What are you waiting for? Inspiration?
Updated: Feb 21, 2019
Inspiration, it seems, is a fickle character. It insists on descending when there are few means by which to record its whisperings: while driving in the car, standing in the shower, in the few minutes before a class starts. The opposite seems true as well: when we are ready to invoke the muse, the muse is often silent, as if taunting us with its sudden unavailability when we are at last ready to listen. It is easy to lament, as a result of the temperamental character of inspiration, that there is no point in trying to put it on a timetable—it will resist such coercion.
This is not exactly true, though.
The thing about following your passions and insisting on beating a path to the exact life you want is that you have to just do it. (Nike was onto something with that slogan!) You can’t say, “I don’t feel like it,” or “I don’t have time,” or “my inspiration is gone.” You don’t wait to feel like it; you don’t wait for the inspiration. You honor your craft and your practice and, often, the muse will poke its head out of hiding and honor you.
I spent a lot of years waiting for my muse to show up, only to discover that the muse was waiting for me to show up. Waiting for me to display some courage and commitment. Waiting for me to decide: “muse or no muse, I am going to do this thing!”
Suddenly, inspiration did not hide so frequently in the shadows. Not that that meant it was easy to write all the things I wanted to write, or finish all the projects I wanted to finish. Only that when the inspiration wasn’t there and I went to work anyway, often that very act had the effect of conjuring my muse from the depths of whatever abyss it seemed to be hiding in.
Steven Pressfield (The War of Art, The Legend of Bagger Vance) calls it “resistance”—that thing we have to beat back every time we undertake creative endeavors and lose our inspiration and motivation before we’ve actually crossed the finish line. Resistance doesn’t leave; we just commit to working in spite of it.
The way you do that is by carving out a block of time in every day that is used solely for working on whatever it is that is outside the bounds of obligation but very much within the bounds of “damn, I really want to do this thing!” (Learning about that business you want to start, writing that book, painting, working on your photography, learning a new language, reading an important book). Our daily practices are the building blocks that add up to a life we have created, piece by piece. If you leave things out of your daily practice, you end up leaving them out of your life.
The beauty of creating rituals around the things that are ultimately going to be important to you is that you do them out of habit, and because you have structured them into your day. If you have a class that you attend from 1 to 3 in the afternoon, you don’t tell yourself that you don’t have time to go, and you don’t check in with yourself to see if you feel like going. You’re supposed to go, and you go. What if you could do that with other aspects of your life? What if you said, “from 7 to 8 every evening I’m going to research and take notes on the business I want to start,” or “I’m going to read about gardening and create my game plan,” or “I’m going to read blogs and books on leadership,” or whatever it is that is not part of the “necessary” things you do each day but which will lead you toward your preferred life? What if you did it every day even when you didn’t feel like it, and you weren’t inspired, and the muse wasn’t whispering to you?
That, by the way, is how every successful person attains their success: by being willing to put one figurative foot in front of the other on that long, exhausting trail to the summit; even when it’s hard, and it hurts, and they start to believe they’re never going to get there.
I am using a mountain-climbing metaphor here because if you’ve ever undertaken the challenge of climbing a mountain, you know that you don’t feel good the whole way up. You get tired. Your lungs hurt. Your head hurts. Your muscles burn and ache. But you don’t stop, because you know that when you reach the summit, it will be worth it and you will feel euphoric. Not just because the view from the top is beautiful—but also because you finished what you started, and you did what you set out to do, and every faint-of-heart excuse that popped into your head as you trudged up the trail was, ultimately, not enough to get you to give up and turn around.
If you create a daily plan of one hour a day spent “chasing” some important endeavor, you will, in one year, have 365 hours under your belt. That’s 15 solid days of devotion to your goal. Put another way, that is the equivalent of 45 work days (at 8 hours a day) given over to the pursuit of your greatest objective. What do you think that would mean in terms of results?
Who knows?! But it would be a lot more meaningful than if you had done nothing at all—citing a lack of inspiration, or time, or motivation.
Sure, a lot of those hours will yield nothing. So what? Think of it as collateral damage, or just the necessary “fluff” to get to the good stuff. Writers, for example, know they are going to write a lot of crap in the pursuit of writing something worthwhile, and they have to get very comfortable with that fact. It is only through the exercise of writing copiously (anything!) that they learn all about the craft that allows them to eventually create something good. They also learn that the muse can be invoked by the action of sitting down and starting. It may take a while; maybe even the first 50 of the 60 minutes you promised yourself. But, oh, those last 10 will be rich, and they are well worth the dead 50!
Body builders don’t get big muscles on day one. They spend a lot of time looking exactly the same or slightly different over extended periods of time. It is really only in retrospect that the difference stands out starkly, and it becomes apparent that all those days of small efforts added up to big results.
Does it have to be an hour? No, of course not. 20 or 30 minutes will still yield significant gains. But it does have to be focused and dedicated, and you do have to stick with it. Give yourself permission to whine, to feel that what your time is yielding is not good enough (oh my goodness, that is so part of the process!), but don’t give yourself permission to give up.
After all, I am basing this advice on the assumption that what you would be pursuing in this one hour (or 20 minutes) is something very important to you, so I won’t apologize for insisting that you stick with it. What do you have to lose? Mediocrity? A life unlived? Disappointment that you never followed your passions? I think that stuff is worth giving up, don’t you?
By the way, the more you honor your commitment to your vision on a regular basis, the more the muse will speak—and, yes, she will never stop whispering at really inconvenient moments, so just go ahead and resign yourself to carrying a notepad around. Some of that stuff that comes at unbidden moments is golden. You’ll want to capture it.