The other day I overheard an interesting conversation between two professors, not aware of which university they belonged to. One professor said to the other “…and this student was the first student in a long time that made me feel inspired to go to class that day and teach.” For whatever reason that line really struck me. I began to ask myself questions about where inspiration comes from, who we turn to for inspiration, and whether or not it is effective to depend on others as a source of inspiration. Ultimately, I landed upon a thought that I wanted to share. Does anyone in our life have a DUTY to inspire us?
Many times in my life I turned to people of authority to seek inspiration, expecting that their opinion was a form of validation for my ideas and thoughts. While in many cases it was true, I find that as we get older this phenomenon begins to shift. As our minds grow and we begin to define our lives for ourselves more and more, our sources of inspiration come from many places. Whether it be from a book, from a speaker, from music, from social issues or generational phenomena, I began to realize that what inspires me are the people who are inspired not because they are looking for it, but because it exists within them. Too often I find that people depend on some event in their life to happen, from which they hope they will become inspired. While in many cases that’s true, I think as a generation we now find ourselves at an age where inspiration can come from others, but to be inspired we have to look within ourselves.
So how do we do that? I started to answer this question by returning to the conversation I’d overheard. It is not a teacher’s job to inspire – a teacher’s job is to teach. There are plenty of teachers that do that and do it well and effectively. What makes a teacher really stand out, however, is when they WANT to inspire you. It is in those kinds of situations where we begin to think differently about ourselves, and about the possibilities our world has to offer us. When somebody wants to inspire you they see in you a potential, a drive to grow and become more than simply a name on their attendance sheet. I had several instructors in my life who had that effect on me, and they did it by challenging me to go way out of my comfort zone. What sets them aside from the rest was their desire to unlock within me my full potential. We fail to realize however, that in such a scenario, it is not actually the teacher that inspired us, but us that inspired the teacher. They saw within us something that made them see past reality and begin to speculate on the greatness that could exist.
What many of us fall victim to, is shutting the door of ambition on ourselves – coming up with all the reasons why something won’t work before interrogating our ideas and trying to think outside the box. We watch inspirational videos or listen to successful figures talk about their stories all with the expectation that something they do or something they will say will validate our potential and inspire us. In reality, however, they will not give you anything you don’t already have. Everything you want them to validate already exists within you, you just have to follow your heart.
The greatest form of inspiration is triggered by what you love and what you want to achieve. Others can direct you and guide you, but your dreams and goals are only manifested when you depend on yourself to accomplish them, not the words of others.
As for our professor who felt inspired that day to teach that student… I wish I’d asked him what it was that made him feel that way. Perhaps it was an interest in his material, or maybe it was the fact that the student was challenging him, engaging in his course and looking for new answers… I guess I won’t ever know. The point is, however, that inspiration is not a “top down” phenomenon. It comes from within us, and radiates to those around us whether we know it or not.