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What inspires us? It’s a question that motivational speakers, political leaders, and social activists try to answer every day. In capitalism, inspiration is fuel. It drives us to perform better than the man or woman next to us. It encourages us to step outside of our comfort zone, to expand our horizons, and to hopefully fulfill our true potential. But what is it, really? Inspiration comes in many shapes and forms, and is not limited to a single phenomenon or buzzword that tugs at our heartstrings. In fact, it is different for every individual. It could materialize as desperation, frustration, proper guidance, some mix of the three or something else not mentioned. What we do know is what inspiration is in retrospect. Just ask these entrepreneurs:

For Ali Brown, the founder and CEO of Elevate, it came in the form of idolization. After working for a small ad agency in New York City for some time, she became frustrated with her working situation. She enjoyed the work she was doing for people, and she knew it was good work, but the meager paycheck, strict schedule, and increasing expenses left much to be desired. That’s when Ali noticed a coworker of hers coming into the office as he pleased, always tanned with a recent bronze fresh from the Hamptons (where he did his work). Then Ali found out that the coworker also made more money than her. After hearing the latter, Ali went out to lunch with him and picked his brain, proceeded to make up some “marketing communications” business cards on her way home, and got started. Although success was not instantaneous, it was imminent, and today Ali heads her very own business, where she makes her own check and her own hours.

Or take Boris Veldhuijzen of The Next Web for example. For this intriguing character, inspiration was disability itself. In grade school, Boris was categorized as either unwilling or unable to achieve academic success. It was neither. It was his eyesight, or lack thereof. His visual impairment (only discovered when he turned 15) had relegated him to an unimpressive academic career and was responsible for putting him three years behind others that were his same age. With this in mind, Boris dropped out and went to circus school. As can be imagined, his teachers did not exactly approve and told him he was throwing away his future; but from his perspective, he had already failed, and the fact that his teachers disapproved of his decision liberated him from their judgment. After graduating from the circus academy, he attended arts school and graduated cum laude, then formed his own internet company, a company he would then go on to sell a short three years later. Boris claims he never forgot those teachers who told him he couldn’t.

Yet, it does not have to be some impairment or frustrating circumstance that drives inspiration. It can just as well be a proper parental figure. Case in point: Eric Ripert, the co-owner and chef at Le Bernardin. Although he claims there were actually three mentors in his life that made him the man he is today, he cites his mother as being responsible for entrepreneurial intuition. By teaching him to lead by example, and by running a successful home in addition to a successful fashion business, Eric’s mother provided the example he needed to blaze his own path.

Ambition. Motivation. Discipline. Entrepreneurship is the product of many things, but it would never come to fruition without a catalyst, inspiration.