Inspiration and Motivation

During crunch time, everyone here at TOKY draws from their own personal reserves of inspiration and motivation. These touchstones can be deeply rooted in childhood or found from aspirational values that educate our actions. So we asked our team to share the things that inspire, motivate, and shape us, and the ideas that we keep coming back to over and over again. As Jefferson Airplane taught us, “Feed your head”.


Bookstores and libraries. i love them. i love grabbing a giant coffee, piling a ton of books or periodicals up and sitting in a corner pouring over them for hours (if possible).

Borders use to be my ‘i need a ‘refresher’’ go-to. They had an amazing art section, and a fantastic non-fiction selection! When they closed, I rediscovered the downtown public library! It is, by far, one of our most under-utilized, amazing resources (I consistently walk out with more books than i ever could possibly take on)! Now it’s all about finding time to go there. (I still miss Borders and dream of a Powell’s…. oh Powell’s.)

For every other sort of motivation: Deadlines.


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Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. – Helen Keller


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hustleStuff like this gets me out of bed. I rarely sleep enough, but really…. who has time for that?

I know motivation is an internal thing, but there are a lot of “power quotes” I enjoy seeing to get myself motivated daily. They resonate and make me want to be awesome.

My first motivation to get out of bed in the mornings, though, is to hit the gym. So I amp myself up for that and tackle the rest of my day after getting that adrenaline high.


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Robert Burns’ “To a Louse”

My mother came from the proud Scots-English Darby clan, hailing from Darbyshire in the English uplands (if you saw Kiera Knightly standing on the rocky precipice in “Pride and Predjudice”, that was our family’s historical land). Burn’s gently mocking parable to humility was read to me at bedtime as soon as I was old enough not to squirm away. It’s a timecapsule of the young Burns sitting in church behind a lady dressed all in her best Sunday finery, haughty and aloof to the rabble behind her, when he spots a louse climbing in her bonnet.

We can all become too full of ourselves, as comfortable as Ozymandias at the top of our personal social pyramids, armored in our expensive costumes, sanctified in our piety. But the wise remember it is an illusion, and those around us may be more aware of our failings than we may be ourselves.


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The Outfit” by the Drive-by-Truckers

“There is a Bluebird in my Heart” by Charles Bukowski

“Signs and Symbols” by Vladimir Nabokov (read here)


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This PSA by designer Stefan Sagmeister that reads, “Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.”

A healthy reminder not to annoy others with petty issues.

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“The Distance of the Moon” A short story by Italo Calvino, form the book Cosmicomics.

An origin story of the relationship between the moon and the Earth (and it’s people). Slightly sci-fi, beautifully weird fiction, serene, and profoundly simple. A dear friend of mine gave me this story some years ago and it has permanently lodged itself in a nook of my brain. Read (no, really, please READ) the full story.

The song “Giorgio by Moroder” by Daft Punk from their recent album Random Access Memories

I especially love his spoken word bit, “Once you free your mind about a concept of harmony and music being correct, you can do whatever you want. So, nobody told me what to do, and there was no preconception of what to do.” I’m a lousy musician, but I think these are valuable words that can be applied to design and the creative process. Totally inspiring. If you want to learn more about who the heck Giorgio is, here’s an interview with him about his collaboration with Daft Punk.


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“The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats

This poem is, simply, delicious. Even if you haven’t read it, you’d undoubtedly heard some of Yeats’ turns of phrase that have entered popular consciousness from it. His language is raw, dark, textural, and powerful and it never ceases to give me chills. He takes a culturally resonant concept of salvation and subverts our assumptions, toying with the idea of longing for something that ends up being damnation. We were too arrogant to see it truthfully. It always reminds me that we very rarely get the thing we want, but we often receive what we deserve. It is a terrifying thought. Read it here.

The Drum Major Instinct by MLK, Jr

“If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness… by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve… You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

I struggle most with balancing ego and love and I come back to this sermon again and again. Everyone craves recognition and praise but selfishly devoting ourselves to that pursuit rots us from the inside out. But I love that King articulated that this basic, human, drive isn’t inherently bad – just what we do with it and the power we give it in our lives. We must act from a place of love. Not the valentine kind, but the kind that seeks justice, humility, and truth. Even (especially) when it is hardest and humbling to demonstrate love when you’d rather demonstrate ego. Listen and read here.


While they aren’t always directly creative inspiration, we still draw from these ideas daily. Maybe you found a new bit of brain candy from our list (we hope so!). Stay inspired, stay motivated.