I just stumbled upon an article again talking about the question which things changed one's photography the most, and I cannot help it but part of my answer would be gear. So this is the gear part of my answer.
We always hear the same phrase everywhere that gear doesn't matter and doesn't make you a better photographer, but I strongly disagree. However, it's not about technical specs and features, it's
about finding the tools that inspire you to use them.
My first "real" camera was an old Pentax film camera, today I consider it great, back then it was a pretty normal, simple SLR to me, nothing particulary special about it. I liked it, but it wasn't anything lifechanging. However, it was dead simple and logical to use, just shutter speed, aperture, Iso, the simplest light meter and a standard zoom lens. It worked without me knowing much about photography at all, I didn't know the theory behind f-stops and all that, just what shutter speed is and that if there's not enough light you have to turn one of those dials clockwise (or counterclockwise). Film? Never cared for more than color or B/W, and usually it was the cheapest and B/W only when I could afford the extra development cost (almost never).
I mostly did snapshots, at school I tried a little bit darkroom stuff, but it never really clicked creatively with me - first off, I was always broke and film costs money, especially developing it, second I was much more into drawing and painting. All in all, photography was mostly a special occasion/travel thing, nothing regular.
Fast forward graphics school (mostly drawing and getting into DTP), then working as a photo retoucher for a fashion photographer when digital cameras slowly started taking over. At this time I only worked on other people's photos, and all the cameras I saw were just totally out of my league (and understanding). SLRs were big bulky, butt ugly, plasticky beasts with dozens of little buttons, mode dials and nothing I was used to from my old camera. It was hard enough to understand what an aperture is when there was still a dedicated aperture dial, now there's none, only some thumb/index finger dial that told me nothing. Shutter speed? Err... where that dial was there's now a strange mode dial with cryptic abbreviations like "Tv", "Av", "P", etc. Everything but full auto mode was totally over my head, and when the photographer talked about f-stops, lens characteristics and the like I nodded my head and smiled.
Not that I wasn't interested in having something to take pictures, but for me it was unintimidating snapshot cameras only for party photos or the like. There was some fuzz around a little Lumix camera around the time, it was the same as the Leica Digilux whatever, just from Panasonic, and I thought that must be great, I'm getting a proper quality snapshot camera on a semipro level. Well, it was actually a pretty shitty camera, everything above ISO 100 was unusable so even for concerts I couldn't raise the Iso or have a smeary watercolor painting. One of it's main features was a 16:9 aspect ratio which I soon discovered made absolutely no sense for me since I'm not into wide angle anyway, and so on. Long story short, this didn't make my creative juices flowing, quite the opposite, I took it just as another proof that photography isn't for me and I should better try other things.
Fast forward again, 2013 or so, I had stopped working as a retoucher a while ago already and didn't do anything creative at all. I used to buy my printer ink at a photography store (a photo printer using ink that isn't available at every Staples etc.), and as usual I took a quick glance at the used camera shelf because I was still thinking about replacing the shitty Lumix with something that could at least deliver sharp images in bad weather. And there it was, my lifechanger: A used Fuxi X100. I saw the vintage dials and immediately thought "oh my god, I know how to use that! That's just like my old Pentax!". Not to mention it's a really really pretty camera, but yeah, the aperture and shutter speed dials were what caught my attention. I asked if I could take a look and as soon as I had it in my hand I wanted it like I never wanted a camera before. I didn't buy it immediately, I went home, googled a few reviews just to see if it's considered okay enough, then went back and bought it.
And yeah, this one camera was a lifechanger, simply because I wanted to use it. I took it everywhere, still today I rarely leave the house without it. Even though in the beginning it was almost unusable in anything but good light, the autofocus was so bad - but I learned to work around it, and one day I learned about something called "firmware updates", something my old Lumix would never have gotten. The Fuji was still at it's original firmware when I bought and used it for a year, now it finally got the most recent one and completely turned into a new camera, not the fastest but perfectly usable still today.
Anyway, in one year using that camera I learned more about photography than in all the years working for a photographer, only because this one piece of gear inspired me so much. It also resurrected my interest in film photography, including massive episodes of gear acquisition syndrome, made me a camera nerd, but most important, made me go out and shoot.
This isn't a gear recommendation, I personally will always thank Fuji on my knees for this but everyone has their own triggers, so I can only recommend looking for a camera or piece of gear that really inspires you to use it. Don't compare tech specs, those won't do anything emotional and inspiring, any camera from recent years will be able to deliver excellent photos. But when you see a camera and immediately think "omg, I want that!", go with it, don't decide against it because someone tells you that the ugly one next to it has better autofocus.