Ah, that pesky motivation

Such a fleeting thing, this motivation. And yet, so very very critical. The graphic above is so fabulously scientific with those big big words that may or may not make sense in your daily life. Hygiene? Really? I’m motivate by whether I can take a shower or not? Ok, I know that’s not the real translation, but that’s what popped into my wee little brain when I read it.

And self-actualization? Lordy – big words that say  “hey, I motivate myself, thank you very much”

What I do get from that chart is just how abstract the whole thing is. And it can change daily..heck, even hourly, right? For sure it changes as you age.

What has me thinking about it is Alex and his utter and complete apathy towards school & learning in general. I was at my wits end with him again last week and his grades dipped yet AGAIN and just a week before finals no less. Basically he needs to rock his tests over the next three days in ways he has NEVER shown before in order to prevent failing grades in 3 of his 5 classes.

He is currently NOT responding to this method of motivation:

We’ve removed all the fun extras in his life AND postponed his driving lessons/permit until he reaches a specific GPA.

Not working.

So I asked him last week – does he have ANY idea what is up? My mom had justifiably suggested it could be a result of the concussion he sustained in October. EXCEPT….he’s been this way since 5th grade quite honestly. It just seems to get worse every year. So it’s got to be something internal for him.

The trouble is, at 15 the whole “self-actualization” concept is REALLY foreign unless they are blessed to be born with some intrinsically deep passion for a particular field of study.

So when all the adults around him are stressing the importance of good grades to allow him to get into college – four more years of hated school all the while floundering around not having a damn clue what he wants to do – his mind thinks – why bother? Money and career are too abstract to him. That’s still all out there in that nebulous “future” thing.

This is his current opinion on “motivation”:

It’s not real. There are no obvious goal posts as there are in football. There is no home plate to step on like in baseball, no visible finish line to cross with a medal handed to you at the end.

He’s outgrown the more childish motivators – rewards of money or video games or anything like that. But he hasn’t been able to figure out what the next step is. I think he has a DESIRE to figure it out, that his inability thus far TO feel any passion for any field of study or possible career is frustrating him as more of his peers do start to figure it out. And I do know that if he is overwhelmed, he shuts down.

I know I want him to have what I have – a job/career that not only provides the bottom half of that pyramid – you know, money so I can buy soap to take daily showers (!) but it also provides me the warm fuzzies at the top half too.

I guess that is my new motivation – to help him find his. Because I really really don’t want him to end up like this:

13 thoughts on “Ah, that pesky motivation

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  1. Have you tried talking to Alex about his future in more generic terms? Instead of focusing on what college, what major, what career, focus on what sort of (realistic) lifestyle he’d like to maintain. Find out where he’d like to live, if he’d like to travel, how often he’d like to go out (movies, concerts, dinner, etc.), what sort of material possessions he’d want. This should give you a good idea of what sort of income he’d need to maintain his lifestyle. From here you can explain how college graduates earn, on average, a $1,000,000 more over their lifetime. He doesn’t need to know what college he wants to attend yet or even what he’d like to major in. But he’s going to need to understand what sort of grades are needed to get into college.

    This conversation may also show you if he has unrealistic expectations about how he gets the life he wants. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers at this age. I hope this helps.


  2. We went through this with my BoyChild…he didn’t really “find himself” until he was 25 and he had been hungry and almost homeless in his young life…it also helped that he met a lovely young lady who loved him and who he loved…wedding in August..I wish you luck and fortitude…


  3. I have a 15 year old son as well, named Alex… We get a lot of eye rolling and the occasional grade warning but thankfully have been able to pull him out when he begins to dip. I do not know your standard of living but we are working class. Sometimes bills are late and I know he sees this. I can sense strongly he does not want to struggle as his parents do.

    Personally I would help get him a job. If he is like most kids he will need to experience it to understand it. A job at McDonalds (or fill-in-the-blank) will make the connection that work=money. He will also be exposed to peers who have experience managing their paychecks, since kids value peer opinion so much. He will hear others complain about their small paychecks. And he will learn quickly that he will not want to be in the position of some of the adults who work in those jobs, struggling to make ends meet. He will want better for himself.

    Throw him in the pool. It sounds like you sense he is ready to swim yet simply doesn’t know how.


