Motivation: Why Do We Do What We Do?


I recently happened upon a blogger, the Truth Warrior, who posted “Are You Addicted?” which discussed humanity’s apparent addiction for attention, acceptance, praise and recognition. Many of the comments were wonderful and the blog post itself made me question my own motivations for doing what I’m doing: writing a book, hosting a blog, writing for another one; all this stuff.

Why do I do it? I could say that if I did it under a pseudonym then I wouldn’t be looking for attention. For a while, I didn’t use my actual name but then I started to realize that yes, I did want attention because I’d like to write a book and of course I’d love people to buy it if it ever published. No, when it publishes. Why does any of this matter to me? It matters that I affect peoples’ lives in a good way. It matters if I make them laugh. It matters if I make them think. It matters if I make them feel. It matters I speak and live truth no matter how hard it might be because we still grow from it all. I have believed for a long time, that if I stop growing, I may as well be dead because I have nothing else to offer the world, no matter how small my world might be. So I use my real name now because I’m OK with it; my motivations are mine, not to garner fame.

Then earlier today, I heard a radio broadcast that mentioned a likely-to-go-viral video of a commencement speech at a Wellesley High School. The title of the speech was “You Are Not Special”  and I have to say: THANK GOD someone has stated this.

I believe the principal of the school gave the speech which basically told the graduates to do what they love and become selfless because being selfless, helping others is how you help yourself.  My favorite line, which he gives near the end, “Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you,” spoke so strongly to me about society’s skewed perception of what’s important. Other statements he made we clever, factual and poignant and I could see some people behind him become uncomfortable with the speech, probably because he confronted them with the classy equivalent of “So what” and “Oh Yeah?” I was not surprised by the lackluster applause he received, he clearly hit a few nerves.

It reminded me of a great philosophical scene in Pixar’s “The Incredibles” when “Syndrome,” the spurned childhood-fan-cum-adult nemesis to a middle-aged and lured Mr. Incredible made a speech about how he’d developed technology and devices that rivaled all the “Supers” (superheroes). His plan was to eventually sell it all so everyone would be super thus ensuring no one would be. The painful reality of this moment between the two powers is Mr. Incredible’s vanity, need for fame and appreciation was far stronger than Syndrome’s wrathful vengeance:

These three things have been on my mind a lot lately, and to me, this “get a medal because you breathe” mentality is a form of intellectual or achievement communism; that everyone should feel valued and rewarded for anything they already do.

I have to say in response to this mentality: that it’s wrong. There are stand outs, there are people who are truly above the rest in this world. Thank God for them! These people with truly brilliant ideas and wonderful gifts are still hungry for better. They keep going. They don’t do it for the awards and recognition, they don’t need fame, attention or appreciation because if they did, they’dve stopped by now. I want them to keep going. I want people to get it out of their heads that posting a video on YouTube doth not a megastar make. That not having 5,000 fans (this is mostly a reminder for myself) or likes doesn’t mean you’re a failure and that having 1 million likes doesn’t mean you’re a superstah; just because people are fickle, it doesn’t mean you (I) get to be. The point to life is that if you do what you do and you love what you do, then the rest will come into play naturally. Believe in yourself; the rest is gravy. People are naturally attracted to other people who are happy selfless achievers. No one ever got anywhere by forcing.

* * *

When I was about six, I was forced to learn how to swim at a day camp on the shores of Lake Erie. The camp was held on the 200-acre beachfront property of a wealthy, eccentric American who donated the property for this period every summer for probably 15 years.

I loved everything about this camp: arts  & crafts, horse riding, paddle boating, Friday cookouts, morning calisthenics, afternoon wind-down and the rest. It was great. Except the swimming.

I was terrified of swimming. I loved Lake Erie because it was shallow and clear and warm and you could catch minnows and see the seaweed and make drip castles inches from lapping “waves.” I didn’t know how to swim; I was very resistant to the idea of putting my face underwater. I’d made keeping my face out of the water my reason for living which paid off, oddly enough. Along with the fantastic shoreline, we had a nice big pool at camp. Being six, I was in the youngest troop, “The Crackerjacks.”

We had a counselor named Marianne. She was tall, auburn-haired, athletic and freckly. The freckles were our only commonality. She was sort of nice, but not super nice. She was determined to make me swim. Because many of the kids who went to this camp were beachcombers, most of them knew how to swim. I did not. Am I repeating myself?

