The Problem with Pinspiration

I’ve spent the past several months trying to figure out what it is that motivates me to make and embrace changes in my life. There’s a relatively predictable process involved, from what I can tell so far:

1) every-so-slightly perceiving a pre-blem (what I call a problem before it gets out of control) and sensing that something is “off” or out-of-balance in my life – which could go on for quite a while, sometimes years,

2) filling my life up with distractions or numbing myself to any pain, until I feel over-programmed and/or overwhelmed,

3) withdrawing, until I (usually quickly) feel isolated/detached/left-out/insert other words to describe an extrovert’s hell,

4) misguidedly trying help other people with their problems instead of addressing my own and often doling out unsolicited advice that I should actually be giving myself,

5) opening up and talking about (or more likely, dancing around) issues in my life with close friends, confidants, and random people I meet at the airport to get their take on the situation, sometimes before I even have the words or the insight to describe what’s really going on,

6) ignoring all sound advice and continuing to do what I was going to do anyway,

7) somehow, some way, reaching a breaking point where I become aware that a specific change needs to happen,

8) finally making the change, dealing with the fallout, and moving on.

It’s step #7, the “somehow,” that most intrigues me. What’s the catalyst? What’s it made of? Is it different for everyone, or is it more universal?

For me, change usually has to do with the intuitive recognition that my authenticity,  the who-I-am-at-my-core-whether-I-like-it-or-not, is being compromised. I subliminally start sensing that something in my life is depleting more joy than it’s contributing, and then I decide to do something about it. But that’s not very concrete, so what is it, really? It’s that visceral feeling of being about to slip and fall but catching and steadying yourself just in time, where your heart beats a little faster, your breath catches in your throat, adrenaline kicks in, and you can just feel it in your core – that you are about to wreck shit in your own life, but hopefully, for the better. It’s like a falling dream, but you’re waking up mid-slip, and finally, acutely aware of exactly what needs doing.

Here’s the thing I’ve realized: This process, and especially this catalyst stage, is mostly internal. It can involve some external forces, like unbelievably patient friends, a skilled therapist, a sign from the heavens, or a good swift kick in the ass from someone who cares. But overall, for me at least, positive change is intrinsic; it starts and is sustained from within.

My next question then, is this: What are we supposed to do with all the external, often contradictory, motivational and inspirational messages coming at us from all directions? I sometimes catch myself mid-change process, self-medicating with Pinterest. It helps me visualize the future I think I want for myself at a given moment, and it makes the goals and milestones I’m working toward seem more real and more possible. Sometimes though, I suffer from “Pinspiration” fatigue. It can be extremely disorienting and disheartening to decide which messages to listen to, and which to ignore, especially when they so often cancel each other out.

For example, if I listen to all the click-bait posts, the talk-show hosts, the self-proclaimed self-help experts, or that endless supply of inspirational quotes on Pinterest, I’m told:

  • Be who you are and don’t ever change.
  • Change everything about yourself, and start now.
  • Never-ever-ever quit. Have no regrets.
  • If it’s not right, walk away, life is too short. Have no regrets. (Wait a minute, now I’m really lost…)
  • Live within your means.
  • Life the life you’ve dreamed!
  • Love your body.
  • Change your body!!!
  • True love is passionate and worth fighting for.
  • True love is effortless. Stop fighting for it.

I mean…What in the actual $%&# are we supposed to do with that? How do we make sense of these mixed messages? (See below for some of my favorite, mind-and-heart bogglingly contradictory examples.)

Never, ever, ever quit…

But, like, follow your heart and stuff…

Just don’t forget to live within your means…

But don’t let that stop you from living your dreams!

And above all, just be yourself!

Just, maybe, be a totally different version of yourself…

You get the idea.

The problem isn’t that these contradictory quotes and ideas exist, it’s that they can be so alluring and misleading, an easy alternative to the hard work of figuring out who we are and what we want out of life. Instead of listening to our “inn-spiration” – our inner source of energy and purpose – we turn to Pinspiration for that one-click fix. Or, at least I do, anyway.

So here’s my theory: We pick and choose what motivates us in a given moment or situation, wherever that inspiration comes from, whether we realize we’re doing it or not. It’s not about quotes telling us what to do, it’s about what we do with them.

This is true wisdom, knowing how to actualize your own potential. It’s also an aspect of resilience, learning how to get back up every time you fall. Both wisdom and resilience are capacities I’m actively trying to build in my 30’s. I’m learning to activate my internal motivation and (semi) gracefully navigate change when I most need to wreck shit in my own life, whether I want to or not. Critically interrogating which philosophies, faith traditions,  political leanings, song lyrics, bumper stickers, etc. align with my natural disposition and authentic nature is part of that process.

For me, going in the direction of what feels right deep down in my core is what it’s all about. As I grow older, I’m learning  to talk to myself the way I would talk to a best friend, to actually listen to myself earlier and more frequently, to filter out negativity, and to interrupt inauthenticity and adjust my course as needed.

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