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Kevin writes in to inquire about the deeper motivations for doing what you do beyond just monetary. He asked me to share stories and anecdotes from people who have been impacted by my work and efforts.
This led to a discussion on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation. If we’re only motivated by external validation, what happens when there are no accolades for fuel?
On a whim, Ben conjures a beautiful analogy featuring an iceberg and a buoy that really ties everything together. This is definitely an inspirational episodes that will not only motivate you but get you thinking on deeper issues of purpose.
- 05:33 Sean: This was causing me to think deeply. It’s easy to forget how many people I’m helping when the vast majority of them are silent. How quickly that all fades when one of the vocal minority sends a negative criticism.
- Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
- 05:58 I do enjoy helping people, but I feel I’m more intrinsically motivated than extrinsically. I do this because it’s what I do. I think the reason for this is partly out of self-preservation, because like I said, most people who appreciate my efforts are silent, so I often don’t know the full impact.
- 06:33 Ben: “I definitely feel like that’s a better way to be. I’ve been on that emotional roller coaster before where you either go for awhile without hearing something positive to reinforce the value of your work or you hear something negative that eats away at your desire to do it. For my personality, I’m very much a people-pleaser so if I’m doing something that isn’t pleasing to people, I feel less and less like doing that thing. I really like this idea of not allowing that kind of feedback to be your your driving purpose for doing it and instead letting it come from something inside—letting it just be what you do.”
- 07:42 Sean: I feel like there’s this conflict:
- On the one hand, it seems like you want to be in a place where you’re not solely motivated by other people saying, “You can do this! Good job!” Because if they don’t, then you have no fuel. How do you keep going?
- But on the other hand, he mentioned in the email that it reminds him of his younger self. So I’m guessing it’s along the lines of what we talked about in the recent branding episode on legacy (Related: e123 Personal Name vs Business Name: Branding Pros and Cons). Wanting that deeper sense of purpose and meaning and not just doing what you do for the money. I think that’s what Kevin is driving at here: the reasons for doing this that are other than monetary.
- 09:04 Ben: “Right, and I think there is a way that you can allow it to be about something bigger than yourself while still internalizing that reason in a way that allows you to be self-driven rather than driven by the voices outside of you.”
- We Forget the Positive
- 09:47 Sean: I mentioned that it’s easy to forget how many people you’re helping when the majority of people that actually appreciate your work are silent. We still do get encouragement, but a lot of times the people that speak up are the ones that have a criticism. Many people may be getting a lot out of what you say but they’re assuming you just know that. They’re silently take everything in and appreciating it on the inside.
- 10:19 It’s so easy to forget the positive. I honestly forget. I know that sounds bad, and I’m not saying that I forget that anyone has ever said I’ve helped them, but you’re pushing forward. It’s a new day. It’s like the joke about the married couple where one of them feels like the other isn’t expressing their feelings or love, and the other person says, “I told you I loved you when we got married, I’ll let you know if that changes.” You can’t do that! It doesn’t really work.
- 11:18 Along a similar line of thought, it’s really nice to have reminders from people on an ongoing basis that say what you’re doing is helpful. We really do just forget. We forget about the nice words and the mean words tend to stand out more. As people who are putting ourselves out there, we’re making ourselves vulnerable. You’re exposed to the world. Your thoughts and your work are out there. It’s easy to consume in anonymity, but when you put yourself out there with your name and face on something, it’s a vulnerable place to be.
- 12:12 You’re just holding your breath. Someone comes up and says something nice and you’re just thinking, “Oh God, thank you for not saying something mean!” You feel like you at least survived the Internet another day. But I think we really should hold on to the positive words.
- Make an “Encouragement” Label
- 12:28 Sean: When I got this email from Kevin, I think my mind was clouded by an overly full inbox and recent criticisms. How quickly we forget things: I totally forgot that I did this, but I made a label in my inbox called “Encouragement,” and it sounds silly (“Come on, do you really need that?”) but we really do need it. We really do just forget. We keep moving on and we forget how many people we’ve helped and the impact that our work is having. Sometimes you need that reminder.
