Monday, August 10, 2009

Follow Your Dream

I've been watching some presentation videos on from their yearly conferences and as I scientist, I've found them very inspiring. There was a demonstration of a cheap water filter that could be deployed across the entire globe and seriously reduce infectious diseases that billions of humans are currently in danger of. Deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie talks about music and listening. I watched a video of Elaine Morgan talking about the major differences between humans and other great apes. She makes a compelling argument for humans evolving from a species of apes that lived in water.

But most of all I appreciated this talk about living a passionate life. The speaker tells a story of a Yugoslavian Jew who escaped Nazi Germany and at every stage in his life found the resources to make a profound impact on the region he was living in. After watching these videos, I found myself very motivated to make an impact on the world at large. I believe that in several decades, I too could present something of value, and if I don't do that, then perhaps I'm not living up to my potential. But then I wondered if my motivation was misplaced. Michael Pritchard worked on a water filter because he was dismayed by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, not because he wanted to "make an impact on the world".

I rethought all the presentations, trying to find the common thread. What did these these people have in common that helped them accomplish their dreams? They all have some raw talent, but primarily I got the sense they were strongly motivated, and their motivation was directly for the the task they wanted to accomplish. Evelyn Glennie wanted to be a musician even though she is deaf. Through this she has become inspiring, but her motivation wasn't to be an inspiration.

Rather, I see these characteristics making up their stories:
  • Be motivated by the dream itself, not the result of the dream
  • Make plans on the scale of decades but don't follow them exactly
  • Don't ever give up when facing opposition
All of these people are somewhat talented and have a clear wealth of motivation. There weren't any presenters who were totally brilliant but only somewhat motivated. Success is about persistence. Each person had enough motivation to focus on something that would take years or decades accomplish. They all got discouraged and did not quit. When something stood in their way, they changed their plans to get around that obstacle. This leave us with two questions to answer:

What things do I care about?

How can I increase my motivation?

No two people have the same answers for these questions, and I believe you can only find these answers through introspection. In general though, people are motivated by positive feedback, concrete objectives, and small, discrete tasks. Things get hard when there aren't any positive results, the objective isn't clear, and the tasks can't be easily divided into portions.

This suggests that successful people are intrinsically optimists with a healthy dose of realism. They need to believe things will work out even when there's no feedback suggesting that while remaining grounded enough to change plans to get around adversity. Too much optimism and you'll stubbornly try the same thing and fail. Too little optimism and you'll just quit.

The good news is that this provides a metric for determining what you need to change to achieve your dreams. If you try things and then quit, then you need to become more optimistic. If you keep trying the same thing and it doesn't work, you need a healthy dose of reality to see why your original plan didn't work and how to revise it. If you try different things and they don't work, expand the realm of your search. But don't ever give up on the things that truly matter to you.

1 comment:

Raelifin said...

Hey Ted, I just wanted to say thank you for writing this blog. You share many of the same interests as I do, and I find your level-headed insights into life very informative.

I was already a long-time watcher of TED, but this is exactly the sort of thing which I'd be interested in discovering.