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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

Steal Your Inspiration

Barceloneta Doorway, acrylic on a paper bag, 16"x12", 2002, Stuart Sheldon

Inspiration arrives when she damn well pleases, and when she does show her elusive face, you grab her by both cheeks and French kiss that beautiful mouth. This embrace is the rapture we all seek in our work, creative or otherwise. That is why, in her absence, we must steal our inspiration.

I have a blog to crank out every week, and I admit, it’s hard to make it worth your time. I missed last week because I couldn’t find the muse. But, that’s really no excuse. It’s up to me, and all of us, to find our inspiration when we need it. The good news is, it’s everywhere, all the time. The bad news is, like most, I’m a blind fool who often misses the obvious.

We are often motivated but rarely inspired.

Motivation is the protein, the basic building block of healthy living: the need to feed the kids, the hope for a promotion, the recognition we’re out of shape. Inspiration is the $345/ounce, shaved, black truffle that makes life ridiculously delicious: building a treehouse with the kids, an epiphany that doubles the company profits, running an Ironman.

Maine lobster, aromatic herbs and shaved black truffles

Maine lobster, aromatic herbs and shaved black truffles

When inspiration rides atop motivation, you’re unstoppable.

I’ve been asked countless times, what inspires you? I don’t like this question, because there’s no clear answer. It comes when it comes, wearing infinite disguises, often cloaked in the rags of mundanity. Last week, I watched Frozen with my kids on my mom’s couch and was choked up by the  crescendo in the song, Let It Go (yes, I admit it. PS. the cold doesn’t bother me anyway). I roomed with a blind friend for a weekend in a motel once, and felt humbled and awed watching him methodically lay out his toiletries, so that he could wash, brush and shave each morning.

Nicolas de Staël's inspiring orange work

Nicolas de Staël standing before one of his brilliant orange abstractions

Inspiration typically arrives in fragments: a turn of phrase, a shade of blue, a high-note nailed. But sometimes, when we’re extra lucky, it immerses us fully.

When I lived in Europe, I got deeply inspired by the paintings of Nicolas de Staël. I’d never heard of him, but for some reason, standing alone before his epic canvases in the Pompidou, the audacity and scope of his effervescent-orange tableaus really hit my G-spot. Why? Can’t say … that’s the magic … but I rushed home to my studio, where a whole new direction arrived in my work: the Streets of Paris series.

Streets of Paris - Tour de France, acrylic on canvas, 43"x36", 2003, Stuart Sheldon

Streets of Paris – Tour de France, acrylic on canvas, 43″x36″, 2003, Stuart Sheldon

Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Seth Godin said, “Steal your business model. We don’t have a shortage of business models, it’s okay if you pick one that’s already working for someone else.” Both tenets apply to all aspects of life. In fact, I stole this blog post idea from Godin. 

“Stole” is not the right word. I prefer utilized. Stealing is what I used to do from my neighbors’ mango trees as a kid. It was neither sanctioned nor appreciated. I felt inspired by Godin’s basic notion, gave him proper credit, and riffed to make it my own.

There is one thing you absolutely CANNOT steal or borrow. You cannot steal it, because it is already yours … and yours alone. It is the thing you do more right than most, if not all, others. Your special sauce.

Your Special Sauce

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This inspiring thing of yours changes the way we feel about our own lives. It gives the rest of us what brand guru, Bruce Turkel, refers to as “emotional benefits,” a critical step above “functional benefits.” I think of Mrs. Rifas, my junior-high English teacher, who turned me onto Catcher In the Rye and A Separate Peace. And who played a recording of The Telltale Heart so terrifying that the girl in front of me threw up. Functionally, she helped me read good books, but emotionally, she infused these books with the sense of wonder and magic they deserved. My hope is to instill this exalted delight in my children and beyond … via the words I write, the art I make, and most importantly, the infinite gratitude I feel, and hopefully, project.

Every action and product can and should be inspired and inspiring. 

What is that inspired thing for you, the thing you do that will make the rest of us tip our hat to you forever more?

If you cannot answer that question today, steal something.

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