Motivation

Mar 2014

(Based on an Interview for The Age, unprinted.)

 

“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?”

– Jane Nelsen

 

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

What motivates you?

 

I don’t really understand the word motivation. It’s like asking why you do something. In most cases the answer is, “I don’t know, it seemed like a good idea.” What I think is being asked is some combination of drive and fortitude. Travelling at cruising altitude in calm skies is easy, but through a storm is when your skill as a pilot becomes tested.

Motivation is easy to find in good times but when everything is going badly is when it becomes the most relevant. In moments of weakness or when feeling overwhelmed. But motivation is internal. You can’t see it. It’s referring to what a person thinks about and how those thoughts act as a forcing function to keep going. So what I think it’s asking is what do you think about most when things are going badly?

I guess I think about an old girlfriend, someone you loved a lot, in the arms of another guy and knowing she left you because he had a stable job and drove a Mercedes. It’s seeing them together and watching her smile and wanting to become something just so she’ll remember you. I’ve got every message she ever sent archived in a folder and reading them sometimes when I miss her, wondering if she even thinks about me anymore.

I also think about my my parents constantly worried about my future. And that I was wasting time on fanciful projects that won’t amount to anything and likely end up a failure who they’ll have to support. And about hate mail from random people I’ve never met, sending abuse for reasons I’ll never understand. And thinking about it more than the people who said good things.

I think about the time an even older girlfriend said she’d never marry me unless I were rich and I believed her. And being scared at 12 that I’d never be able to hold a job because your arms don’t work properly and they give out after a few hours. It’s being unable to relate to people all through school and feeling interpersonally inadequate. And stuttering and stumbling in front of people and never knowing what to say. I remember liking a girl for years who never knew I existed and then seeing her try to get close just because she thought I was famous.

I think about a best friend who you trusted screwing you over a bit. And about being unbearable to work with because you want something to be so perfectly right you stay up all night working on it when everyone else has left which is the difference between really caring. And about having a few hundred dollars in your bank account and knowing the worth of what you’re working on is measured in millions.

I think about being rejected over and over again and hoping they’ll just be stepping stones on the way to something important. But secretly being scared they’re right for saying no. And keeping it together because I’m where the buck stops and fixing problems that seemed impossible to solve in ways you had to invent just to get it done. Because if it didn’t happen you’d be out of business immediately. And seeing mistakes change the lives of other people.

I wonder about the kinds of things my grandfather had to do so we could live a comfortable and happy life in this country. It’s watching that same grandfather search to remember who you are and struggle every day to take his medications. And starting a company around fixing that.

I guess that’s what motivates me?

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