“You’ve got brains in your head; you’ve got feet in yours shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” – Dr. Seuss
For a lot of us, life just happens. It did to me for many years. I had a job; I paid my bills; I took an occasional vacation, went out with friends, had my favorite TV shows, and always read before falling asleep. Life was a safe habit and quite predictable. And then, as can happen, I had a single experience that changed my life.
A friend had come over for dinner. We had planned to go to a club that night, but a horrible storm came on. As long as I had enough wine, we decided not to go out. So, we began to look through the cable guide for a movie to watch. One movie that came up was Pay it Forward. I had never heard of the movie but my friend had seen it several times and insisted that we watch it. Because I love Helen Hunt (As Good as It Gets) and Kevin Spacey (A Time to Kill), I agreed. While the acting was not their best, the movie hit me like a nuclear blast.
I couldn’t get this movie out of my head. Such a simple theme; such a simple concept. I stewed about this concept for several days, not realizing that inspiration was creeping into my soul. I spent more time alone and began to unlock the “real” me. We all get inspired at a lot of points in our lives. We go to a conference, listen to an amazing keynote speaker and leave inspired to improve ourselves at work. Gradually, it wears off, because there really is no passion behind that inspiration. But this concept, this simple concept, was sticking around. A middle school kid, who was just an actor, was changing me.
Of course, the rest of the story is easily figured out. I decided to try it – random acts of kindness I think they are called, but with a twist. My acts of kindness would have a price that might or might not ever be paid. Still, I had to believe that some people would pay the price.
My “paying it forward” quest has now been going on for three years. And, unless I am sick or missing deadlines, a random act of kindness is committed every day. It may be a really tiny thing like picking up an extra coffee for a co-worker on my way in; it may be a bit more helpful, like the time the young mom in front of me didn’t have enough money for her groceries and I coughed up the money for them. Every time the thank you comes, I say, “No thanks needed. Just do something nice for someone else today.” At first I had to remind myself with little signs all over the place. Now it is so habitual, it is just another part of my daily routine. And here is what has happened as a result:
- I haven’t started a “movement,” and no news reporter has called for an interview.
- I haven’t found the “love of my life” and been whisked off into the land of bliss
- I am smiling more – a lot more.
- I feel purposeful. And that purpose is to improve someone else’s life just a bit every day.
- I have more energy. It’s amazing how being inspired in one little aspect of life can spill over into all other aspects.
- I am grateful. That gratitude makes me see nature differently; it makes me appreciate very small things like a free cookie at the bakery and very large things like having enough of everything I need.
The Lesson Learned
We can all be inspired for a few moments or a few days – maybe even a month or two. That kind of temporary inspiration doesn’t stay with us though, because it isn’t meaningful enough. When we find what truly inspires us permanently, then we know we have added something meaningful to our lives. And it will always involve improving the lives of others in some way. It may be writing a book; it may be passing out a joke of the day at the office. It may mean the giving of time to volunteer where there is real need. So here is the challenge:
- Get quiet within. Spending time alone will unlock the real you. You may find that your inspiration will bubble up and you will know what you must do.
- Watch for signs that your inspiration is pushing you in certain directions. For me, it was being unable to get that movie out of my mind.
- When you find that thing that inspires you, make a part of your everyday life. Keep those reminders all over the place until you have the habit.
- Watch the rest of your own life become meaningful.
- Enjoy the joy!
Have you found your permanent inspiration yet? It would be great to hear your stories about how that came about and what you are doing to feed that force that will not let you be.