How can I stay motivated without concrete, guaranteed benifits?
August 17, 2013 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I used to think that I was lazy, but now I find that I can be motivated, dedicated and extremely efficient...but only when there are concrete and guaranteed benifits to my actions. Right now, I want to expand my portfolio and gain some new skills for the sake of increasing my employability and maybe getting a different job. But since this goal is far-off and not guaranteed, I'm having trouble sticking to it and I've been getting nowhere. Is there a way to operate that allows my actions to have short term and guaranteed benefits?

I have skills in illustration and print design (although I hate it) and am interested in creating more illustration portfolio pieces and expanding my knowlege of front-end web design.

In regards to the issue with motivation, I'm not sure where to begin. To be honest, the only thing that honestly and easily motivates me is the promise of money. I've tried doing things for the sake of my own intellectual interests as well as for charity, but I can't help but feel as though I'm wasting my time or short-changing myself if I'm not doing something that benefits me in a concrete, tangible way. Future promises and fuzzy warm feelings get me nowhere. It's not desirable, but it's the way things have been going.

I feel like there are two ways to deal with this: find a way to work (concrete benefit/money) and learn at the same time, or find a way to want to do things even when I know I won't be rewarded for them.

Ideally, I'd like to be in a situation where I could work and learn at the same time. I've done some freelance jobs and they were fun and extremely enjoyable but difficult to find. I'm going to keep looking, but this way is not always sustainable. Additionally, since I'm working for another person, I can't always control what I'll be doing, which hinders directed learning. I was entertaining the thought of starting my own business, but then I run into the problem of uncertainty again. I have no guarantee of finding customers or of making a decent amount of money. But if I could be successful, this would be the thing that I'd want most.

Since I do a lot of "art," I feel like people will want to say that I should be doing what I do out of love, and that if I really care about money, I should get into a different field. The thing is that I don't really enjoy just making money or JUST making art. I enjoy doing artistic things for money.

Just having one by itself is a drain. I feel greedy. Right now I don't have my own business and the job I have right now is not enough to push me forward. I should be happy to study in my spare time, however, I can't stay motivated, focused or optimistic since I don't feel I'll ever get anything out of it.

posted by jumelle to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Very few of us are naturally self-motivated. Some structure helps. There's a fair amount of research that shows if you externalize your goals by
- making them specific
- announcing them publicly
- and putting your money where you mouth is (you pay out a cash penalty if you don't do what you committed to)
then you greatly increase your chances of reaching them.

There're lots of tools on the web to help with that. StikK seems pretty good.
posted by mono blanco at 2:06 PM on August 17, 2013

Find a real world dream job opening.

Write down the dream portfolio that would get you that job.

Create every one of those pieces.

Each such piece will directly move you forward towards serious money and satisfaction.

You are being paid for the portfolio: it is your very first assignment at your dream job.
posted by shivohum at 2:11 PM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Would that people would consistently pay me for structured play. That isn't really how it works. Unless you're super lucky, you generally have to pay to learn (often in time and money) and not the other way around. Particularly in a field as competitive as the arts.

As an artist, you can make your own work and not be guaranteed to sell it, or you can work as a contract/employee/commissioned artist and you won't get the "directed learning" that you want most of the time - but you will get paid. Most artists I know do some combination of all of the above. To do freelance work, you need contacts and you need a portfolio. If you don't have enough to get clients, you'll need to build one and network your ass off. And working for yourself as a freelance artist is always going to be somewhat hit and miss; that's a big reason a lot of artists like to find steady employment as an educator/designer/animator/museum worker/etc.

It's not that it's a moral judgment that artists should only make art out of love, it's that it's a pretty saturated field that's often undervalued and it's hard to make a sustainable living at it.
posted by vegartanipla at 2:15 PM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have similar problems. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I find motivation in having paid for something. For example, if I pay for a class, that motivates me to attend the class.

You could use this to pay for some sort of class during which you could work on your portfolio.

Another good motivator is social commitments. Telling a friend I'll work out with them Saturday morning and knowing that they'll be disappointed if I don't show pretty much guarantees that I'll be up at a horrendous hour.

You could find an art buddy to work with. You don't have to actually do work with each other, just show up in the same place at the same time to work on separate projects.

Finally, I want to point out that there is no “should.” You aren't “happy to study in [your] spare time,” and that's unlikely to change, so don't think you should be any way you aren't. It sounds like you're already coming to terms with this, but it's one of those insidious things that most of us (me) need reminders about from time to time.
posted by Renegade Duck at 2:58 PM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I knew a guy who used to charge a few bucks (about $15 or so, though this was about 30 years ago) for illustrations of RPG characters. I knew another guy who did the same for painting figurines. They were both gamers and it was casual income. Neither made any attempt to develop it into a serious business. I felt like they could have easily done so by attending cons periodically, developing a reputation, bringing some work with them to sell and taking orders for more custom work.

What kind of illustrations do you do? Do you have any hobbies? Is there any way you could use a hobby as a pathway to developing a portfolio and/or side income? Is there any way you could expand that toe-hold into a serious side business? And so on and so forth, having each next step grow organically out of the last?
posted by Michele in California at 3:49 PM on August 17, 2013

MeMail me whenever you've mastered a new skill or added a new section of work to your portfolio and I will MeMail you back the words "ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!"
posted by Jacqueline at 6:21 PM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


You have to keep trying. Determination and grit are what get you through. It's 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
posted by KRS at 6:36 AM on August 19, 2013

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