Motivation vs. Self-Deprecation

We writers have a curious inclination to observe wrestling matches, and we often cheer for the safer bet: Self-Deprecation, the mighty warrior, the one who relentlessly and with unquenchable enthusiasm throws punches, kicks, and body-slams of criticism and self-doubt. Self-deprecation has always, at least while we’ve been watching, won in the ring against the underdog, the endearing but all-too-often underwhelming Motivation, who attempts to defeat her opponent with every move she knows. Often, Motivation simply isn’t swift or clever enough. Self-Deprecation has greater practice and a mightier will. She uses every element to her advantage: exhaustion, distraction, uncertainty, feelings of inferiority. She is as resourceful as she is cunning. Motivation? She’s more of an open book, and Self-Deprecation knows she can anticipate her every move.

The trouble with Motivation, poor dear, is that she doesn’t have very much support. Self-Deprecation’s got a multi-billion dollar deal complete with coaches, lawyers, gurus, and other slithery types willing to help her out and benefit from her success. Motivation only has herself, her own experience, her own morsels of bravery. She stands alone. She works out alone. She has to find her own excuses to stay in the game, and she does–but she is summarily defeated every time.

Motivation’s secret, though, is what Self-Deprecation cannot get at. Motivation’s secret lies far beneath what Self-Deprecation can see or touch. Motivation’s secret is, in fact, untouchable. It is a source of power that could destroy Self-Deprecation in an instant if discovered and wielded properly. But Motivation can go years without discovering her own secret–that’s how well hidden her secret is. She will, by her nature, get up again and again for the fight, but without knowledge of her secret? She will lose.

We writers observe these wrestling matches with interest, curiosity, and perhaps desperation. We want to know why Self-Deprecation wins when faced with Motivation. Motivation’s trying, right? She’s not a slacker. She shows up. She tries. And then we imagine that if we understand why Self-Deprecation is so superior to Motivation, we’ll be able to whisper some hints into Motivation’s ear and get her pumped up. But Self-Deprecation’s strength has no lasting appeal for Motivation. She could try beating herself into submission, but she’d still never be as good at that as Self-Deprecation. Imitating Self-Deprecation has been and always be an exercise in futility for Motivation, because Self-Deprecation knows and utilizes her methods better than Motivation ever could.

But when Motivation seeks her secret, she grows in strength and agility. And suddenly she finds herself dodging Self-Deprecation’s blows, to the surprise of both of them (and the dismay of the latter). And as she dodges, she’s able to concentrate on her search for what dwells within her. She dances with Self-Deprecation as in Aikido, emptying the space where her opponent seeks to strike. The murmurs of her secret rise, giving her new energy, and meanwhile her frustrated opponent grows sloppy in her efforts, tiring.

We notice this shift, and we lean forward with interest. Suddenly the match seems fair. Suddenly it seems like Motivation might have a chance. And we are inclined to wonder: what is her secret, anyway?

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