The Inspiration Paradox

Elul is here. You know what that means…it’s time for inspiration overload!

Elul: The last month of the Jewish calendar. Is used as a time to gain necessary perspective of the past year in order to forge a clearer path for the year ahead. Also, for some, a time of induced and utter panic.

Every year, when Elul arrives, I notice a fascinating phenomenon occur. People shake themselves out of a strange slump and spiritual hibernation; they immediately jump into ‘fix it-plan it- accomplish it’ mode. They try to pack a year’s worth of doing into a single month.

That’s a lot of pressure for thirty days.

…With good reason. Jewish literature and Torah thought are filled with directions about the month of Elul; this is the time to account for the events of the year. It’s an awe-filled and exciting opportunity, when we prepare to become refreshed and rejuvenated by Rosh Hashana and prepare to become become our best selves.

In Hebrew, we call this process “Cheshbon Nefesh, an accounting of the soul. In modern Hebrew, Cheshbon means a ‘bill.’ Think of a Cheshbon Nefesh like a receipt that accounts for all of your actions from the past year.

Often times, when you sit down to take stalk of the past year, you’ll marvel at the amazing accomplishments you made, the new relationships you developed, the leaps and bounds you jumped, the fears you overcame. You’ll pat yourself on the back and get back to work.

The flip side? Sometimes, you’ll be overwhelmed by the mad state of your life, by the mistakes you made, the relationships that ended, the mindless hours you spent at a job you dislike.

Looking at a receipt can be insightful, but there’s nothing worse than becoming aware of the fact that you overspent your time and energy on things that did not serve you.

This is where inspiration can become a prankster: When you’re in a good place, you’ll feel inspired to keep making the same choices, and focus on the positive sense of self you’ve created.

When your soul search brings you face to face with glaring potholes in your journey, inspiration will take the wheel, giving you the feeling that you (impulsively) need to shift your entire direction and drive off the paved road in search of the back roads of the countryside.

This phenomenon can lead inspiration to be dangerous, and counterintuitive….because, let’s get real: Inspiration can only last so long, right? So, it won’t be long before driving on the backroads of your life map will seem like a huge waste of time, and what inspired you to take the grand leap no longer makes sense. When the fire burns out, you’re left with nothing more than ashes. 

Inspiration is a fire—it engulfs you in its flames, ignites the spark, but, if it’s not tended to properly, will quickly burn out and leave you in the dark.


I, like many of us, have a tendency to fall head over heels for inspiration whenever it comes knocking on my door. I love the idea of being so taken and passionate about an idea—for a new novel, for a new curriculum, a new piece of music I set out to learn—that I’d die for it. It’s romantic! It’s uplifting! It makes me forget about all of the old, abandoned projects, the sheet music I’ve lost, the novels I am too scared to share with the world. Out with the old, in with the new (me).

We all know how long that lasts.

Inspiration is only the first phase in a much longer process that can be grueling and far from pretty. Inspiration is warm, and fuzzy, it fills you with joy and that feeling that you can do anything you set your mind to. That’s where the oversight happens. We’re think so much about the inspiration, that we forget about what comes with it.

How do we go about eliciting real change? We need is a more realistic approach for drawing in and attaining inspiration.

Enter, the inspiration hangover (or what Rabbi Akiva Tatz refers to as ‘phase two’ in the process).

Inspiration has fizzled out. Here, you are given a choice: to feel miserable and misled, or to fight your way back to a place of inspiration. This phase is hard. You’ve gained insight about that which inspires you, but now it’s gone and you must figure out a way to get it back.

It’s like turning the lights off and walking through darkness, in order to find the exact same light switch.

If you successfully make your way through the dark, you’ll enter into the next phase:

In phase three, inspiration reached a permanent level, by having truly worked for it. The light didn’t turn on for you—you had to work for it. In this way, you’ve transcended past the ‘empty’ flash of light from the first phase, drawing in an everlasting source of energy.

You have to do the nitty-gritty work.

So, now what?

This month, focus your energy on inspiration and real change. Tap into the initial stage of inspiration, but remember that it’s what you do with the spark once it fades that will define who you are.



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