I was a classic good student. It ended up screwing me in life.
I got good grades.
I showed up to class.
I did what I was told.
I passed through the system pretty effortlessly, not stirring up too much shit, not getting into too much trouble, just looking to get on with it.
I never had problems with motivation, or getting my homework done, or showing up on time for tests.
So people naturally assumed that I would be successful in life – they described me with words like “hard working” “disciplined” and “self-driven.”
… And then an interesting thing happened.
I got my first real, full-time job, and suddenly could not give a shit about life or work.
My motivation flew away, my ambition was non-existent, and in general, I kinda inherited this “Ehhh” quality of life that scared the fuckin’ bejesus out of me. This wasn’t me.
It’s extremely common to suddenly lose your fire, and not give a shit about life, when you get into the real world. It’s no accident.
It’s actually all about how life was designed in those years of school.
Everything was structured.
School always has goals and deadlines for you.
Semester one. Math test 1. Math test 2. Math test 3. Vacation! Semester two. Math test 4. Math test 5. Summer!
High school. Goal: Complete freshman year. Done!
Goal: Complete sophomore, junior, senior year. Done!
There’s always a goal, always a next step, always a plan, always a WHY regarding why you need to go to the next level.
There’s a little bit of motivation built into the system. There are milestones.
But that’s not necessarilly true when you graduate.
Enter “Reality” – And Bye Bye Motivation
When you get your first job, you’re like “Yeeeeee buddy!” Makin’ money, partying on the weekend, and having a good time.
But year three is usually the “awareness” moment. Most people hit the wall by year three (some sooner – I hit it at year one).
They realize that this (job, lifestyle, etc.) is not what they want. They realize that there’s not much to work towards – earning extra money and bonuses isn’t really that appealing because it doesn’t make your life any more exciting or any more fun. We realize that money is a pretty weak motivator.
And for those of you that hate your jobs, getting even a $20,000 raise doesn’t do shit to help you get out of bed easier.
We wake up and think “Good lord, 40 years of this?”
There are no milestones – so we start introducing artificial ones.
Some of us get sucked into the money illusion. We chase higher dollar signs on the paycheck, nicer cars, and sluttier girls. They’re goals, so they keep us entertained for a while.
Others get married to help give life some meaning and purpose. Goal? Pay for your house, feed your family, keep your kids alive as a good parent. That keeps us entertained for 25 years (and then the WTF next? hits you).
Still others create random challenges and goals: lose 50 pounds, run a marathon, start a business, and so on.
But the bottom line is that the real world leaves people unmotivated and listless because there is no structure. There is no story. There is no why behind it all, unless you give it one.
3 Keys to Rekindling Motivation
This part scares the shit out of many people – because you need to figure out what you want.
You need to figure out why you’re doing it all. In the grand scheme of things, why does any of this matter to me?
Most people continue to set goals (short term motivator) – that’s fine, random, arbitrary goals will motivate you in the short term. That’s why losing 50 pounds, starting a business, or traveling to 30 countries works as a motivator. It keeps you focused for a period of months or years,
But here’s my own opinion: if I were to 80/20 the shit out of this “post-college motivation” thing, here’s what I’d say:
A. Work: Do whatever it takes to find or create work you actually like. Whatever it takes. Do work that pays you enough that is so enjoyable you can’t see yourself retiring. Channel your fire into finding work you actually enjoy.
I honestly don’t think people know themselves pretty well. They claim that they want more money at a job they don’t like, but does more money change the fact that you hate waking up in the morning, that you hate 40+ hours of your life a week, and that you’re pissed off and grumpy every day you leave the office? No. It doesn’t change shit.
It’s hard for me to overestimate the importance of work you actually like.
Yeah you gotta pay bills. Yeah you gotta feed yourself (and obviously this depends on whatever life situation you’re in), but seeing as how work is (by far) the biggest “I hate/love my life” factor – treat it as a priority. Take whatever steps it takes, quit as many jobs as it takes, and experiment with as many fields as it takes.
Some posts to get you started:
B. Leisure time: Flow
Alright. Find work that you actually like.
What’s next? Flow. Whereas you might engage in goals (and sometimes work) for extrinsic reasons or to keep you focused, flow producing activities you do just because you like them. There’s no goal, there’s no destination, there’s no purpose other than you just enjoy doing them.
When I look at the average leisure time use of people around me, it’s no wonder that they’re totally miserable.
TV all day on your day off?
Mindless internet surfing?
Video games (that you don’t even like anymore, you just play because you don’t know what else to do).
It’s amazing to me. People don’t DO anything with their time. We love passive consumption in our leisure time – which, for some of us, is the only time we get to actually enjoy our lives and feel alive.
Flow is a worthy alternative.
It doesn’t have to be a physical activity (since most of us come back exhausted from work) – it can be a number of things.
For me, there are physical flow activities: weight lifting, basketball, mindlessly kicking a soccerball.
There are intellectual flow activities: reading, planning a trip, meditating, playing chess or poker, and a million other things.
Flow isn’t such a good use of time just because you’re getting better at something – people who spend their leisure time in flow report much higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction.
Some flow posts to get you started:
C. Create a story.
Without getting too controversial here, I think the major reason why religion has existed (and probably will always continue to exist) is because people turn to it to give life meaning, in the form of a story.
E.g. You feel like life is meaningless, you read a book that says “your purpose in life is to spiritually evolve” so you spend your days reading spiritual texts, improving yourself, all with that underlying theme. Themes give life meaning.
You can give life meaning (thus a purpose – and drive) by giving it a theme.
I’ve written all about living a better life story before, but right now I want you to think about some kind of theme for your life.
For some people it happens subconsciously – the kid from the ghetto who promised he would rise above his lowlife friends and do something with his life. That’s his theme. It’s his single motivating purpose. It will drive him till the day he dies.
It’s a similar story with immigrants – people that grew up in such terrible poverty that they promised themselves they would never subject their kids to those realities of life – and they go on to become multi millionaires.
Often, we have a story without even realizing it. For some it’s physical, and it’s about hardship. For some it’s spiritual or religious, and revolves around self cultivation.
Whatever it is, creating a theme for your life (even just for the next year) will help you regain that fire.
It’s all about the story
Don’t forget: to find your fire again in life, do whatever it takes to meet these three conditions:
A. Find or create work you actually enjoy
B. Spend as much of your free time in activities that are flow producing for you
C. Create a story and pick a theme for your life, for a year, or even just for the phase you’re currently in
Ultimately your life is just another book on the bookshelf – but is it one you’d want to read?
Hit me up with a comment below,