Do You Need to Aspire to Inspire?

By April 10, 2013Millennial

To aspire is to rise up to a great plan, an abundant hope of fulfilling a worthwhile mission. To inspire is to convey a feeling of joining a higher cause, influencing soulful action. Simply defined, aspire is an individual effort while inspire brings others into the mix. How do they impact the way we lead?

Aspire and Inspire: Digging Deeper

We read a quote, and we experience a warm feeling inside, calling us to think and work in a better way. We hear someone speak, and we stand up in an ovation of a call to act differently. We read a book, and we close it while opening up a new chapter in our life. We are inspired. Someone came into our life in some way, and we feel differently because of their message or actions.

I stand up, and I reach higher. I reach for that position to take me to new places, new responsibilities, and new influence. I reach for that opportunity to change the world through my writings. I rise up to the challenge of building a platform in which thousands gather to hear every word. I vow to change the world through my thoughts and actions. I aspire to do great things.

Inspire is an “others” activity and aspire is an “I’ activity. This may be too straightforward. However, do these two mix well? Is “aspire” the middle filling of sweet inspiration? Or, is being inspired enough to make a life work well?

Aspire and Inspire: Separate or Together

A disconnect happens when inspire and aspire standalone. When it happens, both lose their meaning.

We focus a lot on inspiration. We want to be inspired because we like the way it makes us feel. However, if we just inspire or feel inspired, is that enough?

Similarly, aspire in a solo mode can be limiting. Inside, we feel good about what we are thinking, writing, and doing. Without others involved, it loses some luster. It isn’t about always needing an audience for what we aspire to do; it is about how communities are needed to make things happen in real, meaningful ways.

So, let’s pair “Aspire” and “Inspire” and see what transpires!

Aspire to Inspire

Un-Engaged. If both inspiration and aspiration are missing from our lives, we lose our soul. We have a fire within, but it needs to be tended to. Without some effort, we become un-engaged and, worse, disengaged. Days float by as if we are lost at sea, and we are. There needs to be some level of either inspiration or aspiration to bring a spark to our lives.

Self-Engaged. What if we just aspire? Now, some would argue that one cannot aspire without some inspiration. Although there is some truth to this, there are people who have that inner drive and are comfortable pursuing large, meaningful goals without much inspiration coming in. Without a solid inflow of inspiration, aspirations may become hollow or off-target. Without inspiring others, we become figurines, standing for many to see but no one to hear.

It may be ego-centric people, or it may be people completely bounded up within their own world. Being self-engaged may eventually lead to frustration, dashed hopes, and delayed dreams.

Sideline Engaged. On the other side, only being inspired means we feel the passion of what is being said and done, yet we just wallow in the emotion. There is no action to bring it to life, enlivening it with our effort and unique talents. We sit on the sidelines, soaking it all in, yet we avoid getting in the arena of meaningful activity.

Similarly, if we are just stringing words together to stir up, we just run along the sidelines and never get in the game. A sideline life is a sidelined life.

Purposefully Engaged. When we add in the right mix of inspiration and aspiration, something magical happens. Purpose ensues! We have lofty goals; we have a meaningful mission. What we aspire to do stirs inspiration in others to join in. And, we are open to be inspired. It’s the fuel for our aspirations.

In tandem, aspiration and inspiration work amazingly well together, better than any duo you can possibly imagine. One powers the other and leans on another. When one is weak, the other re-engages us. When one is stronger, the strength pulls the other up. When both are robust, anything can be accomplished.

In this spirited place, we are open to be inspired. It fuels our aspirations. We also are committed to aspire to do great things in our life and in the way we lead. It energizes others, arousing them to do more and engage completely.

What’s Next?

The question is: Do you need to aspire to inspire? My answer would be a resounding “both!”

As leaders, we need to lift our words and actions up to accomplish meaningful, purpose-filled goals. Calling on ourselves and others to achieve bigger, better things for a common good is inspiring. Without aspirations, inspiration is a sporadic emotion, fading in and out of focus. We need to move beyond the quick-hit, feel-good moments and move into doing things that matter for the long haul, celebrating successes all along the way.

With aspiration, we see on the horizon what is possible, what can be achieved. With inspiration, we whistle while we do the work. It puts the sparkle in our eyes and in our soul.

It is time to aspire greatly, lead spiritedly. It is time to aspire to inspire.

How do aspire and inspire mix in the way you lead and live?

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 27 Comments

  • lollydaskal says:

    VERY INSPIRING thoughts which aspires my heart to soar.

  • Hiten Vyas says:

    Hi Jon,

    The way you explained aspire and inspire is brilliant.

    Both are definitely connected and as you said, one needs the other. Your post got me thinking of something similar, which is attention and intention when one is creating change. One can put their attention on something. However, without strong intention the activity may be carried out in a half-baked way. On the other hand, one can have intention. However, attention on the activity at hand would also be needed, for the intention to have any effect.

