20 October, 2005

Motivation and Determination ...and Success

Lex read something that got him thinking about motivation. Bruce Fleming (a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy), writes, "In the conservative, and hence military, mindset, everything is a 'choice,' and motivation alone decides whether you succeed or fail." Fleming says the attitude of the Academy is "that personal motivation alone determines all outcomes."

Lex's response?

Perhaps it’s just that I’m a product of that [U.S. Naval Academy] education, but nothing that the good professor highlights as unusual seems the least bit remarkable to me. One man can move the world, if he’s got the motivation.

Don’t they teach that everywhere else?
"Personal motivation alone determines all outcomes?" That seems a pretty harsh and intolerant way of looking at things... brings on visions of any failure being laid at the feet of laziness.

But I have to say that deep down, I tend to agree. I can’t say I don’t have my long moments of self-pity and total doubt... times when I look at a personal or professional problem, believe there is no way to get the result I want, and have myself a good little pity party. But I also know that I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for (among other things) sheer willpower and the refusal to accept "reality."

This is not the place to bare my soul, but suffice it to say that if I had listened to the "experts," I'd never have finished college, much less been a music teacher. If I had accepted financial barriers to college education as final, I'd never have earned a bachelor's degree, much less a master's. And on an even more personal front, I could have wallowed in some things I've lived through, and ended up in a padded room. Obviously I didn't.

Today, I teach very "underprivileged" students. They have the decks stacked against them in multiple ways that are completely unfair--from the neighbors who tell them "Don't act white," to poverty, neglectful parents, and the problems of trying to learn English as a second language. In interacting with these students, I acknowledge that their situation sucks. Then I ask, "Are you going to let others control you and determine your future, or... are you going to stick a metaphorical finger in the doubters’/oppressors’ eyes and prove them wrong?" And at the same time, I am supporting them in reaching high standards of behavior and accomplishment (they often surprise themselves with what they can do).

But back to Lex's question... I don’t know where I learned to think that way, and I haven’t been teaching long enough to know if it’s worked for my students. But so much in my experience has taught me that no matter how unfair or unyielding a situation is, if one "wants it" bad enough, there’s very little that can’t be achieved. It comes down to how much you really want it. It’s not always worth the cost, but it’s possible if you’re willing to pay.

For example, during my undergraduate years, I was considered the best in the music department on my chosen instrument. My last year, several new students began studying with my private lesson teacher as a secondary area of focus. They thought I was amazing (deluded little fools, haha), and were particularly impressed with my work ethic. They would talk about how terrible they were to not practice hard like I did, as if it was a character defect on their parts. I'd ask them if they really wanted to be as good as me on this particular instrument, and the answer was invariably, "Not really. I like my regular instrument the most." Then I'd tell them that my hard work was no great "gold star" on my character; I wanted to make this instrument my career, so I was willing to put in the 4-6 hours of practice a day that was necessary to reach that goal. I told them it was all about how bad you wanted it (believe me, I was not one of those super-talented people who never had to practice).

And ultimately, I wanted it bad enough that I landed at one of the premiere schools for my field.

But I don't always think such gung-ho thoughts--I find myself bemoaning various things about my life that I wish were different. Then I'm confronted with what I've accomplished int he past, and the fact that I can either work to change what I don't like (with or without support from others) or stop whining about it. Or I discover that maybe, like those younger students who idolized me, I don't want it as bad as I think I do.

Ultimately, it all comes back to character: get to work, or stop whining. If I’ve decided it’s worth it, do I have the inner strength to do what it takes to get what I want? In other words, am I willing to do what's necessary or am I just too scared to try? If it's all about motivation and I do want it bad enough, then success is nearly guaranteed, right? So why not go out there and make it happen?

Having to "see oneself in the mirror" every day can be such a pain! ;)

[Tip o' the hat and a Thank You to Lex, whose post got me thinking... to the point that my longish comment grew into this longer essay. My dear readers may not share the same gratitude... ;) ]