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Sustainable Motivation and the Power of Passion

February 26, 2016 2 comments

a-passion-your-life-passion-in-lifeMerriam-Webster dictionary defines Motivation as “a force or influence that causes someone to do something”. However, the power of motivation and its ability to be sustained is much more complex and slightly different for each individual. Sustainable motivation is one of the greatest factors in one’s ability to achieve a goal or complete a task. So, if you are finding yourself struggling to get something done, drained by the process, distracted, disinterested . . . it is likely because you have not tapped into a sustainable motivation for doing what you are doing.

I see brilliant and competent students struggle daily to achieve at even a moderate level. Part of the problem is that we often frame our motivation for doing something in extrinsic terms (coming from outside of us). I want to complete this degree because I have been told that it will most likely result in stable employment. I need to complete this course because it is a required course for this degree. I need to do well on this exam so that I can get a good grade in this course, so that I can complete my degree and gain employment. As Thomas Koballa states in his article “Framework for the Affective Domain in Science Education” “Students with performance goals often are preoccupied with gaining social status, pleasing teachers, and avoiding “extra” work.”

Wow, no wonder if those are your motivations that you are having trouble finding the energy to complete the tasks necessary. The trouble here is that what is referred to as the affective domain is not factoring in to this equation. The affective domain is that part of our existence that arises out of emotions, feelings, values, and opinions. It is the part of us that evokes passion; it is an intrinsic motivator. Rather than attempting to motivate yourself towards achieving an extrinsic goal, like doing well in a course so that you can progress in your degree, I suggest framing your goals in a way that taps into your affective domain. Why do you care about what you are doing? Think about the context, the potential for impact, how it aligns with your skills and interests.

The energy to keep going despite hardships, to push through even with conflicting priorities and complex challenges needs to come from within. So if you are having trouble relating on an emotional level and seeing the purpose of what you are doing, take some time to explore that. Talk to others that are passionate, go and speak to your instructor about the course material. I can guarantee that your professors have passion for their subject matter as they have likely dedicated a large portion of their lives to the study of it.

See your degree as more than a sequence of equations, principles, theories and facts that need to be memorized and mastered, see it as a pursuit of knowledge that can have an impact on your life and the lives of others. No matter what you study, bring your values, opinions, feelings and passions into the subject matter. In doing this, you will be far more likely to want to get out of bed in the morning, go to class and learn.

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Failing Successfully

January 29, 2016 Leave a comment

Working in the Faculty of Engineering, most of our new students have had very little exposure to failure and potentially no exposure, whatsoever, to academic failure. While at first this may seem to be a good thing, the reality is that failure is one of the most valuable experiences we can have in life.

If you think about it, how did you learn to walk, skate, swim, ride a bike, hit a ball? Likely by failing first, and failing many times and only then figuring out how to succeed. When I think about the things that I have learned in my life, just about all of them, and certainly the lessons that stick with me the most, are the ones that came through failure: better ways to approach conflict, how to listen with empathy, how to forgive, accept a complement, be gracious, cook a good meal, follow through on a task, create something new or innovative, challenge a concept or opinion effectively, develop healthy eating and sleeping habits. While, for the most part, I am good at these things now, I certainly was not at one point.

There have been many moments where I have been ashamed, embarrassed, felt terrible for what I had done, known that I could do better, desperately wanted to change, improve, get better, succeed. . .

So rather than taking those moments and converting them into self-ridicule, blame and low self-esteem, the key has been to figure out how to fail successfully. How do I harness the emotion that has come out of those failures into something that results in motivation, resilience and the ability to pick myself up and keep going? The ability to do this is what makes failing so powerful. If we can transform a failure into an impactful lesson on what not to do, we get significantly closer to success.

