Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success
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Perspiration Beats Inspiration, Every Time

I read a book recently that was full of theory, the latest buzz words and ‘social-media-ready’ quotes. You know what I mean, right? Things like:

‘Be your authentic self’

‘Let your passion drive your dreams’

‘Say what you want to say, but say it with your heart’

‘You are not required to save the world with your creativity’

And my personal favourite:

‘Trust me, your soul has been waiting for you to wake up to your own existence for years’

It’s all good stuff, I suppose, and if reading these kinds of things is your bag (particularly on Instagram), then that’s great. But just remember that inspiration will only take you so far, it’s perspiration that will actually help you achieve your goals.

Getting into theoretical arguments about how much of both (inspiration and perspiration) is required is just another way of putting barriers in the way of perspiration, so you should avoid that one. As is taking your inspiration from someone who has never actually done the thing that they’re inspiring you to do.

Leadership is a great example of that.

The world seems to be full of leadership ‘experts’ at the moment who haven’t actually been leaders. They’re just great at producing quotes and one-liners to inspire others to do the work they’ve never done themselves. 

I wonder how many have tried to be their authentic selves whilst being bullied by a senior government official? How easy they’d find it to let their passion drive their dreams when they have to work every hour of every day in order to survive? Or when confronted with someone who is ordering you to do something when they clearly don’t know what they’re doing, think ‘now, how do I say this with my heart?’.

Serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck says, ‘You should only take the advice of entrepreneurs or business people who have actually built businesses, not people who have just talked about it.’ 

You probably wouldn’t take parenting advice from people who don’t have children. Or decorating advice from someone who’s only ever lived on a boat. Or exercise advice from someone out of shape, would you?

What the world needs more than inspirational quotes is actual practical advice on what to do and what not to do from people who have done it. Give me a ‘top three tips’ over a saccharin-laden, ‘please re-share me’ quote anyday.

Something from someone’s experience, good or bad, that you can have a go at. Something that will force you to think differently. Something that will actually put you to work.

Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos and someone who has built two hugely successful companies from nothing), said in his book Delivering Happiness, ‘Theory is nice, but nothing replaces actual experience.’

These are the people to follow and the kinds of people that you need around you. People who don’t constantly tell you that you’re amazing and you should keep following your dreams, but instead use their experience to tell you (or remind you) what you should be actually and practically doing.

Things like:

  • ‘Start every morning by making a list and putting three things on it. Then, sit down and do one thing. Feel the sense of satisfaction for having completed it, then do another. Take a break, then do the third.’
  • ‘Not feeling energetic? Go to the gym. Or out for a walk or do some yoga. Don’t watch TV.’
  • 'Difficult conversation on the horizon? Be clear on the issue and your expectations and then agree an action plan.'

Practical real world advice that’s helpful and helps you get motivated.

Because once you’ve actually done something, you want to do something else. Maya Angelou (relentless civil rights activist) once said, ‘Nothing works unless you do’ – which is why perspiration beats inspiration, every time.

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