What Inspires You?

I was thinking recently about one of the biggest challenges of entrepreneurialism – breaking out of the hypnotizing redundancy of everyday life.  Breaking out of your routine, breaking off the shackles of limitations your mind puts on your body and soul – the heart of creativity and entrepreneurialism is breaking out of those limitations.

Ideas are fragile.  They’re easily missed, and rarely developed – especially when you can’t commit the time to sustaining the process from idea to action.  And when you’re stuck in a cycle where other things constantly demand your attention, developing ideas into something meaningful or sustainable is rarely possible.

Have you ever had a rather interesting conversation going with other adults when a child comes in with some whiney meaningless stupidity and the conversation gets totally derailed?  My observation is that 99% of the time, that conversation never resumes.  Creativity and entrepreneurialism can be like that; it’s a fragile, sometimes unexpected conversation in a gossamer veil extinguished at the slightest and most unimportant urgency of now.  After a sustained period of losing this battle, you may even be incapable of simply recognizing ideas.

At some point you look at yourself and say – is this who I’m supposed to be?

The Boss asks, "Where do you stand?"

Bruce Springsteen said about his 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town, that he was writing about the time in life where you ask yourself what’s important – in essence, where do you stand? He said that as he viewed it, you have to decide what you will compromise between responsibilities like going to work, paying your bills, feeding your children, and those parts of your identity that if you let them go you’re losing an essential part of yourself.

From time to time, one must make a profound shift in your existence in order to break the shackles and become the person you want to be, the person you are supposed to be.  To recognize as Bruce might put it, that you’ve compromised too much and you’ve lost an essential part of yourself.

Sometimes reclaiming that self is done through something symbolic.  It’s hard to wake up and say, I’m changing my life today.  It’s a lot easier to say it and go take some step that represents commitment.  I’m the kind of guy who goes and buys a bike to get fired up about cycling.  It’s like the commitment is made and the follow through is up to me.  I like to prove I’m worthy of the follow through, that I’m up to the challenge.

Occasionally, one of those commitments is life changing.  In 2006, I bought a grand piano and it became that kind watershed sort of moment.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but in retrospect I look back on it as almost an ascent to manhood – the moment that I took back control of my own destiny.  As I saw it later, it represented the moment that I stopped trying to be what I thought I was needed to be and reclaimed an essential part of myself.  And in the long run, I think that unleashed a potential to be more successful in every aspect of life.

To me, the piano embodied a musician’s independence – expression, creativity, it allowed you to develop your own style.  Fulfilling a sort of lifelong desire, buying it gave me a sense of “now I’m in control”.  The instrument itself is already one of the last purely mechanical, yet tremendously intricate and complicated pieces of hardware out there – organic, complex, challenging.  It was muy caro too which to me represented a depth of the commitment.  And exclusive – not everyone would make the commitment to owning such an instrument.

With Springsteen’s Darkness protagonist, you think of a person who is trying to decide if he should get up and go to work or just go get in a hotrod car and drive away from his life.  In Born To Run, he most certainly drives away, but his more mature Darkness protagonist decides it might be enough to just be build a hotrod in his backyard.

Whether it’s a piano or a hotrod, it’s important to grab control of your destiny whatever it takes, and to break out of the redundancy of everyday life so you can become what you’re meant to become.