What’s My Motivation, Again?


In 7th grade, I cried in front of my football coach, because I wanted to quit the team. How pathetic I must have looked. Surprisingly, though he was normally very strict on us, Remember The Titans style, he showed pity on me and listened to my grievances. I don’t even remember what I said. I don’t even remember how he responded. But I remember how miserable I felt, and I wanted out.

Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t have a precocious wisdom to discern the root of the problem. All I knew was that football was hard and I sucked at it.  Somethings never change.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized the only reason I’d joined the team in the first place was to please my father, who adored football more than Robert De Nero’s character in Silver Linings Playbook. I think you get the picture. I’d hope playing football would somehow bring me closer to him. Well, it failed and I ended up stuck in something I wasn’t enjoying.

But, hey, at least I stuck it out for the year.  Even got a few tackles.

I can’t help but see a correlation when I think about relationships (and work). What’s my motivation when things get tough? Why even try to work things out?

Our generation is adept at developing easy cop-outs to any sort of obligation. We treat our romantic relationships, and, sometimes, our friendships, like contract-free cell phone plans and jump ship at the first sign of trouble.

We’ve even made cute little catch phrases so we don’t have to actually think about it and come up with something more genuine.

It’s not you, it’s me.

I don’t want to hold you back.

We’re too alike.

The list goes on and on. No, literally. There’s a list. Just Google “break up lines” and you’ll see it. Take your pick. We have plenty to choose from next time we plan to bail out.

I wanted to quit that football team back then because I lacked a genuine reason to be there. I didn’t enjoy football like my peers. I had no drive. I might as well have told the coach “it’s not you, or the team, it’s me. I don’t want to hold you guys back.”

You see, no matter what anyone tells you, we humans are selfish creatures. Don’t get it twisted. I don’t mean we are evil or anything; I’m just saying that we usually won’t do anything unless we see value in it. Unless it pleases us.

The underlying problem these troubled couples face is not what they say in these silly breakup lines. No, the issue is that one, or both, of the parties no longer sees value in the relationship. What’s the point of continuing if you aren’t motivated? It’s much easier to spout off some quick line, instead of discussing the true conflict, which takes time.

And I get it. Breakup discussions are the worst. You know nothing you say will make it better, but, at the same time, you want to feel some sense of closure.

But if you get that closure, you’ll come to realize that someone just wasn’t motivated. If they were, you might still be together.

Michael Jordan was (I’m going to say “arguably” to keep the peace) the best basketball player of all-time because he was motivated. He practiced day and night to perfect his game. If he didn’t find value in the sport, he would have played more like Pau Gasol did last season, like he’d just woken up from a siesta on the bench.

I both despise and admire Tywin Lannister (not to be confused with his fan-favorite son, Tyrion) from Game of Thrones. His singular motivation in life is to preserve his family name, even if he cares nothing for his actual family members’ well-being. He will do anything and everything to fulfill that purpose, even if it means cutting down beloved characters (we will never forget you!) and marrying family members off for the sake of title and land.

I admire this in Tywin, because he will never do anything contrary to his goal. He does what he wants, which is to honor his family, and I can’t hate on that.  He is the true king, and we all know it.

In the same way, if we really cherish our relationships then we’ll do what’s necessary to make it work. Long-distance, relocation, new jobs, whatever the case. Nothing will stop us from our goal of being together, just as MJ and Tywin removed all obstacles from theirs. Ok, not just like Tywin. Can’t have you slicing anyone’s throat.

These petty excuses become ways to work things out:

It’s not you, it’s me, but, please, be patient with me as I work out my own issues.

I don’t want to hold you back, but being with you inspires me to be more ambitious.

We’re too alike, but how about we try something new together?

None of those breakup lines cut it, at any rate. Both of you knew it was just an excuse. It’s better to admit you just don’t care anymore and be done with it. If you treasured the relationship then you would try to make it work.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

So, ask yourself. What’s your motivation? What’s in it for you? Like the classic axiom says “If it makes you happy, do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.” That includes relationships. And I’m not that impulsive; I don’t mean if you get upset or angry with your partner one day to drop them then and there. I mean, if you are unhappy the majority of the time, then it simply isn’t working.

I’ll leave with you the best breakup line I’ve ever heard. Hopefully, I’ll never get to use it, but, if I do, I imagine myself grinning triumphantly and walking off into the sunset as I say it:

“I get so emotional when you’re not around…That emotion is called happiness.”

No coming back from that one. TC Mark

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