I have never been able to go up a flight of steps without needing a moment to catch my breath. One particular year I decided that not only would I get fit but that I would run a half marathon. Going against a sea of naysayers including my own self-doubts I crossed the finishing line. That moment changed my life. It made me realize that so many things I previously thought impossible were in fact the product of my fears. I knew I could change the world.
Whenever I shared these thoughts and ideas with some of my peers who had started working earlier I was always derided and most of them told me “Wait until you start working and then you’ll see how unrealistic you’re being”. Being the serial contrarian that I am, I vowed that I would not never allow anything or anyone extinguish the enthusiasm that I brought to any job or commitment I undertook.
So I started my career and I brought a lot of energy into every role and position I was in. I believed that everyone would see my mix of enthusiasm, and that my creativity would allow me to rush through the ranks without having to pay my dues, or at least pay them at discounted rates. At this point I know that most of you are smiling and shaking your head. But remember I’m a serial contrarian, I couldn’t let these cynical naysayers be proven right, so at every no I got, I worked harder, fought harder for my ideas, stayed longer at work and created more work for myself.
The result: I alienated my colleagues who could not understand why I was being so hard headed on every and any issue. I increased my workload unnecessarily. I was going home more stressed out than needed, increasing the occurrence of heartburn. I was perennially frustrated, many of my ideas were rejected and the cherry on top of the cake; I received mixed reviews during a performance appraisal.
I realized that something needed to change. The easy way was to simply blame all those around me and change job. I decided that wherever I would go, I would most likely encounter the same dynamic to a greater or lesser degree so I decided I needed to change something in my behaviour or attitude.
My problem was that I didn’t want to approach work as an impersonal automaton who just clocked in the hours and cashed in the paycheck. But what was the alternative? I stumbled upon the alternative when an older colleague helped me understand the difference between enthusiasm and motivation.
Enthusiasm is a product of unrefined energy. It is an intense, at times obsessive, pursuit of a goal at the cost of everything and everyone else. Its high intensity means that it is unsustainable and in the long run if left unchecked will create more harm than good. Motivation on the other hand is not the opposite of enthusiasm and does not result in cynicism, apathy and bitterness.
Motivation is the the ripening of enthusiasm with qualities such as patience, flexibility, temperance and tact. Most importantly motivation does not depend on external affirmation to be fueled but is the result of an inner commitment to consistently perform at a high level. Motivation doesn’t spend unnecessary long hours at work, but it arrives every day on time. Motivation isn’t all about finishing work quickly but it ensures that deadlines are met every time and the quality of the work produced is consistently of a high quality. Enthusiasm burns bright but leaves teams burnt out, motivation builds bridges. Enthusiasm frustrates itself with every no it receives, motivation painstakingly builds consensus over time. Enthusiasm focuses on the result at the cost of everything else while motivation is painfully aware of the process.
In short enthusiasm is grape juice, full of essential and important ingredients but tastes a bit sour, while motivation is fine wine which has taken the enthusiasm and matured it to perfection. I cannot say that I have really mastered motivation but knowing where I want to arrive helps me assess myself and my performance and see what hasn’t worked and what I can do to address it. This change in attitude has also allowed me to be more easy going and to take feedback better. The energy I did not spend engaging in unnecessary arguments and frustration I use to ensure that the work I produce, even the most boring and mindless tasks are delivered in time and of high quality.