Does this mean that I am telling our students to get out there and fail? YES, that is exactly what I am saying, as nothing great has been accomplished without failure. If you have not failed, then you have likely not pushed yourself hard enough, have not taken on a challenge, have not been creative, innovative and confident enough. If you think about the people that have contributed most to our world, those that likely you admire and look up to, they are not the people that have never made a mistake, they are the ones that have failed the most, but kept going.

There are many famous quotes about failure, but the one that I think resonates the most for me when I think about our students is one from Maya Angelou: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”  I frequently say to students that they are not only in university to learn about the properties of materials, statics, discrete math, and programming; they are here to learn how to become the functional, happy, and successful adult versions of themselves. To do that, they will need to encounter their limits, brush themselves off, learn to re-calibrate and keep going.

So when you get that first failing grade, fumble in a presentation, fight with your roommate over unwashed dishes, do something you regret when out with your friends, disappoint your parents, yourself, and others . . . don’t fret for too long. Recognize that failure presents you with a phenomenal opportunity for growth and development that simple success never provides. For out of great risk, and abundant mistakes, come the best opportunities for innovation and excellence. The reality is that so longs as you keep trying, you have not failed, you just haven’t succeed YET. As Thomas Edison, put it so well, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love’

May 21, 2014 Leave a comment

tired_at_workAlthough I frequently guide students towards careers that will enable them to do something that they love and are passionate about, this article makes an excellent point that it is not always as easy as “do what you love” nor should it be.

By GORDON MARINO
May 17, 2014
Student advisees often come to my office, rubbing their hands together, furrowing their brows and asking me to walk along with them as they ponder life after graduation. Just the other day, a sophomore made an appointment because he was worrying about whether he should become a doctor or a philosophy professor. A few minutes later, he nervously confessed that he had also thought of giving stand-up comedy a whirl.

As an occupational counselor, my kneejerk reaction has always been, “What are you most passionate about?” Sometimes I‘d even go into a sermonette about how it is important to distinguish between what we think we are supposed to love and what we really love.
But is “do what you love” wisdom or malarkey?

In a much discussed article in Jacobin magazine early this year, the writer Miya Tokumitsu argued that the “do what you love” ethos so ubiquitous in our culture is in fact elitist because it degrades work that is not done from love. It also ignores the idea that work itself possesses an inherent value, and most importantly, severs the traditional connection between work, talent and duty.

When I am off campus and informally counseling economically challenged kids in Northfield, Minn., a city of about 20,000, the theme is not “do what you love.” Many of them are used to delivering papers at 5 a.m., slinging shingles all day or loading trucks all night. They are accustomed to doing whatever they need to do to help out their families. For them, the notion of doing what you love or find meaningful is not the idea that comes first to mind; nor should it. We put our heads together and consider, “What are you best at doing?” or “What job would most improve your family’s prospects?” Maybe being licensed as a welder or electrician? Maybe the military? Passion and meaning may enter into the mix of our chats with the understanding that they sharpen your focus and make you more successful.

My father didn’t do what he loved. He labored at a job he detested so that he could send his children to college. Was he just unenlightened and mistaken to put the well-being of others above his own personal interests? It might be argued that his idea of self-fulfillment was taking care of his family, but again, like so many other less than fortunate ones, he hated his work but gritted his teeth and did it well.

It could, I suppose, be argued that my father turned necessity into a virtue, or that taking the best care you can of your family is really a form of self-service. But getting outside yourself enough to put your own passions aside for the benefit of a larger circle, be it family or society, does not come naturally to everyone.
Not all take this path. You may know the tale of Dr. John Kitchin, a.k.a. Slomo, who quit his medical practice for his true passion — skating along the boardwalk of San Diego’s Pacific Beach. But is it ethical for the doctor to put away his stethoscope and lace up his skates?

