How to Borrow (and Ethically Steal) Ideas & Inspiration: An Everyday Practice

Written by Scott May 20, 2015

“Everyone is my teacher. Some I seek. Some I subconsciously attract. Often I learn simply by observing others. Some may be completely unaware that I’m learning from them, yet I bow deeply in gratitude.”

-Eric Allen

The Kung-Fu Inspired Practice…

When I was living in Spain about ten years ago, I met a guy who had moved to Shaolin, China for a year after finishing university.

I vividly remember the conversation, which started with him showing up to breakfast confidently dressed in a traditional Chinese suit. His boss insisted that employees dress formal, so he figured he’d have some fun by creatively obeying the rules.

Why’d he spend a year in Shaolin? Because he wanted to study kung fu, of course. And that’s all he did, all year.

That’s about when my jaw dropped – partly because I wasn’t used to meeting real-life people doing crazy things, and because “ninja” was my dream profession for the majority of my childhood.

I left our chat buzzing. I was inspired by his adventure and had to do something with the energy, so I took out my journal and wrote down what he’d done and why I was so impressed.

That marked the beginning of a practice I’ve kept up for the past decade – one I believe has everything to do with leading me where I am today (as I write from our balcony in this week’s apartment in Sofia, Bulgaria).

My Daily Practice for Borrowing Inspiration is Simple:

Every time I notice myself giddy, excited, in awe, shocked, inspired or even envious by someone’s story, business, job or life, I pull out my notebook and start writing – what I noticed, how I feel, why, who caused it, etc. Usually it’s just a few sentences, but sometimes it kicks me off into pages of ideas. Over the years this has led to a near-endless repository of possibilities – many of which have made their way into the way I live and work today.

And this doesn’t only apply to those of you just starting out, trying to decide what you want to do with your life.

It’s just as powerful once you know the impact you want to make and are actively building it…

What is it about someone’s product, service, business, movement, impact or career that inspires you or makes you a loyal fan or customer? Whether it’s intentional or not, if you start to pay attention and take note, you’ll start to find ways to incorporate those same themes and principles into your own work. And perhaps find ways to work with the people who inspire you (if that’s a goal that your experience triggers).

This is all part of what it means to stop sleepwalking and approach life, experiences and decisions with intention, and to follow the spark. Something I cover a lot in my TEDx Talk on How to Find & Do Work You Love, and why writing, idea sharing & our blog challenge are things I constantly encourage.

And the practice never ends – even from a passionate 85-year-old Bulgarian farmer…

Last weekend Chelsea and I spent a few days staying at Lumparov’s House, a guest house on a hill overlooking Melnik, the smallest village in Bulgaria (about 200 inhabitants).

We were the only ones staying there and our husband and wife hosts, Ventsi and Antonia, welcomed us like family. They gave us probably the most hospitable, delicious and memorable stay we’ve had all year. They make everything by hand (and heart) with ingredients found within 20km of the property, including all meals, wine, rakia (strong Bulgarian booze), yogurt, cheese, pastries and bread (yup, I’m holding a fresh loaf with them in the picture above). They even took the time to teach us the recipes.

After a few hours trading pictures and stories on the porch in a hacked-together combo of Spanish, French, English and Bulgarian (Spanish was our best common language), Ventsi leans back and says…

“We love when we only have a few guests, because then we can really spend time with them like family.”

They were actually happy their place was almost empty!

On every front they went out of their way to make us feel at home. She even baked Chelsea her own jumbo loaf of bread after learning she wasn’t a big fan of olives. We were giddy the whole stay – and somehow the entire weekend cost less than one nice dinner back in California (don’t worry, we added in a well-deserved tip).

As if that wasn’t enough, Antonia introduced us to her neighbor, Pavlinka, an 85-year-old woman we had noticed working in her garden next door around 8am. That night, at 8:15pm, Pavlinka proudly gave us a tour of her crops and handiwork. When we left, it was nearly too dark to see, but I noticed her leaning back down to pull a few more weeds from her flower bed as she wrapped up a typical day.

Antonia explained how she routinely tells Pavlinka to stay inside and rest a little more, but her farming friend always responds with…

“If I stay inside and sit still, I’ll probably die. I need to be in my garden.”

Purpose is powerful medicine. A principal I’ve been reminded of a lot this year.

The next morning she dropped off some of her freshly-made goat cheese to go with our breakfast.

As we drove off on Sunday, I kinda felt like I was a kid leaving home for college.

Pavlinka our inspiring 85 year old farmer friend

The proud Pavlinka (and a small portion of her crops): Our 85-year-old gardening friend, after a typical 12-hour day

Everyone’s a Teacher

Either you’re learning about how you want to live or about how you don’t.

Just like with my kung fu studying friend a decade earlier, our new-found Bulgarian family struck a chord.

Their unreserved generosity and hospitably reminds me of the environment and community, the family, I want to continue to foster at Live Your Legend. We always strive to lead with generosity (starting with our free toolkit), but they inspire me to take it much deeper.

And it makes me smile at what it might be like to have a LYL retreat center one day that embodies these same values – something I hadn’t really considered until a few days ago.

As soon as I felt it, I started writing – and added it to the long list that’s been accumulating since Spain. 

Whether on this world tour or back at home, most days I spend out of the office, I tend to have an interaction with someone who’s story I’d like to find a way to infuse into my own. (This year on the road has been filled with too many to count!)

For years prior I’d been blind to it, and I hate to think of what I’d missed. Now I pay a lot more attention – to the people, the stories and the emotions they trigger.

My eyes are open, and that’s become the real daily practice – The foundation.

Which is why it’s been a part of my weekly planning process for years.

Usually our problem isn’t a lack of ideas, examples and inspiration. It’s a lack of noticing. As I started to look, I began to see it everywhere. 

Go out in search of today’s unsuspecting teacher – of a story worth writing down. Look for it as if you know it’s there. I bet you’ll find plenty. Then take a few minutes to add to the list. Repeat.

One of them might send you down a path you didn’t know existed, which is of course the point. That’s when things start to get interesting (and may even turn you into a ninja, or whatever else might be in store…).

Thanks to Antonia, Ventsi and an 85-year-old gardener for the reminder.

Here’s to paying close attention,

-Scott

P.S. If you’re in Sofia, come to our LYL Local event tomorrow night! RSVP here.

Next stop is Italy this Friday. If you’re up for helping organize a meetup somewhere around the country, let us know!

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“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn