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Intelligent but… demotivated

There was a knock at my door. It was revision season for first-year exams, and I was at my desk leafing through my notes and worked examples.
I opened the door to find Mel standing there. “Do you have a moment?” he asked. He came in, settling down into a comfy chair. He looked worried. Over a cup of tea, he unfolded his situation.

Mel was one of the brightest guys I knew – and given that this was in Trinity College, Cambridge, this says quite a lot. Here he was, sharing with me his troubles about how he just couldn’t do the work for his exams, he couldn’t find his motivation for it at all.

This was obviously frustrating for Mel. He knew he could do it, he knew he could shine – and shine brightly, dammit – but he simply couldn’t be arsed.

Time and time again, intelligent folks like Mel hit this seemingly unscalable wall. The wall of “yes, I can do it, but no, I’m not bothered enough to work for it”.

Some might say it’s a fear of failure, and this can be true.

Some might say it’s a fear of success, and this can be true.

Some might say it’s something else, and this can be true too.

What you can be sure of is that there’s an emotional disengagement from the task at hand. There’s a lack of drive. And where there’s a lack of drive, you can be sure that emotions are involved somehow, whether on the surface or hidden deeper. Looking at it rationally just won’t get to the heart of it.

Mel and I chatted around his woes, exploring how he thought and, more importantly, how he felt about it.

Then we stumbled on his hidden drive: wanting to know for sure that he could really perform, really shine – nay, outshine – his fellow students.

I gave him a choice: don’t bother working, and you’ll never know if you could have done it. Or work your socks off, and you’ll know for sure.

Drive identified, made conscious, and felt, Mel made his decision. He left my room somewhat more bouncily than he’d arrived.

Time passed, revision was done, exams were taken.

The result? He’d worked as hard as he could. He aced his exams. He was happy.

Most importantly, he’d listened to his emotions and found his drive, acted upon it, and, yes, outshone the other guys.

What motivates you when you hit the wall?

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