The problem with inspiration

I was asked a few weeks ago to keynote at RA training at my new institution. I was thrilled and saw this as a great opportunity to connect with a great group of student leaders. When I responded with an emphatic, “yes” my biggest question was regarding the topic(s) they wanted me to cover. Surely they had something in mind. Instead, I was told to just present on anything inspiring/motivating to lead them into the next semester. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this,” I thought. I started to question what I could possibly say that would be inspiring or motivating in any shape or form. This is where I quickly learned I was thinking about this the wrong way. My job is not to inspire them, it is to help them find their own inspiration.

It’s that time of year where folks are writing and tweeting about their New Years Resolutions and One Words for 2014.  Motivational quotes and Instagram photos are in abundance. Here’s the issue, those things do nothing for me. While a quote may resonate with me, there has to be more to motivate me into action. If I am inspired by someone or something else, it is usually short term. This is why, I think, many resolutions fail. People get inspired from outside sources, rather than from within. This is where I think a lot of motivational speeches fall short.

The BEST (and I have seen a lot) motivational talk I have ever heard, and the only that caused me to act, was given by Tom Krieglstein at #satechBOS a few years back. During this talk he used letters and notes of thanks and admiration given to student affairs professionals from students (I even submitted one that he ended up using). Using the framework from Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, he inspired us to really get a deep understanding of why we do what we do beyond the surface reasons we are so used to thinking and talking about (helping people, giving back, passionate GASP about education, yada yada yada). Yes, we might do what we do becuase we want to help people, but WHY do we want to help others. Asking that next question helps you to dig even deeper into why you do what you do. The main difference between Tom’s talk and every other one I have heard is that he did not use words alone to inspire. He gave us the tools to find the inspiration within ourselves.

I have battled with weight issues my whole life. In 2013, I lost 45 pounds and am now a proud runner. What was different this time? For me, it was because I was motivated internally, being fed up with my poor health and inability to do things my family loved doing together. This is very different from being inspired by other people’s actions, reading a fitness blog, watching Biggest Loser, or just wanting to look good (all reasons I attempted weight loss in the past). The deeper I peeled the layers of my motivation for wanting to lose weight, the more successful I was at staying motivated. As an example, I could not run more than a mile at one point because I had no motivation. Then April 15th happened. On the 16th I ran 2.5 miles at a faster pace than ever. Why? I was motivated, fired up even.

I have seen posts the last couple days from friends (see Mallory’s post and Sue’s post) who have talked about just doing. We are in sole control over our actions. I have heard a saying before that goes something like; if you get motivation from a quote or a pretty picture, your job (task) is too easy and will probably be done by robots soon. The work we do in student affairs is complex, hard and stressful.  To be successful, we need to fully understand why we do what we do, at a deep level. No other person, quote, picture can give us this motivation. Only we can find that motivation and inspiration to keep moving.

I have taken pieces of what Tom presented to us at #satechBOS and have presented my “Why” presentation to hundreds of student leaders. I hope the RA team will take something from this.


This is my favorite clip to use in any of my “Why” presentations.

What motivates you? Where do you find inspiration?

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3 thoughts on “The problem with inspiration

  1. Tim – awesome to see that that talk moved you from motivation to action. I often will tell fellow speakers that right after a talk to ask their audience members what’s the main thing they got out of the talk, and if the person can’t answer with a concrete action, then they just got motivation…which is fine, but will only last a week.

    Keep it up with your running, it’s inspiring because you’ve moved past just the “why” of running (to lose wait) to the “why behind the why” of running ( my poor health and inability to do things my family loved doing together).

    Love being a sideline champion to your journey.

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