I’ve always been a highly motivated person. Since the age of 8 or 9, I’d rush home to my room to get my homework done, and the idea of a ‘late’ anything caused me to break out in hives. I was never happier than working for extra credit or finding ways to get a A++.
These days I work from home and I’m even more motivated than ever. I check my mail before I brew the first cup of the day, and I don’t stop between 8 and 5, picking up again after dinner. I could be taking myself out for a ride, lazing by the pool or using the flexibility of my job to actually enjoy the day, but I can’t help myself. I need to get stuff done and the guilt of not putting in my 10 hours would eat away at me. I might not be Catholic, but I seem to have been deep dyed in guilt somewhere along the line.
And its not just work. I will drag myself out for a run whether its 16 degrees and sleeting or 80 degrees and I’m nursing a deep vein thrombosis the length of my left leg (yes, it happened). I feel guilty skipping a yoga class and if I don’t eat vegetables with every meal (even cereal), I’m convinced my mother will find out. Yes, that’s me trying to eat edamame and Cheerios.
Which goes to say, I don’t need much encouragement to ‘do’ stuff – whether I want to do it or not.
And, being raised in a traditional British household, I learned early on that you never expect recognition. We’re not a nation that’s big on praise or shows of effusive ‘go get em’ encouragement. In fact when I declared my intent to attend university (the first in my family to do so), I was met with blank stares and questions of ‘why?’ That guy who pulled the emergency landing in the Hudson last year? If it was the UK, the main question would have been why he didn’t land closer to a tube stop.
Its a sickness. What can I say. We’re afraid of praise.
‘Spare the rod, spoil the child’ is a saying most of us Brits grew up with.. which roughly translates to ‘don’t baby your baby’. I think we’re scared that if we felt good about ourselves there would be anarchy on the streets and the milk certainly wouldn’t be delivered on time.
Moving to the US, I was horrified at the culture of extensive praise, especially around mediocrity. 6 year olds being heralded for pooping in the toilet, teenagers handed BMWs for getting A’s and don’t get me started on the Kardashians. Famed and lauded for what exactly? Blow jobs? It couldn’t be a further from my upbringing of ignoring achievement and general air of criticism or cynicism around any recognition.
With time I see that both approaches to achievement have their value. One creates confidence, the other creates humility. One incents shooting for the stars, the other incents quality and throughness.
Too much of either creates the need for pharmaceuticals and extensive therapy.
Sadly in adult life, the two cultures seem to achieve a degree of consistency – praise evaporates the moment you receive a pay check.
I’ve been working in the consulting field for nearly 20 years and I think I’ve been praised twice. Once for finding away to lay off 257 people and the other was last week when I receive my first (and probably last) standing ovation (and no, no-one was laid off).
Without going into details – it was earned (sorry Brits, but it was). I worked 7 days a week for the last 7 weeks and last week I worked over 100 hours. With my team, we produced something really great. And everyone stood up and applauded.
And yes, I know its corporate nonsense, they were told to and its just clapping, but to stand in front of a room of nearly 200 people and to have that minute of recognition… well, it was probably the single most pleasurable moment of my working life. Does that make me shallow? Needy? Desiring of attention?
Did it make me feel valued, appreciated and supported?
Did it make up for living like a monk for the last 7 weeks and the additions to my extensive prescription collection?
On that.. jury’s out.
But as I stood there I didn’t feel embarrassed or try to decry the attention. In fact
I’ll never forget that moment of pure praise and I’ll never again underestimate the power of recognition. It felt good. And I won’t say that it made up for 40 years of silence, but it certainly filled a big hole.
And if my head grew a little bit bigger as a result.. well I always have my mother on the end of the phone.She can take care of that in an opening sentence.