- 13:13 Kevin said in his email that this might come off as bragging, but I don’t think the right type of listeners will take it that way. So in response to Kevin asking for messages or anecdotes from people, I wanted to share a few things people have written.
- 15:35 Ben: “That’s great stuff. That’s a really encouraging thought for me: the idea that there are people who are much younger than we are who are hearing this stuff and starting to get on board with these mindsets. I just think about what I could’ve accomplished had something like this existed in my world when I was 18 or 19 years old.”
- 16:08 Sean: The youngest Community member right now is 14.
- 16:26 Ben: “If only I had been 14 and already thinking this way. What we’re talking about here is really preserving the creativity that we wanted to express when we were children, combined with the freedom of being able to be responsible and support ourselves. It’s such a great approach that actually protects and doesn’t hurry us along to getting out into the workforce. I think back to when I was in high school, there was so much of a push to get the kind of courses to prepare for college so you can prepare for a job—and there’s no room left for something that you’re actually passionate about. Something where you can express yourself creatively and do stuff that you love and that you’re proud of. So I am very happy to hear that there are people who are much younger who are starting to hear this stuff and be influenced by it.”
- 18:04 Sean: Here’s another:
- 18:25 I love that, and then this last one here is my favorite:
- 18:38 Sean: That’s where the little bit of INTJ emotion escapes.
- 18:46 Ben: “Just a little, tiny bit.”
- 18:48 Sean: Like an imaginary tear. Seriously though, that really means a lot and the reason I was able to go back and read these is because I made that “Encouragement” folder. You can choose to listen to which ever messages you want, but these are the ones that matter. These are the people that are listening. These are the people that you’re helping. If you’re getting messages from people, save them.
- 19:15 For this reason, I don’t think it’s weird or pretentious or narcissistic to save encouragement that people send you. We need that.
- Kevin’s Reply Back
- 19:56 I replied to Kevin’s original email you heard me read. I told him my thoughts about being intrinsically motivated and he got back to me:
- 22:15 Ben: “What are your thoughts about the emotional rewards and how that plays into why you do what you do?”
- 22:29 Sean: I did think that last part that he said was really interesting. I forget that it’s not just what we’re talking about or what I’m saying or the topics that I bring, but actually how I’m doing it, and why am doing it, and how consistently I’m doing it, and the lifestyle I’ve built around being able to do it—all of that in and of itself is inspiring to some people.
- 22:58 Ben: “You know, for the practical things we talk about, it’s affirming to get positive feedback, but there are much deeper and more prominent parts of your identity that still come through even if you’re not communicating them directly. It comes through in the lifestyle you have and the kind of values you have. I can see where, as you do that, you feel more vulnerable because you’re putting more of your identity out there. So when you hear back from someone and they say that it’s not just the practical stuff that’s been really helpful but also that their whole way of looking at life is changing for the better because of the way you do what you do and how you share that with them; the affirmation of that bigger part of your identity has got be a huge emotional reward.”
- 24:35 Sean: I think I experienced one of those kind of emotional rewards just yesterday. After an insanely busy day with podcast recordings and shooting seanwes tv, I ended up staying up all night writing shownotes. That’s not the glamorous part you hear about, but the next day I woke up and I had a email from someone. One person said, “Thank you so much for doing this. It was exactly what I was struggling with. I’m stay-at-home mom with kids and I don’t have time to listen to the podcast but I always read the transcripts. It’s really helpful because that’s my way of consuming the content.” I try not to put all of my stock in getting something like that to motivate me, but that one message was enough for me that day.
- Internal Validation
- 26:13 Ben: “I wanted to be careful not to make this too practical a thing, but I also want to encourage people to be intrinsically motivated so that when they do get that external positive feedback, it really does benefit them more than if they’re only depending on that for their motivation. The most important question you’ve got to be able to answer for yourself completely on your own is, ‘Do I believe that what I’m sharing is valuable to the audience with which I’m sharing it?’ Because if you believe it’s valuable, then you can you can more easily pick through the voices that say otherwise and know that it wasn’t intended for them.
