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How to Find Inspiration When You’re Uninspired

Two nights ago, I had one of those dreams when you’re almost awake but not quite, where your body can sense that the alarm is about to sound and it’s time to start the morning flurry of lunch packing and backpack grabbing, so your brain squeezes in one last dream.

I dreamed my family and I were going on another trip around the world, and I needed to pack. My synapses tapped into the knowledge I gained through experience, then curated it. I watched my arms hold up t-shirts in front of the mirror, deciding if it’s one of the two colors I could live with indefinitely. I flat-packed my wardrobe into a packing cube, the folding method I switched to halfway through our trip when I abandoned the rolling technique. I hemmed and hawed over shoes, knowing I’d do it differently, but still not exactly sure how.

At the end of the dream, I zipped up a much lighter pack than I did in reality, a year and four months ago when we first left Oregon for our circumnavigation around the globe. In my dreamlike state I embraced this simple truth I learned on the road: If I need something, I can always find it. No need to pack any just-in-cases. Extra socks can be found anywhere.

My dream was so vivid, so particular and detailed, that I grabbed a yellow legal pad soon after waking and scribbled down my packing list. My mind gave me this gift of insurance, a down payment for future travels, and I wanted to tackle it to the ground before it flitted away like most dreams.

Looking at the city map in Split, Croatia

Later that morning, Kyle and I dreamed of a new expedition and penciled in a soft, tentative date to do it again, before the three kids leave the house and start their own adventures. It feels good to have something on the horizon, even in this stage, this fuzzy whisper of an idea.

It’s already helped my mood enormously.

See, since we’ve returned from our travels, I’ve been a bit…. down. Not depressed (I know what that’s like first-hand), not sad, and not grateful for our experiences. Not a day goes by when one of the five of us conjures up a memory from our time. When it happens, we pause in hazy appreciation, like when you relish the thought of your favorite Thanksgiving side dish in June. We have nothing but appreciation for the gift of that year.

But I’ve been down, and I think I’ve pinned down why it is: It’s because I’ve been uninspired.

french village

Our return was a whirlwind I won’t bore you with (mostly because it involves storage containers and signing papers), but for months afterwards, we felt upside-down and unsure which way was next. A new school year knocked at the door, so we hurriedly picked a place to plop down our stuff for a year to give our kids a smattering of stability. Now, our days are filled fulfilling that lease while we mull that “what’s next?” question with a bit of breathing space.

This lease-fulfillment phase isn’t exactly Instagram-worthy, at least compared to the rolling tea-leaf hills of Sri Lanka or the museums in Paris. Where we are, in the suburbs of Austin, isn’t picturesque compared to the back roads of central Oregon and the river-carved trails in the Pacific Northwest, where we lived before our trip. There’s a reason I haven’t Instagrammed much, in other words:

I haven’t felt inspired.

Canoeing at the lake in Oregon

canoeing on the deschutes in oregon

The past few years, I’ve learned that my immediate environment critically affects my mood, from the clutter on my desk to the natural light pouring through my window (or lack thereof), to the walkability of the streets outside my front door. I used to apologize for that, but I don’t now. It’s how I’m made. I’m deeply affected by my surroundings.

But what to do when my surroundings aren’t inspiring? That’s been the rub once we stored our backpacks in the top shelf of the closets. My work depends wholly on my creativity. How do I conjure up inspiration when there’s not much to be found?

I’m still learning my answer to that question, but seven months post-travels, here are the two ways I force myself to find inspiration in an uninspiring place:

1. Look for the Easter eggs.

Pixar is known for hiding “Easter eggs” in their films—hidden gems from previous works and inside jokes, knowing there’s a good chance the casual viewer won’t find them. You have to slow down the film, even pause it, and look for them intentionally.

I’m learning to do this with my life.

There is inspiration to be found in the beige-colored walls of a suburban rental home, but they’re not classically easy to spot. I have to slow down. I have to pause.

Here are a few of my eggs: Our kids can ride their bikes in the cul-de-sac. Good friends live down the street. We can park a trampoline in the backyard. Tex-Mex is less than a mile away. The kids are decidedly content here. We’ve found a great church.


breakfast table

It is a spiritual and mental practice for me to unearth the Easter eggs in my life, because my default is to see the less than ideal. But there are good things to be found anywhere. Inspiring, even.

2. Make the necessary plans to be inspired.

This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t still seek out ways and means to find the inspiration my work, my creativity, and my soul truly craves. It’s why it felt so good to pencil in with Kyle a year for another extended family trip. It’s why we hope to still spend a sizable part of our summers in the Pacific Northwest, Lord-willing.

canoeing on the lake in oregon

It’s why Kyle wants to drive out to the countryside of central Texas and become more deeply acquainted with the native wood. It’s why my current laptop wallpaper is a photo from our time in Venice.

