The Path of Inspiration – It will make all the difference
The End of the Balanced Wealth Series

As some of you may know, my career life didn’t exactly start out with glamour.  When I first finished school, university was not an option due to my financial situation, at the time jobs were really scarce, and so I took the first job I could find – working as an office cleaner for Kohler Corrugated in Nelspruit, South Africa.

After a few interesting twists and turns, I found myself managing a small department about a decade later, and realized that I desperately needed some more skills if I were going to succeed in managing well.  I started studying a Bachelors in Management, through the University of South Africa.  Whilst studying, many things happened:   My career progressed; at one stage I nearly burnt out and so took a working holiday to China; married my beautiful Chinese wife; moved back to South Africa; got two amazing kids; went into partnership with some great friends in the Restaurant industry; lost some money;  started doing some management consulting; got into strategic management in the health and non-profit sector; moved back to China; even taught English for a while; continued consulting and always learning … and through all of this I never stopped studying.  That sentence you just read – that was eleven years.

It has been eleven years since I enrolled for my first course at UNISA, and I just submitted in a thesis for a Masters in Managing and Leading Innovation and Change, two weeks ago, to the University of York St. Johns in Britain.  It marks the end of an eleven year season of my life where almost every evening and weekend was at last partially dedicated to studying.

So as you can well imagine, this brought me to a point of reflecting about my priorities and focus areas in life for the season ahead.  And due to certain shifting priorities I will now be bringing this series to a close.  In this final article I’d like to encourage you to learn to manage and follow your inspiration, and to never stop building your ability to manage your life effectively.

Career changes do happen overnight, but in most cases, that moment of change is just the result of months and years of building up to that point.  If you want your dream job, start building it today.

I would like to leave you with three points to remember as you continue building your impact:

  1. Create your ideal working environment
  2. Build your life’s bridge
  3. Follow your inspiration

Create Your Ideal Working Environment

Do not wait for a change of environment, before you act; get a change of environment by action.

You can so act upon the environment in which you are now, as to cause yourself to be transferred to a better environment.

Hold with faith and purpose the vision of yourself in the better environment, but act upon your present environment with all your heart, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.

(William D. Wattles, The Science of Getting Rich

Often we think that we have to be transferred in order to have a better environment.  So we start looking for another job.

But in many cases we can create the environment we want to be in, right where we are, and instead of looking for another job, become a catalyst for positive growth right here and now.

To do that, we have to continually build our ability to influence and impact our world – you have to:

Build Your Life’s Bridge

I like to refer to our heart, or our inner-man, as the "bridge" of our lives – the meaning of "bridge" here as being the control centre of a large ship, or for those Star Trek fans out there, the control centre of a large spacecraft.

I have quite a vivid awareness of this "bridge" that exists within me.  It is the place where everything that is "me" comes together.  This is where my skills, and my goals, and my passions all should form a coherent whole to help me effectively steer my life in the direction I want it to go, even when there are obstacles and threats all around.

We should never stop building this bridge.  We should continually be learning about ourselves and our environment, adding new skills, refining existing skills – and adding all these to the information and capabilities that are available to us as we sit there in the bridge, and make decisions regarding where to steer our lives to next.

Part of building that bridge, but also the final and most important thought I’d like to leave you with is this:

Follow Your Inspiration

One of the most important building blocks of building a powerful career which will bring you both a sense of deep fulfilment, as well as the joy of real success, is self-knowledge.

For me, when I talk about the joy of real success, I see in there three ingredients.  There is the success itself – i.e. achieving that which you set out to do, there is enjoying the process of achieving it, and there is the sense of fulfilment that comes from achieving something important.

In order to be truly successful, you have to do the things you are good at.  In order to enjoy the process of building your success, you have to do work that you love. (Of course there are tough times, and some things in every job you won’t like – but fundamentally you should be doing things you love doing if you are going to enjoy most of your life.)  And in order for you to be fulfilled, you have to have your success connected to goals that are deeply important to you.

This applies to success at every scale – whether it’s your plan for this week, or the plan for your life.

We lose ourselves

But something I have found in life is that we lose ourselves rather easily.  It is relatively straight forward to take some step by step instructions to set some goals, break those down into milestones, and then define the steps that you have to take in order to achieve each of those milestones.  Then you just do that – and success follows.  (OK, admittedly this is oversimplifying things a bit – but the basic outline of the process goes like that)

However, when it comes to figuring out what you really want to do, and what really ignites your passion, what really inspires you, what you really love doing, I have often found both myself, and those I coach, to flounder. 