Thinkers as profound as Kant have grappled with this question. In the old days, before the death of God, the faithful believed that their talents were gifts from on high, which they were duty-bound to use in service to others. In his treatise on ethics, “The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals,” Kant ponders: Suppose a man “finds in himself a talent which might make him a useful man in many respects. But he finds himself in comfortable circumstances and prefers to indulge in pleasure rather than take pains in enlarging his happy natural capacities.” Should he?
Kant huffs, no — one cannot possibly will that letting one’s talents rust for the sake of pleasure should be a universal law of nature. “[A]s a rational being,” he writes, “he necessarily wills that his faculties be developed, since they serve him, and have been given him, for all sorts of purposes.” To Kant, it would be irrational to will a world that abided by the law “do what you love.”

Perhaps, unlike Kant, you do not believe that the universe is swimming with purposes. Then is “do what you love,” or “do what you find most meaningful” the first and last commandment? Not necessarily.

The faith that my likes and dislikes or our sense of meaning alone should decide what I do is part and parcel with the gospel of self-fulfillment. Philosophy has always been right to instruct that we can be as mistaken about our views on happiness as anything else. The same holds for the related notion of self-fulfillment. Suppose that true self-fulfillment comes in the form of developing into “a mature human being.” This is of course not to claim that we ought to avoid work that we love doing just because we love doing it. That would be absurd. For some, a happy harmony exists or develops in which they find pleasure in using their talents in a responsible, other-oriented way.

The universally recognized paragons of humanity — the Nelson Mandelas, Dietrich Bonhoeffers and Martin Luther Kings — did not organize their lives around self-fulfillment and bucket lists. They, no doubt, found a sense of meaning in their heroic acts of self-sacrifice, but they did not do what they were doing in order to achieve that sense of meaning. They did — like my father and some of those kids from town — what they felt they had to do.

Dr. King taught that every life is marked by dimensions of length, breadth and height. Length refers to self-love, breadth to the community and care of others, and height to the transcendent, to something larger than oneself. Most would agree with Dr. King’s prescription that self-fulfillment requires being able to relate yourself to something higher than the self. Traditionally, that something “higher” was code for God, but whatever the transcendent is, it demands obedience and the willingness to submerge and remold our desires.

Perhaps you relish running marathons. Perhaps you even think of your exercise regimen as a form of self-improvement. But if your “something higher” is, say, justice and equality, those ideals might behoove you to delegate some of the many hours spent pounding the track on tutoring kids at the youth center. Our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation. Sometimes we should do what we hate, or what most needs doing, and do it as best we can.

Gordon Marino is a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College and the editor of “The Quotable Kierkegaard.”
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This post was published on The Opinionator

Running on Empty?

March 31, 2014 Leave a comment
empty

Running on Empty

I read a blog post from the minister at the church I attend and what he wrote really resonated with me. We are at a time of year in the academic calendar when energy is low and demands are high. I can see it written all over everyone’s face: in the slow dragging of feet, the deep sighs and yawns and the expressionless way that people seem to be lumbering through their days. When there is so much to be done, I too find myself forgetting to even check my tank to see how much gas I have. I commonly find that I am running on fumes, focussed too much on what needs to be done and not enough on whether I have the energy to do it.

Whatever it is that you need to keep yourself going, to fuel your body, mind, and spirit, I encourage you to take the time to do it. The impact of time lost in stopping to refuel will be paid back exponentially in the revitalization of your energy and focus.

Thanks Kevin, for reminding me to stop and refuel and not let myself run on empty.

Kevin’s Post from Canon Kevin’s Corner

When I first got my driver’s license 26 years ago and was driving my father’s car it would perturb him to no end if I brought the vehicle back less than half a tank of gas. You see, he never really let his car get much below half a tank before he would fill it up. He could never understand why I would let my own cars get so low on gas. On the many trips he and Mom made to Ontario, right at about this time of year, he will be traveling with me in the car and always ask the obvious question, “Why do you let your car get so low on gas? There’s no need of it! You pass all these has stations every day and you still wait.” He would shake his head upward, lips pursed, and eyes closed as if to say – it’s no use telling you anything.
He knew me!

