(Excerpted from my book Act Three: Create the life you want)
All of us are motivated by different things. I may be motivated by something that holds absolutely no interest to you; you may be driven by something that I never think about. In order to live the life you want, it is important to both 1) recognize what motivates you and 2) determine how strong that motivation is. Without strong motivation, it’s hard to push yourself to do what needs to be done on the path to your third act.
Imagine that you decide to push a heavy boulder up a hill. You want to do it because you think it will look much prettier at the top of the hill. As you start to push the boulder, you feel engaged in the project and quite excited. And you push really hard to make that boulder move forward and up, inch by inch. But as soon as you stop pushing, it rolls back down the hill little bit. Eventually you get tired and start thinking, Why am I pushing this heavy boulder up the hill? It’s harder than I thought. In fact, I really don’t care whether this stupid boulder is at the top of the hill! It looks just fine right where it is. And so you give up.
Clearly, your motivation—that the boulder would look pretty at the top of the hill—was far too weak. Your drive to reach your goal was outweighed by the difficulty of the task at hand. And when motivation is too weak, it is very easy to give up. If, instead, you were moving the boulder to the top of the hill to be rolled down upon charging armies that were about to wipe out your village, your motivation would be stronger—it would be a matter of life and death. You would push with all your strength for as long as it took until the bolder was pushed to the top of the hill.
Strong motivation can overcome the difficulty of almost any task.
Imagining something different for the third act of your life—and then actually accomplishing it—is not an easy task: it’s the equivalent of pushing that heavy boulder up a hill. It takes hard work and constant pushing to sustain your forward momentum. But if you don’t feel strongly motivated to achieve your third-act goal, it’s quite likely you will give up when change gets difficult or uncomfortable—and it will. Well, really, my life seems just fine as it is, you’ll tell yourself.
Here’s how one woman describes being stuck with the status quo:
I feel smart, well read, and interesting (most of the time). I think I could do anything, but I just don't know what the price will be, so I allow predictability and complacency to rule. Maybe I'm too risk-averse to start over, or maybe I will wait till when my kids are settled, perhaps married. Then, I will feel free to reach for something new. Until then, I am not unhappy, just always aware that I'm sacrificing some greater potential.
See how easily we can get caught in the trap of saying, “I’ll figure this out later”? We do this when our motivation is not strong enough to override our complacency.
So what kinds of motivation have that power? To keep you inspired and moving, you have to make sure that your motivation is 100 percent authentic. As you identify the specific motivations that drive you, you must dig deep and look honestly at yourself.
Aspiring to a motivation that you don’t really have will only lead you toward failure and frustration. For example, some people are motivated very strongly to make a difference in the world. You may think, “That’s a worthy motivation—I should be motivated by that, too.” but in reality, you aren’t. Again, in order for this to be effective, you must be truthful to yourself.
The sustainability of your motivation is important, too. Many women in my survey answered that sometimes they feel the urge to change and other times they don’t. We all know that feeling. When a friend gets an incredible new job, you begin to examine your own life and may get a sudden burst of ambition, but then it wavers. If you struggle with constantly wavering levels of motivation, it’s critical that you follow put yourself on a set plan. When your motivation is lagging, you’ll be able to use the plan to keep your forward momentum going.