Epic Year: Why Motivation Doesn't Work (and what does...)

01/03/2012 08:56 am ET | Updated Mar 02, 2012

I'm not one for galas. Even the word itself -- gala -- sounds preposterously formal, as if the mere mention should be accompanied by men on ramparts, blowing those long horns with the flags.

Still, I found myself attending a gala a few months ago, thrown by the surprisingly down-to-earth folks at the Huffington Post. It was to honor their Game Changers of 2011 -- one of whom I was fortunate to be.

At the event, one of the editors at HuffPost suggested I write a series of articles based on a popular talk I gave at the University of Calgary's commencement ceremony this year. (I happen to be American, myself.) The university had given a few thousand copies of a book I wrote to the students in the incoming class, and they asked me to speak to the class about making their lives epic.

My talk was about how a single transformative year -- an Epic Year -- can lay the foundation for an Epic Life. That Epic Life is a life where the things that fulfill us are the very things that lead to our success.

In life, we tend to separate these two things: personal fulfillment and traditional success. It's hard for us to imagine them being one and the same. That's because we tend to equate Motivation and Inspiration. That, I believe, is where we run into trouble.

Motivation is a spark. It's the daily -- even hourly -- starter button that determines how we spend our time. When we say "I'm just feeling so unmotivated," we may be talking about in our job, or our inability to carve out time to exercise, or whatever. But we're usually not actually talking about Motivation. We're talking about Inspiration.

In other words, the person sitting at their desk made the decision to come to work, whether or not they are enjoying it. The person lamenting their lack of exercise has probably exercised at some point in their life -- they're just feeling unmotivated right now. It means that the old motivation isn't working anymore. Or that the current motivation (to pay their bills, for example) doesn't fulfill them. Of course it doesn't! So they'll look for yet another form of motivation. But when do we get off that cycle?

Why do some people eagerly carve out time to jog on an ongoing basis? Why do some folks actually take pleasure in their work? They aren't having a problem with motivation. They've started the engine, and they're flying down the highway, long gone, while the rest of us are in the driveway, looking for new motivation techniques to restart the engine year after year, driving a few feet, then looking for another key to start the engine again.

The folks flying down the highway? Those are the people who have found Inspiration in their work and in their lives. They don't have to focus all their energy on restarting the engine. They don't even have to think about it.

Better still, you can get really, really good at things when they inspire you. (That's where the more traditional success comes in.)

Now, don't get me wrong: This isn't an overnight thing. But we have a year, right? And this is something you can create. I know, because I've done it. By constantly seeking Inspiration, rather than just Motivation, I've achieved more than I ever dreamed, things that have brought me traditional success in the workplace and incredible personal reward.

In this series, I want to talk about the way I approached that, and the things that have worked for me.

This isn't rocket science. Trust me, if it was, I'd have no idea what I was talking about. (Though I do like rockets - they're awesome.) You just need to know where to look.

My last entry was a demonstration of why motivation doesn't matter. Now let's move ahead. Let's start piecing together a life so that we're the ones flying down the highway. (Maybe in some kind of rocket car?)

This is going to be a fun year, people.