Thursday, June 16, 2016

4 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Motivation When I Was Younger

If you've known me very long, then you also know I'm not a fan of all that "motivation porn" you see flying around on social media these days. It's because I'm not into bullshit that oversimplifies the process of accomplishing your goals.

How do I know it's bullshit? Because I used to buy into a lot of it myself. My parents used to force feed me that nonsense as a child -- that all you need to succeed in life is motivation and a can-do-will-do attitude. And then when that turned out not to be enough over and over again, I felt like shit about myself. I wondered what was wrong with me when really there was nothing wrong with me.

That said, I'm going to do you all one better than my parents did me. I'm going to share some actual things I've learned about motivation so far. You can take it with a grain of salt, since I'm definitely still in the process of getting where I want to be in life, but yeah. Unlearning some of the trite nonsense so many of us have been raised on definitely helped me start moving in the right direction.

1. Motivation only counts for so much. 

Yeah, there's something to be said for being passionate about something, as well as super willing to do whatever it takes to reach your goals. However, it's important to realize that that's only part of the equation, especially if your goals are related to one sort of creative success or another. A lot depends on where you're applying that motivation.

Are you actually channeling it into becoming crazy good at what you do and making your work marketable? Great! You're doing it right. Not so much if your focus is on force-feeding half-baked results to your friends or on otherwise trying to cover up for your lack of actual skill. If your work fucking sucks, it's not going to matter how motivated you are to sell it or get somewhere with it.

2. Sometimes your best isn't good enough.

There's this assumption out there that if you're doing your very best and giving something your all, you're pretty much guaranteed to succeed. And you know, sometimes your best is good enough, but more often than not, it isn't.

If you're serious about reaching your goals, you need to decide you're going to exceed your best, whatever that happens to mean for you right now. Be realistic, but set the bar high. You need to decide that nothing less than extraordinary (by your standards, not someone else's) is good enough for you. And sometimes it still won't be enough to get you where you want to be, but you'll be way more likely to have accomplished a few things along the way that you can be proud of regardless.

3. Flexibility is your friend.

One of the things that held me back the most and for the longest time were my strict standards as far as what "real achievement" was supposed to look like. This is especially the case with my writing. Like a lot of people, I thought that being a "successful" writer that made money had to mean being Stephen King or Anne Rice. In reality, there are a lot of ways to make a career out of writing, including advertising, copywriting, journalism, critic work, and so forth.

I guess what I'm saying is that stubbornly refusing to bend at all isn't necessarily the best recipe for success. You need to decide which parts of your vision are set in stone and which you can be flexible about. For me, the part that I couldn't do without was the "making money" part. I realized that I was actually willing to compromise a little bit (and sometimes a lot) when it came to what I wrote though.

I discovered I enjoyed more different types of writing than I previously thought I would in the process. My goals for my life and my writing have evolved over the years as a result.

4. If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong.

One of the biggest, most regrettable decisions I ever made in life was to let other people convince me that actual enjoyment in regards to what I was doing wasn't important when it came to the goals I pursued for myself. Being successful by society's standards was all that mattered. How I felt about it wasn't important, even if what I felt was absolute misery to the point of being suicidal.

Actually, fun is all that matters. When you're having fun, you don't need to be "motivated" or driven. When you're having fun, those things take care of themselves because you can't imagine not doing what you're doing exactly the way you're doing it. This is even more the case if you're an artist of any kind.

I honestly believe that a blissful person that flips hamburgers for a living and loves doing it is more successful than a millionaire CEO that hates his life. And I wish someone had told me that when I was a little girl. It would have saved me a lot of trouble and fruitless detours.