    Thank you.

    • Jon M says:

      Hiten, Agree with your perspective. The same correlation between intention and attention can be made as done here with aspire and inspire. There is a relationship that can be leveraged to achieve more in better ways. A great add to the conversation. Thanks! Jon

  • Get Glowing! says:

    Great post, Jon, & thanks! I know when I’ve been aiming low that I’m not inspiring to anyone! Wonderful wisdom & here’s to keeping both inspiration & aspiration burning brightly!

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks so much, Jennifer! Appreciate your feedback and insights. You are always an inspiration, lifting us up in the various chats. As you mention, our aspirations lift us up, and we need to continue to do this. Jon

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  • Great post Jon – I look at the idea of aspiring as striving to be better to be your best! And when you visibly work to be your best – inspiration comes to oneself and to others they can’t help but be inspired… Great pairing of concepts!

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Glenn. I agree with that approach. Our aspirations can drive much inspiration, to ourselves and others. I am grateful you added your voice to the conversation. It is great to meet you! Thanks. Jon

  • Terri Klass says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post, Jon! I never focused on how inspiration and aspiration are interconnected. But you are so insightful and beautifully pulled the two together. I agree that when both are utilized in our lives, we not only touch people but we also energize ourselves. Thanks for this!

  • Karen Jolly says:

    Jon – great post, I agree that inspiration is so uplifting but without aspiring there is no action that takes place. Inspiration coupled with aspiration takes you from feeling good to receiving inspired thought and right into powerful, directed action! Thank you for this great reminder.

  • Lovely post, Jon. The etymology of aspire and inspire are very close. I looked up the words and aspire seems to mean “to breathe” while inspire means “to breathe into.” My take would be that we have to breathe before we can breathe into, much as the airlines’ emergency procedures suggest you put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.

    This is sort of a hackneyed comparison, I know, but leading does seem to depend on both aspire and inspire — very much as you say. And maybe the thing to notice is how important the “oxygen” of larger purpose really is, that we depend on it for our very survival. Once that’s part of our experience, the two terms no longer seem so far apart, and we can’t really experience one without inviting the healing power of the other.

    • Jon M says:

      Great points, Dan. I like pairing oxygen and purpose. You are correct that we need to need to depend on our purpose and breathe life into it everyday. Grateful for your added insights and comments. Your perspective always adds a lot. Thank you! Jon

  • Roopak Desai says:

    Excellent arrticle with deep insights…thank needs both inspirstion and aspiration and cannot thrive without being togather.

  • Dan Mularski says:

    Astute piece Jon. Nice work!

  • Randy Conley says:

    Jon – I appreciate the ways you inspire me to think differently and it causes me to aspire to higher levels of thought and performance myself. Keep up the great work!

  • Wonderful observations, Jon!

    I like to think I’m an inspirational and aspirational blogger and I have seen the power in combining inspiration and aspiration. I share the insights and wisdom from my own journey with my readers and it’s a wonderfully enriching experience!

    I have also seen how empty it can be to only be inspired. Sometimes I receive emails from readers that get inspired by my blog but are not aspired and so they continue to struggle in their lives. They get only temporary relief from being inspired but without aspiring nothing really changes.

    Thanks for your wonderful thoughts on this!


    • Jon M says:

      Thanks for adding to the conversation, Chrysta. Mixing aspirations and inspirations is so important; it is what will ignite a real, meaningful life and leadership practices. Your work definitely provides the fuel to make this happen! Appreciate it! Jon

  • Alli Polin says:

    Jon – You’re right. Leaders need to both inspire and aspire to do more, be more, grow more, care more on and on. You wrote: “Calling on ourselves and others” seems so simple but that’s the essence of every great leader… not just me, not just you ~ us. Thanks, Jon!

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, Alli. Yes, there is a larger community to inspire and be inspired by… it helps us all aspire to do bigger, better things! Jon

  • Great analysis, Jon. However, I’d differ a bit, I hope you don’t mind. I’d go for – Inspire to Aspire.

    I feel inspiration is the key. You can aspire but not achieve without inspiration. However, you can aspire to achieve if you’re inspired. While, I agree that inspiration alone without self-efforts and action doesn’t help much.

    I also believe that You can also be self-inspired and self-motivated. The book doesn’t inspire me, until I want to. If book were the inspiration, it would light the fire in everybody, but it doesn’t. Without the internal mix of “I” nothing can inspire you.

    I believe good leaders are self-sustained. They create their own fire and use that heat to rise high. A thought provoking post. 🙂

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, Harleena, and I always welcome different viewpoints and insights! Diversity makes us think deeper and grow more…. You make sound points on being self-inspired. There is a choice to make. One of the keys, which you point out, is we need to stoke that fire inside. We all have it; we just need to be self-inspired or outward-inspired in order to aspire. I think I got that right 🙂 Thanks, Harleena. Always appreciate the conversation! Jon

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