Every day at the poolside Marianne would smile at me, showing her gigantic teeth and say, “Blow bubbles, Molly, make the motorboat sound and hold your breath. Hold your head above the water but put your face in and blow bubbles out.” I would do the half-face in the water: “BBbbbbbbbb bbbbbbbbb bbbbbbbbbb bbbbb” and then hold my breath, bend my body at the hips to present my face to the water surface and… No. No putting my entire face anywhere near the water. This exercise: Marianne showing me her teeth and my completely blowing her off would go on for almost the entire half-hour swimming period daily for about two weeks.

Marianne must’ve heard some bad news that final morning via falcon or broken up with her summer squeeze in Romania or maybe her family didn’t feed her the raw meat she was accustomed to consuming each morning because she was in a brutal mood.

She was in the pool with me that day, rather than on the steps, which should’ve been a tip-off. All the other Crackerjacks like Betsy and Liza and Cricket and Bunny were having underwater tea parties or standing on their hands under water or doing underwater somersaults.

Me? I did my usual: the motorboat noises and then I held my breath and didn’t go under.  She said, “Let’s try again, Molly” and this time she put her meat puppet hand on my head and shoved my entire body under water in the shallow end. I remember vividly that it was a sunny day. We were in the corner near the stepladder that led into the side of the pool and in front of the steps that led into the shallow end. She held me down underwater for 15 years with my arms flailing and body squirming. Fifteen years.

And I survived! I came out of the water madder than a hornet, gasping for air but I did it! I’d aged an entire generation and saw my life flash before my eyes and felt my lungs burn, my eyes stung and my voice was shot, but guess who got “Most Improved Swimmer” from the American Red Cross? I did! That’s right. Yours truly earned a unique award given to only one kid per camper troop. Not everyone got an award in our troop, by the way, this was 38 years ago, when we all walked barefoot uphill to school each day in the snow and were grateful. When Fisher-Price toys were made in the US; when China was not our bank. I recall now (after I originally posted) that I was also wildly cheered on by Marianne and other campers and counselors for finally going under water. I think I was happy about it, and I know it reduced or camouflaged no small amount of trauma from the experience. But it helped because while I’m not too afraid of water, I do have a very healthy respect for it.

The point is, I’ve never won an award for something I didn’t deserve or that people didn’t think I’d deserved. When I went to high school, I won a Senior Superlative, then in college I earned a couple honors society awards for my work. After graduation, when I started working, I earned several awards for my work, my ethic and my dedication. I don’t do anything to get an award or to get recognition. If I did that, I would be a very empty person inside. I do everything I do because I enjoy it and with yes, the hope that someone out there might be inspired because everything I read, every single blog inspires me.

* * *

I’m probably gonna catch some heat from both my readers when I say this, but I am a believer in “pecking.” I believe that a modicum of pecking engenders resilience, determination and healthy competition. We can’t all be presidents, queens, generals and admirals.

DISCLAIMER: While I believe in pecking, I absolutely abhor and don’t believe in bullying: the continual and increasing personal persecution, intimidation and abuse against others to gain advantages and power. That is entirely different.

The truth of the matter is, that we’ve raised a generation (not my generation) of kids who feel entitled and feel empty inside unless they get the trophy for Most Consecutive Days at School Spent Blinking award. I may not have had a super rosey childhood, but I’m beginning to think I’m not doing my own kids any favors by having everything available to them. How are they gonna write about resilience or overcoming an obstacle for their college entrance essays?! Quick, I need to become a class-A controlling mean tyrannical ogre.

These days, and I see it with The BreadWinner as a soccer coach: if we don’t give kids Best Of Being Awake awards we are somehow injuring the child. I say, no, don’t give the awards. I know he disagrees with me on some of this and so we’ve met a compromise: he gives a nice and sincere, and specific speech about each child he coaches that speaks the truth and resonates with that child’s strengths and weaknesses. The parents appreciate it because he’s not saying “YAY! You showed up! Here’s your trophy!” I still churn inside because the kids just want the trophy; I wonder if when they hear my husband they hear noise, yeahyeahyeah justgimme themedal goodgoaliesure gimmethemedal yahyahyah; I’ll never know. All I know is that I’m pretty quick to enable reality to settle in right away with my own kids when they are rewarded by their coaches, “You know, that’s great and all, but everyone got one. So… remember what Syndrome said to Mr. Incredible.” Now I’ll remind them of that commencement speech at Wellesley High School.