I have to plant inspiration where it lacks.



italian villa

Heck, it’s why it’s a good idea for all of us to keep a book of poetry by our nightstands, why we should only keep in our closets what we love, why we should visit our local museums. Because we need regular jolts of inspiration to keep us feeling human, to remind us, as Mary Oliver once said, “We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.”

I say this to you as much as I say this to myself: When you find yourself uninspired, make every effort to seek it out. Find it in the Easter egg of a broken sidewalk leading to your front door, and find it in your daydreams of exploring the place where you’ve long wanted to stand.

Both are there to give you necessary inspiration. I know I need it.

We need beauty  because it makes us ache to be  worthy of it. -Mary Oliver

Reading Time:

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  1. Clare

    Oh Tsh, this so resonates with me. I am so very affected by my surroundings and need to be surrounded by trees or I just don’t feel right. I had a similar feeling, that uninspired feeling, for ages before I realised what it was. I was busy, but I was bored. Bored of doing the same old thing every day. So I listened to a ‘nudge from above’ and signed up to start a direct sell business with a product I love. Now I still do what I was doing before (somewhat begrudgingly until I build my business up to a point I can stop doing what I was doing) but I also have fun with facials and makeup on the side. I watch youtube videos about cosmetics, I learn new things! And just by getting inspired and seeing and doing new things (I’ve even got to travel to a conference out of town! By myself! No kids!!!!!) I’ve found an energy I thought I had lost. It’s so nice to know we’re not alone with these feelings xxx

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      So glad you took action on your gut feelings, Clare – sounds like a good move for you!

  2. Kizzy

    I am like you in that my environment really shapes my creativity. I’m having a bit of a lull at the moment especially with taking photos and I think it is down to this. I love the idea of finding Easter eggs. Hope you travel plans come off too.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      We’ll see! I’m sure they will eventually…. holding them very open-handed right now. 😉

  3. Cate

    Love this, Tsh. Looking for the Easter eggs is what made me come to love where I’m currently living. I’ll probably always feel restless and more content when I have solid travel plans in the works but I can appreciate the beauty of where I am so much more now than when I first moved here. Planting inspiration, as you say, is such a good skill to cultivate!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      That’s so great that this helped you come to love exactly where you are, Cate. That’s such a good spiritual and emotional practice.

  4. KC

    This is really interesting to me; I find that travel saps my creative productivity to an extreme degree. I think this is partly overstimulation/exhaustion, and partly a feeling that my creative efforts are unnecessary (because there is so much good stuff out there!). It’s when I’m in a more “naked” or constant environment for a while that I’m more likely to end up acting on creative impulses (albeit drawing inspiration, of course, from everything stowed away in the recesses of my brain). This may not actually be at odds with what you’re describing, but it seems so at first glance to me?

    On a separate note, I’ve been looking out for the “State of the Blog” – did I miss it somehow? I probably just ought to sign up for All The Newsletters, but newsletters are broadly at odds with my system, such as it is, for dealing with email and my “system” for finding again articles/essays that interested me. Oh, well.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I can definitely see this, and it’s the same idea I’m talking about—intentionally doing what we need to do to find the inspiration we all need, whether that looks like exploring new places or finding solace in familiar walls. Interesting how different we’re all made, eh? 🙂

      And you haven’t missed anything—I haven’t yet hit publish on my annual SOTB (and it’s already February!). I have every intention in doing so, but January was a bit nuts around here, and right now the bulk of my work time has been spent editing my book. But I have thoughts rolling around in my head, and I’ll share them soon! Thanks for your patience and grace, KC.

      • KC

        Glad to hear that that doesn’t sound crazy to you! It has seemed to me that the predominate cultural message is that, to have ideas or do creative work, everyone needs Places New (or, alternately, retreats/conferences or a studio in NYC), and that’s really not how it works for me. (I do think that it’s ideal for people who are setting a creative work in a “place” they’re not familiar with to visit it insofar as they are able, so as to get the gist of it and avoid painful errors; Laura Hillenbrand’s method is fascinating, albeit wildly atypical, for this.)

        Also, I really liked your emphasis on finding ways to make things work for you where you can. This is not necessarily Inspiration-related, but I also fear, somewhat, that sometimes people who have the time and energy to do the work are allowing their current lack of Precise Exotic Inspirational Creative Circumstances to let them off from ever rolling up their sleeves and tackling the work – and are allowing that lack of lifestyle perfection to result in serious discontent/”artistic unfulfillment” – and that seems like a sad thing. Yes, sometimes a situation really is kind of impossible for certain endeavors, but maybe more rarely than we let it be? And figuring out what we *can* do with what we have is generally more productive than prolonged wishing.

