Motivational platitudes will end up killing your motivation.
“If you shoot for the moon and miss, you will end up amid the stars.” You may have heard this pithy little koan before and many more like it. Maybe you’ve intoned it yourself to a co-worker who is struggling. American business culture is chock full of this kind of motivational pseudo-wisdom. We like it because we think that it will help us get jacked-up on metaphorical steroids so that we attack our business goals with the fervor that only a Norse berserker could match.
The reality is that this kind of thing is the gateway-drug into the self-help Pit of Despair. These pithy incantations get plastered on posters, coffee cups, desktop screen wallpapers — probably even on toilet paper, I would guess. (If not, now there’s a great idea for you entrepreneurs out there!)
These platitudes are just the lint that hide in the belly-buttons of motivational speakers who get you to spend thousands of dollars to come to a three-day seminar that will “change your life.” Never mind that they never tell you anything you haven’t already heard before. They’ve been floating around in pop psychology since before Freud was a toddler, peeing his pants having his own Oedipus Complex. It’s all been said. King Solomon, who even laid down a few pithy raps of his own, then concluded that “it is all vanity…. there is nothing new under the sun.”
You know all this but you go to the seminar anyway. It’s in the Bora Bora development (of the Southeast Compton Business Park) which makes the cost seem worth it. At least there will be some sun and you might even have some fun, maybe. You listen to the bajillionaire speaker with the huge hands who strangely sounds like the killer from the Silence of the Lambs, jump up and down, sing the Kum-by-yahs, do the firewalk, and come back ready to get at it, albeit a few thousand dollars poorer.
But you don’t mind because the moon will be yours for the taking! You get down to work, literally vibrating on all the endorphins and dopamine you can handle — only to smack right into the brick wall of reality the next day back to the office.
When you shoot for the moon and miss you will NOT end up amid the stars. You WILL end up floating in an unending dark void. Forever.
The fact is, we all miss when we shoot for the moon. We fail every time.
And, that’s a good thing.
It’s good because it:
— Reminds us that we are humans, made of dust; not demigods,
— Forces us to do a little self reflection and course-correction, if are not too stubborn to let it,
— and allows us to learn something important!
Now, one might read this article and wonder why I seem so very cynical and negative. I am, but that’s probably a Gen-X thing anyway. I do enjoy a pithy saying once in a while too, so I am just as susceptible. But I am saying this because I have experienced the extreme let-down of this kind of thinking over and over again. And again. And again.
They say that repetition is the key to learning. They never say how many times you need to repeat it though. Until you get it, I suppose.
It took me a long time to get it; and I am still struggling with it too, even as I write this.
Failure leads to a deep feeling of shame. The “I should’ves” will bury you in it. Shame leads to perfectionism and/or narcissism, which both metastasize into something abusive to you or others. At the very least, shame kills any kind of motivation you might have had once your head is clear of all those feel-good neurotransmitters and hormones. You find that you just can’t focus and never seem to get anything done.
After all, you probably aren’t walking around with a “reality distortion field.” The people who do are also mostly psychopaths. I am hoping that’s not who you and I are.
So let’s try a little reality-adjustment here. If we’re not shooting for the moon, can we shoot for about 20 feet? Maybe even two? And then two more?
These are goals we can reach. These are battles we can win. The objective is to become the sort of person who can reach simple goals, and then to be able to break down our oversized ambitions into little, attainable, micro-goals. And to grant ourselves grace when we fail. You know: “baby steps.”
If you do that, and your micro-goals are generally trending in the direction of the big ambitions, you might wake up one morning and realize that you have fulfilled that ambition. Or maybe you don’t seem to care as much about that ambition and wonder why you had it in the first place. Or, maybe you are happier in whatever life circumstance you are in.
You may also have saved a few thousand bucks so you can go to Bora Bora for real and enjoy it.
Here’s one pithy koan that speaks to me personally which I actually do like: “When you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” (It really scratches that unspoken Gen-X itch to kill something.) When encountering the lie of perfection, confront it with the lessons taught by failure and the grace of attaining your micro-goals.
And, cut yourself a break, ok?
That big moonshot? Let’s break it down into something mere humans can deal with. The only way NASA ever reached the moon was little by little, one setback at a time. What makes us really that different?
So let’s just “Shoot the Moon” and get on with life.
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