Do you think Steve Jobs said, “Meh, that’s good enough. Let’s go with it.” No. Do you think President Obama said, “Nah. I’m happy with Senator…” clearly not. Do you think Jerry Seinfeld would have been OK with a so-so show? Or the Williams’ sisters or Taylor Swift or Adele or Steven Spielberg or Will Smith, do you think any one of them has been “that’s good enough for me” about anything they have done? Don’t believe those pearly whites on Taylor Swift for one minute when she says she feels so lucky. She’s busted her ass to get where she is and she knows it. All of them have. And I honestly don’t think any of them does it for fame or because they are addicted to attention. I think these people I’ve mentioned above and I speak for myself, they do it for the fun of innovation, competition, winning a game, making people think or for creating something all their own.

The road to accomplishment is hard, slick, lonely and, rife with traps and betrayal. Setbacks are good. Setbacks train us to work smarter not harder. Setbacks teach us that in order to stand out, we must out stand our peers, we must work just as hard, just as smartly and just as intensely as our peers if we want to truly accomplish.

I don’t know who said, “It’s not bragging if you can do it,” but I love him or her for saying it.

Thank you.

About Grass Oil by Molly Field

follow me on twitter @mollyfieldtweet. i'm working on a memoir and i've written two books thus unpublished because i'm a scaredy cat. i hail from a Eugene O'Neill play and an Augusten Burroughs novel but i'm a married, sober straight mom. i write about parenting, mindfulness, irony, personal growth and other mysteries vividly with a bit of humor. "Grass Oil" comes from my son's description of dinner i made one night. the content of the blog is random, simple, funny and clever. stop by, it would be nice to get to know you. :)

15 responses »

  1. I typically agree with everything you say…and for the majority of this blog…I do agree with you. However…when you talk about people like Tayler Swift, Will Smith and Steven Spielberg…I probably tend to disagree with you. You quoted earlier “These people with truly brilliant ideas and wonderful gifts are still hungry for better. They keep going. They don’t do it for the awards and recognition, they don’t need fame, attention or appreciation because if they did, they’dve stopped by now.” These three people have wonderful gifts…and are still hungry for better…but if they did it solely because of their passion…why do they have to make so much money and make sure that their lives are open to the public? Are the talents that they have and that they have created any more deserving than that of the local garbarge man? We rely on both professions – one for entertainment and one to take care of our crap. Honestly…to me…the garbage man probably deserves more.

    I hope you dont think that I am being mean here, because that is not my intention…and like I said…I probably agree with 85% of the blog…I just wanted to throw out my perspective. : ) Thanks for allowing me to do that! Scott

    • Hey Scott! Garbage men do deserve more kudos than we ever give them and I have to say that I do always say hi and thank you to them when I see them. (In our ‘hood, they’re very nice, shaven and seemingly professionals, dads; they are human and are OK with what they’re doing, all pride, no shame and do take care to not wreck trees, etc.) As for Swift, Smith, Spielberg, et al., I see them as getting paid what the market will bear. I also believe that each person has the opportunity (like me and you) to shoot for the stars and hit the moon. I agree with you: the garbage man might have untapped talents that only he can unleash – maybe one’s a super amazing guitarist but he hasn’t pushed himself or believed in himself enough to go go go. I have a friend who lives in LA and she’s super talented as an actress, but she hasn’t pushed herself All The Way and that takes no certain amount of luck as well as talent. I am glad you commented; I think the creative spark in all of us is what helps us keep our motivations clear – if we love what we do, others will too. it reminds me of the dynamic / amazing traffic cops — ENJOY THIS CLIP! 🙂 -Molly

      • Maybe the garbage man’s talent is just that. Collecting garbage. I think my biggest problem is that society rewards the wrong people. What sort of world is that we pay someone who entertains us millions more a year than someone that collects are trash?

        Although I do want to write novels that affect people, move them in some way, etc., I dont care if I ever make any money on it. For me…it is about the passion and love of what I am doing. Too many entertainers, in my opinion, have forgotten that. Just think of how many more great movies could be made if the production company could afford to make them and not have to pay out such huge salaries to the stars?

