So what is this strange inspiration that some people have which enables them to continue to work towards a goal that is often invisible to everyone else? Needless to say, this article does not contain the answer. It is more an attempt to share the questions in the belief that often the answer lies within ourselves and we have to search for it individually.
Inspiration to me is not something that comes like a bolt out of the blue and takes the unsuspecting soul unawares. Inspiration is often the result of a great deal of dissatisfaction with the current state that leads to honest questioning about the purpose of life and deep reflection and a sustained inner struggle with the real issues that one faces in one’s life. This is sometimes very painful and never easy to do. But when one stays with the questions long enough, the answers start to appear.
These answers again are not in the form of clear cut road maps but more like a hazy sign, on a dark and misty night, seen at the very edge of the limit of your headlights. You can just about make out the direction it is pointing in. All the rest is up to you and your ingenuity. And it does not tell you anything about the difficulties of the path. One common factor that you can rely on is the fact that there will be difficulties. That is something that I believe the potential leader can bet on. The trick is to understand what to do with the difficulty when you are faced with it.
The common tendency is to moan and groan and say, “Why me?” Not so common is to be happy to face the difficulty since you believe it indicates the promise of reward, once you can surmount it. A method that I use is to ask what this difficulty has been sent to teach me. This comes from my belief that nothing happens by accident and that all of life is a prepared plan that is unfolding and that I am the one who has the exciting task of walking the path as it appears before me. So every difficulty comes with a fortune cookie inside that tells you what the lesson is, provided you can get to it. Blaming others for creating the difficulty or carping about it only indicates that you are not ready to become a real leader yet.
When we question the purpose of the difficulty and ask, ‘What can I learn from this?’ we find that our perspective takes on a whole new meaning. We are no longer grounded in the negativity of blaming and feeling sorry for ourselves but are freed to look for creative and new ways of overcoming the difficulty. The enormity of the task itself becomes the biggest motivator, as one is conscious only of the prospect of great reward. The fact that this is not easy, then becomes easy to accept and understand, and one even says, “If it was easy, I wouldn’t want it. It would not make the victory so sweet!’
Interestingly, the route to the state of grace is through great effort. It is a path that is difficult and strewn with the wrecks of those that went before. It is easy to see this in physical examples of martial arts, sports and other physical-skill related things. The reality is, that it is the same path in challenges of the mind and of the spirit. And very often, in the latter events the route is even more difficult, for the goal is in the wining of people’s hearts and the change is in their minds.
I have reflected very often on why it is more difficult in the non-physical endeavors. My understanding is that it is because of the paradox that in the physical effort it is very often impossible or very difficult to give up once you have gone beyond the halfway point, often called the ‘point of no return’. Take trekking as an example. Once you have made the effort to reach halfway, it is easier and shorter to go no, no matter how difficult it looks than to turn around and return. What aids this is the fact that the path is not entirely unknown and you know it has an end and you know where it is.
In the journey of the spirit, the path is unknown, the duration of the effort needed is unknown and it is extremely easy to give up. There is no point of no return. You can give up and get back to your original state in an instant. That carrot is always hanging in front of the nose. And to make matters worse, the pain and suffering of confusion and emotional turmoil, which is often worse than the physical pain, is unseen and uncelebrated by others, who in a physical challenge, often provide the necessary impetus by cheering from the sidelines. And when you give up the spiritual and emotional struggle, there is no fear of shame and ridicule by others, since nobody knew you were in there anyway.
That is the reason why most people shy away from accepting challenges of the mind and spirit, even though they may know in their hearts that those are the true challenges that have the capacity to change their destiny. It requires a strong internal focus, a real desire to make a mark in life, no desire for approval from others, and a willingness to stay with the task irrespective of the time it takes or the apparent lack of ‘progress’.
It is a path that challenges all previously held beliefs and that is full of the fear of the unknown. It is a path that tests one with the challenge of living the life that one previously only talked about. It challenges us to not only put our money where our mouth is but to demonstrate commitment by taking the leap of faith into the new way of life with no guarantees of safety nets.
But the good news is that history is full of examples of those that accepted this challenge and succeeded. It is important to remember that the wrecks on the path of leadership are of those who gave up midway. Those that persevered, are the ones that went through and whose leadership often lives on long after they themselves passed on into history.
What seems to be critical in this struggle and something that gives sustenance when one is moving through an arid waste is the enormity of the goal. No heroic effort was ever made for a minor goal. Enormous goals call for enormous effort and have in them the capacity to keep the motivation alive in the face of all odds.
I believe that this is in the very nature of the goal. If you find your dedication flagging midway, look at your goal and ask yourself, “Is this goal worthy of my effort?” Aim for a larger goal and you will find that the wellsprings of your energy once again start to flow. Once again, this is something that on the face of it does not appear to be reasonable or rational.
Another critical ability is to create measurement parameters for oneself in this apparently immeasurable task. Sometimes this consists of looking back at your spiritual journey and seeing how far you have come. At other times it is realizing how much traditional motivators have ceased to have value in your eyes. At yet other times it is accepting how much you have become detached and distanced from your old friends.
I see a lot of people teaching motivation and leadership encouraging people to set goals of attaining personal wealth (200 acre ranch, 20,000 square foot house, private jet etc.). I have nothing against any of that, except to say that personal gain is a poor motivator in the long run. Sure, it is a powerful motivator to begin with, but mid-career burnout happens because goals of personal gain cease to motivate after a certain level has been reached. At that stage some people still make the positive choice of aiming for a goal that is bigger than personal gain. Others degenerate into the rat race of self-indulgence and leave this world without having left any signs of their passing.
My own view is that we are essentially spiritual creatures. And so the real hunger is that of the spirit. And that can’t be satisfied by material means. Just as looking at pictures of food can’t satisfy physical hunger, a spiritual hunger can’t be satisfied by accumulating wealth. We have to understand the real nature of possessions. What we possess is actually not ours to do with as we please but a trust we hold for others. Let me illustrate by an example:
We go on holiday to Hawaii and believe that we are truly spending what is ours on ourselves. But if you look at it, the cost of the airfare went to the airline. The cost of the hotel went to the hotel. The cost of service went to the people who served us. The cost of food went to the people who gave it to us at many times what it cost them to prepare it. And the real memories of the scenery were free anyway. We were only the means by which what was meant for all the people along the path, got to them. That is the nature of all that we think we possess. Without our realization, we are holding it in trust. Some we give up during our lives. All the rest we give up when we die. So why do we allow ourselves to go mad trying to collect it in the first place?
Current satisfaction is often the cloak behind which hide fear, complacence and unwillingness to make an effort. Changing from a path of self-indulgence, self-aggrandizement and accumulating possessions is often very difficult and a transition that many people never make. But those that make the transition, deal with their own frustration, persevere in the face of obstruction and keep the faith alive, are remembered long after they have gone. Because they are those that leave their mark, not in clay and sand but in the hearts of other human beings.
We have to search our own souls and look at our own lives and ask ourselves, if we have to courage to embark on the journey to becoming what we have the capacity to become. Or whether we choose to remain with the vast multitude, which is happy in mere existence. Not realizing that happiness is often the best indication of failure.
Remember that a hundred years from no (or even less) it will not matter what kind of car you drove, how big your house was or what your net worth was. But the world may be a different place because you made the difficult choice.