Killing and Kindling Motivation

“Oh you can just take today off” she says to me. I smile at her, knowing I can’t. That is the whole point of this 30 Day Writing Challenge. No excuses.

So I close myself in my room and let my visiting family members go enjoy the jacuzzi without me.

But then I think I should wash my face.
Might as well change into something more comfortable.
My room needs organizing.
I haven’t checked Facebook in awhile.
Cleaning out my inbox would also be good.
And I could use a snack.

I grumble that I’m not feeling very creative and I can’t think of anything worth saying. Most of the time, I cave to those reasons and don’t bother trying. I say I will wait till inspiration strikes next. Two weeks later I still didn’t write anything and I get depressed thinking I was completely uninspired for two weeks.

But that’s not true either. Inspiration is fleeting enough that we rarely catch it in time to do anything about it. When it shows up in the shower or the car or the grocery store, it takes a back seat to the current task and is quickly forgotten. Inspiration makes regular appearances in my life, but I squander it’s presence because I’m distracted by other things.

What kills your motivation is not a lack of inspiration. In my experience there are 3 main things that keep me from doing what I want:

  1. Distractions and shifting priorities: If I don’t make writing a priority it will easily get swept aside by other items on my to-do list. Even checking Facebook and watching Netflix can compete when I decide I’m too tired to write or it can wait till tomorrow. Chances are, it will end up waiting much longer than that.
  2. Low confidence and fear of failure: “Why bother if it’s not going to be good?” That question plagues all of us at some point. But imagine if we asked this instead: “What could happen if this turns out good?” Suddenly there is a reason to try. Don’t think of the reasons why you might fail—think of the reasons contributing to your chances of success.
  3. Lack of self-care: Little happens when I’m exhausted, anxious, sick, or depressed. If I am overworked, have said yes too much, or haven’t set aside time for rest, I have again compromised my priorities and forgotten about my own needs for general well being. I am in charge of my own well-being, even when that means asking others to help me with it.

When I find myself unmotivated I ask myself which of these three things is present. Sometimes it is all three. Once I acknowledge the problem I can find a way to resolve it. Simple right?

Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. Some problems take much longer than a quick fix of food or a nap. Deep insecurity, the inability to say no, or even the need to work long hours in order to have something to eat at all. Sometimes there are other people or things that really do prevent us from doing what we want. But what we do to overcome those things and in spite those things is what defines our success. Tony Robbins, in his TED Talk on “Why We Do What We Do” says that “the defining factor is never resources; it’s resourcefulness.”

Every successful writer got to where they are solely because they showed up even when inspiration didn’t. They didn’t always have the resources or obvious amounts of time, but they found a way to make it happen.

The Renaissance scholar Erasmus said “The desire to write grows with writing.”

Stephen King’s blunt opinion is similar: 
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
I would argue that even for non-writers, success comes from showing up to work hard even on days when you don’t feel like it.

The more you do that, the more you realize that success doesn’t even mean getting published or promoted or paid highly. Success comes from the reward of knowing you showed up in the first place.

What gets in the way of your motivation?
How do you find a way to motivate yourself again?

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Real Answers to Interview Questions

Interviews are the grunt of necessity for many twenty-somethings, and even once we successfully get a job, most of us will one day have to do it again. I have met a few strange individuals who love the challenge an interview presents, but beneath the surface I’m sure they also feel frustrated if they don’t get the job and wonder about how they should have answered that one terrible question.

I stressed my way through a lot of interviews in the last year. Some of them went well, others were a free-fall where the parachute of my brain just never opened. Most of them ended with my head swirling because I couldn’t remember what I said versus what I was thinking or what the interviewer said to me versus what the subtext I was trying to read from what they said. Sounds fun right?

For your amusement today, and in honor of a recent successful interview that has landed me a new job, I thought I would share with you the real thoughts happening when I’m asked common interview questions. Thanks to multiple career seminars that brainwashed me into analyzing every moment of this process, I have a feeling I’m not the only person who gets jumbled thinking all of these things before I come up with my “presentable” answer.

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Q: Describe yourself in three words
     

A: What three words are you looking for?

Q: What are your goals for your career? / Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

A: Perhaps by then I will understand how health insurance works. Besides that, I have no clue. And seriously, when you were my age, were you right about where you would be five years later? THEN LEAVE ME ALONE.

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Q: Tell me about a time when you had to juggle multiple tasks at once.

A: This interview comes to mind. I’m trying to juggle a professional appearance (sit up straight!), read your mind to anticipate how I should answer, and not look like a deer in the headlights. How am I doing?

Q: What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?

A: Do you want the real answer or the “these are my weaknesses phrased in a way that makes them look like strengths” answer?

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Q: What past experience do you have that qualifies you for this position?

A: Didn’t I already write that in my cover letter? What are those things for anyways?!

Q: Why do you want this job?

A: I know I had some really good reasons in my head… but now I am somehow surprised by this question and my tongue can’t move… does income count as a reason?

