Permission to be Uninspired

What if our obsession with self-improvement is really a cleverly disguised form of self-rejection?

inspiration

Photo Credit: ashley rose, via Compfight cc

On a Saturday afternoon, my daughter is wailing. She’s screaming like her life is at stake. Her life is not at stake—she’s just tired. But she won’t. stop. crying.

And it’s sucking the life right out of me—like a dementor’s kiss, I’m being drained of every last ounce of happiness.

[Parenting Fail Alert: I just compared my daughter to a dementor.]

Only days earlier, I had published a post about back-to-school and parenthood and our calling to be inspired parents who are inspiring our children. So, on a Saturday afternoon, as I think about running away from home and never coming back, I say to myself, “Kelly, you need to go reread your own words. You need a little inspiration.”

But that thought is stopped dead in its tracks by another thought: “I have no interest in, or ability to be, inspired right now. I couldn’t read that article right now if my life was at stake.”

And I wonder if there’s something really wrong with me.

When Self-Improvement is Disguised Self-Rejection

I love to be inspired, and we need to be inspired. We need to be given a vision of higher ground, and we need to believe its possible to stand there.

We need Martin Luther King, Jr., giving his “I Have a Dream” speech.

We need Ronald Reagan telling Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down that wall.”

We need a montage of windshield video recordings, capturing small, lovely acts of kindness.

We need the moments that remind us life can be redemptive and it’s all headed somewhere and beauty is always just around the corner.

But I wonder if we’ve started to use inspiration like a tall cup of coffee. I wonder if, in a culture addicted to self-improvement and epic stories—in a culture of viral YouTube inspiration and pithy memes—we drink down inspiration like caffeine, using it to propel us into some kind of glorious new place, into a more perfected version of ourselves. And I wonder if, in doing so, we unknowingly participate in a culture of self-rejection.

Perhaps when we feel uninspired and stuck, what we are really feeling is, “I’m stuck with who I am right now, and who I am right now is not good enough.” Not good enough. The slogan of shame. Working its way quietly into even our well-intended efforts to “better” ourselves.

When our sense of worth becomes contingent upon moments of inspiration and constant self-improvement, we need not worry about other people rejecting us—because we’re already doing it to ourselves.

Feeling uninspired and unimproved is a normal part of our good-ordinary lives and an essential part of our humanity. Yet we take the uninspired moments that make up the bulk of our days and fill the expanse of our lives, and we experience them like a final, condemning judgment of who we are.

When Being Uninspired is Good Enough

I hold my wailing daughter and I recall a recent conversation:

“Kelly, I love your writing, but I haven’t read a post in a while.”

“Why?”

“Because your writing is inspirational, and I just can’t find it in me to be inspired right now.”

I hold my wailing daughter, and those words deliver me. Not because they improve me, but because they return me to myself, they return me to the moment. Those words are grace. They give me permission to feel uninspired. They give me permission to be who I am—a tired dad at the end of his rope.

And, ironically, when I embrace who I am, the despair is diminished. I don’t need to fix myself. I don’t need to transform my daughter’s tears into laughter. I don’t need to find a deeper meaning in the agonizing moment. In fact, I don’t need to do anything at all.

Which leaves me free to simply be. It leaves me free to be an uninspired dad with a hopelessly crabby daughter. It leaves me free to hold her and to hug her and to be with her, exactly the way we are. In this moment. And then the next one. And then the next one.

And so I hold my little girl as she cries. I just sit in the mess with her and I feel completely uninspired. I sit there, wiped out by life, and I quit wondering what to do next, and I simply dedicate myself to being this.

To Breathe Life Into

The modern dictionary definition of inspire is: “To produce or arouse a feeling.” However, in its archaic usage, it meant, “To breathe life into.”

Maybe, sometimes, the calling of our lives is not to feel inspired. Maybe sometimes it’s okay to feel purposeless, to not be headed anywhere epic or grand, to not be constantly fixing and improving ourselves.

Maybe sometimes it’s okay to simply breathe alive into the moment.

