Make It Stop: “I’ve Lost All My Ambition”

I’m incredibly unmotivated. I used to have goals and would feel bad about myself if I didn’t meet them. Now I feel ambivalent about everything and the scary part is that I have felt this way for years. I have done the best and worked the hardest when I had someone in my life that I either was in love with and wanted to impress, or had a borderline tyrant of a teacher that put the fire under my feet. Love and fear have motivated me. In the day to day, when the important building blocks towards meeting a goal should be coming together, I daydream and then worry that I daydream. I have no libido, haven’t had a crush on anyone in years. I’ve thought about going back to school but usually just end up wondering what the point would be. I’m not depressed, I’m just okay. I’m finding it very difficult to get the will to swim upstream, though. Where do I start to regain ambition? How do I make the apathy stop?

Although it may not seem like it, you’re in a great position! You’re on the edge of inspiration. The fact that you wrote me shows that you’re getting restless and ready to make some changes. You just need to take some steps to let inspiration live along side you.

So you want to kick apathy in the dick? Lennon had McCartney. Jagger had Richards. Cagney had Lacey. Tom Hanks had a volleyball.

The key: every successful person has a team. Think of your favorite musicians, comics, authors, painters, etc. I guarantee you that they had a strong support system. Look at the back page of any book and you’ll see the author thanking his or her team. Open any CD or record (if you still have any) and in the liner notes, you’ll read who the band wishes to thank. Actors and actresses thank their team during award shows. You never hear an acceptance speech like, “I did this on my own, you jerkfaces!” No, you hear about the people who offered advice and encouragement at every turn in the road.

Girl, you need a team.

Who’d be a qualified teammate? Ideally, it’d be an acquaintance who is struggling with the same motivational issues you are who has similar experiences and goals. As tempting as it is, this isn’t the role for a best friend or an ex-boyfriend or anything like that. No, you want this teammate to be someone you respect on a professional level.

Now, put the word out and see what happens. Make a post on Facebook: I’m looking for a rad dude or dudette to motivate each other on our creative endeavors. Tweet about how you’re looking for a creative buddy. Email a few people and ask if they want to meet up for a writing date then see if they’d be willing to make it a regular thing.

Your team may not come together right away. It might take a while to find someone who’s a good fit for you, but now’s the time to start seeking this person out.

Once your team is in place, come up with a plan about the how you two can motivate each other. Offer to do weekly check-ins via email. Meet up for writing sessions. Make pitch dates where you each pitch three outlets then high-five. Have fun with it.

I am fortunate enough to have a teammate. I call her my study buddy and she’s fucking awesome. We’re like our own version of the Care Bears. We check in every Monday with our goals for the week. We aren’t in the same lane—I’m primarily a writer, she’s primarily a storyteller—but our tasks often overlap. She occasionally writes essays which I’m happy to edit. She’ll suggest storytelling elements to make my writing stronger. We’re actually co-teaching a workshop next month. To an outsider, it might look like I have a ton of ambition—writing essays, teaching workshops, oh my!—but the reality is that I’ve aligned myself with someone who helps me stay on target. Not only does it makes working towards my goals more fun, but I have someone to share good news with too. It helps.

What you’ll also find is that by carving out a place in your life for ambition to live, you’ll disrupt the guilt cycle you’ve been caught up in. Instead of beating yourself up for your lack of initiative, you can put that energy towards something productive, like making your dreams come true.

Once you get your study buddy situation on lock, seek out an activity with built-in deadlines. Maybe you can start hosting live events around town or maybe you can have your own weekly advice column for a local newspaper or something. That way you’ll get in the habit of producing regular work again. Then your self-esteem will steadily kick back up. You’ll have an answer when people ask you, “So, what are you working on?”, which as any creative person knows, is the best feeling ever.

As for your libido, maybe finding a creative support system is the puzzle you have to solve first before you’re ready to be in a romantic relationship. That way, when you resume dating, you can focus on picking a partner who supports your creative life, as opposed to someone who drives it. Trust me, you’ll be much happier in the long run.

Lastly, keep in mind that success isn’t a straight line. It has steep cliffs and dizzying gaps. In my experience, success comes down to habits. If you meet with your study buddy every two weeks then you’ll know that at the very least, you’ll have two times a month where you will sit in a chair and work on a creative idea. Instead of feeling dread about working on your goals, you’ll see that it’s something that you look forward to.

So, my dear, that’s how you get your mojo back. A flower can’t grow in darkness. You need to push your flowerpot into the sun to start seeing some buds bloom.

Make It Stop is a weekly column in which Anna Goldfarb — author of “Clearly, I Didn’t Think This Through” and the blogger behind the blog, Shmitten Kitten — tells you what’s up. Want a fresh take on a stinky dilemma? Email [email protected] with the subject “Make It Stop.” She’ll make it all better, or at least make you laugh. Girl Scout’s honor.