It had been less than a week since I had entered college. I was standing in front of a crowded computer lab full of starry-eyed freshers. A senior (final-year student) drew a curve on the blackboard. It was either a parabola or a line. Truth is I don’t really remember. Over the next 30 minutes, I listened to the senior to explain how computer science is deeply intertwined with maths. I was surprised to learn that even those not from a computer science program could benefit from learning to code.
What I distinctly remember is how I had felt once the session was over. I was inspired to learn more about the beautiful subject of computer science and its relationship with other disciplines. I had received the gift of inspiration.
Before we carry on, let us define the word inspiration. There are a number of definitions around. I choose to go with this one:
“The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially something creative.”
There are articles out there differentiating inspiration from motivation too. However, we will let that slide for now.
Let’s get back to the topic at hand.
Where can inspiration come from?
Inspiration comes from divine intervention and fate of course.
Source: XKCD Comics
I am kidding, of course.
For most, when they think inspiration, art forms and artists come to mind. When I see a Dave Chapelle bit or read a Murakami book, I am awed by their command over their craft. Sports can be thought of in a similar vein. That makes sense since art and to a lesser extent, sports are meant to connect with its audience as opposed to something like science. However, science and technology can be equally inspiring.
As a high school student, I had all but lost interest in education. External motivation, in the form of social validation and peer pressure, kept me going but increasingly felt meaningless. It was at a particularly low point that I discovered the amazing Walter Lewin Physics lectures. It made me curious about science and start questioning things in a way that formal education never did.
Fast forward to college and I had started dabbling with computer science. My institute’s rigid curriculum didn’t allow us to pursue our interests freely. Hence, MOOC platforms were a revelation. I was struggling though. It was then that David Malan came to my rescue. No wonder I have been recommending CS50 to anyone and everyone for years now. Finally, it was Andrew Ng who sparked my interest in machine learning and sent me off on an interesting journey. I can never be thankful enough to these educators and the internet who helped me amidst a broken formal education system.
On a broader level, media is a powerful force when it comes to inspiring future generations. For hundreds of thousands, if not millions, content such as those from Discovery or Cosmos sparked their curiosity. Folks like Carl Sagan, Arvind Gupta, Derek Muller and Grant Sanderson do a great service to society.
Media and the internet are not perfect. The latter has not (yet) realized the decentralized dreams that the pioneers had seen. What they have undoubtedly done is democratize a lot of information with the potential to inspire.
Along with science and technology educators, good teachers are highly underrated. It would be great to see more appreciation of their work. On that note, here’s a beautiful Zen Pencils comic about what teachers make.
Then there are those around you of course. It could be family, friends, colleagues, or college seniors who gift you inspiration. :)
Why are we talking about it?
The point of all the above anecdotes is that inspiration can play a critical role in our lives. In the age of instant gratification and superficial content, it is especially important. For young minds, it can help start and define journeys.
People, especially youngsters, are increasingly looking for a sense of purpose. However, with information overload and multiple problems waiting to be solved, they may have trouble finding a starting point. Even a small nudge helps immensely. It may not mean much for you to speak or write about your work but it can mean the world to someone.
Inspiration does not even have to be always explicitly channeled. In fact, it may happen unintentionally. The tweet below articulates this effect in the context of a recent space mission launch.
One of the most amazing things about the @SpaceX and @NASA crewed mission is all the young kids who will now dream to one day be an astronaut, to build rockets, or to be the next @elonmusk & not only take us to Mars but outside the solar system to Proxima Centauri b and beyond.— Lex Fridman (@lexfridman) May 31, 2020
You don’t need to necessarily launch rockets in space though. Making a video, giving a talk, or writing a genuine piece about your favorite technology helps. Helping out beginners in your field by answering their question counts as well.
Briefly put, what you say and do matters in ways that you can not even comprehend.
A person gets inspired when they start to see beyond the superficial. Often, it is someone or something else which triggers this perspective shift. It can provide the right reasons to pursue a subject or craft. That is a powerful feeling. It can make a world of difference to a person and even beyond.
If you want to bring a positive change in the world, inspiring others is as important as anything else that you can do. The best part is more often than not, you do not even need to try to do it. Your work can speak for itself.
I hope the above comes off as an incentive for good work if you hadn’t thought about it. Get out, solve problems, and spread the word if possible. It matters what you do and say!
Thanks to Ankita Mathur for reading drafts of this.
Title image: “Launch” by mattfoster is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/