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What Motivates You: Driven by Fear

12 January 2012 3 Comments

I spend a lot of time trying not to suck.

I realize that’s rather blunt.  But it’s true.  Often my biggest motivator is fear of being terrible.  I don’t want to turn in a crummy project to a client because I’m afraid they’ll think I’m an idiot.  I edit, and re-edit (and sometimes re-re-edit) blog posts because I don’t want people to think I’m a lousy* writer.  I’m driven to succeed because I’m afraid of failure.  Afraid of being laughed at.

And I bet you are too.

Yet the  fear of failure is ironic.  It seems to drive people to greatness.  Not everyone.  But enough.  Artists, writers, engineers, and bureaucrats throughout history have produced brilliant work because of these fears.  We can succeed because we are motivated through our fears.  We all know that a parent can motivate their child by yelling.  We see this play out every Sunday as football coaches yell at their players.  So clearly it works.

However the more I think about how we should apply our meaning to our work, the more I wonder if this is the right way.  Let alone whether it is healthy.  Yes it works, but does it get compliance, what what we really want is greatness?

One of the philosophies of Meaning to Work is that we should set people free, not “push” them.  When we push, we can get things to happen.  Unfortunately the moment we stop pushing, stuff stops happening.  When we “set people free” the creativity never stops – a natural outpouring of being set free.  This is why we fight for the cubicle class at Meaning to Work.  Being trapped at your desk will never let you live up to your potential.

I believe this idea of pushing verse setting free is at odds of creating out of fear.  Sure I can create a training program, give a talk, or write copy for a website because I’m afraid of what would happen if I didn’t.  It might be good.  It might even be great.  But what would happen if instead of working from a place of fear, I was working from a place of passion?  What if I put in all that effort not to avoid getting laughed at (or yelled at), but because I loved what I was doing?  How much better would my product have been?  Writing out of fear can get me to do some pretty cool things, but can it get me to a place of greatness?  Will it unleash the full potential of my creative skills?

I admit I create a lot out of fear.  Maybe it’s time I change this.  The more I think about it, the more I see that’s not how I’ll ever do my best work.  How about you?  Do you create out of fear?  Is this really the best way for you to create?

*I used to have an English teacher who hated that word, he would ask us if we really meant we were full of lice.

image provided by flickr user CarbonNYC

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  • Liz said:

    This very idea set me free.

    Fear is based on self. We have to overcome self in order to truly give and truly have meaning in our work. When we write out of fear, our motivation is to change how other people view US. When we write out of love, our motivation is to genuinely help other people. We can’t genuinely help other people when our ego is calling the shots.

  • Eric Barrett (author) said:

    Liz – Thanks for the thoughts. I think you have a great point that in our writing, our ego’s often get in the way!

  • Meaning To Work » Blog Archive » Why You Should Waste Time said:

    [...] we desperately try to avoid failure, because that’s definitely a waste.  And forget any kind of challenge or difficulty – who [...]

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