What I’ve discovered is that there are three types of people who inspire you, both as a creative person and a human being.
The first (and the most distant) are the people of fame and importance that you take your cues from – thinkers, politicians, authors, celebrities, etc, who you likely will never meet, but whose work you look to as an example for your own development. If you’re incredibly lucky, you get the chance to see these people in the flesh – as I did a few nights ago, at the opening gala for the new Star Trek exhibit that begins its traveling tour here in Ottawa. The gala was hosted by none other than William Shatner, whose work I’ve long admired and who I’ve always dreamed of seeing live. Mr. Shatner is a controversial figure, in some ways, but that doesn’t lessen the fact that he is one of these larger-than-life people who inspire me. The main thing that has struck me since Thursday is how much presence this guy has. William Shatner is 85 years old, and yet he spent almost an hour on stage at the gala, talking to us and answering questions. If I have even half of his energy when I’m that age, I’ll count myself lucky.
The second group of people who inspire you is similar to the first, except that instead of being distant, you actually get the chance to (often briefly) meet these people of fame and importance and ask those burning questions that you think of when you see them from afar. The well-known author you get to share a drink with and talk writing with. The celebrity you get to speak to at a Q&A to ask something like, “How do you do what you do? What advice would you give me?” It being Comic Con this weekend in Ottawa, there is ample opportunity for this kind of interaction, and I count myself very lucky that I had the chance to chat briefly with Rene Auberjonois earlier today, of Deep Space Nine and Boston Legal. In addition to asking him about his work on Legal, I was able to contribute to his charity work for Medecins sans Frontieres, via his Odo bucket drawings. The inspiration here is that this is another individual using his well-deserved fame for something good; most actors sit at Comic Con booths just signing photos (which I don’t mean to diminish, since many do this out of appreciation for their fans), but Mr. Auberjonois offers something extra: the chance to contribute to something larger.
Finally – and most importantly – there are the people within your personal circle of friends and family, who inspire you on a continual basis. These are the people that teach you in subtle ways – not always with obvious, pointed advice, but sometimes just by the energy around them and the example they set. Again, I count myself lucky to have a number of people like this in my life, but for this post I want to highlight one person in particular: my writing mentor and friend Carolyn Smart, who continues to teach me very important lessons about writing and leading by example. It’s with all of that admiration in mind that I wanted to take a moment to congratulate Carolyn on being awarded a position of tenure at Queen’s University – and in my opinion it took that place far too long to realize how awesome she is. I’ve heard about a variety of creative writing programs at other universities, but none of them sound as awesome as the program that Professor Smart has constructed at Queen’s. If you know anyone who’s considering a post-secondary creative program, send them to her, and she’ll set them on the right path.
Find those people that inspire you. Both the ones you look to from afar, but most importantly the ones in your everyday life. That’s where your personal development comes from, and it’s through that inspiration that you’ll do your best work.