Losing and Finding Motivation
I was a pretty great student in high school. I look back on my junior year and remember how optimistic I was, filled with so much ambition for what I could achieve with my hard work, then senior year came, and reality hit.
I knew since my junior year that I wanted to study history, but for some reason, every time I shared this goal, I was met with criticism. Reminders of how “useless” liberal arts degrees can be, or unsolicited advice telling me I’m “too smart for that” and should go into something like engineering or computer science instead (neither of which I ever expressed any interest in).
Eventually, it all got to me. Some concerns were valid, and I couldn’t help conflating those with the useless criticism I was also getting. I convinced myself I had no idea what to do and that I would give STEM classes a try before declaring a “useless” major.
Finding My Passion, Again
I realized very quickly in that first semester that there was no way I would make it through college studying something I wasn’t interested in. But I insisted. That voice in my head just kept repeating everyone’s comments, telling me I only had a few options, and I didn’t have to like it – I just had to do it.
I won’t go into detail about just how terrible that second semester was, but the student I once was had definitely died at that point. One day I even decided I would drop out and within two hours I realized I didn’t have the guts to give my Hispanic mother the news (it’s okay, you can laugh), so I settled for dropping a class instead.
In the third semester, I kept insisting. Insisting there had to be something ”useful” I was interested in. To no one’s surprise, the third semester was just as bad. Again, I decided I would drop out. And again, I decided there was no way I could give my mom the news, so I stayed.
I was living mindlessly. My life and my work didn’t align with what I wanted for myself in the bigger picture. Of course I couldn’t get myself to do the work; I literally had no reason to do it. My motivation was purely external, and it clearly wasn’t strong enough.
Don’t worry— I learned my lesson and stopped insisting by the fourth semester. I gave Environmental Science classes a try since I found a lot fewer people considered this a useless major. Sure, my intention behind that choice wasn’t the best, but at least I was genuinely interested in the subject, and something good did come out of it: I found my love for learning again.
I loved it so much I decided to change my major (it makes sense, I promise, just let me explain). I was interested enough in Environmental Science to pick up a book and read; interested enough to be a student again. I realized that love for learning was really all the reason I needed to study what I enjoyed most, what 16-year-old me already knew she wanted to do.
So, as much as I loved learning about Environmental Science, I decided I would finally declare my major in history for the following semester. In case you lost track, that first semester as a history major was also my fifth semester. It was the first time I found myself networking and doing extracurricular activities in college. I hate that it took so long, but I needed to give those other classes a try in order to enjoy history without hesitation.
The annoying concerns from others about my long-term plan with the degree did resurface, but my confidence somehow made them stop caring. I knew that was the only degree I felt was worth my blood, sweat, and tears (emphasis on the tears). I was confident in what I was doing and it showed, and that somehow made people leave me the hell alone about it. I hate how simple it was considering the difficulty of actually getting to this point, but I’m glad I got here eventually.
Intention, Discipline, and Motivation
So, that should be it, right? I find my love for learning again, I stop contemplating dropping out, and I live happily ever after with my nose stuck in books… right? Nope. But luckily, at this point, I was realistic enough with myself to expect my lack of discipline to persist despite the motivation I found with the new major. Don’t get me wrong, motivation is still crucial, at least in my opinion. I know hustlers like to preach about how all it takes is discipline because motivation won’t always be there, and luckily for me, I’m not a hustler.
That being said, there is some truth to what they say (the hustlers, that is). Motivation helps you start, it helps you keep going, but it’s discipline that actually gets you to your goal. Now that I finally had that motivation, I was able to accept that I had no idea how to work on my self-discipline all on my own. My time management and the balance between school and my personal life were terrible, to say the least. So, after reflecting on my quality of life and my willingness to graduate now that I actually wanted the damn degree, I decided I would see a therapist for help.
That first session was all about my background, my life, and me providing context for her to be able to help me. I couldn’t have expected her comment when I told her about what I’m doing in school and how I ended up there; she said something along the lines of “hey, as long as it’s keeping you going, whether it’s you, mom, whatever.” I beat myself up so much those first two years for being motivated almost entirely by the fear of disappointing my mom. Now, that’s not to say my mentality at the time wasn’t toxic for me. Yeah, I had something to keep me going in school, which was great, but I had no bigger picture.
My intention behind attending school and earning a degree? There was none. I just had no idea what else I could do. Every time I contemplated dropping out, I feared I’d end up stuck at a job with no direction. In retrospect, I probably would have because the solution wasn’t staying in school or dropping out— it was finding my motivation again. Along with that, I had to find my intention. Why am I in school? Is this serving the person I want to be? What am I doing here?
The Little Things Matter Too
The answer didn’t have to be romantic; there just had to be an answer. I was there to learn. I love learning, and I was glad to have a thirst for knowledge and understanding again. That’s it. Now, my motivation? It changes anywhere from every two hours to every few weeks. That’s what my therapist helped me realize with her comment. My reason for motivation doesn’t matter as long as I know that I do want to reach that end goal. It was so quick and so simple I don’t think she has any idea she gave me this epiphany.
My motivation today was wanting to make time to hang out with my cousin before she leaves town. Yesterday, my motivation was easing my workload for today so I could leave time to hang out with my cousin. On Sunday— well, I didn’t do any work on Sunday, but you get the point. Those are just things that help me get through the work for the day. Motivating me through the semester is everything I’ve got planned for the summer.
The point is, I need that motivation. I don’t believe anyone who says it’s all about discipline. Something got me to get off my phone and start on my work. Something got you off the couch and into the gym. Maybe it was the proof in the mirror of the progress you’ve already made, or maybe it was remembering how good it feels when you finally finish that workout. Something got you to start, and that something was motivation.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to push yourself to the point of burning yourself out. Of course there will be some days where there’s no putting it off and whatever work is on my mind will need to get done. On those days, I start with baby steps. It’s okay if you can’t find it sometimes, but remember that your reason doesn’t have to be romantic. It can be as simple as getting yourself to wash the dishes because you want a clean blender to make your smoothie. Now that you got a nice smoothie, you may feel more motivated to do something with your day.
Your work every day doesn’t have to be extravagant. We aren’t robots and we shouldn’t expect every day to be productive. I don’t force myself to do work when I’m exhausted or anxious, I do something to put myself in a better state before beginning. Almost every time, that something motivates me to begin.
While motivation comes and goes, you still have the ability to find it for yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for “lacking discipline” every time you don’t do something when you have no motivation. I think the discipline people speak of is really our ability to find that motivation every time we need it, however big or small.
About the Author
Born in Cuba and raised in Las Vegas, Cesia is a junior at UNLV pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in History with a concentration in Latin American history and a minor in French. Outside of her school interests, she finds herself particularly interested in astrology and travel plans. While she hopes to stay in the field of history, she is passionate about mental health and hopes to help others through her writing for us here at LYF.