I often feel inspired when I least expect to.
When I do feel inspired, I mean really inspired, I sit on my bed and close my eyes. I let my mind take me wherever it wants. I pull out a piece of paper and a BIC pen and jot everything down.
I just had one of these marathon brain-picking note sessions. Maybe one day I’ll share the actual content with you, but for now, I’d like to share three pieces of advice. These three pieces of advice are the lens through which I view opportunity and my future.
1. “The sky is the limit” – Mom
Since I was a very little Gabe, my amazing mother repeated this to me almost every night as she tucked me in. I must have heard her whisper “the sky is the limit” in my ear thousands of times. I never really listened. It was just something she said, like “Study hard” or “Eat your broccoli.” As I prepared to leave home for MIT, Mom came home and held out a pillowcase. It was light blue with hot air balloons and clouds spotting its fuzzy fleece surface. “As you start your next adventure,” she said, “I don’t want you to ever forget.” “Forget what, Mom?” I asked. “That the sky is the limit. That you can do anything you set your mind to.”
Mom has empowered me to think big. When I feel inspired and jot down my thoughts, they include big things. Really big things. After all, Mom told me that the sky is the limit.
2. “Because I just don’t give a shit.” – Hardi Meybaum, GrabCAD CEO/founder
I work at a tech startup with a pretty amazing founder/CEO named Hardi Meybaum. I’ve learned so much from Hardi and consider him a mentor, but nothing resonates more than this exchange. We were walking back to our hotel after a night out in Tallinn, Estonia (where Hardi founded the company, and where we have quarterly retreats). I turned to Hardi.
Me: “Hey, what do you think I could do better at with work?”
Hardi: “Gabe, I think you’re doing fine.”
I pressed further. I had learned not to shrug off answers. I was in the mood to learn more, even if it meant pushing.
Me: “Ok, fine. Well tell me about why you’ve been successful. What is the one thing you did right?”
Hardi (harshly): “I just don’t give a shit.”
I was worried. Hardi had never cussed at me, much less refused to answer one of my millions of questions
Me (dejected): “What?”
Hardi: “I just don’t give a shit. That’s why investors like me. That’s why you like me. That’s why I’ve been successful. Because I just don’t give a shit. I don’t give a shit what people normally do or say. I don’t give a shit what people normally dress like or what business decisions people normally make. So that’s my advice to you.”
Me: “What is?”
Hardi: “Stop giving a shit.”
We split and went to our hotel rooms. “Norms” and “status quo” have taken a backseat in my life. After all, who really cares?
3. “I’ve met a lot of young people who ask me what books to read, or what films to watch. I think its a good way to start, but there’s no substitute for just going there.” – 180° South (documentary)
This quote from 180° South is pretty self explanatory. I received this lesson in another form three years ago. I was working as a backpacking summer camp counselor in New Hampshire after my freshman year at MIT. One of my fellow counselors, Greg, had thru-hiked the 2,181 mile Appalachian Trail. I was intrigued and wanted to know more. All summer, I tried to pick his brain. “What was it like??” “What did you eat?” “Did you ever feel crazy?”
Greg never answered any of my questions with more than one word. It felt like he just didn’t want to share. At the end of the summer, he pulled me aside and said, “Gabe, I know it feels like I’ve brushed off a lot of your questions about the Trail. If you’re curious, you should just do it yourself.” And I did. I learned more from just going and thru-hiking then I ever could have from Greg’s answers, or from some book or movie. There’s simply no substitute for the real thing.
So there it is. My framework for inspired brainstorming boils neatly to:
1. The sky is the limit
2. Stop giving a shit about the status quo
3. There’s no substitute for just doing it
Next time you’re feeling inspired, sit down with a pen and paper. Write everything down. I think you’ll be surpised at what comes out when the sky is the limit. Then, go do something.
(And, if you feel so inclined, email your jotted notes to me from your inspired brainstorms. I want to see.)