[Resisting now the temptation to insert here an inspiring closing line that will negate the entire spirit of this post by making it inspirational at the last moment. Resisting. Resisting. Waiting for an authentic way to end this. Waiting. Waiting. Okay, how about this?]

Today, let’s just be who we are. Let’s be uninspired. Let’s quit trying to run from ourselves through self-improvement. Let’s simply settle into the current version of ourselves, and let’s pause our search for an upgrade. Let’s just breathe. And let’s find a moment in which that is enough. Let’s find a moment in which we know we are blessedly good enough, precisely the way we are.

Comments: Can you recall a time when allowing yourself to be “unimproved” delivered you into the the peace of self-acceptance? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Preview: Next Wednesday’s post is tentatively entitled, “Does Unconditional Love Create Entitled Princesses?”

Disclaimer: This post is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Lisa Bartelt

    Once again, we are tracking on the same wavelength. I’m working on a post about accepting who I am, warts and all. I wonder if we people of faith think we have to be constantly improving to prove God is at work in our lives. But sometimes sitting with our feelings, ourselves IS the work of God. Lots to think about.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Lisa, we really are tracking lately; I’m looking forward to reading your post!

  • Colleen Shields

    Great observation – the power of NOW. No agenda; no preconceived ideas or notions. Simply, Tabla Rosa. ‘Be still and know that I am God’; Lose yourself to find your Self. Being fully present; in tune; aware – enabling the mysteries of the kingdom to unfold and Celestial connection/intimate communion (with Self, and others) to occur. Bliss.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Colleen, That comment was packed with so much paradox I can barely handle it. Love it. Thank you.

  • Cynthia

    Okay, I’m just going to breathe today. Thanks, Kelly.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Cynthia, I hope that was “blessedly enough” today. : )

  • Catharine Phillips

    I am sitting in my pajamas at 9:15 in the morning. I read your post. It is wonderful. And… I am laughing hysterically. I am laughing because your invitation for particular comments was an inspirational closer. Really. I write myself. I know this. How does an inspirational writer write about non-inspiration? You did it splendidly.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ha! I can’t believe it snuck into the comments prompt! Thank you, Catharine, as always, for your kind words.

  • Vanessa Portaro

    I have struggled REALLY hard with my autistic teenage daughter this month. She too has been a blubbering mess as I have tried to teach her to be content in the moment and not obsessed with the future. And yet as I left her side to find some quiet for myself – I wrack my brains as to how to FIX it… FIX HER!! When actually ‘I don’t need to DO anything at all’. Tomorrow I will sit on my comfy couch and hold her all day if I have to, just being messy… And I’m gonna LOVE IT!!! Because IT’S OK JUST TO BE…. Thank you AGAIN for reminding me of what’s truly important….

    • drkellyflanagan

      Vanessa, This was a hard post to write, but reading your comment makes it all worth it. I hope tomorrow is what it is, and that’s enough for both of you. Blessings, Kelly

  • james

    I think the one addendum is that for just “being” means being an effervescent version of ourselves open to grace and not a stuffy box of “this is just who I am”. We should take these moments to lie out and bathe in the sun rather than sulk in a windowless room.

    • drkellyflanagan

      James, It’s an interesting point. Who I am and “how I feel in the moment” can be pretty different things. It is hard to know how to honor both at times!

  • Carrie

    I get this! Every time I think of my friend who committed suicide, I want to do something for her, but I can’t. So I pray for those who love her because that’s doing something for her. Then I realized that I am short-circuiting my grief. I don’t need to do something. I need to be in that place of not being able to do anything for her.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Carrie, I’m sorry for your loss and what everyone around you has gone through. There is great wisdom in what you are saying. Grief isn’t something we do. It’s something we allow to happen to us. I hope as you let yourself be in that place you will move through it.

  • Guest

    I think this can apply to weight and looks….just accept the temple God gave me already! The older I get the worse it gets!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Absolutely!

  • Sue O’Donnell

    This message is permission to breathe … An aha … Relief.
    Allowed to let go of Human doings and embrace Human beings?

