There are few things that incite rage in me like seeing on social media quotes. There’s a few reasons why (other than, obviously, the fact that I’m a crotchety old man in training and get mad at most things on social media).
- “Work, sweat, achieve.”
- “Be amazing.”
- “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
These sorts of quotes “call it in”, since all you have to do is Google “inspirational quotes”, throw one over an Unsplash image, and boom - viral marketing achieved. It’s lazy and wholly unoriginal. Zero effort involved. Instead of sharing your own art, creativity or knowledge, they simply fill a void to generate vapid views, likes and clicks. They’re typically so out of context that they lose their original meaning and impact. If you want to be motivated into action, read a whole book on a subject. Not to mention quite a few of the most popular ones are misattributed (but it’s the internet, so who cares about trivial things like… facts). Yes, they fill a void and accomplish something, but it’s the wrong thing. These quotes make you feel like you can accomplish something without actually doing anything other than reading a line on Instagram about it.
You know what inspires me? Doing the fucking work.
(How's that for a motivational quote?)
Real work or real artistry doesn’t happen by reading quotes on social media. It happens when you actually do the work (which requires social media to be turned off).
Note: I’m not even looking at motivational quotes on social while I write this, otherwise I wouldn’t have the focus to write - but I sure would be inspired to write an article about this… one day.
I also think these quotes have the opposite effect the person posting them is after. That’s because they make us feel good and make us feel like we can accomplish something… but without actually accomplishing anything. Who reads a quote, throws down their phone and spends 2 months building an amazing software application or writing a book?
But then, I’ve never been interested in “inspiration”—I think it’s entitled bullshit—just like believing you have to follow your passion to truly win at life (totally untrue, and my passion lives behind a jar of pickles in my fridge).
Doing real work requires sitting your ass down and doing it, whether or not you're inspired to. Creativity requires attrition through numbers (number of times tried, number of practice runs, number of hours spent honing your skills), not snow-capped mountain photos and a few choice words from Thoreau.
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
(I doubt he spent a ton of time refreshing his social feeds in the cabin he built... bad wifi.)
Mental strength and creative progress only happen through the experience and constant practice of putting our skills to work. I don’t want to look at mountain-tops, because that’s not going to get me in the shape I need to be in to actually climb mountains. It's when you assume your best work isn't behind you but in front of you.
Scientific research has shown that motivational quotes make us feel the same as actually accomplishing something. If that is correct, then that’s a very, very, very bad thing. It reduces our capacity and willingness to then take real action because we already feel good about ourselves and fulfilled (and creativity doesn’t typically happen when we feel those things).
If all it took to “be amazing” was to read someone posting “be amazing” over a nice photograph, then we’d all be there already. If only I had seen the words “be amazing” sooner, then I could have actually been amazing years ago! Reading those words totally unlocked amazingness for me.
The problem is deeper than these social media quotes. It’s that we all crave the end result and want to rush through or past the process of getting there. We know that strength and conditioning through daily exercise is really hard work. So we wish we could just teleport to the top of the mountain instead.
But to really get anywhere, we need to get motivated by the grind of our work. We need to find passion and excitement in the steps and process required to achieve our goals, and not just the fanfare we’ll see once we accomplish something.
As creative people, our highest and best reward is the work itself. Not the end result, not the outcome, not the accolades we’ll hopefully see once we’re finished, but the actual work. That’s where creativity and awesomeness lie. Once we realize that, and set it as our intention, we cannot falter. All we need to do is keep working, and we’ve accomplished what we set out to do. It’s crazy simple. And doesn’t involve a picture of a kitty that’s “hanging in there”.
I should write a book of “demotivational” social media quotes. Maybe pissing others off will be the boost they need to stop looking for the strength to work via social media and get down to butt-in-chair work instead?
You tried your best and failed miserably, the lesson is: never try. Homer Simpson
The point of inspiration isn’t to be inspired. It’s that sometimes we need a spark, a catalyst to propel us into action. If social media quotes aren’t moving you towards action and instead just move you towards looking at more quotes, then maybe it’s time to make a change.
So maybe next time, instead of looking at inspirational social media quotes on building doors to create opportunities, you should actually get out a hammer and build one.
Hi, I'm Paul Jarvis. I write a weekly newsletter called the Sunday Dispatches where I share articles about working and living online with 35k subscribers: