Finding inspiration and motivation with a career icon menagerie.

Have you defined your career icon menagerie? Who is in yours and why? How do you stay inspired and motivated?

I was reading an article about how to cultivate your own personal style recently and one of the first steps they recommended was defining your style icon menagerie because more likely than not there is no one person who has the exact same style you’d like to imitate. I thought that was pretty wise.

So many self-help books and gurus talk about learning from the people who have come before you and I recall one book specifically, Do More Great Work, asking me to write down who my role models are and dig deep into why you look up to them and what they may all have in common. It was a super useful exercise way back when I did it the first time, so I thought I would do it again since I’m on this new journey.

So here we go, kids. Below is my career icon menagerie.

I’m gonna talk about these folks in a bit of a random order, but follow along.

Maya Washington: I very recently discovered actress, photographer, and YouTuber Shameless Maya. I love her so much, for so many obvious reasons once you watch one of her videos. She’s just an awesome person. But the thing that has quickly turned her into one of my own personal career icons is that she started the YouTube game later in life than most YouTubers I see. She was only a few months older than I am now when she made the decision to shamelessly promote herself as an experiment and it’s paid off for her. She’s a constant reminder to treat life as an experiment, live it fully, and to never be afraid to put yourself out there. 

Shonda Rhimes: I don’t watch any of Shonda’s shows. Sorry. I’m just not good at watching drama, even though I love writing it. But I digress. Shonda’s TED Talk was what got her into my menagerie. She talked about how writing had become a business and she had this entire global team she was working with to make her creations real. Similar to Maya, she also decided to try an experiment which was the focus of her TED Talk. But, what stuck with me was that writing doesn’t have to be a solitary effort. I love writing, but I don’t see myself ever being the person who locks themselves in a room to write for 8 hours a day. Shonda reminds me that elite performers don’t do it all on their own and she’s constant motivation to get on that level. 

Crissle West: Crissle is so fucking smart. My God. I’m just supremely jealous of how well versed she is in the shit that matters and the entertaining shit that doesn’t. I’m also jealous of her ability to articulate it so well on her podcast, shows, and even her social media channels. He voice is so authentic and unique and she’s unafraid to speak her mind. Out of all the people in my menagerie, Crissle is probably the most controversial and envelope pushing. She is a constant reminder to just speak your motherfucking mind. Fuck what anyone else has to say about it.

Issa Rae: Issa Rae is amazing because she writes stories about the underrepresented. It’s something I relate to as a writer. Though I haven’t been published or created a series, I’ve written a lot of fiction and I’m always drawn toward telling stories about the characters that I haven’t seen before. Issa Rae reminds me that there are so many stories that haven’t been told and if you can tell them, then why not go for it? 

Lilly Singh: The BAWSE! Lilly Singh is obviously having a moment right now. I’m not a huge fan of her sketch comedy style and I didn’t love her book (but I bought it because I support my icons), but I’m a HUGE fan of the fact that she’s doing it. That woman churns out scripts and sketches like nobody I’ve ever seen before. I subscribe to her daily vlogs and her energy and work ethic is just through the roof. Every morning she puts together this insane to do list that doesn’t seem achievable but she gets it done with a smile on her face and the upmost positivity. Lilly is a reminder to WORK. Work your ass off until you’re falling into bed exhausted. 

Gala Darling: I have no idea how I found Gala Darling, but it was a long time ago, like…over five years ago.  Maybe seven-ish? She’s a writer who’s made a career for herself just by starting a blog. When you follow someone for that long, you see them go through so many evolutions and while I’m not as into her work as I used to be, I still read all of her blog posts. A lot of the radical self-love stuff she preaches helped me when I was going through a rough time. The thing that keeps her in my career icon menagerie is that she’s proof that you can make it as a self-made writer. And it’s something she’s reiterated in her writing before. Ignore what everyone says, you can make a living as a writer. 

Danielle Laporte: Danielle Laporte literally changed my life.  I’m not sure how I found her, but somehow I did and decided to purchase her book, The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul. I’m into self-help stuff, usually around career development and finding purpose, and things like that. But aside from Do More Great Work, which I mentioned above, nothing has had a bigger impact on me than The Desire Map. It feels like overstating it to say that it taught me to be happy, but it essentially did. At that point in my life, it was exactly what I needed and since reading it, I’ve just been a more content person. I have bad days and frustrations obviously, but all in all, I can say my life is good.  Danielle Laporte taught me that a book can change a life. Words can really help people and writing can have purpose. 

Chris Hardwick: Oh man, I discovered Chris Hardwick through the Nerdist podcast like seven or eight years ago as well. I don’t keep up with his podcast or website anymore, but I keep him in my menagerie because of his story. Suffering from (undiagnosed I think) depression, alcoholism, and a failing career, he started a blog about nerd shit. And then started a podcast. Eventually he grew both to become Nerdist Enterprises. Shortly after they “acquired” the backroom of Meltdown Comics in L.A., I flew my ass to the city to see an event. It was like a dark backroom comedy club with a huge bucket of beer cans being sold for a dollar and it was EVERYTHING. Because of the internet, so much of things these days are intangible, they exist in the ether and pop up occasionally. Chris created a fucking clubhouse. He’s a reminder that you can come from the bottom and make it to the top, but the top can be whatever you want it to be, including hanging out in the back of a comic book store.  

Craig Ferguson: My dirty old man Craig. With how pristine and pulled together all the late night hosts are these days, it’s strange to think that I was a huge Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson fan. Like…that was actually a thing I was into, with a skeleton robot, awkward silences, and smell my finger games.  He’s a recovering addict, a former punk rocker, a comedian and honestly, just a fucking weirdo. Every night, Craig Ferguson got behind his desk and tore up his notecards about his guests so he could attempt to have a genuine conversation. During his last show, he did a musical number to Dead Man Fall’s Bang on Your Drum, which was so much the essence of him and the show. He’s also the only person on this list (I think) who writes both non-fiction and fiction. He just does his own thing constantly. Craig is a reminder to keep it weird. Just keep banging on my drum, do your own thing, your own way and someday your day will come. 

So what does it all mean?

By doing this exercise, it’s clear that I’m a fan of writers. All nine of these folks brand themselves as writers, storytellers, or content creators. It’s also clear that I’m a fan of the entrepreneurial type. 8 out of 9 of these folks chose to create something on their own. A few of these folks work for and with large companies, however none of them are eager to climb the corporate ladder, which tells me I probably don’t want to either.

In order to keep up with my menagerie, I follow them on social media like a proper millennial. Keeping my digital world at least, filled with people who’re doing big things, people who I admire is always my best source of motivation and inspiration…aside from Beyoncé, which is an entirely different post.

I’m also thinking of going the extra mile and decorating my apartment with words or art from the menagerie to provide a little physical world motivation and inspiration.

What about you?

I personally feel like exercises like these are really good for honing in on who you want to grow into. How about you guys? Have you defined a career icon menagerie? Who is in yours and why? How do you keep inspired and motivated?