How to become an inspiring person: Five easy steps

These days, everybody wants to inspire[1]. For some, this is a job necessity, such as for those leading handfuls, hundreds, or thousands of others who regularly need to be cheered up and motivated. For others, “being inspiring” is today’s equivalent of what was once called “being famous” or “being popular” and therefore a purpose in and of itself. For still others, to inspire means to realise the dream of transmitting their own dreams to followers waiting to be woken up from their respective dreams (or nightmares). Whether any of these descriptions fits your motivation or not: You probably wouldn’t mind becoming an inspiring person, would you[2]?

Michelangelo_Caravaggio_065

Michelangelo Caravaggio, Narcissus (1598/9) found here [retrieved Jan 21st, 2016]

The following five easy steps to becoming an inspiring person are based on thorough analyses of biographies of those who have been labeled as inspiring – from authors of bestsellers in categories such as “business” or “self-help” to people mentioned on lists of inspiring people, assembled by highly trustworthy websites, agencies, or institutions[3]. Of course, there is no guarantee that following their example will make you inspiring straight away. There’s always an element of luck in such endeavours, and what works for billions of others might just not be the right path for you[4]. At the same time, not trying will not get you anywhere, as with practically all things in life. So let’s go for it, okay[5]?

  1. Choose birth as an outsider. The first indispensable ingredient to becoming an inspiring person is to be born on the fringes of whatever is mainstream thinking or being. This can mean choosing to be part of a minority – ethnic, linguistic, ideological, behavioural, or by any other criteria you can come up with. Being an outsider will make it easier for you to create a life-story of overcoming obstacles, fighting a hostile majority, and coming to grips with your challenging history[6]. If you’re having a hard time finding a suitable minority environment as a birthplace, you can also choose to be born as a woman (exposing yourself to gender biases of all sorts) or as a man (adopting all possible variations of impostor syndrome from very young age onwards). Or, if all else fails, you might want to choose to be born as a human being, having to face all deficiencies of our race right from the start and all the way through to the end.
  2. Invite a blow of fate. The second necessary step towards becoming an inspiring person is to make sure you’re hit by some kind of catastrophe, the earlier in life, the better. If you’re lucky[7], it just comes your way in the form of a dire accident, the sudden death of a loved one, or some local (or global) disaster crossing your path. If, by chance, you were spared by destiny’s unpredictable strikes, you’ll have to make an extra effort to dig up the hidden trauma that left its traces in your mind, body, and soul[8]: A major injustice inflicted upon you in kindergarten, an unbearably embarrassing outfit you were forced to wear for some family reunion, or a grave misunderstanding with your adolescent friends about which club to hang out in – any of these can be moulded into a life-changing wound. Or, if all else fails, you might have to disclose that you, too, came across the intolerable discovery of your own mortality.
  3. Create your own moment of revelation. The third vital element for becoming an inspiring person is to create a personal moment of mind-blowing epiphany. This can – but doesn’t  have to – be connected with the blow of fate just described. More important than this connection, however, is that in some very specific individual situation (in a bus or in a cave, on a bike or on a mountain, led by a spiritual boss or all by yourself) you’re hit by a deep truth about the universe, mankind, or any other all-encompassing category that you somehow relate to. And, even more important: That you start talking about it, everywhere, to everyone, in every context[9]. The more personal the experience, the broader the conclusion, and the more pervasive your expositions around it, the better. If nothing happened, you can always make something up (don’t worry, nobody will notice). Or, if all else fails, you might need to adopt the universal revelation that, ultimately, there are no revelations.
  4.  Assemble an authentic self. The fourth step on your way to becoming an inspiring person is to patch together what many today like to call an authentic self. A fairly accepted method to go about this is to do anything you fancy doing while proclaiming that you’re doing whatever you’re doing because you want it yourself – as opposed to you wanting it because someone  else wants it for you[10]. You’re on a good way to completing this step when you notice that your behaviour offends others while you’re able to shrug your shoulders and turn your back on the offended[11]. If you’re having difficulties with this, you can also declare your authentic self as being one with whatever context your personal preferences make you feel comfortable in: The universe, mother nature, the interconnectedness of all earthlings, your neighbourhood’s grocery store, or the cracked screen of your smartphone. Or, if all else fails, you might try to fabricate a momentary self out of the fleeting presence of what appears, right here, right now.
  5. Commit yourself to a passion. The fifth and final building block for becoming an inspiring person is to dedicate your life to a cause. For many, this means combining their personal blow of fate with whatever personal revelation they stumbled upon, translating a tragic chainsaw massacre into a lifelong obsession with fighting for safer power tools, or transforming the discovery of a tiny blue flower into a never-ending dedication to botany, ikebana, and underwater photography. If there’s no straightforward connection like this for you, you can always pick a cause that’s right in front of your doorstep, such as saving earthworms, collecting trash cans, or guerrilla embroidery. In any case, you need to make sure that you’re burning for whatever you’re pursuing[11]. If all else fails, you might choose to follow the lonely passion of giving up on passions, not out of resignation, but for their own sake and for others’ sake.

