Motivation is always a good topic to explore. While I have written about my motivation frequently here-- what drives and pushes each of us forward is complex. I think some readers might find it useful to know that my bulldog-like tenacity is not something innate—as I child I could not have been more different in this regard than I am now. And while I would like to believe I have this strong, internal compass and “motor”, and perhaps I do, I have to admit--I am deeply motivated by others, usually by an internalized, generalized other, telling me something is too hard for me to pull off. You just can’t do that, Rich. It is too hard. And for the first quarter of my life, I felt that to be true about just about anything.
As an adult, I have always liked a good challenge, but as a child, I did not have a good deal of "stick-to-it-ness." I was easily frustrated, and gave up on things that were, or perhaps more actually felt, too hard. I remember having a science project in which I was required to build a model rocket-- this must have been in the 4th or 5th grade. I remember becoming frustrated with not knowing how to design it, so my dad stepped to help. After the design was complete, I become frustrated with building it: after only about a half-hour of sanding. Seeing my frustration, my dad finished the project for me. While I am not totally certain as to why—to this day I believe that he saw me as ineffectual, even incompetent—my sense of this hurt a good deal. It still hurts, perhaps. I knew he was not thrilled with bailing me out--he deeply valued hard work and perseverance--and taught me its value, but I really was not very persistent as child, and often felt the double whammy of being, or feeling, ineffectual and lacking perseverance.
As I moved into my late teenage years, I began to feel deeply ashamed about this aspect of personality and behavior, and began to work at resolving what the cognitive therapy literature refers to as "low frustration tolerance." My lack of persistence and work ethic were introduced to--and got their butts kicked by--another key aspect of who I am: I am deeply motivated to grow and change. I had always internalized the importance of hard work and determination, and had finally started to understand what it felt like, and taught myself to become more comfortable with this feeling. I don’t know how I was able to do this by myself—but I did read a great deal of self-help and philosophy as a teen—something seemed to have stuck!
When I was a child, I also had terrible handwriting. I have previous written about this in a blog post. You can read it here- "My Story.” Also as a teenager, I became determined to become a "good writer”—whatever that means. It felt important to me to “prove” to others that my handwriting and my capacity to communicate through the written word were not one and the same.
I am not sure if I have achieved that goal, but I am not so interested in global evaluations of who I am. I also have published a wee bit, so. I do have some evidence. Oh, and I recently received my MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Yeah, take that third grade teacher—tell me I am bad at something--tell me something is too hard now.
Fast forward. PhDs are hard. Getting a faculty job--impossible. Publishing? Forget about it!
Why am I sharing this? Well, my internalized drive and sense of being motivated by challenge is not innate--it was consciously and intentional developed. If I could learn this skill (skill, attitude, perspective, whatever it is), so can you.
Now, tell me something else I cannot do.