Motivation

I’ve been struggling with motivation of late, and if I’ve ever worked for you, you know that my motivation can be a fickle beast. I think I’ve finally come up with a metaphor that helps me think through my motivational challenges. I present to you my get-stuff-done sailboat.

When I let my mind wander recently, exploring that critical question “what motivates me”, I came up with two answers: 1) I am motivated by creating something that others appreciate, and 2) I am motivated by learning to create something that others appreciate. Learning, creating, and appreciation. Those things fueled my photography career for several years. When I reflect on who I’ve most enjoyed working with, it was those who appreciated my work, and let me know it. Every role that I’ve loved has had ample helpings of learning, creating and appreciation.

In my get-stuff-done sailboat metaphor, I am the boat, and its motion is me getting stuff done. Learning and creation are my sails. And appreciation is the wind in those sails. If a job has ample learning and creation opportunities, then my big sails will catch even the smallest amount of appreciation. If the job has no creativity or learning, then its like my sails are furled, and no amount of appreciation is going to move me forward.

“But isn’t it sad that you can’t do anything without people saying ‘Good job’?” Yes, it would be, but I find that “future me” can appreciate the work I’ve done and that can be enough in some situations.

My sailboat doesn’t have to move just because my creativity sails are filled with appreciation wind. There’s the rowboat of obligation. We all have tasks that we must do that give us no joy–filling out time sheets is one of those for me. So when its time to fill out my weekly time sheet, my sails are furled, and no one says “That was great, Rick”. So obligation moves my boat along. But obligation never moves me as quickly as motivation, so the row boat only helps when the motivation is very low.

And then there’s that anchor. That’s anxiety. I find Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Model helpful here. I feel anxiety when I perceive my skills are not up to the high challenge of a task. And I react to anxiety by shutting down. I avoid doing the thing that needs to be done. Even if my motivational sails are full, if I’m in high anxiety about the task, I’m stuck. And if there’s an obligation row boat trying to coax me along, then I feel a crap tonne of stress. Anxiety Anchor holding me back, mast creaking from the creativity of the task, and obligation row boat tugging at my bow–it can be literally painful.

When I feel that stress, and the realization that I’ve let my anxiety anchor drop finally hits me, I find I can lift that anchor myself. All I have to do is adjust my perception of my skill level. I just acknowledge I don’t know how to get to the end of the task, but I know a first step I can take, and then I’ll figure out the next step. And so on. That’s lifting my anchor, and then motivation and obligation (if needed) can carry me along.

Now for some examples where this metaphor feels like a good fit.

  • Cleaning out the garage so my wife can park her car in it. There’s no obligation row boat because I didn’t commit to doing it, and she didn’t ask me to. There’s no anxiety anchor because the challenge of the task isn’t high, and my skills are easily high enough to accomplish it. The act of creating a clean parking spot isn’t huge, but its definitely enough to catch the appreciation my wife showed at being able to park in the garage. And future me likes having her car in the garage too.
  • Building a development environment for a client. Obligation rowboat is available if needed. I know they’ll appreciate it when its done. The first time through, I enjoyed learning the detailed steps it took, and doing the work of installing the environment. But after we decided to torch it and start over on a different version of Windows, my sails aren’t quite as big. Its a little bit more tedious now. My anxiety anchor was hanging off my stern, but never dropped into the water.
  • Delivering the neighborhood newsletter to 80+ homes. There’s no creation or learning. I know people appreciate the delivery, but it doesn’t move me forward because the task isn’t motivating. I have no anxiety about it at all, so the anchor it sitting in its hold. The obligation row boat moves me along, without hindrance because I promised to doing it.

So that brings me to a problem–if I’ve promised to do something (or I know I have to) but I don’t, pretty much always the answer is anxiety. I have to pull that anchor up so that I can get-stuff-done.

Eclipse 2024

[Disclaimer: I totally failed at using a calendar. April 8, 2024 is a Monday, I think. Ignore my discussion of it being a weekend below until I’ve had a chance to revise this post].

I took this picture, but you could have too. Millions did.
Copyright Oh Who Cares

The year is currently 2017. August 22, to be exact. Do you remember what happened yesterday? It was the “Great American Eclipse” or some other such grandiose name. It was an epic eclipse, crossing the entire country, visible in one way or another from the whole mainland. I went into the totality zone, like millions of others, and these are my notes to the future citizens of planet earth–those people contemplating viewing the 2024 eclipse from the totality zone.

My first thought-do it. It will be April 8, which will be a Saturday (assuming strange things don’t happen before then). Most people will not have to work, but if you do, do your best to get the day off. There won’t be any kids in school, so take them too. The experience is like nothing else, and is rare enough that some people may never get to see one in person. It is a full body experience (ok, I didn’t notice any different scents or tastes, but the other three senses were impacted).

My second thought is-traffic will be worse on April 8 2024 than it was August 21, 2017. I’ll guess it will be three or four times worse. Maybe a hundred. Whatever, traffic will be bad. So here are my suggestions for dealing with it.