- 28:10 Ben: “Look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I’m showing up today and because I show up today, somebody out there—maybe just one person— might experience a big enough shift in their mindset that it will have a positive influence on the way that they experience life.’
- 28:51 Sean: Very good point. It may not even be that the thing you wrote resonated, but maybe just the fact that you showed up that day, and you showed up the next day, and the following day, and the day after that. Maybe someone wasn’t even tuning in or subscribing, but your consistency speaks to them even if the messages themselves don’t. Maybe someone doesn’t get something out of every single one of the daily seanwes tv videos, but the fact that I’m doing a daily video show could be inspiring.
- The Iceberg and the Buoy
- 33:32 Ben: “You know, I had this metaphor that I wanted to share.”
- 33:36 Sean: What’s that?
- 33:37 Ben: “I don’t know, it might be helpful. I was just thinking about how positive and negative feedback look to us. I’m pretending we’re on a ship. You’re on a ship in the ocean and you see a red buoy. The red buoy is sitting in the water and it has just a foot or two of its content below the water. It’s sticking out and it’s like, ‘Here I am! I’m a big, red buoy!'”
- 34:20 Sean: Ben’s hands are up—his palms are facing me and he’s swaying back and forth.
- 34:26 Ben: “It’s because of the ocean motion.”
- 34:29 Sean: He’s literally a buoy.
- 34:30 Ben: “Right, and then you’ve got an iceberg. There’s just the very tip of it showing, but there’s a mass of it below the water. I feel like those positive comments and the positive feelings people express about what you’re producing are like the iceberg. You really only see a little tiny bit of it, but that little tiny bit represents a huge portion of your audience that probably also feels the same way. It also kind of blends into the water. Unless you’re really close to it and the conditions are right, it’s really difficult to see. But the Big red buoy…”
- 35:25 Sean: The buoy is the negative feedback and iceberg is the positive feedback.
- 35:31 Ben: “That’s right.”
- 35:32 Sean: Because anyone with negative feedback isn’t holding it back. They’re not thinking, “Oh, one guy already said something negative, so I don’t have anything else to add,” they’ve got something to tell you! So you can pretty much believe that the amount of negative feedback or criticism you’re receiving is probably just about all of it. There might be just a little bit you’re not seeing or hearing but not much.
- 36:00 As far as the positive, for every little bit you get, there are 100 more that are silent. That’s a beautiful analogy, Ben. You just gave me inspiration for the featured image.
- 36:16 Ben: “We’re getting some feedback in the chat room about the pronunciation of ‘buoy.'”
- 36:23 Sean: Megan says, “Haha, I love the way Americans say ‘buoy.'” Paul says in the UK it sounds like “boy.”
- 36:31 Ben (Attempting English Accent): “Bowie?”
- 36:34 Sean (Attempting English Accent): Hey, do you see that “buoy” over there?
- 36:37 Ben: “The one with the red cap?”
- 36:39 Sean (Laughing): Yeah, that’s him.
01:44 Feedback from Kevin:
How about a single episode of the podcast where you just share stories or anecdotes of the instances where people made you feel like you are doing the right thing by teaching and leading the way? In short, the reminders people send you and makes you remember “WHY DO YOU DO THIS.”
I think it would be a great reminder to people why they’re making the necessary sacrifices of waking up early, cutting back on leisure time and exposing your ideas to the world and making yourself vulnerable to criticism. Apart from the monetary value of achieving one’s goals, and the joy of creating your own stuff, I think being able to help people out and contribute to the community is one of the big motivating factors why a person will choose to build his own brand – to make a difference so to speak.
Let me give you an example. I’m a freelance animator and character designer. When I first started in this profession, I was in it because it was fun. But even something fun will eventually turn to a chore if you don’t have a deeper reason. I started to feel unsatisfied and disconnected. Looking at my friends, who were doctors and engineers and seeing them making a tangible contribution to society, I felt unproductive and my job felt inconsequential.
