Many of us wait for the spark of inspiration to do something either with our lives or with our work. But, if we are waiting for that spark, we might wait forever, because that is not how inspiration works.
I came to that conclusion after reading Managing Editor Susan Rupe’s feature on what inspires advisors. In many of the moving stories she gathered, a tragic event caused people to reassess their lives and find a higher purpose.
They remind us that life can be cruel but these moments also offer an opportunity for fulfilling transcendence.
The refrain is familiar. If you listen to country radio for a little bit, you will likely hear Tim McGraw singing, “I went skydiving / I went Rocky Mountain climbing / I went two-point-seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu … He said, ‘Someday I hope you get a chance to live like you were dying.’”
It’s essentially a healthy message: Don’t take your life for granted and do the things you yearn to do. The dying character does other good things in the song. He’s finally the husband he always should have been. Spent some time with his dad. Nice stuff. But is that really what happens?
When many of us have these crystallizing moments, such as a close call with death, we might vow to live every moment to its fullest. Then eventually we revert to what we’ve always done.
The people in Susan’s article have the capacity to craft something meaningful out of tragedy. It is just as when one person can take a windfall like a lottery winning and spin it into greater riches while another person can lose it like water through their fingers.
The real guy from the McGraw song would likely return to being a lousy husband who doesn’t call his dad anymore. Inspiration fades like the memory of a movie you cried through.
Inspiration is a lever lifting people to their higher selves. Staying there and then rising higher is the trick.
That doesn’t mean inspiration is useless, only that it helps to be in a place where inspiration can grow. It is just like luck, where hard work meets opportunity. I knew someone who fit the mold in the McGraw song. He was a former colleague who I learned had prostate cancer. He was in his early 50s and had been a really healthy guy, a marathon runner even. Nevertheless, his prognosis was not good.
Van Dousmanis had been the photographer at Binghamton University and was a fellow refugee from the crumbling world of newspapers. Photography was not just a living for him but a way of life. At the university, he could have become a hack, snapping grip-and-grin pictures all day. In fact, that was probably the extent of his job requirement.
Instead he saw his art as a way to reveal people to themselves. That was what people said of him after he died. “He took the photos that helped the campus know itself and remember its history,” said his former colleague Anita Knopp Doll.
I know he didn’t take his cancer as an opportunity to be a better single dad. He already loved his daughter like crazy. I knew that. Everybody knew that.
He didn’t start telling it like it is. He already excelled at that. As he would say, “If you need me to tell you what time it is, I’ll tell you what time it is.” It was clear that he was never waiting for life to happen. I think you can guess what he did after his prognosis. He went skydiving.
When he learned his disease was terminal, he moved to Florida and raced motorcycles. Look at the photo here. Is that a dying man?
The thing is, I am not Van. I suspect that if I knew for sure how much time I had left, I wouldn’t jump out of planes and race motorcycles.
I might climb a mountain, though. But I am not waiting to do that. After a business trip to Phoenix, I decided to go off to Sedona and climb Cathedral Rock. I will be forever grateful that I did.
So, even though a couple in Susan’s article took a heartbreaking moment and developed a heartwarming charity, that might not be our higher purpose. Nothing will propel us to be the people we wish we were. These moments can help us to find the best parts of ourselves, whether that is helping people protect their families or flinging ourselves into the wind.
When you imagine living like you were dying, is it more like a fantasy or your real heart’s desire? When your vision resonates like a bell, that’s when you stop dying.