Are You Motivated? Or Inspired?



[Originally published on June 1, 2016]

Motivation Is Not the Same as Inspiration

Sometimes inspiration comes from a place of need or want. And please note that I am speaking of “inspiration”, not “motivation”. We all know that being motivated can come from the offer of great reward (positive) or from fear or dread (negative).

A man being chased by an angry bear is no doubt highly motivated to run and to run as quickly as he can.

Someone with an opportunity to make $1,000 for a few hours work can be equally motivated.

But inspiration is of a different nature. The word itself comes from the idea of something breathed into one’s spirit, or divine guidance. To be inspired does not necessarily equate with being motivated, however. Yet, paradoxically, being greatly inspired can birth great motivation.

And this is what we often need.

Motivated to Inspiration

Consider Ulysses S. Grant.

He was the top general of the Union forces during the Civil War, and eventually served two terms as President of the United States. And while he was considered a hero and venerated greatly by his contemporaries, he was not much of a business man. In fact, his only real success came as a soldier and somewhat as the Chief Executive.

But in civilian life he did not prosper.

After leaving the White House, his lack of success at civilian life continued. He was a partner in a financial firm only to have his partner, Ferdinand Ward, embezzled their investors’ money. Consequently, the firm went bankrupt in 1884, as did Grant. That same year, Grant learned that he was suffering from throat cancer. While his military pension was reinstated, he found himself and his family strapped for cash.

Motivation Comes From Many Places – Even Desperation

At the urging of his friends Grant began selling magazine pieces about his life, though he resisted the call to pen an autobiography. But the need for funds persisted.

It was at this juncture that inspiration came in the form of the famed novelist Samuel Clemens. Clemens – also known as Mark Twain – had recently established a publishing company and needed a sure-fire bestseller to launch this enterprise. That need, coupled with a genuine desire to help his friend Ulysses S. Grant, pushed him to convince Grant to publish his memoirs.

Grant, realizing he was dying and that he had little to leave his family, negotiated a contract with Twain. The throat cancer began to rapidly do its damage and Grant found himself in a veritable life-or-death race to finish his memoirs and thus leave a legacy for his wife and children. He was wholly inspired and took to the task readily and with a steely resolve.

Often Necessity Can Both Motivate and Inspire

True to the inspired expectations of Mark Twain, the two-volume set went on to sell some 300,000 copies, and became a classic work of American literature. Ulysses S. Grant died on July 23, 1885, just as his memoirs were being published, at the age of 63.

Ultimately, the work earned Grant’s family nearly $450,000, or roughly $$1,000,000 in today’s dollars.

Grant’s inspiration arose from a deep-felt need and moved him to pursue a mission which, in his case, was given greater urgency by his impending death and the fate of his loved ones. While you and I may not find ourselves in such dire straits, the value of giving ourselves to a “mission” and being sufficiently inspired to accomplish it will far outweigh any amount of mere “motivation”.

So get inspired.

Have a mission.