Escape Motivation

I’m running away from productivity, life hacks, self-help

Photo by Lost Co on Unsplash

Some people have a weakness for shoes. Many writers have a weakness for notebooks. I’m an impulsive URL collector. Like you, I have hundreds of different ideas each day. But, when a shower thought stays with me for a day or two, I buy a matching domain name.

They’re cheap to buy, and owning a URL helps feel warm inside. I know that if I decide to pursue an idea further, I’ve already taken the first step.

I made one rule for myself to keep from going bankrupt renewing domain names each year. If I haven’t done anything with an idea for a year, I don’t renew the domain name.

Several years ago, I bought a domain called Don’t bother going there. I haven’t done anything with it. I broke my rule with this site. I can’t give it up.

I love the name — it still sparks joy.

Escape Motivation Means Something Different

I intended the site to be a blog and social media empire that provided inspiration and practical how-to tips for people interested in starting a freelance career or online business.

However, I gave up on that plan. There are so many gurus, experts, and tribe leaders that I doubted I had anything to add to that space.

Over the past several years I’ve also become suspicious of many of the core principles behind much of the online self-help movement.

I’ve spent the past years actively running away from anything having to do with productivity, life hacks, or self-help. There is too much information in the world already on those topics. I have learned that my life is too weird for me to implement anyone’s system without significant adaptation. I suspect that you’re the same way.

We all need to cut our own path.

Last month Escape Motivation was up for renewal. I thought I was ready to let it go. My son was reading over my shoulder as I looked at my URL collection. He heavily emphasized the first word, Escape. I had always mentally emphasized Motivation.

It hit me.

I need to learn to escape the need for motivation. I rely so much on motivation that I end up sabotaging myself every day.

I would keep the domain.

I procrastinate, over-promise on deadlines, and I take on projects I know will bore me. This ends up increasing my stress levels. Most importantly, it keeps me from being the kind of dad I want to be.

When you have two different anxiety disorders, motivation is always in short supply. I’ve built a successful freelance career through persistence. I’ve also burned a lot of bridges and earned far less than I’m capable of because of my self-sabotage and fear.

Every six months or so, I end up cleaning up after a disaster and rebuilding my business.

For too many years I’ve abused motivation like a drug. I overindulge, use it to justify doing work that doesn’t help me meet my values, and I crash when my supply runs low.

I have to kick my motivation habit. I need to escape it.

I’m still running away from productivity, life-hacks, and self-help. I think productivity for knowledge workers is meaningless. I believe most life-hacks are like sports drinks. They taste gross, and they are so loaded with sugar that even though they deliver on their promises, they may do more harm than good.

I also believe that most self-help books and articles are too steeped in personal experience to be universally applicable. What works for me as a freelancer may not work for you. What works for someone else on Medium may not work for me. Not all self-help is this way.

There is value in other people’s stories, and research-based self-help has made me a better person. There are too many people who are guru-entrepreneurs. Their focus isn’t on helping; it’s on getting rich from helping.

I’m not just running away from these ideas.

Running Towards Work

I’m also running towards the practice of doing work for the sake of the work. An article from August Birch helped crystallize this concept for me:

I love to write. But, I need to do the work of writing independent of motivation. I need to do it because it needs to be done. That doesn’t mean it has to be somber and joyless. Almost any kind of writing still puts me in the zone. The issue is getting started.

I was born in Idaho. I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time on farms and ranches as a kid. All of the farmers and ranchers I’ve spent time with love their work. It’s their life. But, they don’t get up to oversee the milking of the cows or to plow the field because they’re excited to get started with these tasks.

They do the work because the work needs to be done.

Because I’m a writer and I have anxiety, I spend too much time in my head. This makes me vulnerable to self-sabotage.

The past month I’ve worked hard to be a worker and to escape relying on motivation. Instead of writing to pay my bills, or so I don’t let down clients, or because I’m chasing some intangible form of freedom, I’m writing because the writing needs to be done.

I’m not perfect at it.

But, when I’m able to focus on doing the work that needs to be done, I feel better. My writing is crisper, I complete more projects faster, and I am a better dad to my children. I am present with them instead of worrying about blog posts or brainstorming new stories.

Maybe someday I will develop Escape Motivation as a perverse self-help website that rejects the principles of self-help. First, I have to learn how to escape motivation for myself.

Right now, that domain isn’t the work that needs to be done.