On Fear And Inspiration

An uninspired look at inspiration: seven hundred words to set your spirit free or pass the time, whichever comes first. Unbuckle your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen, because the threat of flying through your windshield will be more thrilling than this navel-gazing exercise. OK, so only six hundred fifty words left.

So here I am, the day this article about inspiration is due, and I’m pumped. Pumped about “inspiration!” Actually, I’m thinking about something else: my marvelous friend, procrastination. Procrastination is something I’ve had since childhood, and that includes my puberty, which showed up the day before I needed it.

True story. I once went to a specialist to get rid of my procrastination, and he asked, “Why? It seems to be working for you.”

As the deadline looms, it’s obvious to me that inspiration comes from fear. In this case, the fear that I’m not going to get this done, and Adweek and is going to knock on my door and deliver a beat-down. And if you thought inspiration was the manifestation of love or passion, then you, my friend, should write greeting cards. No, I’m hear to tell you inspiration is a much more gritty thing.

Inspiration comes from fear. Fear of death for sure, but for me something worse than that, the fear of mediocrity. I have always had a fear of being the same. To be average is to be beige, and to be exceptional is to be alive. My mother told me I’m special, and I still believe it. But now, as an adult, I have to prove it.

So I’ve learned to look for contrast. It separates things; it allows things to stand out. But contrast alone doesn’t do all the work. Contrast needs intent. Intention is the reason for being. Intention separates design from decoration. Intention is the thinking behind the solution. Intention is revealed through style.

Style informs an audience. Style helps tell the story. And your story is competing with all the stories that are currently being told and have ever been told. How original is your story? Stories that have been heard before become clichéd. And clichéd is easy. Easy is lazy. Lazy is unremarkable. (Unless, of course, you are exceptionally lazy—then I find that remarkable.)

And with the mention of the audience, here we are right back at fear. The audience is where it’s at; the audience has the power. Any comedian will tell you the audience is God. And there we are, up on the stage, our fly is open, and the audience hasn’t met the two-drink minimum. Say something funny, funny boy. How are you any different from the rest of us? This audience is going to get their money’s worth one way or another. Inspiration is what gets you out alive.

All audiences are to be respected. Even audiences you don’t like. And the rush of adrenaline you get from riding an audience will get you coming back. We all experience it at some point during childhood, and those who get thrown and trampled never crawl back on that stage again. Inspiration gets you back on that bull.

The audience determines whether you are any good or not. Which is ironic if you think that the very people you are trying to separate yourself from are the ones determining whether you have talent.

I’ve heard that if your happiness exists in what other people think of you, then you can never be responsible for your own happiness. But what if you derive happiness from the act of creating for other people?

So inspiration comes from fear: fear of loneliness, fear of being average, fear of failure, fear of being forgotten. Inspiration comes from the fear that this is all there is, and we’d better do something amazing while we are here.

I suppose there are other forms of inspiration. One could be inspired by another person’s great work or the birth of their child, or even a great meal. But that’s not very hip, and I don’t think I could have squeezed a full article out of all that touchy feely stuff.

Inspiration comes from fear: Now that’s got teeth. Let’s put that on a greeting card.

Guy Seese has been ecd at Cole & Weber United in Seattle since 2001 but is leaving to join Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in March as creative director on the Saturn and Motorola accounts.