Setting a goal is quick – but achieving it can take many years

If I go back through my journal, I can show you probably at least ten different major career goals that I had set in as many years during the early years of my career.  But most major career goals take at least ten years to achieve.  Each of these goals, at the time they were set, came from a sense of deep inspiration, very often born out of a moment of discovery of something about myself, which I seem to have lost somewhere in my child- and teenage years.  And at that time, I felt convinced that THIS time I have found the goal that will keep me motivated and engaged to my pursuit of success, for years to come.  And for each of these, I spent hours building quite an elaborate path to take me from where I was, to where I wanted to be in about ten years from then.

But often I found that after a few months, or in the worst cases, even a few weeks, it became apparent to me that I was not yet even close to being able to even start fulfilling that aspiration, and the inspiration would go flat, the passion dwindle, and the sense of deep self-connection and fulfilment would fade.

This continued, to the point where I actually became disillusioned with the whole idea of inspiration, and ideas, and setting career and life goals.  I began to despair of this dream of mine that we can actually live a life of success, enjoyment, and fulfilment, most of the time.

Inspiration – when your environment sparks something inside of you

And then, one day, I was talking to a very good friend of mine who lectures Imagination at a local university.  We were talking about inspiration, and he explained that inspiration is an emotion, it is a feeling – which means it is something inside of us, but it tends to get sparked and ignited by something outside of us:  A beautiful view, a phrase in a book, or the whole book, a movie, a song – these are the things that spark inspiration.  But inspiration is only sparked when it finds compatible material in our inner world.  So for example, right now I am sitting at the waterfront, at 05:15 on a spring morning.  It is about half an hour from sunrise, and the foggy sea air was still pitch dark when I came to sit down here.  In the dark fog were a few glowing moving points of ships coming and going, and the deep waves of their foghorns were sounding through the mist, rolling out to me and those around them, warning us all that thousands of tons of momentum was silently gliding through the dark sea.

For me, all of this fills me with powerful emotions of inspiration – it makes me want to do something – and being a writer at heart – it makes me want to write something.  So the external environment connected with something inside of me.

When I watched the movie August Rush, the power of the music in that movie connected with my love for music, the level of emotion that music in that movie seemed to reach, connected with the way I not only hear, but feel music, and so again, that which came from the outside, found something really strong to connect with, inside of me.

Your inspiration is unique to you

In both of these cases, another person might be much less inspired.  Someone else might think that 04:40 (which is the time I got here this morning) is a time to be inspired to sleep, rather than listen to ships blowing their noisy horns at each other.  And they might think that August Rush is a nice movie about a boy who found his parents.

And that is fine.  There are other things that will inspire those people, which for me would be just something ordinary.   I remember when I was in the restaurant industry, sitting in a room of franchisees where people passionately debated the taste of a new sauce that the franchise had brought out, replacing some old sauce.  That was probably the defining moment for me when I realized that I had made a wrong career move getting into those restaurants.  I really couldn’t care whether a hamburger had one sauce or the other.  Some people would like the one, some would like the other – they tasted pretty similar to me.  If I wanted a really good tasting meal, I wouldn’t go to a fast food restaurant, anyway.  But clearly these people were as inspired by their hamburgers as I am about my fog horns and the music in August Rush (and the soft pink that the fog on the horizon is beginning to turn right now, and the smell of salt as the wind has just turned and begun from the seaside, and no longer from the land).  Their passion for the sauce was also linked to why their restaurants were doing really well, and mine were doing rather poorly – and my lack of passion was a clear indicator that buying and running restaurants was not what I should be doing in life. 

Your inspiration tells you about who you really are

This "sauce debate" was about much more than sauce.  What this moment of passionate debate (and my disconnectedness from that debate) really showed was something about the inner world of these people, and my inner world.  And every moment of inspiration is like that.  The moment something inspires you, it means that something outside of you (in this case a sauce) has connected powerfully with something inside of you (in this case, a love for food and tastes).

And it was when I recognized this, that I realized that there is a way to use every moment of inspiration without having to turn each of it into a full-on career plan or business plan. 

Inspiration – turning on the lights we have lost

And to make that clear, I have to take a step back to this concept of us losing ourselves, that I alluded to earlier.  I believe that when we first become self-aware as small kids, we begin to discover who we really are in the things we love playing as kids, and then later as teenagers, in the things we love doing and talking about.  However, as school progresses we become increasingly busy, and then "real life" comes along, where you have to make a living, so you find a job – any job – and you begin to do it – and of course you try to be successful – and so eventually you lose yourself.  Or you start out doing work you love, and then "opportunities" come along and your career "progresses" until what you loved doing is totally missing, and you find yourself being miserably successful at something you don’t care about.  You forget who you really were.  You forget what you were really passionate about achieving, and what you really loved doing.  And it is really difficult to find those things again, once they have become forgotten.  It is as if we have this vast landscape inside ourselves, and in some parts of this landscape, we have turned off the lights.  We can no longer see there.  We don’t know what is there.

