Inspiration has a bad reputation. Simply stated words send a jolt through our brainwaves and spark our soul. All is good yet it is fleeting. What lasting impact was made?

No change made.

Just a feel-good moment.

Why inspiration gets a bad rap is because too many make it superficial.

Superficial is something written on a napkin with no substance.

Inspirational is something said backed up with action.

Maybe it goes to intent. Being superficial translates into an intent to get “likes” on words typed in a colored box. Being inspirational translates into an intent to spur a new way to think about a situation or take a new action when facing a challenge.

Work Is More than Inspiration

When I read the quote that Heidi Oran included in her post earlier this week, it hit home.

“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” – Chuck Close

Who is Chuck Close? I looked him up. He is an American artist known for his photorealism. His story is so much more. In 1988, Chuck felt a pain in his chest. After completing his role at a ceremony, he walked across the street to a hospital, and a seizure hit him, resulting in being paralyzed from the neck down.

A harsh reality strikes. Did Chuck Close give up? No. He continued to paint with a brush taped to his hand.

Superficialness is for amateurs. Inspiration is for realists.


When I consider the Chuck Close quote, I think his thought is misworded. Superficialness is for amateurs. Inspiration is for realists. The difference swings from inaction to action. Within Chuck Close, an inspiration didn’t die with his seizure. It kept him doing the work.

Superficial words on a napkin get tossed. Plans drawn out on a napkin get thrown away when the bottom drops out. What survives is our fueled inner spirit to get up and do the work. Superficial words and plans melt as fast as they are jotted down. Working inspiration provokes us forward.

Leadership Challenge: Skip the Superficial

For leaders, we need to guard against being superficial. Words without substantive action injures organizational culture. Leaders need to be inspirational, but the inspiration needs to be backed up with respectable examples. Doing so strengthens a generation of leaders and builds a culture that lasts.

Good leaders are realists. Reality strikes unexpectedly and how we act sets a new stage in how others respond. Within the soul of a realist is a strong reserve of inspirational sparks that fuel action forward.

superficial versus inspirationalBad leaders are superficial fundamentalists. They just focus on the words and everything afterward is hollow.

Our challenge. Be an inspirational leader who shows up and gets to work.

Ditch the napkin of superficial words and inspire meaningful work that matters for future leaders, the longevity of an organizational mission, and societal impact. Be a working leader who produces and empowers positive outcomes.

Our Individual Challenge: Do the Work

Here is how we can inspire ourselves and others:

  • Stop reading posts on how to be productive and do the work you are built for while doing the work that pays the bills
  • Stop trying to find the mythical formula to life and just live each day by doing work that is divided between providing for yourself and others who need you and building something of lasting outcome for the future
  • Read longer articles more than shorter ones and always, always read books
  • Stop trying to balance life and work and focus on your life work
  • Stop trying to do it all and take breaks to refresh your soul and minddo this often

Now, get busy doing the work that inspires.


Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash.