Surprisingly, you may find many people don’t know how to answer this question. Try it, ask someone. Ask yourself. What’s your answer? Why do you do what you do? Resist the temptation to make up something on the spot.
You may realise you have no idea. None at all.
You’ve just been coasting through your life on autopilot. Secretly, unconsciously, you’ve been waiting for something or someone to happen. That is, something or someone will magically come along and your life will change. Maybe it’s not even about your life, maybe it’s just about your day, week or year. You have an unconscious expectation that something will come along and make everything alright. You’ve been conditioned, habituated, hypnotised into a slumber. You’re sleepwalking through your days. And just like sleep, you dream of alternative grander lives. Other’s lives. You believe something happened to them, but you don’t connect long, sustained, personal effort with their current outcome. You just see the end result, not the boring work over years of tribulations it took to get there.
Anything grand and worth having is going to take time. For some, that’s the price of admission for quality and they get on with it. For others, it seems like a massive undertaking and they give up before they even start. It’s going to take too long and too much effort. Best if they stay where they are and blame someone or something else for their misfortune. They’re too deluded to realise their only misfortune is their choices. Every choice they make is for temporary boredom alleviation only, there’s no thought of future consequence. But surely what we do to alleviate boredom won’t have any deleterious future consequences? They will by what you’re not doing instead. If most of your time is spent sleepwalking through life, then that time that you could’ve spent on something grander is gone and you can’t get it back.
I get it. I’ve been there too. Who hasn’t?
In 1997 – 99 when I was 26 – 28, I happened to me. I call it the great depression of ’99. I realised I was indeed becoming everything I was told (and feared) I would become: a loser. I had lost. I hated my job, I had no savings, I had no home of my own, I had no education. Nothing.
Most importantly of all to me, I hadn’t found my passion. The career that would make me jump out of bed in the morning with excitement and allow me to look at myself with pride. The equation was simple:
Work for myself x Work that I love = Personal success.
Everyone will have different drives, but for me, being my own boss in something I loved was all I ever wanted. This was the lynchpin that would hold everything together. If I would succeed here, then everything else would fall into place.
But I had continuously failed and consequently, I hated what I saw in the mirror. Those voices from childhood, those looks from peers, they echoed in my ears into the reality I saw right in front of me. I had lost. They were right, I had amounted to nothing.
I couldn’t keep going like this. That pain of remaining the same became greater than the pain of change. But I had to allow the pain to surface. I had to feel it in its raw entirety. Everything I had done to stall, partly succeed or sabotage myself was too loud to ignore. Everything I had tried, everything I had chosen was inadequate, period.
No more excuses, no more blame on circumstance, I had made my choices, me, no one else. I was to blame, and therefore, I was where I was because I was inadequate. What now?
I realised the pain of my previous choices was greater than the temporary pleasure they provided. The fear of where I was headed if I didn’t change course, was stronger than the pleasure I’d receive if I did change.
Read that again.
The fear of where I was headed if I didn’t change course, was stronger than the pleasure I’d receive if I did change.
Why is this important? Because the pain I felt was now, the fear of where I was headed was felt now, right here!
We’re taught by pop-psychology to imagine what we want and go for it. While that is useful for clarifying what you may want, it’s absolutely useless in motivating you to overcome your fears and habits.
The pleasure of accomplishment was unknown to me. I hadn’t achieved it yet. It was an imagined, dreamt, hypothetical pleasure in the desired future. But I didn’t personally know it. It wasn’t real. How am I to work hard for something, for a feeling, I may or may not have in the future. Will I be happier with a loved career? I don’t know. I expect I will but I really don’t know. Will I be happier if I’m healthier, richer, wiser than I am now? Will the effort end up making me happier many multitudes than I am now? I don’t know. How could I know?
However, there was one thing I did know: pain and fear.
They were real; both now and into the future, if I kept doing the same thing. Logically, I would get the same result: what I was then. And I hated what I was then. That pain seared my brain. The pain of realizing I was not as happy, fulfilled, at peace and great as I thought I would be a decade earlier. The fear spread over my heart with its black tendrils. The fear that I would be the same in five, 10, 20, 40 years if I didn’t change; if I didn’t admit I was a failure; because this isn’t who I wanted to be.
