Motivation is an illusion. You need to know what you want and a mission.
Since switching from being a full-time employee at a major news agency to working from home as a self-employed freelance journalist, I’ve decided that motivation is a farce.
As full-time staff, the environment creates both the pressure and forces discipline on your routine. Once those structures fall away, you have to generate steam to power the motivation engine. You can’t just roll out of bed, rock up to work and grind out the day. You need to continually spark motivation, or it doesn’t work.
It doesn’t just appear magically every morning. No, I’m motivated because I’m tapping into what I want and my mission.
Motivation is the reason for doing something; its Latin route is the word ‘move.’ Movement drives us to take consistent action towards something we want. So, you need to find out what you want, first.
Besides being a freelance journalist, I wanted to be an author. So, I wrote a book. My desire, my want sparked my motivation. Once I had figured out what I wanted, it lit a flame, and no amount of crappy Netflix shows could stop me from achieving that goal.
So actually, motivation - for me at least - boils down to figuring out what you want. That’s the tricky part but here two strategies I’ve found useful:
Motivation is curiosity
Find out what you are naturally curious about. How do you do that? Write down 100 questions you would like to answer.
Now, sounds simple but it’s tough. Your head will steam; there will be repeats in there; some won’t make sense but, that’s okay keep trying to reach 100 and patterns will begin to emerge. Once at 100 go over them and highlight the ten most inspiring ones. Once you have those, rank them by order and then center your activities on answering and making those questions come to life.
I didn’t come up with this tactic, by the way, it comes from Michael J. Gelb’s How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci.
Reflect on your future self
Who do you want to be? Another great exercise to find out what you want is imagining you’ve reached the ripe old age of 106 (you can go higher or slightly lower, my Grandfather lived to 106, so I’m partial to that number). Now imagine you get a time machine and come back to today and have 30 minutes to chat with your current self. What do you tell yourself?
Set a timer for 30 minutes and write as much down as possible, questions, comments, anything, just let it spill on to the page. Doing this will help crystallize what you want and eliminate the trivial from your life to give you that laser focus.
Again, not my Jedi mind trick but Tal Ben-Shahar’s. Check out more here.
So, motivation comes from knowing what you want. Once you’re clear about what you want - and these can be short-term or long-term goals - your mind will be at work even as you sleep to make it happen. You still have to get up in the morning, put your ideas into action and work but it’ll be a ton easier.
Once you’ve sparked motivation, you need to keep the flame from going out. The easiest way to do that is to surround yourself with like-minded people and the type of person you want to be.
“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Arguably, an overused quote, I know, attributed to Jim Rohn. Writer/philosopher Maarten van Doorn puts it like this:
“You can accelerate your personal growth in whatever direction you desire by spending time with people who already are who you want to become. That will infect you with the behaviors and attitudes that helped them achieve their success, making it more likely that you will realize similar results in your life.”
That’s one of the reasons why I started The Journalist., a private Facebook group for the aspiring journalist which connects aspiring journalists with established professionals. When I started on the path of becoming a journalist, I lacked direct access and mentoring from people I aspired to be and a strong network. The Journalist. aims to give you both. Request to join for access to a community of like-minded journalists and growing base of elite journalists to help launch you on a path to success.
If you're an established journalist and want to give back by mentoring, let me know.
In those moments before you hit publish panic may strike, let it.
You may have seen Will Smith’s speech on his fear of skydiving or heard Jack Canfield’s saying “everything you want is on the other side of fear.” When it comes to putting your work out there, that’s the advice I follow but the fear of hitting publish is real, so learn to recognize and manage it.
Every time you hit publish you’re expanding the boundaries of your experience. Come what may: crickets (no feedback), praise (woohoo, high five) or a potential lawsuit (yep, I’ve had one of those. Panic).
Whether someone reads your work or not is secondary, you’re getting in your reps to improve your skills as a journalist. Mistakes will happen and are part of the process, so get stuck and then get unstuck by learning from them. Easier said than done but truthfully, fear has gripped and paralyzed me.
I once made a mistake in a story that caused people to lose money. For several weeks I was consumed by worry and fear of it happening again. I doubted my abilities, and my work slumped. Once I had recognized that it was all in my head, I examined what I could do to improve and avoid a similar failure in the future.
