Thursday, July 10, 2008

Inspirer'd in Paris

I have come to Gay Paree to conduct a coaching workshop at Davis Polk & Wardwell, the law firm where, back in the day, I worked as an associate. My workshop was called “Beyond Staying or Going: The Creative Lawyer Approach to Managing Your Career (While in Your Career)” and it’s basically about all the things you need to know to be successful and fulfilled in your career that have nothing to do with the actual practice of law. It follows my core philosophy that if you spend all day just doing your job, you’ll never get anywhere!

After checking into the delightful Hotel de Sers and taking a much-needed disco nap, I sought out the local Bikram Yoga studio. Soon I was getting hot and sweaty a la francaise. Though I have occasional iss-shoes with the Bikram Chowdury personality cult, there is nothing like a 90-minute workout in 100-degree heat to overcome jet-lag and eliminate the residual effects of sitting in a basically gross airplane. Plus, it turns out to be a great way to practice French vocabulary! Bikram yoga teachers use exactly the same monologue in every class no matter where in the world it’s taught, so it’s pretty easy to follow along.

Inspirer, expirer,” the teachers chanted. Breath in, breath out. “Inspirer, expirer.” They said this about 500 times.

As I did my standing head to knee pose, being told to inspirer and expirer, I recalled reading that that the word “inspire” comes from the Latin word for “breath.” We mostly think of inspiration as something that comes from within us, but the other way of looking at it is that inspiration is something we bring into our lives from the outside world. It’s not something we think up, but something that is waiting to be let in. Foreign travel is inspirational to me for just this reason – when I travel, I breathe in the world.

When my coaching clients ask me how they are supposed to figure out what they really want to do with their lives, I sometimes advise them to think of their search as a treasure hunt, as opposed something they are supposed to contemplate. Instead of looking for the answer inside you, you’re often better off looking for it out in the world. You’re most likely to find it by going out, having a bunch of experiences, and seeing what you see. As I have written in my book, when it comes to career development, thinking is vastly overrated!

The next time you’re looking for inspiration, let yourself get inspirer’d. Open up your lungs, breathe in what the world offers, and and see where that gets you.