Stop Looking for Inspiration: Why “Action First” Part I

saudi-arabia-sunriseEveryone wants to feel inspired. We want to look at a sunrise over a perfect ocean horizon and find our life’s purpose right where the glow of orange reflects off the surface of the glassy water. We expect to look at a picture of a person standing on top of a mountain with the words “carpe diem” written across the sky, and somehow suddenly know the new direction we should take in our life. And maybe, in that moment of seeing or hearing the perfect thing, we instantaneously lay out a roadmap for change. We envision the steps we need to take that will set us on the path to the greatness we saw reflected on the horizon. And then we take our eyes off of that image, and before any real change occurs, the once red-hot belief that anything is possible has gone cold. Soon, we are once again scouring the internet, seeking that inspiration. The vicious cycle of inspiration without action.

Frank Tibolt was an early 20th century businessman who managed a chain of successful restaurants in Philadelphia. During his time in these restaurants, Tibolt developed a keen interest in the traits, qualities and methods used by successful people. As a result, Tibolt published numerous articles and books on the topic and is widely regarded as one of the forefathers of the American self-improvement industry. His ideas about inspiration and its relationship to action might seem somewhat out of fashion for today’s society which is focused on motivational posters and memes that can be shared quickly across social media.

Tibolt’s study of successful people led him to the conclusion that:

“We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action.”

Wait, what? I am supposed to start something, without being inspired? Yes. Yes you are. It’s normal for folks who are in transition, or even a pre-transition, period of life, to want a roadmap for change. The tricky part is that in order to have a map, you also have to have a destination. We want our lives to be an inspired quest towards that destination. And that’s great; if you don’t want to actually get anything done.


Let go of needing a roadmap for change.

When I started my coaching practice, Action First, I did so based on a philosophy cultivated from the work of Tibolt and Dr. Kevin Gilmartin (more on Dr. Gilmartin in Part II). I believe that Tibolt was absolutely correct that we must take action, we must actually do something, literally almost anything, so that we can find the inspiration that we seek.

Consider the great composers, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven. They didn’t wake up one day, look at a pretty scene, wait to get inspired then when they finally did, sit down and write a masterpiece. No, they got up every day, sat down, and wrote. And somewhere amidst all that writing, inspiration and ultimately, greatness, arrived. The inspiration followed the action.

In short the idea here is that we must do. At a point, and its earlier rather than later, we have to stop searching. We have to stop seeking, we have to stop looking and just start. But, Sarah, if I don’t know where I’m going, how do I know what to start doing? To be blunt; that’s a cop out. Deep down, everyone knows at least one thing that they can change or start doing that will move them away from their current situation. Sure we don’t know the entire path because we don’t know the destination, but there is always something that we can change.


Maybe it’s changing your diet, maybe it’s training for and running your first 5K. Maybe it’s taking a class about a topic that interests you. I’m not suggesting that you charge off, recklessly with no direction, I’m just advocating movement and action. Something to upset your current circumstances just enough to allow the inspiration you seek to present itself.

In Part II, you’ll learn about the physiological reason to put Action First.


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