On motivation and failure

It happened again last week. This time on a train, talking to a former colleague.

Him: I wouldn’t have the motivation to have my own business. There’s too much good stuff on telly.

Me: [I don’t remember what I actually said. Something non-committal, while thinking, here we go again.]

Him: I mean, I wouldn’t be motivated to go out and get the work. I like having someone telling me what to do and making sure I do it.

He’s an intelligent, ambitious, very knowledgeable person who’s very good at what he does and has a pretty senior position. I’m reasonably sure his boss doesn’t need to stand looking over his shoulder all day. And yet he wouldn’t be motivated if the business were his own? Really?

If you run your own business, I bet you get into conversations like this all the time. I know I do. And I don’t think they are really about motivation at all.

I have a suspicion that when people say they wouldn’t be motivated to work if they had their own business, they are really saying, “I’d be scared“. I’d be on my own. I’d have to make all the decisions. I might not get the customers. People might not want what I’m selling. And there would be nobody I could blame for that. I might fail.

Yes, of course. Of course you’ll be scared. Of course you’ll make mistakes. But you’ll learn from them. You’ll do better next time. And while there may be nobody except you to blame for them, there’ll also be nobody else taking the credit when you do something well. Which brings us to motivation.

We all have days when motivation is a bit thin. Today, for example, all I really want to do is curl up with the Michael Connelly book I’ve just downloaded and eat chocolate all day. (The only chocolate in the house is in a hidden advent calendar that is NOT MINE. This does not make resisting its call much easier.)

But there’s nothing like a healthy bit of fear to create motivation:

If I don’t get this contract, I won’t get the income I need next month.

I need to meet this deadline or they might not offer me any more work.

Fear is just our mind’s way of saying, “I care about this. I care what happens here.”

A vital part of finding motivation is to care about what we’re trying to achieve. If my fomer colleague had a business that he believed in and cared about, I bet even he could find the motivation to go out and get clients, and get the work done, however much he’d rather be watching telly at that moment in time.

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