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.

Live your story

Sometimes (perhaps always), you don’t need to see the whole road ahead.

Be bold.

Try something, reach out to someone, take a step without knowing the full and final story – because none of us can ever know the full and final story until we’ve lived it.

And it’s only in living our story that we create it.

Of rats and women

A rat is nosing around the garden in broad daylight, sniffing out and devouring Benjy the rabbit’s leftovers.  He is sleek and young and his fur shines in the sunshine.  I wonder if I should be chasing him away, but he’s outside, where he should be, not trespassing into the house or shed, or even digging in the compost bin.  So instead I watch him, wondering where he sleeps and whether he (or she, of course) is breeding a host of baby rats with whom I may eventually have to do battle.

I think of him sleeping in a nest somewhere, in a cosy nook he’s made for himself, and am glad that, at least for the moment, we can live amicably side by side.  If Benjy is willing to share his leftovers, so am I.

Then I read about the weasel that brought the Large Hadron Collider to a standstill and I wonder if perhaps I’m being too forgiving!

A place to work

The beauty of this laptop age is that, in theory, we can work anywhere.

Of course, it’s not true. Not for everyone. I met a woman recently who runs a business making personalised towels. Her sewing machine, iron and pile of stock are somewhat less portable than my digital documents and paper notebook. And for anyone who works in training, coaching or anything else involving personal contact, there’s a need for a private space.

And for those of us who can work anywhere, some places are easier to work in than others. I know a lot of people work on trains, but I find the stuffiness and the cramped seats and the busyness (and the short duration of most of my train journeys) mean I get very little done and usually end up sleeping or staring out of the window instead. Or eating junk. Sometimes all three.  Cafes can be good, depending on the noise level, but then there’s the eating thing again.

Mostly, I stay home. Until the recent house move, I was lucky enough to have the fabled Room of One’s Own, and it’s only since we moved and I don’t even have a desk that I’ve realised what a luxury that is.  To be able to leave things on the desk and have them still be there in the morning, instead of having to pack everything away so we can use the kitchen table for its intended purpose. (Yes, that would be eating. Again.) To have a phone that’s mine instead of having to hunt down one of the wandering handsets elsewhere in the house. To know where the stapler belongs.

Mostly, though, it’s an emotional thing rather than a practical thing. I find myself yearning for a little space that’s mine. Am I greedy?

Telling it like it isn’t

Running a business from home is not an easy option. There is no support team. Everything you do, you do alone. When the amount of work you have is overwhelming, you do it alone and long into the night. When the amount of work you have is lower, you worry that you’ll never work again – and the only person who can change the amount of work you have is you. When things go wrong, there is nobody to ask for advice except your long-suffering spouse, who you’d rather treat as a friend and lover than a colleague. (And when you move house, you can’t escape to the office but have to somehow carry on working with no desk amongst the endless phone calls and myriad boxes of belongings.)*

Putting family first, and always being there for school runs and school plays and home-from-school-sick-days and holidays, does not mean that your work is unimportant or non-existent. It means you have chosen, and are living according to, your priorities in life. Other people will not understand this and will assume you live a life of ease and luxury.

Working part time, or working around your family, does not mean that you will never earn very much. It means that you are likely to be much more productive in the time that you work, and able to earn proportionally more than you might have in a full time job. This means you will work hard, but it will be worth it. Anybody who does not live in the same house as you will not see this.

Having a partner with a job of his (her) own does not mean that (s)he will pay all the bills. You will be a partnership in the same way as two employed people are a partnership, each making a valuable contribution. You will be forever worried that your contribution might dry up, and will work ever harder to ensure that it doesn’t. Other people will not understand this either.

Living and working at home needs a lot of different skills and personality traits. Chief among them are:

Determination and bloody-minded persistence. This is possibly what other people refer to as ‘motivation’ when they ask how you manage to stay motivated. (They ask this at the same time as they are assuming that you spend all day lying around eating chocolate and watching daytime TV.)

Resilience. To bounce back from all the times a job doesn’t work out, or takes twice as long as you’d planned, or someone assumes that because they saw you out in the daytime you are a person of leisure.

Self-reliance. Because you’ll spend an awful lot of time in your own company so you might as well get on with yourself and trust your own instincts.

If you have those three traits, you’ll find that living and working at home can be great:

– You get to make all the decisions and follow your gut without having to explain yourself to anyone.

– You never have to sit at your desk till 5pm ‘looking busy’ until someone else determines that the day is over.

– You get to structure your own day, around the things, and people, that are important to you.

– You can take all the credit, because you did all the work.

– You get to make a living while still having a life.

Living and working at home isn’t easy. But it is worth it. What makes it hard for you? What makes it worth it? And what traits do you think you need to make it work?

*Ask me how I know! The new house and garden are lovely, thank you. The boxes are still in evidence and may be for some time.

What keeps you working? All the tea in China

What small things keep you working on an ordinary Wednesday?  Or any other day of the week?  Here are some of mine:

All the tea in China.

