Choose Inspiration Over Motivation

A few years ago at a leadership seminar I attended, one of the speakers posed a question: “How long does money last as motivation?” I immediately shot up my hand to answer. When called upon my response was “two weeks.” The speaker was a little dumbfounded by my response but I explained. I felt that people worked hard, motivated by the prospect of a good annual raise. When they saw it in their paycheck they were happy, but in two weeks when they got their next paycheck, now it was just their “normal” paycheck and no longer motivating. 

I could be right or I could be wrong but, that’s just how I felt about money as a motivator. And when I gave this more thought I found that motivation was less a factor in my success than inspiration. For when I think about motivation, I think about achievements “I want to lose weight,” “I want to make more money,” “I want to row a sub 8 minute 2k.” All are good motivators but as James Clear says in Atomic Habits, “Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.” OK, so you lost the weight, you made the money, you rowed a 7:59 – now what? And that’s been the problem with motivation for me, it’s been about what I want to achieve versus who I want to be. That’s why inspiration is so important to me.

Take a look around

Inspiration is all around us if we look for it. As a leader in the IT field, I often gave advice to people on my team, especially the younger ones, to “look around.” Asking them to look around at the people they work with and the different leaders of the company and find who they admired, why they admired them, and decide if they wanted to be like them. Without saying it (and honestly not even knowing it at the time) I was asking them to seek out inspiration to help guide their careers, not motivation. And it can come down to some of the smallest things, too. I once asked a young man who was struggling with the company’s dress code to look around and tell me who he admired. When he mentioned one of our vice presidents, I said to him “Good choice, he’s a great leader but guess what? I’ve never seen that dude wear white socks with dress shoes.” I never saw that young man wear white socks again either. He chose to be inspired.

So I look around

Inspiration keeps me rowing. So, I look around for it. I love rowing but I am human too and there are some days I am just not feeling it. But on those days that I am not feeling it I think about the people that inspire me, some I know, some I don’t know, and it keeps me showing up and getting in that seat. And if you look around for it, you may find it in some unlikely places. Recently, I watched a video of a young football player, a sophomore from Madeira High School in Cincinnati, dead lift 525 lbs. A personal best for him! It wasn’t the fact that he achieved a personal best that was inspiring, it was the fact that he had failed so many times at trying to achieve that goal but kept working and working, believing in the process, not worrying about the outcome and just trying to be the best that he could be. Over a thousand miles away, he has no idea that he inspired a 67 year old rower to just keep rowing and try to be the best that he could be.

Just keep rowing

Sometimes I try to inspire myself (it doesn’t always work – but I try). I often post the results of my rows on social media. I do it so often that my family and friends probably say “Oh jeez, another Giles rowing post with him and his damn whiteboard!” They’re all very kind because I’ve never heard them say it out loud. I don’t do it to impress anyone (honestly compared to others my rowing is not impressive) and I post whether I do well or whether I flop. I post to keep myself inspired. When I look back at those posts and know that I showed up all those times, it inspires me to keep going whether I’ve done well or not. And that’s what I want to do – just keep going. Because if I keep going, maybe one day I can be someone’s inspiration too.

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