Wednesday February 28th 2018

Inspiration…From the Inside Out


I’ll begin with a confession. I harbor mild contempt for individuals who anoint themselves as being inspirational or motivational. Talk about heightened self-promotion. Part of my skepticism stems from my wholesale rejection of the core message of the self-esteem industry. Namely, the ability to reach your full potential seems to depend on your ability to generate enough adrenaline to “crush your to-do list” in the morning, before “killing it” in cross-fit during the lunch hour.

Tony Robbins notwithstanding, most of us muddle through life, doing the best we can given the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Inspiration does creep into my life, but it is a soft inspiration. I don’t wake up in the morning and say to myself, “today is the day.” Usually, I say something like, “today is another day.” My goals are rather modest: I hope to string a few good actions together, be true to myself, and make some kind of difference. That, my friends, is a good day.

Indeed, I am the tortoise in the race of life. When I make decisions, I function more like a crock pot than a microwave oven. My idle speed is calibrated for the long haul rather than a short sprint down the drag strip. So, imagine my surprise recently when I introduced myself to a nonprofit board as “part teacher, part facilitator, part provocateur, and (wait for it…) part inspirational speaker”. That’s right. I said it. I owned it.

I find that my work with nonprofits does indeed have the potential to inspire. But here’s the thing: my goal is not to inspire. My goal is to clarify. I have told close colleagues that most of what I do in my consulting work is help people make sense of the circumstances they are in. This involves some teaching, some group facilitation, and some provocation. And here’s the payoff: once people understand the nature of the challenges they face, they know what they need to do. They may not know how to do it. But that is a technical issue, not a fundamental one.

The clarity that leads to inspiration begins with organizational soul-searching, considering questions like these:

– Why does this organization exist?
– What difference are we making?
– What is keeping us from creating more mission impact?

Usually, my work with a nonprofit is prompted by the last of the three questions. Something doesn’t seem quite right, yet the reason is not always clear. By considering the right questions and confronting the right issues, things begin to make more sense. As a result, individuals will come to conclusions such as these:

“Our mission is worth fighting for.”
“We can be better as a board.”
“I know how I can make a bigger difference for this organization.”

When people get unstuck, they become inspired to act. Even those of us whose personal pace is more attuned to Pilates than cross-fit.