Monday, January 25, 2010

On Motivation

Disclaimer: I wrote this after staying up all night to pack. It might be rambly and it might make no sense. It is poorly edited; there are places where "blame" should be "responsibility." Or where "jerk" should be "person who bears the responsibility."

    I am too sleep-deprived right now to write about this coherently; on the other hand, it's a topic I've been meaning to write about for more than two months.
    Lately, I've been thinking a lot about motivation. And blame/fault/responsibility. This started just before I moved to Oregon--I'm talking about eight months ago, when I packed all of my stuff into boxes and either put it in storage or put it in my car. I'm distinguishing here because right now it feels like I'm moving to Oregon a second time. Going through the same process of sorting things, getting rid of things, boxing up what needs to be shipped this time and what I will ship/come back for later.
    I think I am too tired to write much more, without plunging headfirst into the realm of incoherent babbling, so I'll just write an example. There are a lot of layers to this. One has to do with typical friend/people relationship; another has to do with...well, I don't know how to categorize it. Here's my example. Let's say you make plans with someone. You invite them over for dinner. You make them an elaborate dinner--you start days in advance in that short window between coming home from work and going to bed, so that the day of you can just come home from work, pop the dinner in the oven to reheat, set the table, put on music, and wait for your guest to arrive.
    Now, two hours in advance, that friend cancels and their excuse is not really a good one. (Such as, "accident on the Parkway, it will take me three hours to get there.") Let's say it's, "I'm tired" or no excuse at all, something like, "I can't make it." Who is to blame here?
    My ingrained belief was that the plan-canceler was a jerk and the one with 100% of the fault. When I was getting ready to move to Oregon, I thought, "I went to all this work when I have all this crap to do to get ready to move! What nerve!" but then I thought, "Wait a minute. Do I carry any of this responsibility? YES I DO." It was my fault for not being realistic; no one expects me to make a five-course meal from scratch on a weeknight. Except maybe idiots. The person was coming to see me, not the food. Except when having over certain people, don't cook that much food on a weeknight.* Just make something simple, or get a pizza. Save the big cooking for a weekend or for special friends who rarely cancel plans (and if they do, reschedule for the same week so that you can reheat the leftovers) and who appreciate from-scratch five-course-meals.
    I realize it sounds like I am talking about a specific incident, and I kind of am. I didn't mean to but I am really tired. So don't pay too much attention to the incident; I am trying to write about the LESSONS here. If you put a lot of effort into something and the other person doesn't show up, it's their fault they didn't show up, but it is NOT their fault that you made them a five-course meal. That's what I'm trying to say. They are responsible for not showing up, but not for the five-course meal part. This is how I felt eight months ago: in such cases, you are responsible 100% for the five-course meal. The responsibility for the ruined dinner party of two is split 50/50. At the moment, I'm leaning more toward where I was when I was younger. The blame is at least 20% on the person who unnecessarily cooked a five-course meal--maybe more than 20%, but definitely less than 50%. If the other party knew it was a five-course meal and not a frozen pizza, then they are even more of a jerk...I mean, responsible.
    The other lesson is don't put tons of effort if the other party does not have a track record of keeping their end of the bargain. Don't make a five-course meal for a chronic canceler or for someone you don't know that well (bc you don't know if they're a chronic canceler or not.) It's a lot of pressure to put on that person, in a way.
    Now here's where we get into motivation. This was the "other" thing I wanted to write about, which I had trouble describing earlier. It extends to more topics than regular friend/people relationships. But this example of friend/people relationships does lead into the other category.
    What is the motivation of the person who cooked the five course meal when a pizza would suffice? Was it solely to feed the friend an elaborate dinner? Was the five-course-meal cooker correctly approximating the other party's needs? Or was this five course meal, in some way, also for the person who cooked it? Did they want an excuse to try new recipes, to use up things in the refrigerator, or to impress the other party?
    That's why I put some of the responsibility on the five-course-meal cook. The motivation wasn't entirely selfless. Especially if the five-course-meal cook wanted to impress everyone with his/her cooking.
    As a result of this lesson, when I'm going to parties where the people do not give a crap about organic, seasonal produce, or don't really like unusual flavor combinations or foreign spices, I don't go crazy cooking my potluck dish. I bring taco dip.
    Anyway, this isn't about shifting the blame off of a plan-canceler. This is about examining one's own motivation and actions, as well as the other person's, and change things to make yourself happier. You are the only person in control of your own happiness; you cannot make someone show up for your five course dinner. You can choose to enjoy making it and eating the leftovers by yourself for a week, or you can choose to order pizza. Keep the ingredients for taco dip** in your pantry.
    Now I'm getting into a longer post, so I'll just write a few quick sentences. How this weird story about dinner parties leads into "motivation" comes from the part about making the five course dinner to impress people, not just to make them happy and provide them with good food.
    Pretend there is a really brilliant connecting sentence here. When I am more alert, I will edit this and write one here.
    On the other side of that connecting sentence is unsolicited advice. So is do-gooder stuff. Here are two short examples: 1) Giving people unsolicited advice on how they should run their life/do everyday things/drive/eat/dress/deal with their loved ones/etc. Why are you doing this? Do you want to help them? Or do you want them to think, "She's right! She gives such good advice?" Or do you want them to do things the way you think things should be done!? Is your motivation in any way selfish?
    This is especially true (in my opinion) when the unsolicited advice deals with making the world a better place--telling someone that they should be buy organic, abstain from Wal-mart, and change all their lightbulbs to CFLs. Do you really think you are saving the planet by nagging people to do this? Or are you trying to make people think, "Changing to an eco-friendly lifestyle has made my life better! That person is SO great for telling me this! They are soooooo great because they really care about the planet! WHAT A GREAT PERSON!"

    In conclusion, I am not saying that everyone who is trying to be nice is really being selfish. In general, in the first case--I think the Five Course Meal Cook is just misled--is trying too hard to please the wrong people and can just take responsibility for her own happiness and stop trying so hard with those people and divert her energies to herself and to people who really deserve it.*** I do, however, mean to criticize Unsolicited Advice Giver (especially the Make the World a Better Place Nagger).****

* This rule applies when working regular hours. Funemployment time is a little different.
** Refried beans, Hormel chili, cheddar cheese and sour cream....I guess those last two would go bad in the pantry!
*** Uh...this TOTALLY was not supposed to end up being All About Me. (Except the part about unsolicited advice--because I used to do that way too much.) I meant this to be something to think about, maybe advice that people can use.
**** I have totally been this person, all right? I'm not saying they're all bad people! I still AM this person more often than I care to admit!

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