I could probably manage to drink all the tea in India and Sri Lanka too.  Sometimes I wonder if I really like the taste or if it’s just an excuse to get up every now and again.

Fiddling about.

Sometimes the best way to get going is to do all the fiddly little things that I’ve been putting off.  Once you start feeling productive (even if all you’ve really managed to do is put off the inevitable Big Job by doing lots of less important ones) it’s somehow easier to carry on into the Big Job.

Changing tack.

One of our family sayings is, “Bored now.”  There’s a time for really getting stuck into a project to the exclusion of all others (that would be when you hear the impending whistle of a deadline about to whoosh past, à la Douglas Adams), and there’s a time for changing tack and doing something else.  That would be when you find yourself muttering, “bored now…”

Saving the new book.

I bought a new book but I’ve been saving it to read at the end of the day as a reward for a job well done.  How virtuous am I?  Actually, not very.  I lied.  The only reason I haven’t started reading it yet is because the delivery man only just delivered it.  Excuse me, I must be going now.

Never mind the bullock

It’s not really cow country, this corner of Suffolk.  Leave the village in almost any direction and you’ll be surrounded by fields growing any number of crops: wheat, barley, oats, oilseed rape and, of course, the ubiquitous sugar beet.  There’s even a local deer farm*.  Travel a bit further and you might see rows of corrugated pig houses and their sleek, pink occupants.  But you don’t often see cows.

Which is why I was a bit perturbed when, riding my bike round a corner on the road into the next village on a quiet, sunny morning, I came face to face with a black, skittish-looking bullock, slap bang in the middle of the road.

Now, I was pretty certain that if I just kept going he’d skitter off into the field and that would be that.  However, “pretty certain” didn’t seem certain enough to me.  Even a small bullock has a lot more weight and kick behind it than I do, and I wanted to keep myself and my bike in one piece.  So I paused to take stock.  (Pun completely unintentional, until I noticed it and liked it so, sorry, it’s staying.  I have no shame.)

As we eyed each other suspiciously, the bullock and I, a car drove up behind me, slowed, and then passed me and approached the bullock.  Of course, he scarpered into the field and the car driver, the bullock and I merrily went our separate ways.

Which just goes to show that sometimes it’s worth pausing.  I wasn’t consciously waiting for backup, but I paused long enough that the situation changed in front of me and I was able to make progress after all.  If I hadn’t stopped, there was a chance that all hell would have broken loose.

Of course, there is an alternative reading of this salutory tale: perhaps I haven’t grown out of a childhood nervousness around cattle, after all!

*Lest I give the impression of living in a peaceful rural idyll, I should point out that today someone in the street has spent all day using a very loud and obnoxious piece of machinery while I bury my head and try to work.  I may have to break out the earplugs.

A taste of things to come

It’s 8:45 am.  I’m at my desk, fresh cup of tea to hand and fingers at the ready.  But I’m 45 minutes too early.

The boy had to be at school early this morning, so our morning routine was brought forward by 45 minutes and that gave me this gift of extra working time.  But it’s also a glimpse into the future.  Come September, the boy will be on a bus at 8am without me even needing to get dressed, let alone leave the house.

And so things will change again.  A working day of 8am to 4pm starts to line up with the ‘normal’ routine of the outside world.  l don’t want to sleepwalk into this change and, without thinking about it, find myself working (almost) nine to five.  (As a wise woman once sang, “What a way to make a living!“)

I came into this live and work at home life so that I could build work around life instead of the other way round, so I could be present for my family and have time for myself.  Until now, my work time has been boundaried by someone else’s needs (nap time was the only work time for a good while) and by the outside world (school hours, clubs and activities).  That’s not going to end completely, but slowly the potential work time is increasing and I need to make some conscious decisions about how much work I can take on and still be true to myself.

I chose this live and work at home life.  I choose it again now.  I choose to mix work and home, work and play, responsibilities and freedom.  The challenge is in finding a new way to make it work, for everyone.

Losing and finding rhythm

I know I’ve lost the rhythm of my days when I discover the house plants dying and the tomato plants in their pots in the greenhouse limp and drooping, a pale grey tinge to their once-green leaves. These are un-missable clues that I’ve temporarily lost the balance. Another clue is food: the family eat leftovers and I’m reduced to a nasty ready meal picked up in a service station on the last leg of a long journey.

I crave a slow day of setting things to rights: a day of pottering, tidying, nurturing and coming back to myself. But that will have to wait. Today I’ve committed to a writing day with a fellow writer. I ignore the whispers that I can’t afford the time, and I even postpone the longed-for day of slowness, and begin to write myself back to balance instead.

There are many ways of balancing ourselves. Last night’s discovery of the perilous state of my tomato plants came about because of a desperate need to feel the grass beneath my feet and the fresh outdoor air on my face after a long indoor day. My garden, a pen and paper, a good book: these are some of the things that nurture me and bring me back to myself. I need them today.

What brings you back? Do you need nurturing today? (If you think you can’t afford the time, or don’t know what you truly need, those are also unmissable clues that now is the time for rebalancing.)