I then spent several days trying to figure out why and who am I doing this for. To cut it short, I remember my younger self. Not to be too personal but I grew up in a not-so-fun household and watching cartoons and drawing is my way of escape, my way of coping with the stresses of life and it allowed me to pass the days until I was in the position to create my own happiness.
From there on, I always remembered that somewhere out there, I could make a little kid’s day more bearable by my work. It became my raison d’etre. (French: “reason for existence”)
So yeah, I think it would be great to hear the thoughts of someone who is helping out tons of people on a regular basis and how it has enriched your life in turn. I know it could sound pretentious and people may feel like you’re bragging or something but as someone who’s not afraid of challenging conventions and saying what needs to be said, I think you also know that the people you want to listen to the show will appreciate this kind of episode.
Thanks for the time and wish you all the best in your future projects.
If I rely solely on the encouragement of the silent, then I may not continue.
Remember that just by continuing to show up, you are inspiring people.
1. Most admirers are silent.
2. Don’t be one—express your gratitude.
It’s easy to consume in anonymity.
Putting your face on something makes you vulnerable.
But you must overcome that fear to make an impact.
“I’m not in your target audience age bracket.. but I want to tell you that it’s so refreshing to hear a person in their twenties embrace a [no-debt] mindset. It’s a great thing you’re doing to show people of your generation how things can be done without owing your life to a financial institution.”
“Thank you so much for all that you do! I just recently graduated with a bachelor’s in graphic design and illustration and listening to your podcast has been incredibly helpful to keep me going with my own design work. We didn’t really learn a lot of business in our program so it’s been incredibly helpful to hear real numbers and real stories from you guys. Thank you thank you.”
“After 90+ episodes, its strange to think of you as someone I don’t know. But that really is the case. Strange. Anyway, I’ve been listening to the podcast for a few months now and have done my best to spread your work and philosophy through my own design community and beyond. Its been extremely helpful and inspiring not only in my day job, but in my freelance pursuits as well.”
He goes on to include a forwarded email that he sent to someone right out of school asking advice: “…also, listen to [the seanwes podcast]. Listen to all of the episodes. I wish I would have started thinking like this years ago. Sean will help you realize your value, receive appropriate compensation and not compromise your work.”
“I’ve been struggling for years to put my things “out there”, and to start something. I just wanted to thank you and Ben for being human, transparent and really, REALLY inspiring. Your manner and the way you speak about everything makes me want to DO things. Right now. I’m sure you get tons of e-mails like this, but I just felt like I have to write you one more.”
“Because you were willing to show up today, you brought me an answer I needed to hear.”
If you’re someone that’s putting yourself out there, I know you feel vulnerable.
I know you feel vulnerable because I’m probably one of the most confident people I know and I feel vulnerable. I know we all feel this way.
I agree that we all must start with intrinsic motivations and must maintain it to have a healthy career. I went into animation and character design because that’s all I’m good at when I was younger. I start to get anxious if I don’t create stuff for several days.
I’m just thinking most people are already aware of the monetary rewards and perks you get from getting your dream job. What I’m curious to know is the emotional rewards/fulfillment you get from a dream job that helps others as well. This is the side that is less talked about, but the side that I think would also motivate people more than other rewards. How do people react when you send a newsletter? Do they show you works of their own that makes you swell with pride? Are there unlikely people that took your learn lettering course and surprised you with a good feedback or a cool story? How does it feel like waking up and finding your inbox full of (hopefully) positive reviews to your show?
Now that I think of it, it’s interesting to note that seeing your way of life has motivated me much more than the lessons themselves. Of course, the lessons and podcasts are really valuable. It just hit me that when I think of the seanwes brand, I think of your lifestyle – how you help people out on a daily basis, how you take sabbaticals and share your experience to other people, how you send out inspiring tweets – I want that too.
It gives me an idea of what I’m struggling for and it totally motivates me more because I see it already being done.
For some reason, having that visual picture of me living the same life pushes me because it almost feels tangible. I can see it happening.
Thanks again Sean for the work that you put in the podcast and your daily show. It makes the grind much more bearable.