Inspiration is Cheap

Why hard work, persistence, and passion make you more valuable than Tesla shares.

You LOVE to be inspired. You look, no, work for it. Spending countless hours watching beautiful documentaries, reading blogs, listening to best-selling audiobooks, going from coffee shop to Etsy shop sipping hand-crafted lattes (or black coffee in my case) and thinking to yourself “hey, I could make that”. It’s part of what makes you who you are and it’s part of what makes me who I am. I am always looking for that next thing that will strike like lightning sending me on some sort of creative bender tearing the universe apart in an oh-so-beautiful fashion.

If you rolled your eyes at any of that, you get it. I am going to get real with you right now—it’s bullshit. Am I allowed to write that on here? Frankly I am not sure why I’ve been allowed to write on here at all, but alas here’s a quote:

Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.

That’s from the mouth of American painter Chuck Close so it must mean something and despite my sarcasm, it does.

We all get inspired and that is more than okay, but to simply be inspired is not enough. There are going to be times when nothing moves you, when nothing sparks your interest. You know this feeling well, the job you once loved now has become your biggest chore. The project you dreamed of working on now is the most dull part of your day. What changed? The job didn’t, you did.

I met a successful photographer for coffee in Seattle, near Olympic Sculpture Park, while visiting some years ago. I doubt he would remember now, but our time together will stick with me for the rest of my life. I was younger and just getting started doing freelance design-work. Hoping to gain some insight from a fellow creative I asked him all sorts of questions about his work, his worldview, his thoughts on photography, and where he wanted to be in the next five years. They all seemed like the appropriate things to ask someone you’ve never met. The answers I got were bewildering to say the least. At the time he was going to school to become a pastor (weird, I know) and didn’t even consider himself a serious photographer, but just someone that enjoyed taking photos. I thought he was selling himself short.

We walked through the park for some time chatting, getting to know each other, and swapping stories—afterall I had never met the guy and asked him out of the blue if we could meet for coffee over a Gmail chat. He was kind to oblige me.

At one point along our walk he stopped, edged over to the water, lifted his camera, and snapped a photo. “I take a picture from this same spot almost every day” he said “I can never get it right and I probably won’t, but I still take it. I have hundreds of this same photo.” He pointed across the water to a dull, lifeless Puget Sound with an island in distant view explaining to me that you can only get to it by ferry. He recommends I go while in the area.

I was baffled by this, “You take the same photo every day” I asked. Little did I know at the time he was putting to practice a creative habit. It was then I learned that creativity takes practice, hard work, and persistence.

You’ve heard it said before “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”, I would argue that is false. Rather you do what you love and you work hard at it every single day, because in this practice of discipline you stop being an amateur and start being a professional.

Work hard. Be persistent. Do what you love, but trust me it will get real dull sometimes and that my friends is the most exciting part.