      • hey scott, i lost your comment for a bit there! i agree, the “starpower” pay is highly excessive and i am more then irked that celebrities are becoming political showpieces as well. i like to think of those people as products, and as small slices of fiction. it’s like when they cross lines and start designing clothes; makes my head all swimmy.

        did you see “the artist”? i loved it. cheap, lovely and clever. oh, and SILENT! 🙂 -molly

    • Scott, I’m sorry you have a fear of water. I’m not exactly at home in it, and I hate big waves, but I know how you feel. It has taken a lot out of me to “Cheer!” and “BE HAPPY!” when my kids have a great time in the water. I should probably get a Xanax prescription before we go on ocean vacations… no joke. When I came out of the water, I was emphatically cheered on by my counselor, now that I recall it (I didn’t last night) which I think helped allay any major trauma, but I still never turn my back on the water. try this traffic cop video too – –Molly

      • First – Great Videos!! Secondly…my fear is so bad I cant take a bath. I HAVE to take showers. I hate that I have the fear…and have tried various things to get over it..but to no avail. : (

  2. PADC! PADC! One of the most formative experiences of my life. Were it that every child could attend. I know you think I don’t read your blog but I do. All I want to say is that you should go back and read your post on “ahimsa” because that was profound–especially the big about aggressive tooth-brushing. I’m sensing that your drive to do what you love and your need to prove it might be eclipsing your mountain views. Do it and ignore the ‘likes’. I think that’s what you’re saying. I don’t think it was Marianne’s insane tactics that helped you get comfortable with the water (she would have been fired today and with good reason), it was because you believed in yourself.

    • AMHW (from MJTF) PADC was the BOMB (not an acronym but maybe… Best of My Best). I feel you read my posts. The Ahimsa was huge; it still is. I stomp up the stairs and halfway become aware and lighten my stride. I catch myself shredding my gums. You’re as attuned as ever, My Sweet AMHW, about my drive. It’s getting better though. We were chatting over the weekend at the Chart House about the beauty pageant my parents put me in against my will at the BYC. i hated every @#_)@!$% moment of it. My dad said, “You were a SCREAM!” and I said, “I hated it and I’ll never forget it. I put my black patent leather purse over my face while I walked the catwalk and I threw my mary janes in the harbor after the show, right next to the Ott’s boat. I went on the pier next to their boat and tossed ’em in.” Chris said, “yeah, she did.” And then CT whispered to me, “let it go, he’ll argue it all day…” and i did. It is a need to prove myself as an individual, I guess, AMHW, that fuels things. But I don’t fuel things I don’t love anymore. 🙂 I think that’s progress… I should share that story about the BYC pageant. xoxoxo

      • I totally and completely understand the need to prove myself to a certain someone and to be right (and for him to be wrong). When I finally realized that it didn’t matter if I was right–that it didn’t matter what he thought because I really had no influence over it–was so freeing for me. Not that I always resist the urge to dive-in, but I think you know what I mean. The BYC pageant is definitely a blog post.

  3. 1. Have you read The Alchemist? GREAT book about the journey.
    2. I truly believe the Williams’ sisters feel they are above trying.
    3. It makes me crazy that Jackie has five (FIVE!) trophies (4 soccer, 1 softball) and she’s only 8.
    4. I know there’s a line between giving your child a sense of confidence vs. a sense of entitlement, and I work really hard to make sure I stay on the former side. It’s nice to know that there are other adults out there who understand that we’re not doing these kids, or the rest of civilized society, a favor by giving them the sense that their entitled. Entitlement is one reason that welfare is so out of control and why people think they’re entitled to free health care simply because they choose not to work for a living. I am NOT talking about the people who have found themselves in unfortunate situations. I AM talking about people (specifically the ones I know personally) who choose not to work yet have a nicer phone than I do, who eat out all the time when I have to choose between cantaloupe or honeydew because I can’t afford both in the same week, who spend three days in the hospital for an outpatient procedure simply because they refuse to leave yet who have no intention of paying their bill.
    Whew – sorry – this topic makes me a bit crazy.

    • i will read the alchemist; sounds like it’s up my alley.

      i think that the williams sisters might have been a borderline inclusion in my citations; i agree with you that they’re sort of arrogant, but i do believe that they continue to push themselves for success – how they define it, well… that’s altogether another matter. i just love the human spirit; i think we are capable of so much more than a stupid plastic trophy that’s gonna end up in a landfill (that’s another rant of mine altogether – the needless consumerism, to wit: your food stamps comments: right on!) anyway. our need for attention is bullshit. if we just stay busy, work hard, do the right thing, pay our taxes, obey the laws and have fun in the process we are on to something. nothing has taught me more than this writing experience that if i HAVE SOMETHING of my OWN, i can matter TO ME. that’s huge. xoxoxo

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