Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Do Your Own Thing: The Battle of Internal vs External Motivation

It was a couple months before Christmas. I was working with an agency managing two-dozen clients while personally making a fraction of the value I was bringing in. I loved the people I worked with, and I loved working hard. But I felt stuck.

You know the story: I was bringing in lots of value for my agency. But I started to think I could do this on my own. I was getting results, but seemed to be going nowhere. I didn’t love the lack of growth working for someone else gave me. I didn’t like the freedom I wasn’t giving myself. I didn’t like working for someone else and not pursuing my own thing. Mostly, I was ashamed that I was standing still, not pursuing what I truly wanted.

I wanted to work for myself. To have my own business, to answer to myself, and gauge feedback from the people I respect. To call my own shots, and to choose my own direction. To work with the clients I’m excited to report to. To make changes that I would be proud to put into a detailed case-study. To focus on the work, and not my place in it. But for some reason, I was waiting for something – something that I felt I was missing, approval.

I wanted to focus on the work, and not my place in it. 

This was all rolling through my mind on my drive home when I heard my phone chirp. A new direct message, like the future had heard my thoughts and decided to pull me via Twitter.

“Hey! I’ve got a friend who is looking for help with a domain migration, you interested?” 

It’s small, but I’ll take it. Emails were exchanged; I got the client, and started working with him. It was a taste of freedom, affirmation that I could do this for myself.

Less than a week goes by.

“So, I have another client lead for you. A well-established startup looking for an ongoing consulting project.”

I was ecstatic. Bigger, more meaningful work. This is what I needed; this is the kind of work I wanted so badly. This was an awesome new startup, and I would be working with someone who I admired. This would move me closer to potentially pursuing my own thing. I was almost there. I graciously thanked him for sending these clients my way. Then he ended the exchange with: 

“Pretty soon you’ll have enough clients to start your own agency. That’s where the money is. Step 1: set up your own damn email alias. Intro coming.”

This was a swift kick in the ass for me by someone I really respected. This was what I needed.

I had thought this all through a thousand times; how I should set up my own business, email accounts, go for clients on my own and trust my instincts. I just never acted, despite what I wanted.

I was waiting for something, some kind of approval. I’m not sure why I was, but when he literally handed me the keys and told me to drive I finally committed.

After that moment a switch was flipped. 

We let ourselves sit in a stagnant spot for too long sometimes. We wait for an outside force to give us that nudge in the right direction – but what if a nudge never comes? What scares me is: what if that person never offered me work out of the blue?

We wait for an outside force to give us that nudge in the right direction – but what if a nudge never comes?

Why do we sit still, surviving but letting our thoughts live in turmoil –  creatively getting by but not truly thriving? Why do we scratch by while our creative angst eats away at us inch-by-inch?

How do we cast that static aside, and give ourselves the kick that we need? Do we stare fear in the face and laugh? Do we move forward in spite of our inhibitions, our fear, and our doubt?

Here’s the truth – we don’t need anyone to validate what we believe in. Our fear will control us, and often keep us from believing – but if you have an idea and it’s compelling you to act, then act is what you need to do. If we wait for an outside force to act on us it may never come. If we want to overcome our own circumstances and do something incredible we have to move, we have to set that foundation ourselves.

We have to give ourselves that freedom, to push forward, to do our own thing – and see where our ideas take us. No one is going to do this for us.

Now? Thanks to a careful nudge, I know my path, I knew I could do this, and I got started. My brother and I joined up and started our own firm, and together worked to bring awesome marketing that we believed in to the businesses we wanted to work with.

I wrote this to tell you what I wish I had heard years ago, when I was frustrated and not moving closer to my goals. No one is going to do it for you. No one is going to tell you “it’s time to act, so get up and get moving.” There is no “right” time. If you’ve been wanting and waiting to do your own thing, and running in circles over the possibilities, start now and don’t look back.

How about you?

Think of your greatest professional achievement. Did it come from internal or external motivation?

More insights on: Risk-Taking

Sean Smith

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Sean is a marketeer and a lead consultant at Simpletiger, a digital marketing agency out of Atlanta, GA. He is also a contributor to CopybloggerMoz, and The Huffington Post. See more about Sean on his personal site, and on Twitter.
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