Inspiration by Austin ChanWhat does it mean to inspire? What does it mean to be inspired?

I have an entire tag devoted to the subject of “inspiration” here on my blog, but what does it take to be classified with such a label? I ask this question not just for me, but for everyone.

In the past, I’ve written about why art is the subject that galvanizes me more than any other, but clearly I don’t love all art. I don’t even like all art. So how does one determine what or whom is inspiring enough to function as a catalyst for action? The obvious answer would be: You do, of course. But since we have dozens of awards ceremonies dedicated to honoring those whom inspire others or should be viewed as an inspiration to all, somewhere, somehow, people came to a consensus that inspiration can be quantified. And quantified it is.

Inspiring literature gets added to Norton anthology canons. Inspiring art gets added to the top-tier museums and elite galleries. Inspiring music gets shared among fans and critics alike, then archived in a prestigious library as a symbol of cultural influence. And inspiring people? Well, they’re greeted as heroes and adored by millions until they fall out of favor or someone decides they’re old news.

The public consensus on what or whom is inspiring has never been a consistent one, so long ago, I decided what inspires me is something only I, and I alone, can quantify. For me, inspiration isn’t what’s popular or trending. It isn’t what’s agreeable or shocking. It isn’t who’s iconoclastic or pandering. Inspiration is personal. It’s what speaks to you in a way that nothing else has on that very subject in a singular connotation that you can’t quite define. It’s visceral. It’s intimate.

It’s why in 2017 the masses were inspired by Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, but my heart was full of inspiration more so by Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting 2. It’s why others feel encouraged every time they hear Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” yet I turn to Jonny Lang’s cover of “Dying To Live” to instill me with a sense of determination. It’s why James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is my favorite book, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is my favorite dance company, and Auguste Rodin is my favorite artist. I’m more Kate Bolick than Elizabeth Gilbert. More Chita Rivera than Beyonce. The works produced by these creative minds and their interpretation of the world mirrors my own in such a way that they spark my focus, faith and fortitude in a manner most media, public figures or perspectives cannot.

But should I expect what inspires me to be an inspiration to everyone else? Of course not. As the year draws to a close, many people will be looking for inspiration to lead them into 2018. There will be vision board parties, annual business plan revamps, and resolutions upon resolutions galore. All brimming with the expectation that in the process, inspiration will be struck like a gold vein in an adrenaline mine.

But I maintain that inspiration cannot be sought. When you hear the words of someone that ring true and it boosts your courage to pursue a dream or evaluate your purpose, no one can tell you it’s not meant to serve as a catalyst. Only you can be the touchstone that determines if a work, an idea or a person is a source of motivation. Not popular media. Not your friends, family or coworkers. And certainly not critics.

That’s why it’s important to challenge your concept of inspiration because it lies around every corner waiting to be invoked. Read new authors, see new films and shows, visit new places, revisit old spaces you’d never thought you’d see again. Simply live as if you are what you’ve always aspired to be, and in doing so, discover new truths. Discover what inspires you. You might find out it’s the very opposite of what society says should inspire you. And that, my friends, is half the journey.

Spiral Jetty USA by Greg Rakozy