I’ve been thinking about what motivates me; I’ve been trying to figure it out.
You know how there are some super strong memories in life, like that time you 110% humiliated yourself by accidentally biting a DJ’s nose and he ordered you to get out of the DJ booth? (No? Just me? Oh my goodness. Okay.)
When I was at uni, I was clinically depressed. I had suicidal thoughts, I missed classes and assignments, I didn’t know what I was doing, I was tired all the time, and everything was so, so, so, so hard. For example, and this might sound unbelievable, but this is what it was like – I didn’t know how to use the university library and it seemed enormous and terrifying and I didn’t want to humiliate myself by asking for help. I did two degrees and spent five years at university and never used the library.
But next to the library problem, the career problem was… a trillion times worse. I was terrified of the world-after-university. I saw offices all around the city, and I literally couldn’t imagine what happened in them. What were people doing there, all day? Hundreds of buildings with thousands of floors and hundreds of thousands of desks – what happened at those desks? What did people actually do?
My poor sick body. As university was finishing up, and I was somehow (miraculously, I don’t know how) passing my subjects and graduating, my stress ramped up even further – I felt like my mind was blind with terror.
Somehow (maybe my mum helped) I booked in with a careers counsellor at uni. I had low hopes. The young woman asked me some questions, and I said, “I can’t imagine myself in an office. I can’t imagine working for money, helping some company make money. I can’t imagine being trapped in an office, working at a desk, day after day.”
The woman listened, and gently asked more questions, and then said confidently, “Ah, you’re [______]. You don’t need to go looking for a company to work for. You do your thing, and companies will find you. They will be lucky to have you.”
I asked her for more information, and she explained it further. I felt stunningly and beautifully reassured. Her comments made sense, and for once, I didn’t feel like I was broken. There was a place for me in the world.
The only thing is, I have never been able to recall her definition of me. It was so helpful, and yet… as soon as I walked out of the building, I forgot what [______] was, because it was a new word to me. And as you might have gathered, I wasn’t capable of easily picking up the phone, calling back, and asking for a recap. The thought never crossed my mind.
I had lost the precise information, but my hope was still there. I held onto the thought that the counsellor had made sense of me, and had no doubt that I was going to find my way. That’s been a super strong memory for me. I hold it dear to my heart. She gave me hope when I was so low, I was kilometres beneath the earth.
But what did she say? It wasn’t “altruistic” or “introverted” or anything like that, because I knew what those words meant. Intrinsically motivated, perhaps? I have no idea.
I thought, when I was working for web design companies, that my motivation was status – being paid well and being good at my job. Taking pride in my work. But, money? – when I was on my highest salary, I was very unhappy at work. And pride? – to take pride in your work, you have to gel as a team, because it’s a group effort, and half the time, I don’t think the teams were working well.
I thought, as some bloggers started to earn money, that maybe I could do that. I could blog and have advertisements in the side column! Or I could write a book. A friend had written a book! – Nope, these thoughts made me want to write less.
Then, for two years, I ran monthly meetups/workshops for women, called Girls Club xo, with a friend. Our topics ranged from Resilience to Sex Education. Towards the end of its run, we had 200 women on our mailing list, we had to limit our workshops to 20 tickets, and we were starting to get offers from other companies – free movie tickets, giveaways, that sort of thing. It was starting to get popular. And you know, ideally I would have kept running it, because it was really cool! Like, really cool. But I had a baby and just couldn’t. But during that time, that getting-popular time, I learned something about my motivation: getting popular wasn’t motivating me more. I could have milked it, promoted the bleep out of it, held workshops for 100 people, maybe even turned it into a little enterprise like Work-Shop, Laneway Learning, The School of Life. (At the time, I dreamed about running a Girls Club clubhouse – a centre where women could co-work, have meetups, and take workshops.) But the thought of it all getting bigger overwhelmed me.
(Aside: in a magazine I was reading, there was a double-spread ad for Optus that says “Believe Big” and “No one starts a business to be small”. I do a double-take when I see the ad, because I think: I disagree. I think I’d be happy with a business that was much-loved but small.)
So, I was thinking about the times when I’ve done things that I thoroughly enjoyed and was proud of them, and I think, in a way, they were all times when I set myself a personal challenge.
For NaNoWriMo in 2013, before babies, I wrote half of a novel draft. I’m proud of that, and I want to keep working on it. In my twenties, I wrote a bunch of songs and made a pretend EP, because I didn’t want to be a loser with loads of spare time and nothing to show for it. In my late twenties, I made a list of 100 bars in Melbourne and visited them all over a year, because I wanted to know where the cool bars were. I wanted to make really good workshops for Girls Club xo, and I’m proud of my work there. And I’m currently trying to read books as much as possible, because I managed to not-be-a-book-reader for way too long, and I’m determined to change that – I think reading books is one of the best things you can do for your intellect, your creativity, and your writing skills.
Personal challenges. I think that’s my sweet spot.