That Magical Motivation

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It’s now been three months since my last post. Back in June, I was on the brink of one heck of a summer adventure. Over eight weeks, I skipped down to Sicily and then spent two weeks volunteering at Expo Milano 2015, this year’s world expo. I followed that up with 11 days across Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Croatia which gave me another brilliant taste of the Balkans, reminding me that I’d be back. I was then lucky enough to spend a weekend with a Finnish friend and her family in Helsinki before train-ing it over to St. Petersburg to volunteer for FIFA and the Russia 2018 World Cup Local Organizing Committee at the Preliminary Draw there. Afterwards I spent a few days in Latvia and Estonia until it was time to meet my family for a week around northern Italy. I finally wrapped things up with a week-long heritage trip to Norway to learn more about my dad’s side of the family and where they came from. Without a doubt, the friends I made along the journey made my summer.

The point? When I left Paderno for the summer to go adventuring, everyone said, “Oh, this will be a great chance to refresh yourself before your last year here – have fun!” It was almost as if the two months away were supposed to serve as some sort of therapy. In fact, all of these places created an atmosphere, environment – whatever you want to call it – where I belonged, where I fit in. In meeting people from all over the world and from all all walks of life – some far younger than I, more than anything else, I was *motivated*. My ultimate goal is to leave the world a better place than when I entered it. The people I met inspired and motivated me to continue working hard, connecting with others, and dreaming big.

While I have probably been a self-starter from a young age, my recent motivations have been rooted in getting the most out of my international MBA experience, pursuing travel and international exchange opportunities, and helping students learn and thrive in their study abroad experience even more than I did (certainly a difficult task!). Prior to leaving for the summer, I felt guilty – that my motivations were somehow misplaced, that they they should be more job/work-oriented. This belief called to mind a thought and a comment way back from my time in Asia.

Back in Japan, I felt that same guilt about not having some sort of Japanese hobby. That I should have been interested in something like ikebana (flower arranging), Japanese calligraphy, anime, manga (comic books), some form of martial arts, J-pop music, just anything really. The non-Japanese around me all seemed to have something – whether it was Haruki Murakami novels or cutesy Japanese cartoon characters. I thought of those rejected JET Programme applicants who grew up simply fascinated with everything about Japan and worried I didn’t deserve to actually live in Nihon. Eventually, as expected, the cliche light bulb went off. A quintessential Japanese hobby wasn’t a pre-req. My interest in the varying Japanese culture, food, and people across the country coupled with my daily Japanese study were meaningful and impacting on me and with regards to others I connected with. Those were “my things” and all I really needed.

I also remember speaking to a fourth-year fellow Kitakyushu City JET participant when I was still in my first year. I was gushing about how much I loved my schools – an obsession that did last all five years – while he expressed some frustration about his role at his own schools. He told me, “After everything, it’s just a job. A way to be in Japan and experience everything this wonderful country and its people have to offer.” At the time, despite knowing that he was an amazing JET participant with the kids and teachers at school, it struck me as sad.  But it was a reflection of his motivation. His own Japanese study and his relationships with his Japanese friends and adopted family kept him motivated, hungry even. In that perspective, it didn’t seem so sad at all. It was evidence of grit and a desire for personal development – growth.

So in leaving my town of 2,000, frolicking around Europe. pondering epiphanies from Japan, and preparing myself for my second and final year in Italy, I learned that motivations don’t always have to be right or wrong and they might just make you you. If your motivations inspire and enable others to be and to do better, then your heart’s in the right place. They are also inherently personal and may consolidate into the unique push you need to overcome obstacles when those in your community just don’t understand where you’re coming from. Motivation itself underpins individual drive and the desire to act, immerse, be present, open up, and love. I like to think that motivation is grounded in mindfulness of others, our value systems, and our personal mission statements/purposes. These explain a lot of why we do the things we do.

Here in Italy, just like my JET colleague in Kitakyushu, my motivations were never “wrong” and still aren’t. They were simply different and it took a while – and a solid two months of adventure – to get that. My inkling is that if I want others to understand so we can work towards a common goal, it is often up to me to convey them in a clearer, more authentic way that is mutually beneficial. Because I’ve chosen a more alternative lifestyle, this can be both an opportunity and a challenge. Fortunately, the people in my life, no matter how far away they are, and whether they realize it or not, constantly galvanize me to push the limit, to challenge the process, to be better. From them, I get ideas that make me shoot for the moon over and over again and for that, I remain eternally grateful. Through seeking ways to foster international, and thus mutual, understanding, we grow to learn more about ourselves along the way. And yes, that is precisely what makes the rollercoaster fun! What sparks you?

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