Thursday, March 06, 2014

How To Stay Inspired When Your Job Is To Inspire Others

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Plato famously asked this question in The Republic, the translation of which is, who will guard the guards?

What’s interesting is, we all have our own version of this question. And for leaders and creators and communicators, the one that weighs us down is usually, how do I stay inspired when my job is to inspire others?

You recalibrate the soul. You carve a path back to yourself.

And there are unlimited techniques and practices and rituals for doing so. The experience of inspiring and reinspiring yourself is based on each of our unique preferences and passions and predispositions.

I’d like to share a few of my own, in the hopes that they might inspire yours:

Find and pull your triggers for joy.
Once upon a time, I used read books just to read books. But when I became an author, reading turned into work. If a book was open, I wasn’t just reading the words; I was trying to deconstruct the architecture and opportunities around them. So I decided to start reading fiction before bedtime. Mostly dystopian epics and gothic thrillers with female protagonists. And what I found was, these books transported me to another place where I didn’t have to work. I could just relax and let the words wash over me. By doing so daily, it created a space where I don't feel obligated to do anything other than just soak it all in.

Do you have a personal haven that gives you sustenance from the act itself and puts you back together?

Find a filter to process your experiences.
My yoga practice isn’t just a great physical workout; it’s also routine of confronting and working through my emotions. And maybe it’s because the room is a hundred degrees. Maybe it’s because I’m half naked. Maybe it’s because I'm staring at myself in the mirror for ninety minutes and I have no choice but to work through my own issues. But after a few postures, any feelings and emotions and inner struggles that need to be dealt with, are.

Do you have a familiar place you go when you’re feeling scared or anxious or confused or overwhelmed and need to make sense of the world?

Find a way to burn calories instead of being sad.
I’ve had my bouts with anxiety, stress, unhappiness and disappointment. Even a few bonafide panic attacks. But the interesting thing is, every time I get busy burning calories, working hard, moving my body, making meaning, helping others, taking care of my family, actively engaging with my community, spending time with friends and working on the project of building a life, I notice that I no longer have time to be depressed. Because when we start making meaning instead of monitoring moods, life gets a lot less depressing and lot more inspiring.

Do you have a highly human experience, free of the existential torrents of life, which gives you cognitive richness and psychic nourishment?

Find a way to cocreate.
Historically, I’ve always worked alone. Mainly because it’s faster, cheaper and I’m a total control freak who doesn’t play well with others. But after about fifteen years, it gets hard to be creative alone. Like playing basketball without a backboard. And so recently, I started collaborating on a creative project with another artist. Turns out, the regularity of human bonding diversifies your creative reservoir in new and exciting ways that sitting alone in a living room never could. When you reach out and cocreate with someone, you're expanding your brain's repertoire and getting new wiring out of it. And that’s the beauty of collaborative work. It doesn’t help you find your voice; it helps you lose it. Because whatever you do together makes the work different.

Do you know how to discover your own kind and connect with kindred spirits through a shared culture?

Find a way to reconnect to your original joy.
I made a name for myself writing books. Ask most of the people who know me, and that’s what they know me for. But music was always my first love. My original healer. My earliest container for mystery and meaning. Since the age of twelve, writing songs was how I metabolized my life. It was the closest thing to god I ever had. The problem is, once I started writing books for a living, I became so busy with the profession of writing that I lost contact with the passion of writing. At the peak of my career, I was only composing a few songs a year. Not exactly prolific. Eventually, I reached a point where I had built up too large of a debt to my artist. And I knew if I didn’t find a way to reconnect to the original joy that made me a musician in the first place, I was going to regret it. So I vowed never to lose touch with something I loved so much ever again.

Do you have a way to keep kindling handy, to keep up your original enthusiasm relive the impulse that initially fueled your artistic energy reserve?

Find a sanctuary of aliveness.
A photographer friend of mine once told me that camera is only a tool, but what’s important is your eyes and what you see in your head. Ever since he said that, photography has become a key meaning investment for me. The process of spotting life’s ephemeral moments, sneaking up from behind without a sound, closing my palms around them like lightning bugs and releasing them back into the world, brings me mountains of joy. Whenever I feel the well of inspiration running dry, I take a break from work to go out on a neighborhood photo hunt.

Do you have a sacred practice in a space of beauty that brings some measure of coherence back to your life?

Find an existential anchor.
For the first ten years of my career, meditation was my daily ritual for maintaining calmness and sanity, managing anxiety and motivating creativity. The practice was a combination of deep breathing, self-hypnosis, guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation. And I either meditated by myself, or went under through guidance of an audio program my therapist customized. But the interesting thing was, meditation never gave me more ideas. It did, however, make the container bigger. Which makes it easier to catch the big fish when they swim by,

Do you have a portable, purposeful and private sanctuary that brings you back to center to reconnect with the self, the body, the spirit and the heart?

Find a mini sabbatical.

The word sabbatical comes from the term sabbath, meaning day of rest. But the idea of a sabbatical dates back to ancient agriculture. Mosaic law decreed that on the seventh year, a farmer’s land was to remain untilled while debtors and slaves were to be released. When I first learned about that etymology, it occurred to me that a sabbatical as exactly what I needed. To leave the land alone. To emancipate myself as a slave to achievement. And for someone who’s genetically wired for hard work, the hardest thing to do is nothing. It’s the opposite of ambition and the antithesis of labor. It’s idleness. Blech. But as my dad used to say, you have to learn to love what’s good for you. And so, last summer, I decided to do nothing. For three straight months. And it turns out, for someone who’s happiest when he’s productive and prolific, for someone who’s wired to find satisfaction by adding value through toil, taking a sabbatical was the best thing I could have done. By the time summer was over, I was completely rejuvenated.

Do you have the ability to leave the creative land alone by creating mini sabbaticals from your artistic land alone?

Inspired yet?

If not, your challenge as a leader and a communicator and a creator is to consider what it will take to recalibrate your soul and carve a path back to yourself.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

You will.