Dad was really on my mind today. I had pulled over to return an email on my cell phone when I noticed that the fuel light on my car was not just low, but was flashing. Then I remembered that it originally showed low fuel three days ago. O dear!!! I was about three-quarters of a kilometer from the Shell station. Thankfully it was downhill. As I pull back on the road the car actually sputtered but then gained some momentum as the car tipped downward. I pulled into the Shell station and literally sputtered up to the pumps on fumes and stalled out!!!!!!! Close call. The image of my father shaking his head, resigned to the fact that I do not listen, came right before me.

Not long after I first moved to London and purchased this car, I actually ran flat-out of gas and had to be rescued. That happened to me once in Windsor as well. One would think that I might learn from my mistakes. One would be so wrong. There is no need for me to run out of gas. As dad told me all those years ago, I pass gas stations all day long in this city. Bad habits are hard to break sometimes. But I commit there and now to not let my car get that low again.

Having fueled the car up and having avoided the embarrassment of being out of gas again, I began to think about the other ways that we run out of fuel. How often do we move through our days mindlessly, knowing full well that we are getting pretty low and our energy is at a place where it will be hard to imagine how we could keep going? We fail to take the necessary steps to make sure we have the energy to continue. Or how often do we spiritually feel that our tank is getting pretty low? There are times I am sure that most of us feel as though we may be drifting further away from God and not closer.

A couple of weeks ago I became aware of the fact that I was not taking the time to do things that replenish me. I cannot tell you how I got there – but I can tell you that I was feeling as though I was not as in touch with my Creator as I normally like to be. As I engaged in my Lenten reflections it became painfully obvious that in the busy day-to-day grind of life, that for a number of weeks I was not taking the time to do the things that were spiritually life-giving for me. As much as I needed to get to Shell today for petrol I needed to name what fuels me – and go get it. I love to read, and two weeks ago I came to the stark realization that I had gone a couple of months without reading a book at all. I also love to write. My writing had all but stopped. Again I could see my father saying to me why do you let your tank get so low? Just as I sputtered to the tanks today, I sputtered to the book store a couple of weeks ago and have been reading and writing in an attempt to keep things moving?

Dad was right! We have no need to let our tank get so very low. The car and our spirits need ‘regular’ attention in order to keep running smoothly.
I would be interested in hearing what fuels you. What do you need, to keep you moving forward. If you feel comfortable, comment on this blog and share the things that are life-giving for you. When you feel a little low, or lacking energy spiritually or otherwise, where do you go to fill up as it were?

Nothing Comes From Nothing

December 16, 2013 1 comment

HardWork_Header

At this time of year we are bombarded with advertisements trying to entice us to buy more, get this, give that . . . My favourite marketing strategy is the ‘buy one get one free’ or ‘buy two get two free’.  “Come listen to this presentation and get your free paring knife.”  We are led to believe that there is such a thing as free.

The reality is that nothing in life is free.  Someone is paying – whether it be the workers who are paid a pittance, the environment, or perhaps you are not paying with money but with your time listening to a marketing ploy. “Nothing comes from nothing and nothing ever could” (yes, I just watched the Sound of Music).  I have found that if I allow myself to accept this as a fact, I am much less easily manipulated.  If something seems too easy, if someone is telling me that something is free, I should be sceptical.

As a society we are constantly looking for the easy out, how we can get something for nothing.  We want to lose weight without exercising or solve financial hardship by winning the lottery.  The reality is, as Thomas Edison stated, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

When it comes to finding your ideal career, it is an upward climb; it is, indeed, hard work.  Just pulling together a decent resume can take days.  To be successful in a career search, you have to simultaneously be uncomfortably introspective and outgoing.  You need to take the time to understand yourself, your needs, skills, values, and passions, and then look for where those align with a company or a career.  You can get advice and tips, but ultimately no one can do the work for you.  You have to be willing to put yourself out there time and again and risk being knocked down.  Then you need to pick yourself up, brush yourself off and do it all over again.

