Murders, shitty police investigators, garbage politicians, and all that is macabre. As a citizen in America, especially one like me who chose to get into the world of true crime podcasting, it can be all too easy to let your mind be absorbed by such topics.
And even if you’re not a true crime podcaster, things like health crises and helping your kids with e-learning can seem to be all you have the mental energy for these days.
And earlier this summer a strange underlying tone began to circulate around social media telling people that there wasn’t a need to maintain a level of motivation or success given everything that was going on in the country, namely Coronavirus and the social justice protests and riots.
While this was completely acceptable for maybe millions of people, I just couldn’t justify that attitude for myself. No one told me I had to keep making a podcast, had to start a new one, or had try to complete two novels by the end of the year. That’s a choice I made for myself, and this is a blog post for those of you out there who have made a similar decision for your future and are having trouble with motivation.
For anyone who has decided that for their physical health or mental well-being, hunkering down is the best choice, I support you, and even if you are determined to accomplish something but lack a little motivation, the ideas I present here may be of no help to you. On the off chance it might, however, here goes:
1) Treat Yourself
When you’re working for someone else or even self-employed within a structured industry like I was previously, it’s easy to become one of those traditional people that works to avoid the pain of pissing off the boss or being fired, and while your work may be uninspired, you at least consistently show up.
When you’re answering to no one but yourself about your schedule and effort, it becomes easy to give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Am I saying you should be working on whatever project you’ve decided is your new magnum opus 14 hours a day, 7 days a week? HELL NO! But what really helped me dive back in with gusto was making sure I really lived during the times that I was away.
So what did that look like for me?
I had a few more cocktails, we bought a 10-foot inflatable pool for our backyard so we could enjoy lazy days there with our two young boys, and we even decided just 2 hours before we left the house that we were taking a 7-day road trip headed west on Route 66. I took my laptop on the trip, and I did record one podcast episode in the hotel room one night, but even though my debut novel, Beneath the Fallen Leaves, was only about 15,000 words from being completed, I didn’t touch it a single time. I worked like a madman and finished it in the three days after we got back.
I invested in some good tools to get work done around my house so I could sit back behind my keyboard when it was time and have pride in the work I had been able to complete and the fact that I had good tools like a grown ass man should.
Your treating yourself likely won’t look anything like mine, but before you read anymore of this blog post, stop and make a list. Make a list of three ways a boss could treat you that would make you feel valued and motivated, and if you’re now your own boss, go get them for yourself. I should never be mistaken for anyone’s financial advisor, but if finishing that novel or painting or YouTube video is important to you, go ahead and spend that $30 you really don’t think you should be spending on something that makes you feel damn good. You’ll figure it out when the time comes.
2) Let Others Know What You’re Up To
This is a spin on a philosophy that was shared with me when I was just 20 years old called ‘motivation by obligation.’ I was already a mid-level manager at a large Midwest insurance company, and my branch manager was a real rags-to-riches story. When she first started working as an agent with the same company she was a single mother waiting tables at a popular chain restaurant in our mid-sized city.
By the time I met her, she was running this branch, lived in a huge house, and drove a nice convertible two-seater. She told me one day that she knew she could do big things with this company, and to motivate herself, she went out and bought the car she was driving when I met her. She had reached only moderate success as an agent and wasn’t a part of the management team yet, but she knew she’d enjoy owning and driving that car so much that she wouldn’t take a step back.
I admit, that’s a dangerous tactic to take, and I don’t advise it, but success and pressure doesn’t always have to be financial. Since that day, I’ve used a modified version of this, and whenever I have decided I’m going to accomplish something, I tell people I’m going to do it. Whether it’s a sales goal at work, solving the Burger Chef Murders, or finishing a novel, the last thing I want to do is be a fool or a failure. So I’ll post about it on social media or make an entire 26-episode season of a podcast about it.
Most people have some grace so if I missed my sales goal by one or two units, management and co-workers were still impressed with my effort and output. In case you’re a little new here, I haven’t solved the Burger Chef Murders in the nearly two years I’ve been working on it, but most people are glad for the attention I’ve brought to the case, and they have the grace to understand that the state police has had 40 years and all the records they just have sitting around collecting dust and still haven’t solved it.
When I missed my self-imposed deadline for completing Beneath the Fallen Leaves by three days, no one cared that I missed it because I went on vacation. They simply sat back and enjoyed the pictures I was posting on social media about my trip.
3) Adjust and Readjust Again and Again
We’ve all faced adjustments in recent months so whether you’re a seasoned writer or a brand new freelancer in any industry or career path that puts you in charge of your own motivation, risk, and reward, things are likely very new for you right now.
I’ve heard from a lot of writers who simply say they liked going to write in a coffee shop or bookstore and have been unable to do so since COVID-19 lockdowns really tightened up. Boy, that’s really something I’d like to try someday, but I digress.
We were in a state of flux most of the spring and summer with our kids’ schedules, as well as work schedules and prospects for my wife and I so when I made the decision to write Beneath the Fallen Leaves, and through most of the process, it was a pattern of not getting to write for days at a time and then finally getting time to sit down and write 4-5,000 words.
I honestly liked it that way, and thought that’s how I would write from then on out. Then reality hit. First, when I started my current work-in-progress I realized that even at times I was motivated to write, I wasn’t as often coming up with streams of prose thousands of words at a time. That sucked, but I figured it was a bit of fatigue and hangover from finishing the first book and that I’d get over it. I may have, but then reality really struck.
My wife got a new job she loves that put her working outside the home, and I became a proud WAHD. I’m responsible for most meals for the kids, my pre-K student’s e-learning, and a portion of the house and yardwork. Outside of the times I’m actively completing a task related to the kids or the house, it’s just tough to get peace and quiet while making sure my 1-year-old isn’t being a living room kamikaze.
So I had to create a work schedule. Days are for the kids, evenings are for books and podcasts, and weekends are for my beautiful wife. I don’t like it as much, but I want the results, and maybe someday once books and podcasts are paying the bills, I can go back to the old way, but this is the grind, and I’m so proud I’m finally committed to it.
4) Be Kind
I didn’t have a part four until I wrote that last sentence of part 3. I almost finished that last sentence by saying, “and I really wish I had committed to it at 25 instead of 35,” but that’s not fair to myself and doesn’t fit the inspiration I’m trying to give you. Reality is, despite what they try to tell me on the news, at age 35 I probably have 40 good years left in front of me so there is no way I’m going to languish about missed opportunities of the last 10-20 years with so many good ones left for me and my amazing family still left.
If you try some of this stuff and it helps with whatever you’re trying to stay motivated to do, let me know. It would be a big bonus motivator for me to know I really helped someone in the short term while I’m waiting for my long-term payoff.