Good, Thoughtful Hosts #308: Inspiration Through Beauty-Seeking with Darren Johnson

Minneapolis-based project manager and mechanical designer Darren Johnson discusses how he opens himself up to find beauty to inspire him, and how he uses that inspiration as fuel.

Episode #308 Transcript | Listen on SoundCloud

Producer 00:00
Today’s special guest

Darren Johnson 00:03
Hi. I’m Darren Johnson. I’m a project manager and mechanical designer for Cushing Terrell here out of our Minneapolis office.

Sarah Steimer 00:10
Awesome. Well, as always, thank you so much for joining us today. We’re always excited to have some fresh voices on the podcast. So you had a really interesting thing that you wanted to talk about today, which I’m very excited about tell us, if you would. What is it that inspires you?

Darren Johnson 00:28
What really inspires me is beauty, which is a fairly broad topic, but I think just for me, simply, it’s just a matter of being aware of beauty around me, and just taking the time to notice beauty around me. So it can be, you know, something very simple, it was just like, you know, sunrise in the morning, or some, you know, flowers blooming, or just, you know, little things like that that you notice on your way into work. Or it could be a piece of art, or perhaps some music that you’re listening to that day. And so yeah, just taking that time to notice those things, just in the day-to-day life.

Sarah Steimer 01:10
Hi, folks. This is Sarah Steimer with a new episode of Good, Thoughtful Hosts, and we are back from what we’ll call a little late spring, early summer break. In this installment, we’re talking about beauty. So let’s start out with a word from the experts. So according to a Psychology Today article on the topic, beauty can encourage present moment awareness, attunement and emotional sensing. And because much the beauty that Darren references in this episode can be found outside, I think another study worth referencing is one from 2019 published in Scientific Reports, which found that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and well being so basically, finding and acknowledging beauty is healthy, and if your mind is in a healthy place, there’s a pretty solid chance that it’s the perfect setting to be inspired. Now, what I personally found so interesting about this conversation is actually how Darren defines inspiration. For him, inspiration is about refueling and recharging so that he has the energy to problem solve or simply do better you. So when you and I spoke previously, you know, when we were chatting before we ever did this recording, you mentioned something that really kind of piqued my interest, and you called beauty, finding beauty, the ultimate subjective thing. So could you, I mean, it’s a little self explanatory, but really, what do you mean when you say that?

Yeah, obviously, as the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the holder. So, you know, we, all, you know, have different ideas of what beauty is. And you know, we’re not always going to agree on certain things that are beautiful, you know, such as, you know, art comes to mind. For example, if you go to an art museum, you know, with a friend or something, you know, you might notice a piece that really strikes you and that you find really beautiful, and you know, your friend might disagree with that. So, yeah, it’s just kind of one of those things that that is very subjective and and yet at the same time, there’s sort of these certain things that almost feel like universally true about beauty. So like, as I mentioned before, like a sunrise or a sunset, I don’t think you’re going to find too many people that are not going to find a sunrise or a sunset beautiful. Or perhaps, you know, if you’re hiking through the mountains, or you know, you happen to catch the Northern Lights, or, you know, more recently, you know, we get the full solar eclipse that was able to be seen in a lot of the US, you know, things like that that are just very striking. That as subjective as beauty can be, there are many things I think we can all agree that are beautiful.

Sarah Steimer 04:20
By the way, I think there’s like no other organization I’ve talked to where people mention hiking more than Cushing Terrell. Oh, sure, that always cracks me up. I know it’s kind of like part of you know, really what you guys are, but I do always appreciate that too. So, you know, you you did mention that. You know, of course, some things are going to be a little bit more polarizing. You mentioned, like, going to museum. And it’s funny, because it’s, you know, anytime I go to, like, the Art Institute here in Chicago, I definitely like, anytime I go past, like a Mark, Mark Rothko, I feel like that’s, like, one of the most polarizing artists I can think of, personally, like among my friends, where some people just love him and some people hate him. But are there certain things because you mentioned, like, you. Might, you might come upon something that you love, or you might seek something out that you actually find really beautiful. Are there things that you know is you’re just gonna go, that’s, that’s it. I love seeing this as you know, sunrise, things like that, like, is there something that you try to actively seek out to help you feel inspired?