  • Do not travel to small towns who are marketing themselves to eclipse watchers. In all likelihood, they won’t really know how to deal with the influx. Hopkinsville, KY made this mistake in 2017, and it took people 3+ hours just to get out of “Hoptown”. The town is maybe 7 miles in diameter. It should take 20 minutes to fully cross, and only 10 minutes to get out. 18 times normal. That’s pretty bad.
  • Do not travel large distances, and hope to get home the day of the eclipse. I personally know one family that spent 16 hours driving what would normally be a 6 hour trip. My personal experience wasn’t quite so bad: 9 hours to travel what normally would have been 5.5. Your mileage may vary, but assume a factor of 2-3 times normal.
  • If you’re going to arrange for a place to stay in totality, stay there for a night or two after the eclipse. I’m pretty sure, based on the level of traffic after the 2017 eclipse that most people had arranged to arrive early, but then EVERYONE left at the same time.

Finally, make sure you provide for shade and toilet needs on the time approaching the eclipse. I had only half planned for these details, and they ended up working out in my favor. I willingly paid $20 to hang out in a municipal park where there were flush toilets, trees, and emergency services if they were needed.

Reading recent and/or popular books for free

OK, yes, I know. Everyone knows about the Columbus Metropolitan Library. It’s freaking awesome.

If you know about the awesomeness of the CML, then you probably know that you can download books to your Kindle (or Kindle app), or your Nook (or other epub reader). That nifty feature is right under the “Explore” menu, under ECONTENT (sic), which is managed by Overdrive.com.

There aren’t millions of books available like there are in print (just under 100k at the time of writing), and I’ve recently been frustrated that several of my searches came up with ebooks that were all checked out. But, and here’s the cool part, you can filter any search on Overdrive to show you only the books that are available for immediate download. For example, here are all the ebooks in Non-fiction, Business, Available Now–with the most recent additions at the top.

But my favorite way to sort is by Popularity (Global). They don’t describe how they measure popularity, but that’s OK with me–I get to see all the top books that are available to download RIGHT FREAKING NOW. FOR FREE!!!

So lets summarize what it takes to get a new thriller onto your device:

  1. For Columbus Library members, you can go straight to clc.overdrive.com
  2. Click Subjects in the top menu.
  3. Under Subjects, click EBOOKS so that you don’t see audio books or videos.
  4. Click the subject of interest. For example Thriller, under the Fiction heading.
  5. Under Availability on the left, click Available Now.
  6. The default list puts the most recent additions at the top. If you want the most popular titles at the top of the list, choose Popularity (global) from the sort list in the upper right.
  7. Click borrow. You may then have to give your library card number.
  8. A banner appears telling you to check your Loans page. Click the link.
  9. Now you need to choose your ebook format. Click read in browser to, um, read it in your browser.  If you want to add it to your Kindle, choose that format. You’ll be taken to Amazon.com where you’ll need to click Get Library Book to have it delivered to your Kindle (or other Kindle-app enabled device).

OK, its not sooper easy, but its only about 9 clicks to get a book on your device, free of charge. Score!

 

The ground

I find myself standing in a field. Or maybe a prairie. There’s wide open space all around me, with long grasses, waving in a gentle breeze. If I stand still long enough, I can feel the earth pushing up against my feet.

Sitting down, I feel comfortable. Its the kind of comfort I felt as a child with my head on my mom’s lap, her long narrow fingers stroking my hair. I look around the prairie, at the ground so close to me, and I notice beauty in everything–the tiny flowers, the seeds on the grasses, the subtle hues on the pebbles. And since this is my field, my prairie, there are no snakes. I feel safe knowing the snakes are only in someone else’s patch of ground.

When I lay back, feeling the cool earth on my shoulder blades, I look up at the sky. With deep slow breaths, I can, I believe, feel the planet rotating. The sky is blue, and the apex of the dome is the kind of deep blue you only see in your dreams. A few friendly clouds move very slowly. Or am I moving beneath the clouds? The sensation of movement–do I feel it or do I see it? I cannot see the sun, but I feel warm, like the warmth of a baby cradled in its mother’s arms.

My eyes close, and I can hear the cicadas calling to each other. The breeze blows through the grasses near to my ears, and dishevels my hair, just a bit. The ground is firm, but I don’t need a pillow. In a moment I could just fall asleep.

And then its gone. Did I jump? Was there a cliff? Its like I’m falling in a dream, but I’m too disoriented to be afraid. I was just enjoying the support of the earth, and the comfort of my prairie, and now, what? Is that Dorothy in a tornado? Am I falling or flying?

I try to look down, but I see nothing. Not black. Not white. Nothing. The people I love are all swirling around me. Jesus, I’ve transformed into my own Wizard of Oz metaphor. I look at each of their faces as they tell me “its going to be OK”, and “we love you”, and “we’re here to help”. But what’s happening to me? Where am I going? Am I going up or down or sideways? They answer, but I can’t really understand. I focus on their faces, trying to read their lips, but I can’t. I reach out, and my wife grabs my hand. I pull her closer, and she looks around with me. No ground. No prairie. No grasses or cicadas.

Other faces emerge. My dad. He joins us. My aunt. She gives me a hug. My children wrap their arms around me, and I wrap mine around them. We hold each other.

My mom’s face appears amid the chaos. I reach out to her, but I can’t touch her.

“Goodbye.”