Unmotivate Yourself, Slash and Burn
Meet the most motivated girl I know. A track runner. She’s been gunning for the Olympics since college. And she’s gotten hella close. Now she’s in her 30s, and those chances are looking slim.
And it’s not for lack of trying. Or talent. Or anything. She’s done everything she’s supposed to. And then some. She’s in fantastic shape.
On the physical front, call me a little jealous.
She’s smart as hell, too. But she’s thrown all of her time and energy into running. People are starting to doubt her odds of success, just like they did me a few years ago. The difference is that I’ve changed my goals up.
I’ve never stuck with the exact same dream for very long. Maybe you shouldn’t, either.
Just a thought.
Nobody knows this, but I was almost a ninja. Fine, not a ninja. But close. One rank away from black belt. I took Taekwondo for years. Then we moved to the middle of nowhere. No place to take lessons.
For a month, I practiced in the garage. By myself. Nothing was going to stop me. Except me. My motivation flagged.
Other things took my interest. Track. Grades. Guys. So I never actually earned my black belt. I gave up.
My first year of college, I also gave up cello. Not before auditioning for the university’s symphony.
They wanted me. But my motivation flagged again. It didn’t feel right anymore. I wanted to do something else.
Finally, I gave up track. My audition didn’t go that well. I was coming off an injury. The coach said he’d let me walk on, as an alternate. “If you train with us for a season, you’ll probably make the cut next year.”
But I didn’t feel motivated.
So I never showed up for the first workout.
I wanted to do something else. Just wasn’t sure what. And that’s when I discovered rock climbing.
And then I discovered journalism. Creative writing. Linguistics. And now here I am, on the cusp of my ever-elusive tenure, and I’m starting to wonder. Is there something else out there?
Consider three of my friends: A runner, a writer, and an actor. They’ve all stuck with the same plan for a decade. Never deviated. They’re all my age now, early-to-mid 30s, and I’m the only one who can pay my bills. The rest of them accept generous donations from their families.
They all stuck to their dreams, no matter what.
I’m the one who shifted myself around.
Just because something’s hard, that doesn’t make it worthwhile. Wanting to accomplish a goal doesn’t mean you should, or can. Especially if you’re someone like me — with lots of them.
Motivation was never my problem. In fact, quite the opposite. I’ve needed people to tell me when to quit.
My dad, as much as I hated him at the time, offered me a weird ass pearl of wisdom my freshmen year. When I was talking through my indecision about track, he said, “Maybe you should think about other options.”
His words cut deep at first. As the first batch of millennials, me and my friends were starting to expect our parents to believe in us. To encourage us. No matter what.
So what was this shit, someone telling me to rethink my dreams?
Of course, the next week I ditched practice for an espresso.
Shitty millennial, I know.
Our phones hum with motivation these days. Look anywhere, and you’ll find someone trying their best to inspire you.
Usually for selfish reasons.
They’ll say, “You can DO it!” You #candoit.
But should you do it? Do you even really want to? These questions sound like self-doubt, but they’re not. Consider the part of me that wants to run a marathon. I’ve done 10Ks and halfsies, but never a full.
It’s been on my bucket list for a while, but maybe it should come off. Not because I’m a loser. Or because I’m out of shape. In fact, I’ve stopped running this year and actually feel healthier than ever as an elliptical bunny who also goes on long walks with her iPod in tow.
A few years ago, running felt like an inseparable part of my identity. Now it’s not. Like so many other things, I’ve lost my motivation.
Don’t cry. It’s not sad.
Here’s the thing: You have to allow your interests to change. Sure, “loss of interest in things you used to enjoy” is a popular and misunderstood symptom of depression. If you’re simply replacing old interests with new ones, that’s not depression. It’s change. You’re evolving.
Some of the best decisions I’ve ever made were to abandon projects. In grad school, I trashed my first dissertation after months of planning and special coursework. Doubts had loomed in the back of my head the entire time. But I pushed on. Why? Misplaced motivation.
Sure, something about that work probably carried over. I don’t exactly regret all the work I did. It was probably necessary.
But then it struck me. One afternoon, I was typing up a paragraph, and I just stopped and stared at my screen.
“This is fucking stupid,” I finally said. “Why am I doing this?”
It felt fantastic. Like freedom.
My adviser freaked out. So did my friends. “What are you going to do?” they asked. My answer was a shrug. I didn’t know. But whatever I did, it would beat the hell out of slaving away on a bad idea.
Everyone tells you to embrace failure. Okay, but it’s not always clear when you’ve failed. You don’t always get a formal rejection, or a defeat on the field. And it’s not always clear what you did wrong. Sometimes, you have to decide when to give up on something.
That clears the way for a new angle. A different approach.
Only you know when to give up. When to abandon a project or a goal. If it helps, I’ve never felt bad about it. I’ve trashed at least four book manuscripts since college. Each time, I knew I could do better. It wasn’t so much about giving up, but clearing the way for a fresh start.
If you want a fresh start, then give yourself one.
Don’t keep yourself tied down to old goals that aren’t working for you anymore. Persistence and commitment matter sometimes. Other times, you just have to slash and burn.