I never, ever, thought I would say this, but: inspiration is overrated.
Now, before you think I’m some go-with-the-grind pessimist, hear me out. I love inspiration. It can hit me at 1AM while I’m trying to sleep and I’ll suddenly be totally breathless with it, heart pounding, eyes wide for at least two more hours. In my circle of friends, this is called a “solar impulse”. That’s the nice kind of inspiration (there’s also a ‘best kind’ - more on that later).
It happened to me a while back when I was racking my brain for an outfit for a pole dancing photoshoot. I suddenly realised I didn’t have to pick a sporty top and shorts – I could use a dress I’d made for an underwater shoot a few months earlier. It was a weird idea and it worked really well. That was a nice little lightning bolt of inspiration.
The other kind of inspiration – the kind I don’t like, or rather, the kind that doesn’t work for me – is the one I have to either wait for or look for. Let me explain.
Waiting for inspiration to strike
Some people spend half their lives waiting for inspiration, for that One Great Idea that’ll transform them into an action-machine.
‘I want to practice singing today, but I don’t really feel that inspired.’
‘I want to write a book, but I don’t have a great idea for a plot yet.’
‘I want to start a company but I haven’t figured out a business model yet.’
Plot twist: you don’t need a good idea to get started. All you need is to get started.
If you want to write, just start writing. Give your keyboard a shove and see what comes out. If you want to get inspired to sing, start singing. It might be a bit trickier with starting a company, but the same thing does kind of apply.
Most great ideas started out as bad ideas. It’s the action itself that sharpens the idea into something that then becomes great.
What about looking for inspiration?
I do it too, of course. A bit of time will pass in which I’m feeling a little bored. The first impulse is to find inspiration. Go on YouTube! Look at cool stuff others have made! Listen to podcasts! There’s a short rush of admiration, and then… I compare it to what I can do.
I have to face that it wouldn’t even come close. Cruelly, I far prefer being ‘on stage’ to being part of the audience, but honestly, why bother if so many people have already done it, and way better than I ever could?
The case for a bias towards action
First of all, everyone needs to start somewhere, and you need to be okay with being bad at something for a while in order to become good at it. Doing something always beats doing nothing. No matter how bad it is what you make, you will have made something.
Second of all, action begets inspiration. Great ideas don’t come out of thin air, they’re bred slowly in the petri dishes of the actions you take. So if you want to write a great book, the best thing to do is to write 50 terrible short stories, then 20 pretty bad novellas, then 10 mediocre books… Not just because you’ll hone your skill as a writer, but also because doing it will teach your brain to look for ideas and opportunities wherever it can. And then, once you DO have a great idea, you’ll have the skill to execute it.
Personally, I’ve always had a bias towards action, which means I have an idea and immediately start executing it. It hasn’t always served me well, because I tend to skip important steps like ‘planning’, ‘strategising’ and ‘pushing through when it doesn’t work at first’.
Some of those weird projects were just a boatload of fun and a valuable experience, but others actually did go on to be successful, like my YouTube-channel as a mermaid where I (almost accidentally) got 170k subscribers and 95 million views.
The best kind of inspiration
There’s the kind of inspiration that renders you breathless in the middle of the night when you suddenly get an idea. I love it when that happens. But experience has taught me that the best kind of inspiration is the kind that makes you get up and get started. The smaller the first steps are, the better. That usually means you’re combining skills you already have, like in my case with the pole shoot, where I was combining pole dancing with the costumes I already had.
If you’re waiting for inspiration, stop waiting. Stop looking for it. Just start doing something – inspiration will catch up to you.