Top 5 Sources of Inspiration

Where Do We Find Inspiration?

At the Next Generation of Service, we pair students and recent graduates with peer guides that educate and encourage national service. We start this process with our intake form where we ask, “What Inspires You?” This year we have had over 100 students tell us about their sources of inspiration. We’ve noticed that while we’re all inspired in different ways, there are several common areas that many of us draw upon.

Here are the top 5 sources for inspiration:


1. People Who Overcome Adversity

Everyone loves a good underdog story, so when you are feeling uninspired, revisit your favorite (I really like Disney’s Big Green). Take the time to reflect on the adversity in your life; we’ve all faced challenges and grown from them. What is something you have overcome to get to where you are?


2. Making a Difference

It is inspiring and empowering to feel like we can change aspects of our world for the better. Think about the things you want to change, the issues you care about, and look for organizations or thought leaders working to address those issues. Follow these organizations on social media and consider supporting their work through donations or by volunteering.


3. Family

Our family can be a source of stress at times but also a major source of strength. What you consider family is likely the group of people that know you best — that cherish you, that you cherish in return. At the end of the day, your family is there to support you throughout your journey and to succeed, and that is inspiring.

We often hear stories of students inspired by parents who faced challenges or family members with certain career paths. Our family serves as the primary influence on our values and worldviews. As we grow, we are able to internalize, test and reject these values. At NGS, we hope you build upon the foundation your family has helped foster and achieve personal growth through working with others.


4. Art

Humans seem destined to create – to channel their passions into things we can see, hear, and feel. Some would argue that the purpose of art is to inspire – to inspire action or contemplation. Each of us responds to art in different ways, which is truly the beauty of art.

When was the last time you went to your local museum or high school play? Where is the art in your own backyard?

Here are some examples of individuals using art to inspire social change.


5. Teachers & Mentors

A great teacher works not only to create captivating and timely curriculum aimed at teaching you critical thinking skills but also to change you and help you develop a sense of purpose.  You might not remember those ideas or facts your teachers taught you, but you will remember those experiences that made you feel inspired.

Teachers help guide you in self-discovery through providing opportunities for collaboration, to overcome challenges and to make connections in the world. Along the way, they instill a sense of ability and worth in the student. It is no wonder teachers are commonly listed as a source of inspiration, and also that many of our service opportunities involve teaching others.


Breaking the Glass Ceiling with Service Years: Our Contribution to the Women’s Movement

Debora Spar’s book Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection takes an insightful look at the place of women in today’s world and workforce.  She talks about the age-old issue of women in leadership (or lack of women in leadership) in her passage (below).  I was struck by something so obvious that I hadn’t thought about before. Women are not opting out before reaching executive positions just because work is too stressful, not child-friendly enough or because current male leaders are sexist, but because at the end of the day, they don’t love their jobs.  They don’t love their jobs enough to endure the issues previously mentioned.  This makes me think: what if encouraging young women to integrate purpose into their work is actually an answer for breaking the glass ceiling?


“[W]hen the choice is between compromising a family, women seem more inclined to focus on the family, men to stick with the job that pays the bills. Perhaps this goes back to our vestigial roles as feeders of children and killers of meat. Perhaps it is the media, still hammering stereotypes into our brains. Perhaps it is the modern workplace’s stubborn refusal to create schedules or structures that are even vaguely conductive to the rhythms of family life. But when push comes to shove –and it can, and it will- women are the ones who more often walk away. Not necessarily because their husbands push them to or because their employers are unwilling to accept a modicum of flexibility. No, because the kids are wearily and the dinners are rushed and the job, after ten or twenty years of working, has ceased to deliver the thrill it once did. If a job is truly satisfying to a woman, or if she needs the income it provides, she will strive to stay in the workforce. But if she doesn’t need the income, and she doesn’t love the job, it becomes tougher and tougher for a working mother to undertake all the juggling that comes with her role.”


As I was reading this passage, I remembered this amazing woman I met at a conference a year ago. She was the executive director of an influential education foundation in Minneapolis, founder of a pro-bono law group and mother of two.  As we ate dinner, she shared with me all the work she had done, education she had completed and organizations she had started. I was in such awe, I blurted out the controversial question, “How do you do all that and have a family?”  I will NEVER forget her response.  To paraphrase, she said, “When my boys are sad to see me leave the house, I tell them about the work I am doing, the injustices I am righting and about the children less privileged than them who need me.  I want them to understand that I would not be leaving them if I did not believe in my work… and they do understand.  They are proud of me.”


I am not a mother so I can not speak from experience, but I can say two things: 1) I want my children to be proud of my work in the world, and 2) I want to see more women leaders in executive positions, myself included. This means young women need to spend their early twenties exploring how to have work with purpose and connecting to social causes where they can leverage their skills. Volunteering for a year at a nonprofit provides an opportunity for women (and men alike) to learn more about social issues affecting a population they care about and how their specific skill sets can be used to address these issues.  If more people participate in service years, who knows, it may lead to more diversity in the board room.  What do you think about this connection between purpose, service and the role of women leaders?


Dedicated to all the ladies applying to service year programs!


Written by Anna Lenhart

Edited by Kelly Scanlan