Motivation

Che kaigue,” means “I don’t have the motivation or energy to do anything.” Che kaigue is almost always an acceptable excuse in Paraguay, and it is neither positive or negative. This phrase has been on my mind lately.

The general idea of kaigue bothers me. Not in the context of culture or Paraguayans, but in my own life. I recently hit a roadblock in my Paraguayan life and felt devoid of the desire to continue working. I fell into the dangerous trap of wondering if what I’m doing is actually worth the effort, and questioned what exactly I’m doing with my life.

Now pondering purpose and meaning of life is beyond the scope of kaigue, but none-the-less they are connected in my mind. And they are connected by the simple question: Where does motivation come from?

As a volunteer my main purpose is to prompt others to act. I inspire my counterparts to work with me. I incentivize my students to listen and learn what I want to teach them. I motivate my community members to include me in their already full lives. I energize my friends and family back home to (emotionally) support me even though I’m thousands of miles away. I do so much cheerleading for others, I sometimes forget to cheer for myself.

Where does motivation come from? If the answer to that question were simple, public health would be easy as pie and teaching my students smooth sailing. But, it’s not easy. Worse, it’s just as hard to think about one’s own motivation as it is to think about motivating others.

I’ve taken some time to think about the origin of my desire to do things and then my ability to follow through with those desires. There is a distinction between the things I want to do and the things I actually do. There is an endless list of things I want to do, and a finite number of things I achieve. Why is there such a big discrepancy? Hint: While time is a limiting factor, it’s of little importance in this discussion.

You might have guessed: Motivation. For me to be motivated to do something I must have a strong, tangible reason for doing it or it won’t happen. I also need to feel like I am successful—even if it’s only a hope for future achievement. I will not actually do things if I don’t have a clear reason for doing them or a hope for success.

Let’s look an example of how I applied this understanding of my own motivation to banish kaigue from my life (mostly).

Since March I’ve been teaching 10 sections of life skills to grades 8 through 12. Life skills to me means doing activities that help my students identify their strengths and weakness, communicate well, take an active role in their communities, take charge of their lives by feeling good about who they are, understand their health, and understand how to navigate life challenges like relationships. Our first topic was abilities: What do my students know how to do? How can they galvanize their strengths? How can they learn new skills? What can they do with their abilities? My second topic was leadership: What is a leader? What do leaders do? How do my students’ personalities relate to their leadership styles? What can my students do as leaders to improve their communities? Looking to the future, I will discuss sexual health, and specifically HIV and STI prevention.

I think those topics are pretty flipping awesome and darn important. Don’t you? Well, try telling that to a bunch of adolescents—ha. The point is this. I believe down to my toes that the skills my students could gain from my classes could help them make their lives happier someday. So, I have a good reason for doing the work. Check.

So, why didn’t I want to go to class anymore? Because I didn’t feel like my classes were achieving their objectives. It’s disheartening to go to class after class and have something like 20-30 people ignore me. I found myself wondering, daily and often, if my students acted out because my classes sucked or for some other reason. Regardless, my classes always go better when I start them with a positive attitude and lots of energy. That’s why my growing kaigue-ness was detrimental to my work.

My solution to motivating myself again was to do some self cheering. Self cheering began with identifying what I have done well. I have achieved something with some of my classes. Those groups that are finishing up the last class about leadership are doing better work than they once did. My students are learning to think for themselves; at least they’ve stopped asking if they should copy things. I very much dislike classes based entirely on copying other people’s ideas, which is the most popular class format in my school. My students are starting to find self reflection easier. I know this because they are doing it with less hesitation. In the classes where most or all the students give me the time of day we, my students and I, are winning. They don’t know it but they are reaching my goals for them.

I’m not winning in all of my classes. Part two of self cheering was realizing that it’s okay to give up sometimes. That’s a new conclusion of mine. I hate, yes hate, not completing projects I start. And I hate not starting something I say I’m going to do. But, life is complex. Part of my process of re-energizing has been allowing myself to say goodbye to the groups of students who don’t want to work with me. Rather than beat myself up by the clear failure of some classes I’ve come to accept that I can not motivate everyone I want to work with to work with me. Further I won’t make people work with me, so if I can’t motivate them we are at an impasse. Clearly, the classes where fewer than half the students listen or do the work have something demotivating them. I haven’t managed to figure out what that is, but I don’t have to let that negative energy devalue all of my work and affect the classes that are going well. I now teach 7 classes of life skills. I struggled to keep all 10 afloat, and I lost 3 times out of 10…or, better, I won 7 out of 10.

The example of my life skills classes is one of many motivation explorations that have robbed my sleep and filled my mind these kaigue weeks. I did the same exercise of flushing out my motivations and influences with my English tutoring, studying for the GRE, exercising, planning for my future, and other projects. Today, I accept that kaigue is a feeling I’ll have from time to time, but I refuse to let it be my state of being.

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