I failed the process of becoming.
I became distracted, entertained, complacent and inevitably, lost somewhere along the way. That petrified me. Another ten years of this and I’d still be broke, uneducated and working in a job I hated, to have money to spend on things that would make me forget the life I had chosen.
So, what’s the takeaway from all this? Perhaps you could focus on the pain of the present. Admit defeat. Admit you’re not as great/fulfilled/accomplished as you thought you’d be. You failed to become; to grow. You’re no richer, no healthier, no fitter, no wiser, or no better than you were a decade ago. You’re older but no better. Admit it’s your fault. Have the spine to admit your choices led you to where you are now. No more, no less.
When you have the courage and the wisdom to grow up and take responsibility for your choices (the food/drugs/spending/partners/jobs/etc.) then you will feel the fear of your future if nothing changes. Before long, you’ll be too old, too sick and too damaged to change and feel what you could’ve been. Then, you’ll die like the billions of souls before you and after you, bitter and repentant.
At this point, you may think you’re being profound by saying something like: “If I’m going to die anyway, what does it matter?”
You’re not being profound.
Your answer is shallow and flippant.
You haven’t really deliberated the question. Ready-made answers slide off your tongue to mask your impotence. You know your answer is a lie, the way your persona is a lie. Deep down, you know it matters because if you really believed that statement, you wouldn’t waste one more breath staying alive.
But this matters, it matters a lot. You want to keep living until you no longer can. And while you’re alive, you want your life to matter. You want it to mean something, and the only way it can be meaningful is if it’s meaningful to you. Because fundamentally, you want to matter, and at the moment you know you don’t, not even to yourself. If you did, you wouldn’t avoid your pain and fear. You wouldn’t fill your diminishing time with trivial, forgettable things. You definitely would not be living through others, you’d be living your own life.
Make it grand by making it better than now. Live purposefully and with awareness.
Aim at something important to you and do it, because the pain not to, the pain of how you’ll see yourself if you don’t will be too much to bear.
The pain of cowardice, of laziness, of substitution, that self-resentment will seep and poison everything else in your life.
In the end, however, you may choose to stay where you are and that’s perfectly fine. At least though, have the decency to take responsibility for your choice. It is your choice to hide behind feigned disinterest and complacency. You’re choosing to stay lost, to be less, to be dependent. You’re choosing to stay infantile, to wait for others to take care of you. To give up your agency, your autonomy, your choice to choose better. You’re actively choosing to be less into the future. You’re choosing to let yourself go, but simultaneously expecting someone else to take pride (or pity) in your sorry state to take you with them.
Really? That’s your legacy? That’s your exaltation for being alive?
I don’t believe you and neither do you. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading a post about motivation.
What do you have to lose besides familiarity and regret?
What do you have to gain? Self-respect, wisdom and tenacity come to mind, but you won’t know how they feel until you’ve gone through the gauntlet and earned the right. What will the next year and decade look like? Will you be sleepwalking through everyone else’s life? Or will you man-up, feel the pain of your failure and vow to never be complacent again?
Are you in pain and afraid enough to choose differently?
If you are, then we know this is no small thing. You are finally being honest and honourable enough to admit that you truly wanted more, you wanted better, but you failed. You failed by not turning up. You lost because you didn’t take responsibility. You chose the easy, the trivial, the inane. You chose wrong.
In the next post, I’ll share my secret for moving toward the grand without feeling overwhelmed. But first, know and feel what you’re not, but wanted to be and could’ve been. That’s going to be your fuel moving forward. Your pain and fear are a necessary requirement for your success. It’s always there, you just have to admit it and make it explicit.
Successful people are successful because they have a keen sense of their mediocrity. They’re petrified of being less, that’s why they work hard and inevitably succeed. They know it’s up to them. They know they have to live with themselves. Whether they’re multi-national entrepreneurs or Buddhist monks; both chose their paths and both have to keep working hard to maintain their choices
Are you ready to choose yours?