    • drkellyflanagan

      Yes, Sue, permission to breathe. And what if we all were able to be human beings instead of humans doing?

  • J Minx

    Dr Kelly,
    I honestly had a little moment of awww, when I read your last post. You are actually real, and not always producing and putting out only the best! Forgive my sarcasm! But being uninspired is not a crime, even if it were too bad! You are more than entitled to’ be real” or “just be”. You can’t be the one holding us up all the time with your contribution to help, and share. I gotta say its refreshing to hear you have moments like this, I’m sure it doesn’t feel that way for you, but I hope you feel better knowing it at least made my day, not this time by what you could give, or say, but in the fact this time its what you didn’t say. I constantly battle with self improvements, usually alot of inward understanding and many moments of emotional and educational 2 and 2 together light bulbs going off inside, but it doesn’t look that way on the outside, or reflect much in my actions as such yet, other than my attitude and outlook on things. Some days, I will leave the place an absolute mess, hell not even get changed. Yes Its not exactly sexy, but it wont kill me either, my world and everything I have mentally, physically and emotionally built and worked on, or needs work on still will not fall down if heaven forbid someone sees me in such a grubby state. I find sometimes a small thing like this when I go to clean it all back up and get back into the swing of things, reminds me, just how easily things can be tided, or smoothed over. Im not a step ford wife robot seeing the consequences of my lived in behaviour, is something we all need to see sometimes. Its real.
    i’m real, and after all, moments like this will be only adding to the next moment of gratitude when inspiration reaches you again. You know this already though.
    Thank you. For everything that you share. And thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this.
    regards Jodie-Ann

    • drkellyflanagan

      Hi Jodie-Ann, Thank you for taking the time out of YOUR day to share this. And thank you for your commitment to being authentic. After all, the real is all we really have, right? It would be a shame to hide it!

  • Morielle

    Just read this in Oswald Chambers. I think it is very much along your lines:”The warfare is not against sin, we can never fight against sin. Jesus Christ deals with sin in Redemption. The conflict is along the line of turning our natural life into a spiritual life, and this is never done easily, nor does God intend it to be done easily.”

    We fight not for inspiration, or for self-perfection (what a self-obsessed and discouraging fight that would be!) but for spirituality. And that fight is at its best, at least in my life, when it is un-inspirational.

    Also, I think that I have something so much better than self-acceptance, and that is “seeing the glory of God as though reflected in a mirror, being transformed from one degree of glory to another” in the midst of all my mess-ups and mistakes.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Yes, Morielle. I love the idea that when we quit trying to be inspired we actually discover something much deeper and richer just beneath the surface of right now. Thank you for adding this to the discussion!

  • Pingback: This is who I am (today) | Living Echoes()

  • Eva

    I had a similar crying episode with my 19 month old daughter yesterday. She is a late teether and has her premolars coming out now. I can only imagine the (excruciating) pain she is experiencing. So yesterday between 5.30 and 9.00pm when I got home and she finally slept was just a bad time. She was clingy and moody and just kept crying. In between I felt helpless and kept wondering what to do to lift her moods. The normal things – a warm bath with her toys, some rock music on the radio – only worked for a few minutes then she was back to her cranky shell. This post has spoken to me. Because by the time she slept I was an exhausted mess. And so was she because she slept in a record 5 minutes. Thank you for the (un) inspiring article. And for reminding us that we are just human.

    • drkellyflanagan

      As you described the situation, your empathy for your daughter was obvious. If you can hold onto that during the tough moments, as it is clear you can, you two are going to be okay!

  • Charlotte

    Many times I have felt uninspired and thoughts of change have kept lingering my mind. This piece is truly beautiful for the soul Kelly, I am inspired 🙂

    • drkellyflanagan

      Charlotte, I’m glad it made you feel inspired to be uninspired. : )

  • Nikki

    Hi Kelly, just got introduced to you from a friend and love your authentic sharing… I feel very “un”inspired reading your post! and breathing with a big smile on my face… thanks for THAT! love Nikki

    • drkellyflanagan

      Happy to (un)inspire you, Nikki. Welcome to the blog!