Sound terrible?  Yes, indeed it may be.  There will be moments where you feel like you are a failure, like you have wasted your time, like you have done everything right and yet everything is going wrong.  You will feel that you deserve it this time around – and you might.  But still you don’t get the job.  And then, just when you think you can’t get up again, you can’t stand submitting another application or preparing for another interview, just when you are ready to quit, you try again because you remember those cheesy quotes that “nothing worth having is free.”

And in that moment between overwhelming exhaustion and opportunity is when things start to look up.  That is when you realize how hard it is to beat someone who never gives up.  (Babe Ruth)

So, in this New Year that is filled with cheap promises of easy comforts – do not be misled for nothing comes from nothing and nothing ever could.

Graduating with Gratitude

June 19, 2013 Leave a comment

convo1Yesterday was our convocation at Huron.  I spent the day watching our lovely students with faces bright and full of pride parade around in their black gowns.  As I stood at the back of the room witnessing the closure of their years of study, I wondered what was running through their minds.  Do they feel full of hope? Do they feel full of potential?  I sure hope they do, and not just in that moment but in the days, weeks, months and years that follow-it.

As I searched for further inspiration for this post, I Googled the top convocation speeches of all time.  As I listened to the seemingly endless words of wisdom and optimism that flood convocation halls at this time of year, I became a little cynical. So many of them focus on the idea that you can do anything, don’t let anything stand in your way, follow your dreams . . . Although I too want students to be determined and persevere, it was in a much humbler act that I found my insight for this post.

When I was gathered on the lawn with our graduates drinking lemonade and eating sandwiches I ran into a particularly lovely and successful student.  She had a handful of thank you cards that she had carefully prepared and thoughtfully written for the occasion.  She handed me a card and the message inside was so full of honest and generous gratitude that I felt a rush of warmth.  On a day that is all about her accomplishments she had spent likely hours thinking about others and the parts that they have played in her success.

To experience persistent and overwhelming gratitude, that is my hope for our graduates.

Numerous studies have begun to focus on the impact of gratitude on our well-being.  “These studies support the theory that gratitude is an affective trait important to subjective well being.”  (Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal) Furthermore, in the Journal of Business Ethics gratitude is conceptualized as “a moral affect that serves to motivate individuals to engage in pro-social behaviour and acts as a moral barometer” (Emmons, 2003).  Furthermore, “grateful persons not only demonstrate more positive mental states (e.g. enthusiastic, determined, and attentive), but also are more generous, caring, and helpful to others.” (McCullough et al., 2002)

In North America, we focus so much on individualism.  We believe that individual liberties and success is the key to prosperity and happiness;  hence, all of the inspirational statements at graduation ceremonies that focus on each graduate pursuing his/her individual goals, striving for personal success, not giving up on him/herself.    But does such a thing exist?  Can any of us achieve anything all on our own?  Even if we can, why would we want to?  There is something much more rewarding in letting others in to share in our achievements.  Acknowledging the contributions of those that love and care for us in our accomplishments.  What good is it scoring a goal if you have no one to high-five afterwards?  Where is the value in winning an award if there is no one there tearing up with pride and taking your photo?  What better way to celebrate than by thanking those that helped you along your path.  That act of love and gratitude will make you happier; it will ensure that as you move through life you are more determined and attentive.

You lose nothing by acknowledging the contributions of others.  In fact, the greatest leaders that I have known are the ones that happily admit that they could not have done it alone.  So when you walk across that stage or look at your diploma hanging on the wall, think about those that believed in you, taught you, picked you up and pulled you through and be grateful.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”  What resonates with me in this statement is that it allows us to take our failures into account as well.  We can even be grateful for the lessons that we learned when things did not go well.

So go out into the world, persevere, work hard, and follow your dreams.  But, do it with gratitude and you will find that you are happier and more resilient.

Congratulations Graduates!

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