  4. Oh my. If he fails he doesn’t play football/sports, right? And, I’d start looking into vocational schools…doesn’t sound like college is his thing. Good luck, girl. Good luck!


  5. We’ve been reading Daniel Pink’s book, Drive which focuses on motivation. I think it might give you some things to think about as you and Alex work through this. It’s an easy read with some really provocative ideas about what we’re doing wrong in the area of “motivating” both workers and students.


  6. My brother (now 50) was like this in HS. It didn’t help that his big sister (me) was super motivated and good student. I think he spent a lot of energy being “not Sue”. My mother basically sat beside him stubbornly until he graduated High school. He floundered for a couple of years, then went to Antioch College, which gave him flexiblity. It wasn’t until mid-20s that he found a career he liked, and he now flourishes as a realtor and an active community member. He “got there” but it took him longer and he took a different route. Drove my parents nuts along the way, but then they got to see him succeed.


  7. I’m in that place of lacking all motivation for school (college). I must say that the abstract idea of being poor in the future isn’t much of a motivation. I actually considered just dropping out and becoming a hobo at one point. It’s not that I’m completely unmotivated though. I’ve been researching and discussing politics and philosophy in my free time… I just know that those aren’t valid career moves, and would leave me just as jobless (as dropping out) but with even more debt.


  8. Maybe he is struggling in school because of a learning challenge? I know that my grades always spilled every year around the same time because I got frustrated and tiered of having to work harder than everyone else in order to just get decent marks. Its can be very difficult for a child if they a sinking in class constantly to stay motivated to do well all year long. Maybe have him tested? The school should be able to provide you with the resources needed to get him tested. Sometimes its just easier for a child if they can identify what is wrong with them. And there are plenty of cool tricks that can help him, with out identifying him as having learning difficulties, like changes in his organization, extra tutoring, different study methods. It takes time, but the reward of learning how to live with a learning issue makes life a lot easier for the individual.

    If your worried about your son being identified as being learning disabled, or harmed by that, then I want you to know that I personally have never really met any serious resistance about it. I never felt treated differently. I received the help that I needed to make learning a little less challenging, and am now a Social Worker for the government. I did very well in high school, and in University passing with a 4.1 GPA.


    1. Thanks Kate – no learning challenges. That was covered some time ago 🙂 No – pure, unadulterated laziness which is, shockingly, fairly common in boys his age. Lacking in a real passion for an area of study, and surrounded by distractions of all kinds, boys do this. We took him to a college fair a couple of weeks ago that at least showed him some places he *could* go if he works even just little harder. He’s doing marginally better and has pretty lofty goals for the classes he wants to take in 11th grade. Just needed to up the involvement in keeping him organized & assigning proper priority to tasks.


  9. College visits, are real world. They really help, especially before senior year.
    Boys & girls, as you know very well! Like; sports, action, movement & adventures. Both, boys & girls; gain respect, self confidence & recognition from sports or other physical activity. Boys, are strong & have energy to burn. So studying can sometimes be boring & slow, with no immediate reward.
    I played sports & am dyslexic. Studying was hard. I got B’s in HS & in College, A’s & B’s. GPA 3.2, Dean’s List, last 2 years.
    Many years after college, I learned about memory techniques (MT’s).
    I studied with Harry Lorayne, in NYC. He is the famous author of “The Memory Book”, along with former NBA star, Jerry Lucus.
    You can search for MT teachers, on the internet & YouTube. You can also see the inspiring USA & World Memory Championships!
    Using MT’s, I doubled both my salary & pension!
    MT’s have been used all throughout history. Tony Buzan, Dr. Bruno Furst, Smonides, Cicero, Peter of Ravenna, etc. All the MT’s are the same, using the phonetic alphabet & 100 peg words, etc. To make learning visual.
    If your son, can get interested in MT’s???
    Here are the many benefits.
    His studies will be creative & fun, not a chore or pressure filled. He will more easily get high grades. He will be considered “very smart”; by his parents, relatives, peers, teachers & college admissions staff. Best of all, his studying time, will be 1/2 the time spent by other students & with better results. This will give him more time for sports & adventures, while still getting high grades.
    I wish I knew about MT’s when I was in school.
    Good Luck!


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