And so my thoughts turned to this person in particular, and others in general who are worthy of this type of award because they inspire. And then I thought about that word and the verb it represents. I thought about my role as a teacher and how "inspire" is part of my job description. I thought about people in my own life who have inspired and those who have not. I thought about how I've told more than one person who's crossed my path that if I do nothing else in this world, let me first and foremost inspire. Were my legacy to be synonymous with one word, let that word be "inspire." If there is room for only one phrase in my epitaph, let it be "She was an inspiration."
But what does it mean to truly inspire? What qualities must one possess to be an inspiration? Will and I discussed this in depth on our evening walk with the dogs, ruminating philosophically under the silhouette of Baltimore's Washington Monument. Here are our collective thoughts on the matter.
In order to be an inspiration, one must:
1 Be passionate. About something. Anything. Just be passionate. Openly. With abandon. Regardless of what others think.
2 Have self-respect. Know what you believe in. Know what you're good at. Then stand up for it and yourself. If you don't have a backbone, get one. Be selfish sometimes. That's what people with healthy doses of self-respect do.
3 Be intellectually curious. Explore, question, research, challenge. Know what you're talking about. Know what others are talking about. Which is directly tied to number four.
4 Be engaging. Read interesting things so you'll have interesting things to say. Go to fascinating places so you'll have compelling stories to tell. Make yourself uncomfortable so you'll always be challenged. Surround yourself with people of other cultures, disciplines, and perspectives so you'll cultivate varying viewpoints yourself. Never stop learning.
5 Stand for something. Ideally, it will be for the right thing. But even if you're unsure, stand up for something. Tall. Strong. Head up, shoulders back. Don't flinch. People will respect you for it.
6 Possess integrity. If you adhere to number five with sincerity, you will have achieved number six. Have you ever watched The Wire? Even though many of the show's characters are involved in all manner of questionable, illegal activities, we like them. Omar? My favorite. Stringer Bell? I cried when he died. Bodie? Unequivocably moral.
And yet, they're all drug dealers; how can this be? Because on a certain, unmistakable level, they are true to their own set of morals and values, defined by the culture they inhabit. They have integrity.7 Persist. To put it simply, in the words of Winston Churchill, never, ever, ever give up. Someone is always watching, and they will notice when you don't. Give up, that is.
8 Model. Be the change you wish to see, embody the values you seek to have emulated. Be honest with and challenge yourself, so you may challenge and be honest with others.
9 Produce. Either alone or by proxy. You can't expect a leader of a large team to have an omnipotent skillset. For example, Steve Jobs probably doesn't have the design skills that Jonathan Ive has. But, by opening doors, removing obstacles, dreaming and articulating lofty visions and creating an environment conducive to innovation and creativity, he creates by proxy through those he leads.
10 Be optimistic. Make lemonade out of lemons. And when you pour it in a glass to find that it's not as much as you thought, remember, the glass if half-full, not half-empty.