What Motivates You, Dreams or Fears?
There are two reasons to strive in life, two forces that keep us keeping on. The first is the pull of a dream or goal, an aspirational end that truly justifies the means. The second is the push of a more malevolent force; guilt or fear or revenge, the insatiable need to make amends, protect one's self or deliver longed-for justice.
At a recent dinner of well-off banker types I was asked what my dream or goal was and how was I going to achieve it. Being mighty drunk and feeling slightly morose I admitted that I don't really have one. I have no idea what I'm aiming at because I am not pulled, I am pushed. Allow me to illustrate...
Back in my mid-20s I was selling ads and sponsorship for a b2b website. I worked directly for the founder who was very happy with my work but wanted to scale so he hired an aggressive, old-school sales manager from the classifieds the desk at The Sun newspaper. The first day he arrived he squared up to me, said he'd heard great things about me and wanted to see if they were true. He then dangled his Porsche keyring in front of my face and told me that if I beat target by the end of the month I could have his car for the weekend. I burst out laughing, was this guy for real?
Taken aback he asked, if I didn't want the Porsche, how about a bonus on my commission? I explained I didn't have a commission scheme, that me and the founder sat down every quarter and agreed a fair amount based on what business I'd brought in. This guy was dumbfounded, he had nothing to offer me because he couldn't work out what motivated me, which was essentially two things; being the best and not fucking up a.k.a. not letting anyone down.
Fear of letting anyone down has been a BIG motivator for me over the years, along with the inherited memory of the poverty my parents grew up in which is why I need to be the best - so I can't be sacked!
When I say my parents were poor I mean seven people taking turns a tin bath in front of a fire that my mum, as a child, had to build from scratch at 5am in the middle of winter poor. When I say poor I mean three or four families sharing a halfway house because my dad's mum had gambled her rent and housekeeping away on the gee-gees poor. I never knew that poverty, I grew up perfectly comfortable in a three-bedroom semi-detached in Orpington; one car, state school, caravan holidays, pick n' mix on Fridays. But I heard all the stories and I knew there were no rich relatives we could rely on in a crisis - they were all in the same boat as my parents. I was also aware that there was never going to be a surprise inheritance, or even an expected one - we had dad's paycheck and that was it.
You don't notice when you're a kid but the pressure on my dad must have been enormous. Thankfully, during the 80s, he found a job he enjoyed, selling insurance. But in the 90s the company was taken over by Americans who tried to force my dad - their best area salesman by far - to adopt some egregious sales techniques to increase revenues. My dad refused, openly questioned the morality of their approach and was advised to find a job elsewhere.
I have always admired my dad for taking this stance but more so now I know what was at stake. By the 90s, my dad was in his 40s with a mortgage, three school-age kids and no idea what to do next. I know this because one afternoon, when I was 16 years old, I came home from school to find him at the dining table, moist-eyed with his head in his hands over a pile of bills. If he hadn't been motivated by fear before, he was by then.
My paycheck is not the only one our house relies on, my wife works too - in fact we both have our own small businesses which some might think precarious but we both know how to sell and neither of us are complacent enough to put our livelihoods in the hands of, say, a giant insurance company that could cut us lose at anytime. Fear, you see?
But the problem with fear as a motivator is that it has no end point and can make you act irrationally, which is why both of us need a goal. Not a short term, lose weight, pick up a new hobby type of goal but a big, life defining goal. If money isn't it, what is? Freedom, which requires me to master my time and finances to succeed because, as Bob Dylan once wisely noted:
A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.
My dream is to do what I want to do, which is largely to read, write, and attend as many cultural events around the world as I possibly can, so here's my three-step plan to achieve it.
Set a revenue and profit target for my business and simply stop when I reach it
Use the freed-up time to cultivate my passions and my passive income streams
Say "no" more often i.e. be less afraid of letting people down
Simple, right? We'll see.