Watch a clip from "The Messengers"
"Inspire me. Go ahead, I dare you!"

I hear those words every time I sit down to write a story or prepare a speech. I don't know who is saying it, because usually I am imagining a faceless group of people in an audience.

So how do I handle such pressure? Truthfully, I simply ignore it. I could never produce a piece worthy of sharing if I permitted that kind of pressure to influence me. I just tell the story I need to tell and hope that someone benefits from it.

I believe that inspiration comes in many forms. Each one of us needs more than one source of inspiration to really call us to action and keep us on the right track.

Inspiration is like a puzzle. In order for it to work, one needs to collect several pieces of that puzzle before it all makes sense and causes us to respond. One of those pieces, the inspirational writer or speaker, is to be found in "The Messengers," a reality series on The Learning Channel (TLC), which aims to "find America's next great motivational speaker." Here's the setup: From a pool of 650 aspiring motivational speakers, producers chose 10 finalists to appear on the show. Those who made the cut include poets, a financial whiz, and a filmmaker, as well as a Christian minister, a Muslim youth lecturer, a yoga practitioner, and an Orthodox Jewish substance-abuse counselor. Each of them brings a fresh look at the challenges many of us face in trying to find and preserve our own uniqueness, our way of looking at life, and what makes us complete. And while there are religious and spiritual overtones in all of their talks, the finalists are practical without being preachy.

The show tosses the 10 finalists into challenging real-life situations--such as living as a homeless person or a disabled person for a day--and asks them to prepare speeches in response to what they've experienced. They are judged by two experts, a speech coach, and a preacher, and the small studio audience then votes on who influenced them the most.

The series progresses in “American Idol” fashion. As the contestants are whittled down, one will rise to the top and win a book publishing contract and a television special on TLC.

I must admit that my first reaction to the show was, "We don't need another motivational speaker trying to sell us the 'Ten Steps to Success' or the "Secret to Making a Gazillion Dollars and Driving a Big Fancy Car Like Mine." I always tell my audiences to go to their local library and find the oldest inspirational books on the shelf. These books of wisdom have been telling us these same "secrets" for decades. Many of today's inspirational speakers simply repackage those teachings and create some fancy new name for what is truly the only way to success: hard work.

So, why did TLC think it needed to find "the next great inspirational speaker?"

Richard Greene, a communications coach and one of the show's judges, says in a press release, "Throughout history great speakers have inspired generations. It's almost a form of magic that is about to disappear from the planet."

But some of you might be thinking, "I don't need no stinkin' inspiration! I work hard, do my job, and pay my taxes. There's nothing anyone can tell me about life that I haven't learned already."

You are right.

But there are those who strive for more in life. No, they aren't searching for a way to buy bigger houses and fancy cars. They have a burning desire to leave a mark, make a difference, or change the world in some small way. They aren't necessarily in the news or leading some huge corporation. You won't hear them speak at a motivational rally or find one of their books on the shelves in your local book store.

They may be one of your neighbors or friends. You might see them behind the counter at the grocery store or delivering your next pizza. They are there in the background, quietly searching for and forever longing to be the pebble that makes a lasting ripple in their still, small pond of life.

And I believe that for some of you, one of those 10 people on "The Messengers" may very well hold a piece of your puzzle, a spark that can help you make that ripple.

It would be easy to recall the words of great modern-day orators such as Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. History books are filled with the great speeches of Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, while ancient writings praise the wisdom of Demosthenes, Plato, and Aristotle. I will admit that I have indeed been inspired by some of those people, but they pale in comparison to the greatness found in any one cancer survivor. They can't touch the power of the story of a single mom raising five children while working three different jobs to support them. There are no speeches found in any history book that compare to the power of a single act of loving a child dying of AIDS in South Africa.

Though I myself am an inspirational writer and speaker, I cannot motivate you. I cannot make you rise to your feet and begin the journey of fulfilling your purpose in life. I only can tell you stories of others who did and hope that something in their life journey sparks the fire in you.

Henry David Thoreau said, "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them."

Dreamers, like me, often spend too much time planning and little time working on the plan. It is a great journey to go from an idea to that first step in making it a reality. Sadly, for some, that first step takes a lifetime.

All of the speakers in "The Messengers" come to the platform believing they have something the world needs to hear and the ability to deliver that message in such a way that listeners will be inspired to make changes in their lives. Perseverance, charity, struggle, hope, and forgiveness are just a few of the topics touched on in the show. But after the 10 "messengers" have said their piece and been judged on the show, it is up to us to decide if spending 24 hours on the streets of Los Angeles as a homeless person, living for a day as a paraplegic or blind person, or facing the grim realities of how a big city morgue handles thousands of nameless corpses, is enough to make one speaker the next great inspirational influence on the world.

Truthfully, each of the featured participants already has the ability to change the world without winning the contest. One need not appear on a reality television show, make a speech at a conference, or write a best-selling book. If you desire to leave a lasting legacy, set your sights on how you can do it through everyday actions.
Inspiration can be found in everyday moments, appearing without any great fanfare. Those wanting to change the world can do so one person at a time; everyone has the power to change their own world.

You might say, "But I am only one person."

One voice, however, speaks volumes in the life of a lonely man. One touch lingers long after lost souls have found their way. If your goal is simply to be happy, you must accept that happiness doesn't always come in pretty packages. Sometimes it is hidden deep within pain, just outside of fear or on the other side of darkness. It is always there if you have faith.

Remember, there is really only one chance in life to get it right, but it's measured in a lifetime of trying. Keep trying.  

So who is the next great inspirational speaker?

It may be you.

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