The Difficulty with Inspiration

I just updated my LinkedIn profile, its one of those administrative tasks necessary for the maintenance of a career that I loath almost as much as an annual performance review or a weekly “one-on-one.”  These tasks themselves aren’t really that difficult, but, I think, the problem I have with them is that they revolve around the meta of how we choose to make a living.

And choice it still remains.  I’ve not whittled down my options to the point where a position wearing a goofy, bright red and yellow polo shirt with a plastic ink-jet printed name tag stuck to it is the option.  I suppose I’m still smart enough to make a go of this writing business and I’ve nearly got my first manuscript ready for editing.  So I’m producing as fast as I’m able.

And I remain able to produce because I’m more or less constantly inspired.  Usually by little things, or little questions.

Back in those good ol’ IT days, it too was little things there that made the best motivation.  “Big hairy issues”, the kind that almost always get handed to system administrators, more often than not have no simple solutions.  To even attempt resolution here, you’ve got to peel that onion apart, layer by layer, and be prepared, once its apart and laid out in many, many piece to put it all back together again.  Usually on a timeline.

While out updating said profile, making it appear to all the world that I’m officially on the fiction writer-track, I noticed an article “What Inspires Me: Tackling Tough Issues, Head On” by the current CEO of Red Hat Jim Whitehurst.  There is a certain amount of amusement and animosity an article filled with this much corporate mumbo-motivational-jumbo can simultaneously impose upon a reader.  I immediately reached my personal, endurable maximum for both when I somewhat foolishly clicked on through and began reading.

I can see and understand how Whitehurst is want to inspire his followers and employees to work harder and longer, just like him, in an effort to emulate their hero and corporate master.  Having been there, I mean in the employee position before, I know how easy it is to swallow the kool-aid.  Whitehurst insists that he’s “found success in my career because I’m not afraid to tackle difficult challenges.”  But he fails to realize he falls into a category of people who can only, within the business or IT world, be considered elite or privileged.  Harvard education and a long list of well monied social contacts, this guy does not want for much.

Come to think of it, there are very few humans on this planet who fear difficult challenges.  If that were the case then there would be a long history of cowering apes huddled and hiding at the first sign of violence or scarcity.  And indeed, there are many humans who are challenged by vexing questions much more meaningful and significant than “how will the company make its next couple of million?”  The problem is, as I see it, that none of this leads to inspiration.  There is no stimulus that, regardless of momentary levels of fear or bravado, results or encourages some miraculous and hitherto unrealized solution or successful resolution.  In fact, a solution is only a possible byproduct of inspiration.

Whitehurst has obviously managed groups of teams of people dedicated to solving complex and potentially difficult issues.  He may, at various points in his career, contributed to the development of a successful business strategy.  And he’s got the tools to do this too.  I find it somewhat specious for him to claim that the key to his success is nothing more than hard work and bravado in the face of an intellectual challenge.  What is more, the claim that he’s inspired by these hard problems makes me wonder “to what end.”  Unlike all those individual contributors, through some quirk of his particular situation, his parachute is golden.  His fear of failure is dramatically more limited than those who work for him.  Should he find a problem to great for a solution, he can find another job.  There will always be sufficient creature comforts, despite his life total list of success and failures.

Regardless, I’m increasingly aware of the inherent difficulty regarding inspiration.  I know I’m dependent on having these moments where a spark of a question or passing notion becomes the driving motivation behind some story or other.  Without these, I’ve got a pretty mundane existence that won’t yield much in the way of enjoyable manuscripts.

Man does laundry and once its all folded and put away, he does some more is not a compelling cover letter to submit to a publisher.  So, I’ve realized, I’ve got to listen to that voice that questions things and whispers ideas every so often.  Write these things down, and shelve them for those times when the piles of laundry are high, the dishes need cleaning and the voice has gone silent.

That’s inspiration.  Its that voice whispering in the dark that may or may not grace you with its gentle little spark.  And its difficult because its not a debate, a business plan, or a even a problem waiting to be solved.

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