        So glad I haven’t missed the State of the Blog! I’ll look forward to it, whether it’s coming soon or in, say, June. 🙂

  5. Sarah Caldwell

    Tsh, thank you thank you THANK YOU for sharing these words! I needed them in the worst way! I am feeling uninspired, though in a completely different set of circumstances. I’m a musical theatre actress, and finally scored a role I’ve been dying to play (Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie), but our rehearsal process has been frantic and difficult, and I now found myself 2 days away from opening night terrified that my inspiration has left the building! Thank you for reminding me to be grateful, to find the Easter eggs, and to remember its part of my makeup to be influenced by my surroundings as well. I’ve dreamed of travelling around the world like your family did for so long – though extended travel isn’t possible for us with my husband’s job, we are still looking to plan pockets of time one day to fulfill that dream. Thank YOU for inspiring me today.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Oh, thank YOU for your comment, Sarah! 9 times out of 10 my essay topics are because I’m preaching to myself, so I’m right there with you in need of inspiration and reminders that it’s all around us if we choose to look for it.

      Break a leg this week! (That’s a nice thing to say, right?)

  6. Jen Brand

    Why did you abandon rolling for flat packing?

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      My stuff just fit better once I started flat-packing, for some reason. No one was more surprised than me….

  7. Troy

    There are very few blogs that I find myself reading consistently. Denison Forum is one and yours is another. It is funny that so much of this is geared toward women, yet I relate to it quite well, especially the traveling part. I am a gypsy at heart and I do not get to experience my gypsy ways at all. This post really spoke to me. I pray at least 3 times a week that God will either remove from me my desire to live in the mountains or He will move our family there. Living in the metromess of Fort Worth has a great impact on my wellbeing and I would so like to raise outdoor kids. I feel the time and opportunity slipping away and it makes me anxious. I try to find the Easter eggs and there are many. Nevertheless, I still long for more. Thanks for the insight.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      You know, you’d be surprised how many men read this blog—according to statistics behind the scenes, it’s somewhere between 15-30%. So, you’re not alone! 🙂

      I understand the desire to raise outdoorsy kids. Right there with you.

  8. kate

    Love this and I was in desperate need of this, We have recently changed our lifestyle, I stopped working and am now staying out home, with all of the craziness I haven’t been able to get my head wrapped around it. We are talking about making a big move to Germany too so there’s really no time to settle down, but I have to make time to find inspiration somewhere and not to get bogged down. Thank you. Really.

  9. Caitlin Mallery

    This sounds like the theme of my life and reading of the past year, finding inspiration and joy in the life you have. You have been a huge inspiration to me for a few years now. While you were traveling the world, I traveled across the United States with three kids 3 and under. And so much of what you write feels like the person I wish I was , a bit braver and more confident with each step. I feel like I am getting there, one day at a time. Thanks for writing! I cannot wait for your new book!

  10. Rocio

    Tsh, this resonates with me so strongly.

    We took our 5 children (2 to 12 years old) 17,000 miles around the United States in an RV for 6 months last year. My husband worked full-time from coffee shops around the country Monday thru Friday while the children and I carved out life in a new RV park each week. The weekends were full of miles and seeing the sights. Amazing and hard and good. It was our Grand Adventure. Now we are in a rental and saving to get our dream farm.

    Limbo time now.

    The readjustment has taken longer than I expected.

    On Valentine’s Day my husband andI came up with a book project for the of us to take on. It’s exciting. He’s a published author but we’ve never worked on a project together. It’s energizing and has helped clear my mind to have this new joint endeavor.

    Here’s to ADVENTURES! and the calm days in between.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      To adventures and calm days! Hear hear, Rocio. Your travels sound hard and fabulous and everything in between. As good travels often are.

  11. Michelle

    Wonderfully put. I totally get this. My 16 year old started using a phrase in the fall that has stuck. The mountains are calling, and I must go. This phrase is uttered from time to time, and when we make way for a drive, with a few short walks in the nearby mountains (we live an the foot of Pikes Peak) everything is brighter, calmer. Inspiration is refreshed, sleep is more restful. In between those drives, I keep a gratitude (Easter egg) journal in composition notebooks. Thank you.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      That’s a great phrase; one my native Oregonian husband has always liked.

      (Saw this shirt a few days ago—maybe your kiddo would like it?)

      • Michelle

        Tsh, I just saw this reply, and tshirt! She would love it.

  12. Jessica

    Wow, did this resonate with me! So often, especially after a big trip, I feel this way. I’ve often categorized these feelings as ingratitude but you’ve shown me that isn’t the case at all.

    Glad you’ve found a way to “repackage” what you’ve got. I hope it makes all the difference.

    PS – I’ve got that Ikea map in my living room. We love it and get comments about it all the time!

