Updated on 12.24.11

The Motivation to Improve One’s Situation

Trent Hamm

One of the most common issues that I get asked about is how someone can convince someone else that they care about to care more about their finances and life situation. My answer to them, for the most part, is that they can’t make someone care about something they don’t care about. You can convince someone to put on a good show for a while, but without some internal motivation, it’s hard to create any lasting change in life.

I have a friend that I’ve known since I was very young. He’s got two children, a wife, and a felony on his record for a mistake he committed over a decade ago when he was young and stupid. He’s quiet and unassuming and can be an incredibly hard worker when you get him focused on a task – he can work me under the table.

Recently, he lost his job. He had worked for several years at a pretty good factory job, but he lost it when an uncontrolled event caused him to miss his alarm and show up late at a key time.

His family lives in a modest apartment that they should be able to keep, but they’re also facing some debt.

Right now, he just seems kind of lost. I think he’s just content to draw his unemployment insurance and let the next few months just go by.

From my perspective, this is an opportunity for him. Why not get the foundation in place for a lawn care business or something similar in the area? Why not simply look for any service that the community needs and start fulfilling it? I have many friends that have simply done that – they’ve just started fulfilling a need that they’ve heard about. Why not go out there and throw an application at any job available?

The ingredient that’s missing is the motivation to improve his situation.

I’m honest enough to recognize that he’s simply lacking that key ingredient. He’s got the basic things that he wants out of life – a roof over his head and enough food to keep his belly full – and he doesn’t have the fire to do what it takes to build more than that.

You can’t start a fire without a spark.

On the flip side of that coin is someone I’m going to talk about in detail on The Simple Dollar in a week or two. She’s a young woman who has come from a background pretty similar to mine – a small town and a family that didn’t earn a whole lot of money as she was growing up.

Right now, she’s a full time college student, working a part-time job to minimize her college bills, and trying to jump-start a small business at the same time. Sometimes I wonder when she sleeps.

She wants to build something big for her life – or at least something more than what she has now. She has passions and dreams and plans and is willing to chase them.

She has the spark. Will the fire follow it? The possibility is there, at least.

That spark is the difference between these two stories. It comes from within. It comes from a desire to change yourself. It comes form having dreams and actually putting forth action to chase those dreams.

The spark is pretty obvious if you spend much time around a person. It’s egither there or it’s not. Are they setting goals for themselves? Are they actively taking on real challenges in their life? Or are they just walking through life with whatever is handed to them?

When you see a spark, nourish it. Offer all the advice in the world. Offer any assistance you can give. I don’t encourage giving friends or family loans, but I do encourage gifts and grants.

If you don’t see a spark, there’s not much you can do. The support you give won’t bring about change. It will merely continue the behavior you already see. Give love and care, but recognize that pressure for change won’t bring it about and support for change won’t change a thing unless they’re making the change already by themselves.

You can’t create that spark. They either have it or they don’t, and it’s usually pretty clear from watching how they act. The best thing you can do for both yourself and for them is to react to the path they choose.

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  1. Michael says:

    To summarize, you gave the college student money but you won’t give the felon with two kids money for “parable of the talents” reasons.

  2. NMPatricia says:

    How can one ignite that spark within oneself?

  3. Alice says:

    The felony conviction will make it more difficult for this guy to get a traditional job. Maybe he isn’t throwing applications at any job due to fear of rejection or his past mistakes becoming more widely known.

    A post about overcoming past mistakes would be interesting, as this conviction will likely haunt him (fairly or unfairly) for the rest of his life. A lot of people make mistakes, but with evolving technology, it’s harder to move beyond them.

  4. lurker carl says:

    A felony conviction is hard to overcome. So is borrowing $100K for college degrees in fields that pay graduates $30K per year.

    #2 NHPatricia – Actively seek success. You ignite the spark within yourself by trying with all your might to excel in everything you do.

  5. Steven says:

    Like your exercise goals?

  6. Cecil says:

    I largely agree with what you say, but I think that it is possible (but far from easy) to ignite the spark in another person. Think about Ghandi and Martin Luther King (and a lot of others).

    I spend a lot of time and energy on people that I should have not (or in another way). Mostly it was a waste of time. But in a (very) few cases I managed to get the spark in the other person.

    So two major challenges (for me):
    – How to see something is really a ‘lost’ cause.
    – How to be able to motivate people to motivate themselves.

  7. deRuiter says:

    “He’s got the basic things that he wants out of life – a roof over his head and enough food to keep his belly full…” Yes, and he can suck the productive taxpayers dry for 99 weeks while he is on his extended vacation. If unemployment was 26 weeks instead of 99, there would be a burst of enthusiasm at about week 24 and he would find a job by the end of week 26. The productive are being forced to subsidize long relaxing vacations for the lazy and non productive like this man. His felony conviction would not stop him from starting a lawn mowing and snow plowing business, a light trucking delivery business, a business picking up scrap metal and selling it for cash, a house painting business, a dog walking business, a house cleaning business, delivering pizzas, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Instead he will loaf for 97 weeks, and then “magically” find a job. There’s a large segment of America which is content to drift along, supported by the working class, and no, I don’t mean austistic or other damaged children, the terminally ill, and the aged! I rent housing to lower income workers, and when they are laid off, none of them ever get a job until one week before the unemployment checks end. When asked about this, one of them finally took pity on me and explained, “I make $20./ week less on unemployment than if I am working, and I don’t have to commute and pay for gas, I don’t have to work 8 hours a day, I can sleep in and do what I want. Why should I work for $20. a week more? I’m actually financially better off when drawing unemployment.” How could I argue against that logic?

  8. christine a says:

    I disagree fundamentally with this post. The mistake everyone is making here is assuming that you have to make an inner decision to do something before you can start on it. You don’t.

  9. Bettsi says:

    Hi Trent, I like this post and I have to agree. I’ve known people like your friend that always seem to do the least amount possible and others like the college student that are particularly driven. I think most of us ping pong about in the middle! Your mention of the spark reminded me of sparkpeople.com- a really helpful (and free!) weight loss / exercise tracking website. Glenn Gaesser, the founder of sparkpeople also wrote a book, The Spark, which you might find interesting. Happy new year- good luck with your weight loss goal!

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