On Motivation

by Evan Lowry |

This quote, or variations of, is a parable I’ve heard many times:

Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.
— Arthur Ashe

Most recently, it was brought to mind after watching this video by Adam Neely.

He brings up some good points in regards to the creation and destruction cycle of creativity. But can this be applied to non-creative endeavours?

Happiness is not a fish that you can catch

I took over fulltime operations with PitchPlay about a year ago. My partner, who was in charge of the creative vision, decided to move on. This led to an interesting parallel, as I stepped into the business world.

The entire startup culture seems obsessed with defining the end point, and getting there as quick as possible. Iteration is an amazing tool. It’s one we programmers use all the time. The feeling of success you get from completing objectives one after another can give great momentum. Everyone cheers “another successful sprint” moving into the retrospective.

The average lifespan of a developer at a company is anecdotally 2-3 years. The startup world is a little harsher, with unsuccessful startups dying roughly 20 months after their last funding.

It would appear that hitting objectives is not enough in itself.

Unleash the Fire

Lucky programmers

The job market is so diverse and thriving that finding joy in the journey can be as easy as switching jobs. Unless you’ve got a family to support, or the market changes. In that case …

Sometimes it’s just a matter of priorities. Put less stress on hitting those objectives. Pressure to perform can make good people do unethical things.

Lucky entrepreneurs

You’ve created your own business, which is in a field you love! Well …

Part of running a startup is pivoting on your original idea to find something with product/market fit. There are people who get a lot of enjoyment in this process. There are also a lot of people who start with an idea they love, and due to market pressure they pivot to an idea they don’t.

As Paul Graham points out, you can even begin a startup with no idea.

In a sense, it’s not a problem if you don’t have a good idea, because most startups change their idea anyway. In the average Y Combinator startup, I’d guess 70% of the idea is new at the end of the first three months. Sometimes it’s 100%.

As a personal warning, I was so focused on hitting objectives with PitchPlay that I forget to check if I enjoyed the journey along the way.

This leads to an old favourite … burn-out.

Return to Serenity

My original question was if the creation/destruction cycle can be applied to non-creative endeavours. My scattered thoughts seem to point more towards programming and startups being creative endeavours.

Well. What to do about this?

If you’re running a company that employs creative types … listen when they complain about hangups in their workflow. Focus on making the journey enjoyable, not just rewarding the completion of contracts. To steal a Richard Branson quote:

If you don’t have time for the small things, you won’t have time for the big things.

If you’re running your own small business, make sure that you enjoy what you do. To steal another Branson quote (to keep things consonant):

Fun is one of the most important - and underrated - ingredients in any successful venture. If you’re not having fun, then it’s probably time to call it quits and try something else.

And if you’re suffering from burn-out, you have my sympathies.