  13. Kendra

    Gosh, this resonates with me. I feel like I’ve been hunting for Easter eggs for 16 years. I married young and had children quickly. We settled in the Central Texas suburb that I grew up in…that I always thought I’d move from. I inadvertently keep my mind busy with daydreams or plans. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never fully fit in with the other suburban housewives (as dear and lovely as they are). While I haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore oversees, I find great inspiration in the mountains of Colorado and the lush beauty of the PNW. In fact, I always leave these places reluctantly and return home only to feel like I left home. I can only imagine how your heart must ache after experiencing so many interesting and beautiful places.
    I find it grounding to require myself to savor the fields of Texas wildflowers in Spring or trek out to Lost Maples to enjoy the splendors of their Fall color. Venturing beyond the confines of the beige track home communities and spending a weekend afternoon in Luckenbach helps me to feel more connected with and inspired by the natives of this area. Thank you for sharing this. It is good to not feel alone.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      You sound like my sister from another mister, Kendra! From your Central Texas upbringing to your INTJ personality type to your love of nature. I’m so looking forward to spring here…. It’s the best time of year. (Leading to the worst, of course, but let’s ignore that for now.)

      • Kendra

        Ah yes, I’ve seen the peach tree blossoms already.
        There are Easter eggs in the worst season, too – tubing the Comal, weekly swimming hole adventures, ummm…pretty much anything with water 😉
        Here’s to the hunt, sista!

  14. Ivanna

    I’m glad you posted this because it’s where I’m at right now too. Somehow the life of my dreams has become a bit routine. Amazing, but not inspiring. I think your advice is spot-on, but at this stage it’s easier said than done for me. Making necessary plans to be inspired is what I need to focus on.

  15. Elizabeth Vega

    Thank you so much for this… I’m working full-time again while my husband is in school, and I have a much harder time with inspiration when I’m working on someone else’s clock than on my own. The reminders to look for the easter eggs and to schedule time to be inspired are just what I need as I look forward to the next two years. That would be an awfully long time to white-knuckle it!

  16. Kimberly

    Thank you for this post. As a working Mom my routine can feel all encompassing at times. I have to remind myself to cherish each moment when I feel uninspired. Sometimes it works, some days not so much (usually due to lack of sleep). 🙂 Your Easter egg analogy is brilliant.

  17. April Hansen

    Ah, how great it feels to be touched by words that resonate deeply in my soul! Thank you!

    I’ve recently discovered the immense joy of listening to podcasts (I know, I know….so very late to the game). Your podcast is A+, I can’t even begin to describe the pleasure and inspiration it gives me. Even though I’m a little embarrassed to admit it’s taken me so long to discover podcasts, I’m delighted it did…having a long feed to catch up on brings me such happiness!

    After listening to episode 8, I began implementing the notebook idea for my kids (ages 7 & 10). Absolutely brilliant! My 8 yo. daughter loves it, she thanks me every morning for the list. My 10 yo. son isn’t so convinced yet he still goes along with it (he’ll eventually come around ;o). The notebooks have changed my life, greatly reducing the constant reminding which most often leads to the nagging (argh). It’s been such a game changer in my mothering, bringing me peace and more patience.

    Thank you for the gold mine of wisdom you bring to the table each week!

    Take care,


  18. Marla Taviano

    Aw, friend. Love this post. Said a prayer for you just now. For hope & encouragement to flood your heart. You are one of my biggest sources of inspiration–and not just when you’re traveling the world. Hugs!

  19. Kahlie

    I love what you write.

    I wrote to you at the very beginning of our big trip around the USA. Things started off a bit hard, and I was wondering when they were going to turn around. Now we are back home in australia and I can totally get this. Travel with kids (4YRS ,2YRs, 3mths) is hard, but when you settle into it… its so rich and inspiring. now we look at pics of our trip in the same way, and we have penciled in a trip around Europe in the same way in a couple of years time. SO SO exciting. And probably hard. But exciting and inspiring!

  20. Lea

    So well said. Honestly…this is pre-spring battle for me every year. Just like the seeds we place in the cold, dark, earth, we have to push through the crust to find the sunshine. As a mom, this totally resonated with the season both in life and nature. Thank you!

  21. Stephanie @ EntreFamily

    Oh, Tsh, I SO get this. I have also been feeling so uninspired this year, here in our current home and city. And it helps to hear someone else (especially another creative who does it for a living) say that they’ve learned that it’s part of who they are and that’s ok. I’ve fought against it, feeling like I should be more content. Maybe it’s time to accept that aspect of who I am, but still search for my own “Easter eggs” as you say.

    Also, Ryan and I did the same thing, nailing down a year in the future that we’re planning our next big trip for (though we’ve definitely got smaller ones in the works). Maybe it’s the same year and we can meet up again?? We’ll have to vox about it. And lastly… I love that I recognize almost every picture in here as a shared place we’ve both experienced. How special. <3

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