pursuit.

And, that’s where real joy lies..

Inspiring communication…

…always starts with why.

I saw an email the other day that made me feel uneasy. I couldn’t explain why. I finally realized the issue – it didn’t start with why.

A “why” or purpose is a simple and clear articulation of what you’re trying to achieve.

Even if it is communication about a 14 step process you’d like someone to follow, communicating the purpose helps. Writing about the purpose helps us frame our thoughts better and communicate the idea better.The purpose leaves it open for the receiver to use his brain if he wants to and allows for the system or process to be improved upon. It even leads to a better adherence of the process – “why not?”is best asked after understanding “why?.”

And, most importantly, it has the ability to convert a bloody boring instruction email to a very inspiring one.

Start with why. It just works better.