So there you are: Born as an alien, reduced to stardust when the meteor hit you right in the face, transformed into pure wisdom after a chance encounter with a egg timer, exploded in fireworks of self-expression, and committed to saving the world, helping homeless nomads, and rescuing the nine-legged arctic spider from imminent extinction. So there you are: Look at yourself – do you already feel the tinkle of inspiration? Look at yourself, there you are: Born human, mortal, disillusioned, a continuous stream of discontinuities, committed to never being committed. There you are. This is it.

Now, look at the inspirations around you.


[1] This statement is based on my personal (therefore totally non-representative) discussions with candidates interviewing for various scholarships and jobs, conversations with executives in various positions, and on cursory reading of various “business” and “self help” books and articles over the past years. There might be exceptions to the rule. For a different view on the subject, listen here [retrieved Jan 21st, 2016]. BACK TO TEXT

[2] If you’re really, absolutely, truly not interested in becoming an inspiring person, you might still want to read on so you can understand what others do to achieve this. Of course, you can also just stop reading and to something useful instead. It’s totally up to you.BACK TO TEXT

[3] Naming any individual or source in particular would do all the others injustice, so I leave you with my word for the reliability of my observations. I welcome suggestions for scientific research to support my hypotheses. Please contact me via the “comments” section anytime.BACK TO TEXT

[4] Just for fun, you can watch this [retrieved Jan 21st, 2016].BACK TO TEXT

[5] You can find more courage here, if you need it [retrieved Jan 21st, 2016].BACK TO TEXT

[6] A random example of this kind of story is here [retrieved Jan 21st, 2016].BACK TO TEXT

[7] This is not to be misunderstood: Being hit by one of the experiences mentioned hereafter is not fun at all, and most people would probably prefer to avoid it. However, in the context of wanting to become an inspiring person, in the descriptions of those who lived through them, these very same experiences are ever so often magically transformed into springboards for future fame and success. It’s okay if you disagree with this perspective or regard it as cynical. I agree with you.BACK TO TEXT

[8] Watch this for a moderately traumatizing soundtrack [retrieved Jan 21st, 2016].BACK TO TEXT

[9] A beautiful illustration of the mindset needed to support this attitude is here [retrieved Jan 21st, 2016].BACK TO TEXT

[10] This, of course, cannot be talked about without this song [retrieved Jan 21st, 2016].BACK TO TEXT

[11] As a caveat: The fact alone that others feel offended by whatever you’re doing is not a reliable indicator of any kind of self-expression at all, authentic or not. Above all else, it’s an indicator that you did something that offended somebody else.BACK TO TEXT

[12] For me, growing up in 1980s, this might have been a suitable soundtrack for such thoughts. Apologies to all representatives of younger and older generations – you might not get it at all [retrieved Jan 21st, 2016].BACK TO TEXT

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