February, 22 2016
I Can Do It, But I Won't: The Trouble with Generalizing Inspiration

What drives you may not inspire others. So stop motivating people to run a 10K or backpack around the world or ditch their steady job to start a new business.

by Glenn Marsalim
Issues // Politics and Society
Jakarta Ramah 63 Thumbnail, Magdalene
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We often hear people say “it’s not that you can’t – you just won’t” when we fail, followed by the saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. We have grown accustomed to inspirational platitudes like “you certainly can!”, or “nothing is impossible”, or “if I can do it, you can do it”. Giving up, losing or admiting to be incapable is seen as a flaw, and can making a person feel or seen as a loser with capital “L”.

Take traveling, for instance, whether around Indonesia or overseas. There are so many memes and motivational postings on the Internet that encourage traveling, that these days if we say, “I cannot travel”, it’s almost like an automatic mark of our failing or deficiency that needs to be fixed. There must be something wrong with us, because we can. It’s just that they don’t want to.

Then comes accusations:

“He just can’t manage his finances”.

“She focuses too much on material things, rather than  on experiencing life to the fullest.”



The pressures keep on building.

We often hear stories about people who love traveling, but still cannot afford some basic necessities in life. After their travels to Europe, they return to their rooms in their boarding houses or their rented homes. On the other hand, there are those who never travel overseas because they’re saving up some money to buy an apartment in the city. Even going out of town is a financial impossibility for them, much less to another continent.

Time, too, can be another reason. Some  people’s biggest priority may be taking care of their sick parents who need a constant attention. And even if their parents are not in grave condition, leaving sick parents to travel just seems inappropriate. Others may be prioritizing their career. They work hard every day so they can climb the career ladder faster, and so on, and so forth.

This also applies to working out. With a lot more people being aware of the importance of exercising to stay healthy comes pressure to those who say they don’t have time to work out.

Their honesty is judged as an excuse, proof of their weakness or laziness. In fact, there are people who can’t even find time to go to the bathroom. People like a working mother with a young child, who, upon returning home from work immediately rushes to her toddler. To her, nothing in life is more important than her child. Or people who may just simply love their job or their career.  Twenty four hours in a day are not enough for them. They may be chasing deadlines, or focusing on their new business. Every second is a precious opportunity for them to reach their dreams.

For these people, even finding the time to sit down and eating calmly for an hour is a luxury.

“Drinking my coffee while it’s still warm is a luxury,” a friend who has a 3 year-old child told me.

“No sooner than I sit down, he wants to poo. I take a sip of coffee, he cries because he wants to snuggle. I sit down on the toilet seat to do the number 2, he wants to follow inside,” she said.

If she had an hour to spare, she would use it to take a nap uninterrupted.

Nowadays it’s cool to be an entrepreneur. People are convinced that they can be a successful entrepreneur, earning a good living while providing incomes for others.

God forbid you ever said, “I’m so bored with work”, because everyone must love their job. If you find it hard to go to work on Monday, there must be something wrong with your job. You’re not working according to your talents and your passion. You’re not maximizing your true potential. It’s a shame.

In reality, no job in the world is all sunshine and rainbows. Even the job that we love will sometimes feel like a burden. We’re not machines, and even a machine gets broken and needs fixing or replacing.

“It’s called ‘working’ and no working is pleasant. Sleeping is pleasant!” a motorbike taxi driver said.

Running a business that suits our talents and passion will free us from problems? Not so much. When we have employees, we must have a different set of skills. Managing money will be trully challenging. Moreover, owning and running a business requires constant efforts. It will be exhausting, for sure, and it is common even to get bored. If anybody says that every working day feels like a holiday, you may need to take a closer look at their business. It’s possible that their business is not developing or even doesn’t exist anymore.

Everyone has different priorities. Some want prosperity and financial security; others put their family ahead. There are those who dedicate their lives (including energy and money) to their professions. Overcoming differences can be done by accepting diversity. And that includes respecting people’s life priorities.

You may assume that everyone loves to go on holiday, to travel and have fun. But there are actually those who feel happier when they work hard, and who consider holidays a torture.

“Those people who travel a lot are probably just collecting visa stamps on their passport. They come home with photos on their instagram. I’m happy enough just looking at their photos. Going on holiday to me means spending money – I’d rather make money instead,” said a  friend of mine who loves to work.

“Lifting dumbbells at the gym? Try holding a baby who stays up all night crying because he’s teething and who will only stop crying if I hold him. That’s my exercise,” a mother said.

“I can’t be a boss. I actually enjoy being an employee,” another friend said on our way to the office. “Every month I get a salary. I have kids, and milk and school tuition won’t pay themselves. Yes, it would be great to be an entrepreneur, if everything works out okay. But what if it doesn’t? That’s what happened to my friend, who quit his job to start his own business. He lost money and his wife divorced him,”

They say “where there’s a will, there’s a way”, but it may be time to rethink that. Because there may be a way, but it doesn’t mean we want to do it.

This article was originally written in Indonesian on linimasa.com. You can read the original version here.

Glenn Marsalim is an advertising freelancer, a chicken rice online hawker and a worker of anything with the possibility of making money or giving excitement. He admits to not being into routine, but he disciplines himself to write on linimasa.com every Sunday and to run 10K every day. There’s a big possibility he hasn’t and will never discover his true identity.