Influence not inspiration

16 01 2012

When I sat down to consider people who inspire me I realised that I couldn’t think of any. Well, that is not strictly true. I could think of lots, my grandfather for instance, but that is an entirely personal perspective and I cannot expect everyone to sit through a biography of a large chunk of his life and a fair bit of mine in order to explain why he is such an inspiration.

So what I was really looking for was someone who inspired me and who everyone else reading this would know. An inspirational celebrity if you will. But there is a problem here too. We don’t really know the celebrities do we? There is a lot of debate at the moment around the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, sparked by the film starring Meryl Streep. Margaret Thatcher was the first woman Prime Minister, a huge achievement in what is still, some 40 years later, a male dominated environment. In this context she is surely an inspiration but when her actions in government are taken into consideration I would imagine that she is an inspiration only to extreme right-wing politicians, and I do not count myself amongst them. She probably inspired her children, after all they would know her best but then again, possibly not. They would know if she cut her toenails in the bath and drink the left over milk from her breakfast cereal straight from the bowl. She probably didn’t but my point is that we don’t know the whole woman and so how can she be an inspiration? It is better to suggest that some of her actions were inspirational. Better still that she had influence.

I was pondering these thoughts in a cafe with a friend on Saturday morning when her phone buzzed as a text came through. She read it and looked confused and more than a little embarrassed. The text was from a close friend of hers who only a week ago had split up from his long-term partner. He wanted to thank my friend as it was her approach to grasping life and embracing change that had been the catalyst for him to leave a situation in which he felt increasingly trapped. He said that she had inspired him to feel that there was more to life than his current situation. What can you say? My friend had been an inspiration. Not in a way that she had planned or would have wanted but the way she lived her life inspired someone close to her to act. She had, albeit unconsciously, influenced his decision-making.

Which made me think that we can all be inspirational. I may be doing it right now. A couple of months ago I was on an expert panel with three women who I admire greatly. I found myself wondering why I was there. How could what I have to say on any topic be anywhere near as interesting or insightful as what they would say. I didn’t really feel that I deserved to be on the same platform as these exceptional women. Imagine my surprise when, in answer to a question from the floor on the nature of success, one of these women expressed the view that she felt somewhat in awe of her fellow panelists too! We all inspire each other at different times and when we use our influence we have the opportunity to affect change.

The Herald newspaper has a womans pullout section each Thursday. It is a prime example of media tokenism and confirms to the view “women are only interested in botox and handbags.” The sections are listed in order of importance as they see it and read; health, fashion, family,  relationships, work. leisure, opinion – enough said. This week they had “Scotland’s Top 50 Women of Influence”. Setting aside what influence the leader of the Scottish Tory Party might actually have the point is that we should focus on influence. Not inspiration, influence.

So don’t look around for inspiration; for someone to follow. Concentrate on yourself and consider what you can do to inspire others and, more importantly, how to best use your influence.

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