Stop Motivation-Shaming People During the Pandemic

It was just the smugness of the whole thing. The overachieving, Type A, bumper sticker motivational quote that makes up a third of all tweets.

"If you don’t come out of this quarantine with either: 1) a new skill 2) starting what you’ve been putting off like a new business 3) more knowledge, you didn’t ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline."

This is from some guy who looks like he's still upwind of 30, but says in his bio that he uses Twitter to share business lessons and life lessons.

You know what I did when I started my business? I shut my mouth and wrote three books in three years. And then I wrote two more. And still helped my clients. So I'm not taking business or life lessons from someone trying to be the Shia LaBeouf "Just do it!" pump-up video.

I'm rather annoyed by all these all-or-nothing accomplishment dabblers who think the only way to get people to improve themselves is to make them feel like failures.

"If you don't sacrifice for what you want, what you want becomes the sacrifice." "Don't limit your challenges. Challenge your limits." "What comes easy won't last. What lasts won't come easy."

Or my favorite: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life," said Steve Jobs, whose company employs 47,000 people.

It wouldn't be so bad if this was limited to just a few people who were actually good at this, with a proven track record of actually helping people, and had written books and given seminars.

Instead, we're being shouted at by every pep-talk pinhead with an iPhone and a FitBit. They share their exercise results online. They share pictures of their healthier-than-thou food online. They share misspelled quotes from their "366 Arrogant Motivational Quotes for 2020" calendar.

They often mix up "then" and "than" or "your" and "you're," but I don't tweet pictures of a stack of books and say, "Bro, do you even read, bro? Bro, how much do you read? Check out my Goodreads stats, bro!"

I'm not motivated to go do more because some guy I never met Twitter-shouted — twouted? — at me. I don't lie in bed each morning, scrolling through my Twitter feed, searching for a reason to get up and shower. I don't go for a walk because some stranger tweeted, "If you don't like where you are, 'than' move. You're not a tree."

Yes, and you're not a 7th grade English essay, but here we are.

Having said all that, is it a good idea to use this shutdown time to our advantage? You bet.

Are there plenty of ways for us to do that for little or no money? Absolutely.

There are Broadway musicals, plays at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, and other famous theater companies all streaming their performances online. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of symphony orchestras and museums all giving free concerts and tours. You can watch videos and experience music and art that you normally could only see in person.*

There are over 500 Ivy League courses you can take online for free. They're all self-paced and you've got access to some of the greatest minds and knowledge in our higher educational system. There are classes in history, poetry, philosophy, computer science, biochemistry, business, and finance you can study at your own pace.

Do you miss traveling? You can take virtual train trips in some of the most beautiful parts of the world or see different cultural sites around the world.

But for many of us, that's not how this pandemic is working. We're sick, or a loved one is sick or has died. We're working a full-time job, or we're one of the 10 million people now out of work, and we're wondering if we're going to be able to eat. We're taking care of two or three kids who are suddenly not in school, and we're realizing teachers are wildly underpaid. We're being crushed by wave after wave of panic attacks, wondering if we're going to survive this (you are) or if our country will survive (it will).

The last thing we need is some self-help scold telling us that we don't lack time, we lack motivation.

If you need these quotes to keep you working out or learning something new, that's fine. If you need clever aphorisms that overuse JFK's favorite speech-making device to make you learn new skills or grow your business, I won't stand in your way; more power to you.

But I just don't need some motivational meathead telling me I'm an absolute failure if I decide to devote my attention to my family or my mental health and take the first real break I've had in years.

Because as Indiana-born author, Kurt Vonnegut, said, "Listen: We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different!"

And that's all the motivation I need.

* Note: If you're reading this in a newspaper, if you go to my blog at, there are several links that will take you to many of these different tours, shows, and classes.

Photo credit: Original Video by LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner (YouTube, Creative Commons License)

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