Yeah, you know, I kind of going back to the hiking idea, you know, I grew up in Montana, and, you know, I was surrounded by, like, the mountains and and actually, when I was growing up, I sort of took that for granted, and it wasn’t something that I that I necessarily noticed a lot of until I became an adult, particularly after I met my wife, and she really, you know, helped, sort of like, unlock that vision for me, to be able to see those beautiful things around me. And when I moved to Minnesota, you know, a lot of people were like, well, why did you move to Minnesota? You know, it’s not as beautiful as being in the mountains in Montana. But one of the things that I really connected with here is all the lakes. So, you know, obviously, Minnesota is, is the land of 10,000 Lakes. And, you know, I live within walking distance of two lakes. Our office here is on the Mississippi River. And my family and I, we love going up to the north shore of Lake Superior. And whenever there’s like a body of water nearby, like, that’s often the thing that I that I go to these days as like, if I just need to take a sigh of relief and just kind of take in something beautiful. You know, being near a body of water is is definitely kind of my go to, for sure.

Sarah Steimer 06:34
That very much resonates with me. I can appreciate that quite a bit. I made a point to step away yesterday to go over to Lake Michigan. So when it comes to because over the course of this season, I think different people really define inspiration differently. For some folks, it’s been okay, inspiration involves having the space to find a creative solution, or inspiration is a motivating factor. Inspiration is, you know, something that helps, like arc, an idea. It’s almost like flint. What to you is inspiration, especially as you are able to find it by way of seeking beauty or staying open to beauty?

Yeah, I think looking at maybe like the opposite of inspiration for me is, you know, maybe when you’re getting down, you know, you’re, you’re maybe watching the news, or you’re, you know, Doomscrolling on social media and stuff like that, and and those things can really just bring you down and drain your your inspiration, whereas, like I was saying before, like when you’re really intentional about seeking out beauty, And you notice it more in your day. For me, that’s like, what’s really inspiring. And even though, like, day to day, I’m not necessarily creating things that are beautiful, at least for my work, but being immersed in things that are beautiful and noticing them, you know, it inspires me to be a better person, and because it makes me realize that the world is as ugly as it can be. There is so much beauty and that that inspires me to maybe, you know, be more kind, you know, to the people that I work with, or maybe to be more hospitable and and kind of just spread that, that feeling of beauty to the people around you and just bring that to the work that you do. And I don’t know, it just kind of fuels me, you know, like it’s you don’t get enough to eat, or you miss a meal, or something like that, you know, you’re just kind of more irritable and stuff like that. And to me, it’s the same way with beauty, if you’re just, if you’re not taking it in, you just don’t feel quite right. And so it just kind of recharges me and inspires me to be a better person.

Sarah Steimer 08:42
Yeah, as you were going through that, I kept picturing sort of just a battery, you know, trying to recharge. You use the word recharge. You use the word refuel. Yep. And I think what’s interesting about that is that you may re energize, refuel, whatever, by way of this beauty, but you won’t always tap that battery for the same thing each time. It sounds like like, yes, sometimes you’ll be able to tap it for problem solving, or sometimes you’ll be able to tap it for like you said, being a better person. But it’s just a to you. It sounds like inspiration is refueling and restocking those energy reserves absolutely so I would love to hear about a time maybe you were able to really refuel by way of finding beauty, whether you stumbled upon it or you were out seeking it, and how you really sort of felt that just a piquing of your your fuel, basically.

