- Education and Science
The Importance of Motivation and Ambition in Young People
A few days ago, I came across an article in the local newspaper. A man I had been at school with, more than twenty years ago, had been awarded an Emmy in America for his efforts in television arts. Whilst I was hugely impressed, I wasn't altogether surprised. This was, after all, the boy whose talented caricatures of our teachers had regularly graced the school news books. Actually, that is the only thing I remember about him. I think his destiny was probably secured right back then.
This man was born a gifted artist and his path was filled with a certain degree of luck. I read that he had embarked on a graphics design course at a local, small-town college, before earning a scholarship to the California Institute of Arts. Luck on its own, however, is never enough. Neither is talent. Both must be combined with direction and hard work.
I believe that many young people do not even realise the hard work required of people who make it to the top. Life does not come handed on a plate. It never did and never will. Young people are blessed with varying skills, talents and passions - yet all will lie dormant if not nurtured. Parents, carers, teachers and other mentors in a young person's life can help to motivate them with encouragement and by providing them with opportunities and knowledge of the different paths that can be taken. Inspiration can come in many guises - from conversations about what can be achieved, to the introduction of activities which will nurture a young person's natural capabilities. Encouragement and support is also key to a positive outlook.
A news story really caught my eye yesterday. I was watching a report on the figures for unemployment in the 16-24 year age group. Whilst (on paper) unemployment seemed overall to be falling, in this age group it was reported to be rising. Jobs have become much harder to obtain for the youngest in the workforce. Two young men, however, decided that sitting around waiting for it to happen wasn't for them. Having left school with poor qualifications, they knocked on neighbourhood doors and secured small gardening jobs. They had few tools, but used all the money they earned to purchase better ones. The tools were pushed around in a barrow since they were both too young to drive. That was two years ago. Now they have top of the range equipment and fifty customers - and are looking to employ other young people to work with them.
I think this is an example of motivation in young people at its best. Two teenagers, disadvantaged by poor grades and a shrinking job market, took their own destinies in their hands and went for it. They did not succumb to statistics, or to the bleak outlook that might have been predicted for them. They stood outside the mould. They were motivated.
In order for a young person to be motivated, they must have an element of self-belief. Some people seem to come into the world with more confidence and drive than others. However, self-belief can be nurtured in children as they grow up.
When I watch television programmes that depict the more negative aspects of our society - for instance, estates rife with unemployment, crime and poverty (and all the problems these ensue) I can't help but notice the lack of aspiration that seems to infect such places. It so often seems as though many people have given up; as though they don't believe anything can be different and so they stop trying. Yet most small children start life with a sense that they can and will be something. It is just that their self-belief becomes lost along the way. Environment might not be everything when it comes to shaping the future of a child, but it certainly amounts to a lot. When young people continuously receive the message that they are worthwhile human beings who can achieve great things, they are more likely to give life a proper shot. After all, if you don't think you are capable of achievement in any given field, would you even try?
Parents and carers can help to instill self-belief long before a child is ready to step out into the wider world. It is a gradual process, perhaps beginning with a child's first pictures, the subject matter barely recognisable We dramatically praise the pictures, perhaps sticking them on the wall to be admired. Our child sees our pride and feels that they have done something good. Perhaps it inspires them to draw more pictures. Those children who are not praised, but find their pictures greeted with indifference, might not go on to produce further artwork. The motivation isn't there, because there is no emotional reward.
Most parents praise the early efforts of their children, but it is important to continue to instill self-belief as children grow and gain more independence. As children develop, they become aware that not everyone has equal abilities. During this time, insecurities can set in. Insecurities can be displayed as an obvious lack of confidence, but can also manifest in other ways. Children sometimes put up a front with a 'don't care' attitude, because not caring is preferable to looking like a failure. All young people need praise and encouragement throughout childhood and into adolescence, if they are to acquire the confidence necessary to move forwards in life.
