Motivation Porn

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There’s a thing called ‘motivation porn.’  Fueled by social media – Instagram in particular – it is the use of platitudes intended to ‘motivate’ the viewer to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals and dreams.  It’s all about going harder to takie action, never sleeping and taking risks to achieve a specific definition of success.  The ‘gurus’ of motivation porn have been selling the guilt trip over being “mediocre” ever since Gary Kiyosaki published Rich Dad Poor Dad.  The idea that being an employee makes you a loser in life has taken off in the age of digital technology, in which opportunities to earn a living independently have skyrocketed.

The effect is that everybody thinks they can be an entrepreneur.  Much of motivation porn centers around not listening to the “haters” and doing whatever it takes to achieve success.  I always say fact and truth are not the same.  While much of motivation porn is based in fact, context reveals inescapable truths.

I am a very spiritual person.  I put life into that context.  There is such a thing as seasons in life.  There is a time to sow and there is a time to reap the harvest. Some of us are in sowing time and some of us are in reaping time.  This is why it is toxic and misleading to compare our achievements (or lack thereof) with someone else’s in a moment in time.  While in sowing season things don’t seem to be moving.  In this time there may be lots of spare time to do other things that aren’t necessarily related to the goal.  The key is consistency in actions to reach the goal; every bit of action is progress even if it doesn’t look like it to somebody else or in the moment the eventual result is not apparent to us.  So there is a time when #hustlehard and #hustleharder may not be a practical use of time and energy.  Furthermore it is important to take time to just “be.”  Take a real vacation, read a book, learn a new skill.  Grow personally in some way: learn a new language just because; ride horses (which I intend to do), learn horticulture (which I am doing and I love it), visit family, spend time with friends doing nothing in particular. It is important to rejuvenate and appreciate where you are.  Otherwise what is the point of achieving anything?

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Coincidentally, as I began writing this post in front of the TV, I glanced up at the closing credits of Mike and Mollyand paused at Chuck Lorre’s famous vanity card at the very end.  It starts, “I believe we have a cultural obsession with things getting better.” I knew this was going to be good. “Corporate profits MUST rise. Gross domestic product (whatever the hell that is) MUST go up.  Teenage pregnancies, smoking related deaths, the deficit and unemployment numbers MUST go down. Well, clearly no one else wants to ask the question, so I will. Why? Why MUST life constantly improve? When did we become so burdened with this need for things to always get better? I’m pretty sure that if we go back in time far enough we’ll find that our ancestors didn’t stress over it. Life was good, then it was bad, then it was the same, then it got good again, etc. For millions of years, things rarely got great and often got horrible. Which is why I believe our relentless drive to improve on the status quo is a fairly recent occurrence. Furthermore, I pinpoint its origin with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, which I believe mistakenly implies that it’s in the nature of nature to “get better.”

As an economics student I wondered the same thing.  Why must the stock market and prices keep rising with no end in sight?  Surely there must come a point when the continuing rise in costs will be unsustainable.  Will the day come when a loaf of bread will cost $1,000?  But that issue is never addressed.  When does this stop making sense and a new paradigm must be adopted?  Similarly, when do we get to the point that continuing to increase the energy we put into our goals and dreams becomes futile?  If a person is in sowing season reaping will not be an option, at least without getting into trouble.

On Instagram today a promotion for the book The 10X Ruleby Grant Cardone showed up on my timeline.  It’s another full dose of motivation porn, expounding on his idea to do everything 10 times more than you would otherwise, to achieve massive results.  And though he posits this premise toward entrepreneurship, it is best for sales people.  The reviews on Amazon are quite telling.  The low scorers site the many shortcomings and even dangers of approaching life and work this way and that the author gave no actionable steps to implement his credo. Motivation porn works by digging into peoples’ feelings of guild and insecurities around why they haven’t achieve “massive results” like the “winners” have – the Elon Musks and Vaynerchucks of the world.  ‘What’s wrong with YOU?’  It comes down to FOMO which is what led to the hype over cryptocurrencies a couple of years ago.  The heightened emotional response is elicited, making the listener ripe for the plucking. This is when the sale happens because nobody wants to be a loser, or, God forbid, “average.”  The “sale”constitutes any positive affirmation such as a ‘like’ or a follow or the purchase of a book or a course and the like.

One criticizer of 10X  noted the important point that “extreme effort will not turn a bad idea into a successful business…Sometimes the best course of action is to give up on an unsuccessful idea in order to free up time and resources to pursue more promising opportunities.  Just like in poker, the trick is knowing when to throw more chips into the pile and when to fold.  A sales professional who is promoting a product in an established market is different from an entrepreneur trying to become the next Elon Musk.  In the former case, hard work is sufficient to be successful.”  I couldn’t have said it any better myself. My question is, what is the basis for the calculation?  Ten times what, exactly?  What is the basis of measurement?  Is it the output of energy?  Implementation of ideas?  Client acquisition?  These would be concrete, actionable directives but Carbone’s a “just do it’ kind of guy.

Many people love motivation porn and will defend its ‘gurus’ come hell or high water, as though simply believing hard enough will translate into success for themselves.  They have been convinced that they are among the average losers and by wedding themselves to the ideas espoused by a “winner” they will be freed from the prison of mediocrity.

Motivation porn disciples have a tendency to not look beneath the platitudes. A perfect example is a series of Instagram posts by Vaynerchuk that seem to perfect contradict each other:

September 26, 2018: “It doesn’t matter what they think.”

October 2, 2018: “Entitlement is poison.”

October 3, 2018: “There’s no reason to do shit you hate. None.”

October 4, 2018: “I’ll do anything, anytime, always…humility to the fuckin’ max.”

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Talk about mixed messages!  But let’s break this down:

Just last week I had a conversation with the owner of my hair salon. I asked how his juice store is coming along.  He proceeded to unleash his frustrations with owning a business, particularly one staffed with millennials.  “They’re so sensitive.  You can’t tell them anything.”  As soon as he corrects them, for example on being late or showing up at all, “they’re ready to leave!”  He lamented the lack of manners, discipline and accountability of this generation. As we talked, my own  stylist was twenty minutes late and while we sat he called to get an ETA; I heard her bark into the phone, “I’m with my landlord!” There is an extreme sense of entitlement with this generation, which I blame on social media, motivation porn gurus a la Vaynerchuck in particular.  Context is key.  The idea that “It doesn’t matter what they think” reflects an extreme level of entitlement.  And it’s not even true.  What others think matters in life, but it’s important to know how to filter out what is not helpful and there’s a way to do that.

If “there’s no reason to do shit you hate” is true then clearly he won’tdo “anything, anytime, always…”  I assume “anything” includes things you hate doing.  There are plenty reasons to do “shit” you hate.  Bills to pay and kids to feed.  Having a long-term view and understanding that you have to pay your dues first.  Sometimes the things we hate doing will teach us our greatest lessons, not least of which are reliability, mental toughness, grace, integrity and…humility.  You can’t only do the things you enjoy.

And that’s the irony here: to be an entrepreneur requires sometimes doing things you hate.  Like firing people.  Like meetings.  Like picking up trash.  Like working 12 hours or more a day.  Like making uncomfortable sacrifices.  This is why it is so important to apply context to the platitudes.  The gurus are motivated by their own ambitions; what they are doing is not purely altruistic.  It is always necessary to apply a little critical thinking and self-reflection to determine how to make the platitudes work for you.

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