So a couple years ago, you know, it was, you know, 2022 we had just come out of the pandemic. And so obviously had been, you know, for everyone had been, you know, really difficult couple of years. And I was working in my yard at home, and, you know, I was just really, like, fully burnt out and and just. Feeling down and and it was around this time of the year, springtime, and I was just standing there, and I turned around and I noticed that one of our Peony plants had just started blooming like it was, you know, the flowers had just bloomed that day, in full bloom. And, you know, with peonies, you’ve really got to catch them at that peak when they’re kind of just the most pristine. And I, I just remember thinking like, I haven’t just taken the time to, like, notice the peonies like in our yard, like the past couple years. And it kind of just changed my outlook in that moment and realizing, like, as difficult as life has been these past few years, like I can still stop and take the time to notice these, these things around me, because they’re they’re there all the time. You know, it’s not like they go away and, you know, it was just yeah, this really beautiful moment of realization to, like, just really stop and take that time to notice those things, even, even when things are hard, and maybe even more so when things are hard, because it refuels you and kind of gets you in a better mood and and just a better place to, kind of to move forward in life.

Sarah Steimer 11:07
Well, I think I mentioned you previously, too. Peonies are my favorite flower, and as much as it stinks that they’re so fleeting, you know, they Right, right? They’re here and they’re gone, but they really, I just love how unbelievably dramatic they are. It’s like too heavy to hold my head up. You know, when you when you were describing that like I remember, even for myself, like during and moving out of the pandemic, taking a lot of walks and suddenly noticing a lot of things I hadn’t noticed before, whether it was architecture or landscaping or, you know, what have you. And something that I’ve noticed when I do kind of pause in those moments and you see something beautiful is you, I don’t know about you, but I find myself taking a better breath, a deeper breath, a longer breath. And that’s something that you know, that’s almost your body going like, okay, let’s really pull this in. Let’s really take this in and allow it to, you know, satiate you even more. It just feels like a very big and deep, regenerating moment definitely. Well, that was, that was most of, you know, most of the questions that I wanted to ask you. But lastly, if there’s any advice that you could give people for, you know, staying open to these things, or, I think sometimes even more importantly, seeking them out. What would you tell people?

Yeah, going back to what you had just said, as far as, like, going on walks, like that was something I have it that I started during the pandemic as well, and think it’s just a good way to one, just get out in nature, also just, you know, moving your body is, is obviously, you know, always a good thing. But when you’re, when you’re kind of outside and you’re walking, you’re, you’re slowing yourself down, and you’re giving yourself the opportunity to be able to look around you, you know, obviously, when you’re driving around and stuff like, things are kind of going by fast, and you can’t stop to just look at things. And so especially if you can walk somewhere you know, where you’re in nature, more and and just take the time to just notice the things around you, you know, you know, look at the trees, or look at what birds are around. And I think that’s just really helpful to just slow yourself down and allow yourself to be able to see those things more. And obviously, life gets busy, and we don’t always have time for that. But you know, I think there’s even if you’re not out on a walk or in nature, I think there’s other things as well that, you know, you can take notice of it. It’s just a matter of reminding yourself to just look around and take note of those things, even if it’s like you get in the habit of, like, writing those down each day. Like, this is this, you know, really cool building that I saw today. Or, you know, this was this really cool, like, piece of work that I saw at this restaurant that I was in. Or, you know, I heard this guy playing music on the street, and it was, you know, this really beautiful music. I think those are just good habits to get into.

Sarah Steimer 14:02
I really like that idea of writing it down at the end of the day too. Because, I mean, it’s not like you necessarily have to go back and revisit that log, but you know, almost like being in school, like being in class, sometimes just the act of taking notes is going to help you remember something better. The act of writing something down is going to make you kind of force yourself to pause and reflect and kind of say like, Okay, well, what did that mean? Why did that? Why did I like that? What did that pique in me? So I think that’s fantastic advice. I really do well. Darren, thank you so much for joining us. This is a really great conversation. I’m going to try to remember this when I’m going too fast and not noticing things quite as well. So it’s very good advice. So thank you so much.

Darren Johnson 14:43
Yeah, thank you.

Producer 14:51
Music for Good, Thoughtful Hosts was written, produced, and performed by Sam Clapp. Our moderator is Sarah Steimer. Editing by Travis Estvold. And a special thanks to our content development team, Amanda Herzberg and Marni Moore. For more information about the podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

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