Sibongile Mafu

Motivate me to misery

2013-08-08 08:58

Sibongile Mafu

When I was little, I wanted to be a doctor. I then realised it required a lot of work and studying and good marks, and my focus shifted to wanting to be a "motivational speaker". This was an actual job, where people made millions and spread the word of how the rest of us could be exactly like them.

From speaking, to writing about what they speak about and doing that 10 000 times all over the world seemed like the perfect job. People send you invitations to places to make them feel better about themselves. You are paid to show up and inspire, and all it involves is standing in front of a group of people desperate for answers and guidance. I then grew up and realised what a big fat con it is.

From bestselling books with energetic titles like Uplifting Words For Down Days to Don’t Tie Yourself Up In 'Nots', to exclusive seminars aimed at empowering you to make your life as awesome as the motivator’s, many have made a great life from your wretched one, because right now, as you are, you just aren’t good enough.

Some would say the people who attend these motivational talks and seek out motivational material aren’t all down and out. Many lead fairly successful lives, according to the world’s definition of success, and just need that extra boost to get them to a point where they can reach even more success. It’s the human condition. The need to always want to be affirmed, reassured and encouraged, so you don’t feel like you’re a complete failure, just a partial one.

There are many reasons why professional inspirers irk me; with the main one being that it really is all about them, not you. They seek to bolster their own manufactured self-esteem, travelling the world sharing how incredible they are and how inadequate you are. I just ain't buying what they’re selling and it's incredibly depressing to me just how many people are. I may need to buy a motivational book after writing this (The vicious cycle.)

Linear definitions of success fail to acknowledge that the word "success" means different things to different people, and selling one kind of dream shouldn’t be this profitable. But it is, and it's problematic.

It is quite possible to motivate someone to the point of misery.

It can be argued that movies do the same. Motivational speakers are like fictional characters, coining it by selling us illusions and fantasy worlds and creative book titles, like Harry Potter. Only this time these are real people who are focused on getting you to discover the greatness within, according to them.

I’m appalled at the arrogance that comes with assuming that blanket theories will solve your downtrodden life, failing to account for how nuanced people are. 

"Motivate young people" is also becoming a favourite. Get them when they’re young, hey? Go from school to school spreading the gospel of greatness, encouraging learners to make the most out of their lives – a noble endeavour, right? No one should criticise that - if it was that simple.

It doesn’t take a hop, skip and a high-five to get us all on the straight and narrow path to a living our best lives. And boy is that path narrow. No wiggle room to explore our own definitions of the best life for us.

There is an incredible amount of privilege that allows you to pursue these kinds of paths, privilege to fail and pick yourself up, try again and "succeed". The step-by -step guide on How To Be Happy fails to add a chapter on privilege.

Now go on, live your lives. Know that you are enough.

I should write a book.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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