7 Unconventional Sources of Inspiration

woman leaping across a cliff

Not everything is sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes conventional advice on finding inspiration just doesn’t work.

You’ve already taken 10 walks. Worked out 4 days this week. Tried a new early morning routine. Read 20 books. Journaled. Listened to music. Tried everything on the list.

Sometimes you just need to be inspired by the lows and other sources negativity in life.

Hear me out.

I like to think I’m a generally positive person, but I must admit. Some of the most powerful moments of inspiration or motivation have come from negativity. Times where I’ve felt my lowest.

I’m not saying seek out negativity.

But if you’re open to trying a mindset shift–keep fighting, keep trying, and you may find that inspiration can come from very unconventional sources and set in motion some unimaginably wonderful things in life.

7 unconventional sources of inspiration

1. Rejection

Receiving a letter of rejection or being fired from a job (whatever it may be) can be hard to see as inspiring.

But as activist and philanthropist Bryant McGill sees it, “Rejection is merely a re-direction. A course correction to your destiny.

Sometimes feeling super low is exactly what you needed. Strange as it sounds, it can inspire courage within you. Courage that is exactly what was missing in order to take control and make life changes–even something as scary as pursuing a different path altogether.

Or, rejection could be the motivation you need to persevere.

In the winter of 1976, CNBC’s Herb Greenberg interviewed for a job with the Detroit Free Press, but was rejected because the city editor believed the newspaper could find “somebody better.”

“Those words inspired one of those, ‘Well, I’ll show them!’ moments. Being told ‘we can find somebody better’ is crushing. But at the same time, those words resonate and continually inspire me.”

“I keep that memory in my hip pocket and pull it out whenever anybody questions or criticizes my work — or whenever I feel I’m stepping out of my professional comfort zone.”

2. Flawed People

Shane Snow, co-founder of Contently, isn’t inspired by Superman, because “he can’t lose” and “that’s not inspiring.” 

“I like flawed people and underdogs. They can’t just work hard to overcome their obstacles, they have to work hard and smart. And that leads to amazing things.”

Rather than admire or idolize “perfect” people or figures (aka Superman), find inspiration in flawed people.

People who have messed up a lot, or faced many obstacles yet still succeeded. People who regularly own their flaws. They are much more exciting and inspiring than people who seemingly have it together all the time.

Seek out their company, and strive to be that person.

3. People Who Don’t Believe In You

The former first lady Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming,” she talks about how a college counselor didn’t believe in her choice of school.

“‘I’m not sure,’ she said, giving me a perfunctory, patronizing smile, “that you’re Princeton material,’” Michelle writes.

Inspired and motivated to prove her counselor wrong, Michelle applied to the Ivy League school anyway and got in.

4. A terrible role model

I’m not saying seek one out.

But I’m sure at least at one point in your life you’ve had to interact or spend time around a less-than-pleasant person.

Or it could be a public figure. Someone you constantly read about or watch on the news. Someone who, well, sets a terrible “example” as a role model.

Sometimes inspiration lies as much in what we don’t want for ourselves and our lives as it does in the positivity that inspires us the most. This perspective shift can be especially powerful when we feel like all we’re surrounded by is negativity.

5. Do Something Unsafe*

*Within reason of course. I’m not talking about anything to cause physical harm. Calculated risks, as they call them. Don’t completely abandon logic 🙂

How well do you trust your gut instinct? When faced with a decision — whether or not to take a risk — if something feels really scary, “unsafe” even, it must be way too risky, right?

Well, fear causes you to overestimate risk.

So what do I mean by do something unsafe? Do what scares you most. While this alone won’t be the best judgement on the actual risk, you’ll find inspiration and motivation in the fact that oftentimes decisions that seem unsafe aren’t nearly what they appear. We’re just very bad at judging.

If your lack of inspiration stems from feeling stuck or uncertain about an unknown future, doing what scares you most can provide inspiration out of what was originally a negative situation.

7. Have a Movie/TV Marathon

OK…I know this isn’t the most “productive” thing you can do.

But depending on what you choose to watch and how attentive/active of a viewer you are, various characters can spark your interest and inspire a train of thought that you didn’t even see coming.

A character might also learn a lesson in their own life that resonates with you in a way that was exactly what you needed to hear.

6. Quit

Yes, I mean give up. Do something else.

If you’ve tried and tried to find inspiration in a certain area of your life and it’s just not happening, try a different approach.

Whether it’s:

  • A new routine you were trying in hopes of finding inspiration (all the conventional advice mentioned above): If it’s not working, don’t force it. Pick a new activity.
  • An activity you love and that normally provides you inspiration but lately has you feeling stuck (take writing for example): When you’re stuck, the more you write, the less fun it becomes. Even if it’s something you love. It’s because you love writing that you often fail to find any inspiration. As Mark Ellis puts it, “You’re too close to it, which is why quitting regularly is a brilliant idea.” Pick a new activity.

In both cases, quit. You’ll get your inspiration back.

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