For many years my evenings have been, shall we say, not my most productive time. I like to get up early – between 5 and 6 a.m. – and start my day before the chaos begins. I find that I accomplish most in the mornings. And then it goes downhill from there.

Yet I still can’t resist the lure of an inspirational speaker. Is it my fear of missing out (FOMO, as my kids call it)? Is it my sincere desire to learn and grow? Sometimes I just want to participate with the rest of my community.

Whatever it is, it just doesn’t work. I force myself to drive to class (even gulping down an extra coffee mid-afternoon), planning to sit attentively through the talk. And no sooner does the speaker open his or her mouth than my eyelids begin to droop. Then my whole head follows suit. I keep jerking abruptly awake (I’m sure you’re all familiar with the feeling), painfully counting down the moments until I can respectfully leave.

This is not a new phenomenon for me. I still have nightmares about sleeping my way through my 2 p.m. Torts class in law school, trying to hide behind my hand in a small intimate classroom. Yet I haven’t learned my lesson.

I want to hear what the speakers have to say and I do want to share in a communal experience, but I think I am finally reaching the age and maturity to make a decision and stick with it (don’t test me). I’m just not going to go anymore. The information isn’t retained, the wisdom isn’t acquired and I seem to sleep through whatever inspirational moments there may be!

But I think the decision is more than one about accepting my limitations (although that’s not an easy one – since I had trouble with this in college also, I won’t concede that it has anything to do with age!), I think there’s a more profound choice I need to make.

While I can certainly learn from many people (in fact from everyone if I follow the dictum of Ethics of Our Fathers), and while other people can and will share powerful and moving stories that I haven’t heard previously, my inspiration has to come from within.

I can’t rely on the rhetoric of a visiting speaker to motivate me. I can’t depend on a rousing talk to stimulate me to keep growing.

I have to be self-motivated. And I have to be consistent – day after day – whether inspiration strikes or not.

And I don’t actually have to look so far for models of growth and character. Everyone I meet – my neighbors, friends, acquaintances – can teach me better ways of being. Some are more thoughtful hostesses. Some are more selfless spouses (do I really have to learn from them?). Some are more sensitive parents or more considerate neighbors. Some are more loyal employees and others are more involved community members.

One friend taught me to provide a basket of (new) toiletries to my overnight guests. (Ever wondered what to do with those little hotel shampoos?) Another always leaves out tantalizing homemade snacks. My good friend down the street mentioned that she always writes thank you notes to her children’s teachers. A woman on a plane taught me about appreciating the uniqueness of each child. (In her college-bound community, she allowed her son to join a rock band instead – and he actually ended up winning a Grammy!) And yet another friend demonstrated how to show appreciation for gifts, with her warm, enthusiastic and yet individually-tailored reactions.

Inspiration is everywhere – particularly when I’m awake enough to notice!

From now on I’m staying home at night (added bonus: my husband and children will appreciate this) and searching for inspiration all around me, learning from those who may not giving rousing speeches but always go that extra step.