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As you can see most of my responses are simply more questions. After all, there is nothing like job searching to make you cross-examine your entire identity and worth!

What were some of your best or worst interview experiences?
If you were totally honest, how would you respond to these questions?

Post-Grad Life: 5 Things I’m Learning

It has been almost 9 months since I graduated from college. My mind staggers at that number, wondering how time evaporated and the pool of my uncertainty remains. Wasn’t I supposed to have life figured out by now?
We were all secretly scared to death about what came next. But so far we have survived. To The Flood: I miss you all.

We were all secretly scared to death about what came next. But so far we have survived. To The Flood: I miss you all.

A friend once described post-grad life to me as being similar to allergies. It’s not a full-fledged sickness, it just irritates and sniffles its way until you feel fuzzy. Some days you almost don’t know it’s there. Then the wind picks up. And there is no Claritin clear answer to solve it.

Of course there are still valuable lessons in a season such as this. Here are a few I’ve picked up on:

1. 40 hours at one job is a lot
After sixteen years of schooling, most college seniors think 40 hours a week will be a piece of cake. However, college kept us busy with a varied schedule full of multiple classes or tasks each day, so sitting at a desk for more than two hours is not an easy adjustment.

At the very least, we were also thrilled by the concept of going to work, then coming home and leaving it all behind with no more homework to tie us down. But that brings me to my next point…

2. Insurance, repairs, and groceries are the new homework
If you are lucky, you job doesn’t suck all your energy out of you. For many of us though, we haven’t found the dream job yet and by the end of the day it is a chore just to cook dinner. These days if I get one of my to-dos done per day and eat at least one fruit or vegetable I’m satisfied.

Sure I don’t have to write a paper or read several chapters, instead I’m trying to figure out renters insurance and calling the landlord about my freezer that won’t freeze or the mold developing on all the windows. After that comes laundry, and groceries, and maybe an hour to decompress through mindless screen staring. Sure, most of us had to do those things in college too, but free time is not necessarily more frequent in the working world.

3. The guidelines of friendship morph into something new.
For 16 years my friends were people I saw every day in classes or at least on campus. Now my friends are scattered across the country and we have to learn what it looks like to communicate across distances.

Even for those people who keep living with friends or live in relative proximity, your community is now intersected by work and varied responsibilities. There is no guarantee on how long you will be in the same place with those people. Despite the way friendship worked in school, you can still have a best friend that you are lucky to see once a year. Phone calls, skypes, and texting become the norm, reminding you that technology does have wonderful benefits beyond sharing cat pictures across the internet.
4. The future only becomes larger
In the months leading up to graduation, the future in my mind was this bulbous, burgeoning question mark that seemed endless. I dreaded it, lost slept over it, and eventually pretended to be at peace with it. I made a plan for the foreseeable aspects because thankfully I had some milestones to get me through the first six months.

Now that those markers are long behind me, the future looks like Rainbow Road – both beautiful and terrifying and full of curves I am bound to fall off of. There isn’t a winter or summer break at the end of the tunnel. Time becomes more abstract and the calendar devolves into something unrecognizable. Because seriously – when does spring actually start if there is no spring break?

5. Life and work don’t look perfect right away – THIS IS OK.
Despite my confident declarations that I would do any job to pay the bills for now, the reality of that life has left me deflated and disillusioned. I succeeded at getting myself a full-time, salary job but quickly lost myself in a toilet bowl of doubt about whether I could actually do it. On the surface we question our abilities, but at the core the real dilemma is about our purpose—what meaning does my life have in this job? How long will it be until I find some semblance of meaning? How do I get there at all?

For some reason we feel rushed and pressured to have our lives figured out with a neatly planned career path, if not by graduation than at least relatively soon afterwards. In reality, this only happens for .01% of people.

The other day my roommate came home from her nannying job and told me that one of the twins she takes care of had a meltdown after his sister finished her homework before him. He spiraled to a place of “I’m never going to finish” and “I can’t do it.” She comforted him and said “You’ve done this before, it is just addition and subtraction problems. Your sister had different homework, that’s why she finished earlier.” This is what all post-grads need to remember: WE ALL HAVE DIFFERENT HOMEWORK. Don’t compare yourself to other people, thinking they got better jobs or have more friends or seem to shower more often. Your homework for this stage is not the same as theirs, and all you need is to return to the basics to do your best. It is just addition and subtraction, figuring things out one step at a time.

Also, here’s a secret I learned from multiple people who are 20 years or more ahead of us: it took them anywhere from 2-15 years to get to a job they actually like, and some are still trying new things! That’s the kind of motivational poster they need in career development offices.

Long story short: post-grad life can be messy and confusing, with a high level of change and a low amount of concrete answers. I’ve stopped aiming for the mirage of perfect and have accepted that my new goal is to collect experiences, good or bad. The hardest part is simply being nice to yourself along the way.

What have you learned about post-grad life?
To the adults: when does it get better?