I took an extra minute to go over what I had written. Made a list of words, phrases, figures or punctuation that catch me off guard. I put post-it notes alongside my screen as prompts, checked and double checked so as never to forget. “When in doubt leave it out,” became my new mantra.
Find out what trips you up and figure out a workaround, prompt or system so it can’t happen again. It might still happen, but you’ve now improved the fail-safe.
To this day, right before I hit publish, my heart rate spikes and my stomach churns as a million things rush through my head. Most are now part of a pre-flight checklist, but underneath that, there’s still a ton of FUD.
You may have heard of the term FUD: Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. The thing is, it’s the brain’s default setting before you venture into the unknown. Every time you send something out into the world - a piece of work, or skydive - you are venturing into the unknown.
Did I get the quote right? Did I misrepresent my source? Is my portrayal of the situation fair? I'm a being honest and transparent? Have I held myself to the highest of standards? Will my paracute open?
Those questions and many more will surface before the piece flies but recognize them, write them down and answer them with a rational mind. If you are still worried, talk it over with a colleague, a mentor or editor.
Double check the quote again. Go over your source notes one last time before you hit publish. Check you gave everyone a fair chance to comment. Check how you feel about all the words in your piece, are they accurate?
The fastest way to eliminate fear is to face it head on and to then jump out of that metaphorical plane. In Will Smith’s words: “The point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear; it’s bliss.” And once you’re story flies, the feeling will be precisely that: bliss.
Failure is your greatest chance to learn; there is no failure, only an opportunity to learn. So don’t fret, just hit publish. You may still make mistakes, we all do, but you took the time to look into the subject, to craft the lines, edit the scene or align the audio. It matters because it matters to you and if you don’t care, who will?
It helps to investigate like you’re on the job before you get the job.
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” - Benjamin Franklin
I came across this quote the other day and it reminded me of one knock-out thing I did to help me land a job as a reporter. I didn’t write the story but I did have something to talk about during interviews (and put my idle thumbs to work while job hunting).
After spending time in New York, jobless and money running out, I moved with my girlfriend (now my wife) to London. Housing in London is expensive but an estate agent guided me to little flat off the main road in Kilburn that was in budget. Perfect, I thought.
It was tiny, it had one window and was on the ground floor on a side street just off the main road. On weekends, drunks used to urinate in front of our window and while it stank, at least they occasionally dropped a five-pound note or some loose change. The best shower in the world made up for its many misgivings but we had a place to call home.
It would have been great but we couldn’t get a landline installed, our mail wasn’t being delivered and there as a weird, elevated square lid in the middle of the place which you might occasionally trip over.
My mail was being delivered to the neighbours above us. I knew they were home as their staircase ran through our flat. Picking up the mail from them was not a long term solution but I did get to know them and learned a thing or two about the place.
I called the post office to check on the situation but there was no flat registered at my address. I couldn’t get a telephone line installed, which meant no internet connection so I had to walk up the road to use an internet cafe for my daily job hunt.
After speaking to my neighbours and other tenants, it turned out the last renter was forced to leave after sewage had flooded the apartment and destroyed her belongings. So that’s what that weird covered up square was in the middle of the flat is! She couldn’t get contents insurance on an apartment that didn’t exist and didn’t receive compensation for the damage.
Another resident claimed the apartment was the caretaker’s tool shed before it was converted. I called the council to investigate and requested access to the building permits. The council had rejected the proposed conversion of a tool shed into liveable quarters.
The flat was illegal.
The documents I requested also revealed information about the owner, which, once I had tracked down using a few searches and requests turned out to be a shell company run out of Greece. My efforts to track down a number and physical owner didn’t reveal much but I didn’t feel like running up against mafia and I had amassed enough evidence.
Instead of going public (writing a story for the local paper would have been one move) I enlisted the support of a housing charity and forced the estate agent to relocate us to a bigger and better flat with a garden. My girlfriend and I were in the process of bringing our dog over from New York and, somehow, the place didn’t seem right for the pooch.
I landed a job during this whole ordeal and told this story during my interviews when asked: what makes a good journalist or what makes you think you’ve got what it takes to be a journalist?
Do you think I should have gone public and boosted my portfolio or was using this information for my agenda the right move? Let me know.
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