If I were to ask you to name the person who has inspired you the most, your first choice might be a celebrity. It also might be a professional public speaker, a successful business person, a spiritual guru, or some other public figure.
But in reality, the people who make the biggest, and most lasting impact on our lives are probably ordinary folks. They might not even consider themselves to be inspirational.
And that’s good, because it means that each of us could potentially impact other people’s lives for the better. There are people around us whose lives are falling apart, people who are looking to someone like you and me for help and inspiration.
So, what does it take to inspire others?
Here are the four characteristics which I believe to be the most important. These are qualities that have nothing to do with social status, education, cultural background or financial standing; just our humanity.
1Authenticity: The Secret of Lasting Inspiration
Although these four qualities overlap, for me, authenticity has to take the first spot, because more often than not, inauthentic people let us down, badly.
Imagine you are listening to a well-known motivational speaker. You are captivated by his story, awe-struck by his charisma. It feels good to be in his presence. You wish you were like him. You follow him on social media. He becomes your idol and your role model.
Until it comes to light that such stories of courage and fortitude, which you found so inspiring, were all made up. Your idol’s reputation is in tatters, and followers like you are left distraught and disillusioned. How do you feel now? Not good, hey?
Thankfully that sort of thing doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
The thing is, we can feel equally let down by lesser-known people if what they’ve told us about themselves turns out to be untrue, so it’s best not to fall into that trap ourselves.
You might think your life story lacks excitement and drama, but that’s not a problem. To be truly inspirational, we don’t have to make up a story; we just have to be ourselves, warts and all.
Your life story is unique, with episodes of pain and happiness, failure and success: you don’t need to embellish, or belittle it. You just need to tell it as it is - others going through a similar experience need to hear it.
2Empathy: showing genuine interest inspires trust
It is not your story per se that inspires, but the emotional connection it creates. Because, as John Maxwell points out, “you develop credibility with people when you connect with them and show that you genuinely want to help them”.
There are times when it’s right to share your own story with others, though they are more likely to be inspired if they can see how it relates to their experience and aspirations.
When people’s experience is the same as, or similar to our own, they feel we understand what they’re going through. Showing empathy could mean having to disclose something about ourselves. However, just being in touch with, and owning the feelings associated with our memories, can often speak louder than words.
To be inspired, your audience (be it just one person, or a crowd) need to feel that they matter and that you are genuinely interested in them as individuals. The best way to convey this is by actively listening to them. And I don’t mean just listening to what they say. If you’re connected emotionally, you’ll get insight into what they truly want to tell you.
So, be fully present – listen and be attentive.
3Vulnerability: It Can Be Painful, But Inspiring
To inspire others, we need to come across as human, regardless of whether the conversation we’re having is on a personal level or in a professional capacity.
As mentioned above, if we want to connect with others on an emotional level, we might need to reveal a little of our true self. I realize this goes against the grain for those of us whose natural inclination is to put barriers around our emotions. However, (as a metaphor) safety barriers are usually stiff and unyielding, behaviours that are not particularly attractive or inspiring in us; so it pays to loosen up.
Now I’m not saying that we should make our mistakes or indiscretions public. Nor am I suggesting that we wear our hearts on our sleeves, or give vent to emotional outbursts. What I am saying is that it is okay to show emotion when relating our own story, or when we’re feeling the pain in other people’s stories.
A word of caution: pretense is off-putting and potentially offensive. Fake emotions have no place here, nor do crocodile tears. Genuine vulnerability, on the other hand, can be a powerful inspiration.
Being vulnerable means that we expose ourselves to the possibility of being hurt: this takes personal courage. Some see it as a weakness, but if tears come, let them. Don’t be embarrassed: “What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful” (Brene Brown).
4Boldness: Ordinary But Inspirational Acts of Courage
Some of the most inspiring people I’ve known are those who have shown courage and integrity. And I’m not thinking about heroic acts that get splashed across the media. Instead, I’m thinking about ordinary people who dare to face life when everything around them is crumbling. Such as:
- People who persevere through multiple failures;
- People who survive abusive and toxic relationships;
- People with reason to seek revenge, but choose to forgive;
- People who stand firm in the face of persecution or injustice;
- People who stand up for others when they can’t do it for themselves.
Is this courage? Yes, both physical and moral.
It was Mark Twain who said: “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare”. But I think if we look into the lives of ordinary people, we’ll find that moral courage isn’t as rare as he imagined. Courage is not the absence of fear, but doing what we have to despite being afraid.
So, what’s the source of such courage?
For some, it’s an inner compulsion; perhaps driven by love, a sense of fairness, philosophy, or religious belief. What’s yours?
My courage comes from believing that I am never alone, because God is in me, and with me, at all times.
Inspired? Now It’s Your Turn
That’s it – the four essential qualities that could help you inspire other people. How many of these do you possess?
You certainly know your life story; you just need to have confidence that relating relevant parts of it can help others get through similar experiences. Being empathetic might require practice, but you can start by being genuinely interested in people, even if that entails making yourself vulnerable.
So be bold. Go for it. At least make a start. Who knows, you might find that you enjoy it so much you will want to make a career of it. If you do, then possessing these four qualities would be an excellent foundation that will put you ahead of the pack.
Finally, a word from Mother Teresa, one of the most ‘ordinary’ inspirational people of all time: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” That’s inspiration at its best.
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Author: Herbie Yon
Herbie Yon is a certified coach, spiritual leader and former senior manager. Herbie has always been passionate about helping people live to their highest potential, both personal and professional. Now, as a certified coach, he is currently offering a FREE GUIDE to others who want to enter the exciting world of coaching and to learn how to change people’s lives for the better.