What’s Your Motivation?

What’s your motivation? What compels you to do what you do as an artist? If we understand more about our personal motivation it will help carry us through hard times.

Motivation vs. creativity

Just so we’re on the same page, let me differentiate motivation from creativity. I wrote recently on creativity. To me motivation is the “why” behind what you do and creativity is the viewpoint or fresh approach you bring to your work. The ideas or substance behind our art.

Motivation gets us up in the morning or keeps us out shooting after the sun is gone or when the weather is miserable. Something drives or compels us to do our work. Creativity may give us a new idea of something that would make a good image. Motivation gets us off the chair and our the door. They work together to create our art.


We are all motivated by something, but each of us is motivated by something different. My wife is one of those who is motivated by a check list. Getting everything checked off at the end of the day is her goal. I like to get things checked off, but it doesn’t really motivate me. I need to create, to make things that brings my unique viewpoint to the world.

There are many

Some other possible motivators that come to mind are:

  • People’s expectations. We like to please others. For some of us, that can be more important than pleasing our self.
  • Money. This is why some of us work. Now obviously, we all need to support ourselves, but for some, the money itself is how we “keep score”.
  • Fame or recognition. This can be powerful, but realisticaly, few of us artists actually become famous. There is the dream, though.
  • Helping people. An example is Beth Young who, after battling cancer, discovered that peaceful, relaxing images help soothe people’s pain. Now she tries to produce that to help others.
  • Fear. This is sneaky, but do you ever feel you’re being left behind and want to work really hard to catch up? Perhaps you look at other photographer’s work and feel inferior. Maybe you don’t even know where you need to go, but you are plagued by fear. I think this is a lot of what social media is about.
  • Personal drive. Some of us are driven to look around at the world and see things and we need to capture them and bring them to other people. Maybe it’s ego, or maybe it is just the knowledge that people would miss these scenes unless we show them. Either way, it is a motivation.

I’m sure there are many more motivators. Like I said, we are all motivated by different things. But my point is that, when you think about it, something motivates you.

Study yourself

Introspection or self inspection is hard for some. Learning to do it helps us grow and understand our self better. Do you ever sit back and reflect on your motivation? When you don’t feel like doing anything, what gets you going? Can you detect a cause/effect relationship? That is, when an idea comes into your head that seems to push or pull us to expend the energy to do something.

If we understand our motivation we can accept it and embrace it. Use it to propel us toward our goals. If we can recognize it we might be better at it’s care and feeding.

You’re not always motivated

Like creativity, motivation is not always around when we would like it to be. Like most things in life, it has cycles. It ebbs and flows like a tide. Unlike a tide, it does not have a predictable schedule. We can’t control it. We just accept it as our reason for doing what we do.

What to do when you’re not

Sometimes we have to recharge. Sometimes we are so drained that we have to rebuild. Maybe we are at an inflection points in our life when our subconscious understands we need to change direction but our conscious mind is still struggling with it.

Be patient with yourself. Let it work. Feed your mind – read, study, be with people to keep from spiraling into depression. Wait for the motivation to re-engage and push you along. Motivation is a force. It is neither good or bad, right or wrong. It just is and it works on us.

But don’t just sit passively and watch TV while you wait. Work. Keep doing your art. Shoot; process; market. Stay busy. You may not be happy with what you are creating right now, but doing something is better than sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. Picasso famously said “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” I believe it is the same for motivation. When we are working we are more receptive.

There is a “why” behind what we do. Sometimes we have to re-discover it. Occasionally, but rarely, it changes. Reflect on your motivation. Understanding it will help you understand why you feel it necessary to do what you do. That understanding can carry us through the dark times when we do not feel inspired.

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