And that is where inspiration comes in.  Instead of seeing inspiration as something to be grasped and followed and turned into reality in every situation, we can see inspiration as a light that has been off, which now gets turned on again.  So to keep with my sauce example:  Suppose that you one day find yourself walking along the beach, and you suddenly get this idea for ingredients that you think will make the most amazing sauce in the world, and then from this idea springs the idea of opening a restaurant, and you begin to dream really big of having a restaurant that is world famous and people from all over the world coming to taste your amazing sauce.  Now many people who talk about success tells you that the moment you get this, you must begin to take action.  Write down the whole thing, put it into a plan, break down the near future steps into small doable steps, and start doing something immediately.

You don’t have to change your life in response to every spark of inspiration …

The problem with this is that maybe tomorrow you walk along the beach, and you see a beautiful new Ferrari driving past, and you suddenly get this picture for a new design of a car that will be amazing.  And again, you allow yourself in your inner world to pursue this moment of inspiration for a few minutes, until it gets you to having built a whole new car brand of environmentally friendly, beautiful cars that will grace the highways and byways of the world, and create millions of jobs and so on and so forth.  And again, many success writers will tell you that you have to convert your inspiration to a plan.  So you spend another few weeks or months, building a totally different plan.

But the reality is that unless you are Richard Branson, you probably cannot build a restaurant empire and a car empire in one lifetime.  And even if you could, the point is that this continues.  Maybe not every day, and maybe not always on the scale of my two examples – but we are continually exposed to situations and stimuli that spark inspiration inside of us, and if we try to pursue each of these, we will become like a dog in a forest where a hundred rabbits have recently been playing.  We will simply be running to and fro trying to chase down every scent, and eventually catch no rabbits.

… But you MUST use it to light up your lost inner world

But there is another way, and this is what I would like to challenge and encourage you to try, and see if you find it as meaningful as I have.  Next time you are inspired by something, instead of either just ignoring it, or immediately taking it and building it into a whole big grand plan, just get to your journal as soon as you have a moment, sit down for a while, close your eyes, and let your dreams wander around and explore the inspiration.  And then write it down.  And do nothing more.

And then when the next inspiration comes along, do the same.  Explore it a bit in your inner world, and write it down.

Two things are happening here.  Firstly, you are not losing these moments.  You are capturing them by taking a few minutes to think about them, and writing them down.  But you are also not letting each of these change your life direction.  Your direction remains, for now, as it is.

What this process is doing inside of you, is to begin to re-ignite the lights that had grown dim, or gone out altogether, from your childhood – from the time when you actually knew who you were.  And instead of seeing each moment of inspiration as the beginning of a whole new life direction, see it as a light that is lighting up a piece of your inner world, that you have not previously seen, or that you have forgotten about.

And when the path becomes clear – THEN start to plan and act

Then after a few months, or years, as you review this journal, you can explore this inner world of yours much more clearly as all of these moments of inspiration are lighting up for you what it is that you love and get enthusiastic about.  And you will be able to see more clearly if a change of direction is really in order, or not.  If you still just have a few disconnected lights here and there, it is probably better to just keep going, being ready for more inspiration.

But when a path begins to emerge, it might be time to take several of the strongest moments of inspiration and begin to see how they line up to help you see which way you might need to turn your career.

And next time you try to decide whether you should study something, or go on a certain training course, or take on a project that will give you experience in a certain direction, or even take a promotion, you can go back a bit, look at what has been inspiring you, and ask yourself whether this is taking your life more in the direction of your inspiration, or away from it.  If it is going in the opposite direction to where you always find your inspiration, you should probably consider rather letting the opportunity pass by, and instead, proactively building your life towards that which inspires you.

I have really enjoyed writing these articles, but certain priorities are pulling me onwards, as I am also but a journeyman following and building a life on the inspiration that God is laying before me.

I want to encourage you to make every effort to build the strongest career you possibly can, make every effort to discover all the potential you have inside of you, to discover your greatest passions and inspirations, and to keep building, and trying, until you are making all the impact you have been designed to make, on this world.

Two roads in the wood … which one to choose?

May you one day be able to look back on your life and say, along the lines of Frost’s famous poem,

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one THAT MOST INSPIRED ME

And that has made all the difference

To your Balanced Wealth

About The Author

Ashton Fourie is a Management and Organisation Development consultant with a passion for life-long learning and growth as foundations for meaningful success.  He started out working as an office cleaner for a small cardboard factory, worked himself up, and has since built up 15 years of management experience, obtained a degree in Business Management and is completing a Master’s Degree in Managing and Leading Innovation and Change.  He is married to a beautiful Chinese lady and has a 7 year old daughter and 5 year old son, who are both fluent in English and Mandarin Chinese.

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