Two different Facebook friends of mine posted the same blog article recently. Linked here, it’s titled “To Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind.”
Being that I have spent my whole life feeling like I’m falling behind, am behind, will forever be behind, but have felt that way even more in the last eight months as my debt mounts and my struggle over how I’m going to get paid for meaningful work continues, I read it. I had to read it.
But from the first sentence, I disagreed.
“You don’t need more motivation.”
Actually … I thought. I do. You do. We do.
I think I know what she was going for. I attended a hypnosis event recently, something I was exploring for some off-the-beaten path events I’m putting together, and I had an experience that I think was similar to what she was trying to convey. In one of the hypnosis sessions, I felt like I was underwater, in the ocean. I knew that I was drowning, but it wasn’t a problem. Everything was fine.
In my life right now, I’m drowning. Just about every area you could think of is in upheaval in some way—work/career, romantic relationship, where I want to live. The only thing that’s stable and okay is my dear cat. (Thank the stars for that! That’s a lot!)
So, maybe my subconscious was trying to get me to relax and be okay with drowning for a little while. Because no, I can’t do something about it in every single moment. Sometimes I still have to sleep. Sometimes I still have to chill out on the couch with the cat. Sometimes I still have to chat on the phone with a friend. And when I do that stuff I tend to feel like I’m falling behind, so I get why a person would need reminders for that. The hypnosis experience turned out to be good for me because it forced me to sit and relax and turn my conscious mind off for a while. I felt calm and centered for a full day afterward.
I think that’s what the author of this post meant to tell people, and I think that’s why it resonated with so many.
But I don’t think it came off so well. At least, not for me. Because, me?
I do need more motivation. Or maybe not motivation, but confidence. More confidence that whatever I’m trying to do will succeed — or that if it doesn’t, it’s okay. That I will be okay. Because right now, it doesn’t really feel like it, and that’s getting in the way of my ability to get my work done. Maybe you can relate.
And you know what helps give me more confidence? Reading other people’s motivational writing. Maybe not “little Pinterest quotes” as the author of the original post jabs, but well-written articles and good books. Lewis Howes’s The School of Greatness had me making lists and defining goals. Chris Guillebeau’s $100 Startup gave me all kinds of new ideas. Books like these get me thinking that I have something to say and important things to do, and that gets me working and moving toward that goal. It gets me looking at what other peple have done and saying, I can do that. I need those books. I need the people who wrote them to keep writing books like that. Because I have days where I don’t feel like working because I’m scared it’s getting me nowhere, and a book like that can break me out of that headspace and get me going. Really, truly.
It’s not just timing.
The author is right; you’re not a robot. But if you’re like me, you are a creature of habit. And making things that are important to you into habits not only means you get them done more often, it also means you get more skilled at them. Whining and moaning about how you don’t feel like going to work today because you’re not a robot does not. It doesn’t serve you now and it doesn’t serve your future happiness, either.
The author writes:
“You can’t just conjure up motivation when you don’t have it. Sometimes you’re going through something. Sometimes life has happened. Life! Remember life?”
There are some things this is true for, and some things it is not. If someone close to you just died, grieve. If you’re sick with the flu, stay in bed. But if you’ve been “going through something” for eight months, it’s time to conjure up some motivation. Even if you don’t have it. On a day-to-day basis, if there’s something you want to make happen, you have to make it happen — even when you don’t feel like it. That’s the nature of being a professional at something rather than an amateur. It’s the nature of being successful, rather than … not.
“You can wake up at 5 a.m. every day until you’re tired and broken, but if the words or the painting or the ideas don’t want to come to fruition, they won’t.”
And how does she suppose those words come to fruition, eventually? By magic? By Platonic form? Because you just believed? Sorry, nope. The reason those words eventually come to fruition is because you showed up (whether it’s at 5 a.m. or 10 p.m. or whenever the heck you show up), over and over, and did the work. Maybe not every day, but damn near. Because you worked until you were tired and broken. Again and again.
Novels are not written by inspiration. They’re written by learning how to sit your ass down at the computer and work every day or nearly every day (momentum matters!). There are different ways to do that, but they don’t involve waiting for the right timing. If the book you’re working on right now isn’t working, then you work on a different one, but you keep working. It’s that simple. Really, truly.
The same is true for painting, writing music, dancing, sculpting, etc. You must do the work consistently to finish it and to get good at it. Period.
“You don’t get to game the system of your life. You just don’t. You don’t get to control every outcome and aspect as a way to never give in to the uncertainty and unpredictability of something that’s beyond what you understand.”
Beyond what I understand? Is that like … fate? Or Providence? Or, let’s just be real here, God? Cause I don’t believe in any of that stuff. I’m not in control of other people, which means it’s true that I can’t control all the outcomes, and that’s fine, but I’m absolutely in control of me. Of whether I work or not today. Of what I work on. Of whether I take steps toward improving or don’t. Of whether I wallow in my fear or take action.
I don’t think anybody who writes motivational content really wants you to “game” anything. But there are useful, helpful ways to go about things … and ways that are less so. Most people spend their lives not even realizing that they can change them. They believe in fate, or destiny, and that it’s out of their hands, so they just go along with whatever comes at them. Adam Grant writes in his book Originals that most employees accept their jobs as they are without realizing they can shape them to their own skills, and most people accept the default browser that comes with the computer without ever asking whether there might be one that’s better. (Seriously, people still use Internet Explorer.)
Happiness doesn’t come automatically. It doesn’t come from living in the moment. It comes from consistently working toward something meaningful. What consistently means is in some ways up to you, but it has less to do with surrendering to “timing” and way more to do with showing up and doing the work.
Also in Originals, Adam Grant talks about how creatives who produce a lot of work are more likely to have a hit.
“In a study of over 15,000 classical music compositions, the more pieces a composer produced in a given 5-year window, the greater the spike in the odds of a hit.”
Making a lot of work is your ticket. Not waiting for the right timing.
Feel your feelings. Acknowledge what they are and live with them when you need to. But don’t let them get in the way of your happiness. Don’t let them stymie and stagnate you. Because at the end of the day, the thing that’s going to keep you moving through them, is your creative work. The light at the end of the tunnel is your creative work. Keep doing that, and trust that.
“You need to give yourself permission to be a human being.”
I guess it depends on what kind of human being you want to be. If the thing that makes you happiest is creating, it’s going to require a certain amount (a lot) of pushing yourself, because it’s scary and hard, and you have a lot riding on it. But putting aside your emotions and focusing on the work is what gives you the joy, right? For me it’s the only thing that’s ever given me a real, full sense of happiness.
You don’t want to be a professional griever or emotion-indulger or nap-taker (oh napping …) or idle do-nothing meaningful-er, right?
Me, neither. I want to be a professional novelist. Someone who writes enough and sells enough books to make a living from writing fiction. That is the biggest thing I care about. It is the thing that makes me the most happy. And so I show up for it, over and over, even when I don’t feel like it. Even when the words aren’t coming to fruition. (I’ve trained myself well enough now that that almost never happens. Because I learned how. Because I showed up.) Even when “life” is happening. Because that’s the only way to get to being the kind of human being I want to be.
If that makes me a robot, then beep beep.