An inspiring story or experience has the power to change your life or reinforce the path you're already on. It really does. But different things inspire different people.
Take business or self-help books, for example. They must work for somebody. Just not for everybody. Parables about cheese don't really cut it for me. As for other people's habits, they can keep them. All seven.
I actually did learn a few things from The One Minute Manager and What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School, but nothing inspiring. Nothing life-changing. And certainly nothing that inspired me to change. To be different.
Likewise, I find inspirational quotes to be of little value, except in the context of a moving story. I guess a lot of us lack the attention span or the time for anything but sound bites, these days. If it isn't 140 characters or less, forget it. It's sad. Really.
Here's the kind of story that I think is truly inspiring and motivating. Of course, I feel that way because, long ago, that's the affect it had on me. It inspired me to change course. It made a big difference in my life at a time when I really needed one. Maybe it'll work for you too.
I went through a rough patch in college. Guess I sort of lost my way. Three weeks before the end of the semester, I was flunking my major classes. That's when my girlfriend took me to see a student production of the hit Broadway musical, Pippin.
Pippin was the son of King Charlemagne. Since he didn't get much love or attention from his busy father, he was sort of a lost soul searching for purpose, his place in the world, his Corner of the Sky, as he calls it in one of the songs.
My heart went out to Pippin. I saw myself in him.
In search of himself, Pippin tries every kind of adventure a King's son can try: art, religion, war, sex, even tyranny. Nothing worked.
Lost, confused, depressed, and desperate, Pippin finally finds happiness in the one place he never thought to look: living a simple, modest life with Catherine--a widow he met along the way--and her son. The son of a king found fulfillment in the humble comfort of a caring family.
The play's musical score and lyrics were equally inspiring, but one song in particular really spoke to me. I've never forgotten it. To this day, it triggers a memory of a lost soul who comes to the sudden realization that life is about the little things. The simple things. Life is about living. No more, no less.
To this day, the chorus of the song No Time at All brings back all those feelings I felt that day more than 30 years ago:
Oh, it's time to start livin'
Time to take a little from this world we're given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all....
That play, that song, that simple lesson, that story that so resonated with me because I saw myself, my own desperation, in Pippin, is what inspiration--the kind that can motivate you to change your ways--is all about.
I went back and saw the play again the following night. It drew me like a magnet. And the next day, I changed. I really changed. I spent the next three weeks doing nothing but studying. No partying, no nothing. Just hard work. I aced my finals and never looked back.
To this day, when I'm lost, confused, desperate, I remember Pippin. I remember how I felt that day. I remember what really matters in life. With that perspective, I can see things clearly again. I figure out what I need to do. And I do it. And everything turns out okay.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, executive coach, and former senior executive of the technology industry. He's managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consulting firm. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook,Twitter, or LinkedIn. @SteveTobak