Praising the little things in a child's life is as important as celebrating the big things. An encouraging comment when a child scores a goal, does well with a piece of homework or makes an effort by helping out at home can build self-worth in a child, especially when the praise is frequent. Constant negativity - always picking up on a child's faults and overlooking the positives - will do nothing for the motivation of any young person. Praising a child helps them to feel good about themselves. And feeling good about a situation will motivate a child to want to do it again. For those who do not receive the message that they have something worthwhile to offer to the world, the opposite is true.
Motivation can be promoted in young people when they are provided with the opportunities to reach their natural potential. Extra curricular interests, like sports clubs, music lessons, drama classes or a myriad of other activities can really motivate a child even when nothing else seems to. However, even something as simple as designing, making and painting a bird box with an encouraging parent can have the same effect. It's not all about spending money, but rather about the sense of achievement. Sometimes we have to guide our children, by realising their strengths and suggesting activities that they might like to try. Forcing a child into something they don't want to do is rarely productive - there will be little motivation if they are not inspired.
Children who feel they are good at one thing are far more likely to believe they can succeed in other areas of life. When I was a child, I knew that I loved to write and that it was something I found relatively easy to do. When I spent hours at home writing lengthy stories, my parents suggested that one day I might send them off to the publishers. At the time, they were not good enough - but I was instilled with the notion that other people thought I had the potential to be a success. It is something that has probably stayed with me, because when things are not going well I have enough self-belief to believe that it can be turned around. It leaves me with hope for the future, no matter what the current situation is. People with motivation can overlook rejections and setbacks, because they still believe they have something worthwhile to offer and that the future is not set in stone.
Children are not always aware of all the opportunities open to them. It is the job of a parent, carer or teacher to guide them in a direction that may bring about positive experiences. All young people have natural strengths that can flourish when guided in a certain direction. Perhaps they are really enthusiastic about ancient history, archaeology or space science. There are many places to visit that can inspire further interest in such areas - in the UK, the National Space Centre in Leicester is excellent. Education is not simply something that happens at school - indeed, resources and practicalities often limit learning.
Motivation and ambition in young people can be sparked in the smallest of ways. Even showing a child an inspiring television programme can set their thoughts off on the right path. As a young, aspiring writer, I remember being inspired by many creative people. Interviews of successful authors interested me, but also actors talking about the story line of a new film caught my attention. Television awards shows motivated me, because I could see the success achieved by other people, and it gave me the drive to want to be the same. In short, I was inspired by almost anything that involved telling a story and then conveying that story to other people. Books, film and television, poetry and song lyrics - all of these have, at some point, ignited my own creativity.
I am just one person, though - other young people are inspired in different ways. My eldest son is often motivated by cooking programmes like Masterchef and The Great British Bake-Off. Watching these shows often results in him giving me a list of ingredients so that he can overtake the kitchen and produce his own cakes for the family. Although it is a messy process, I really think it is great that such shows spark his initiative. After all, maybe one day he will aspire to be a top chef or open his own catering business.
The recent London Olympics has frequently been used as a source of inspiration for young people. It is all about focus, dedication and the ambition to reach for the top. It is extremely important to keep ambition alive in the hearts of new generations, because otherwise we will end up living in a declining society. The Olympics might be all about sport, but the message is still the same whatever field it is applied to - motivation, dedication, inspiration and ambition.
Even simple conversations can plant the seeds of ambition in a young person's mind. Talking to a teenager about what they enjoy and would like to accomplish - both in the present and in the future - will help to keep open the lines of communication. In turn, this will help them to step forward in life with some focus. Talking about other people who have accomplished their ambitions may inspire a young person to do the same. After all, believing that it can be done is half the journey. Many successful people have been inspired by other people they look up to, whether it is a well-known person or not. People with high self-esteem know that not everything turns out perfectly in life. However, because they still believe that it can turn out well they will try it anyway. Belief allows a person to continue when the going gets rough, or to try another path with confidence.
Sparking interest in a young person doesn't have to be closely associated with hobbies or preparation for a future career. Simply introducing children to different experiences as a family can help. Visits to excellent museums or day trips to another city can ignite enthusiasm. It can encourage a thirst for life itself, expanding the environment of a young person. Recently, we visited the HMS Belfast in London on a family day out. My twelve year old son was very impressed by this visit, and came away knowing a lot about what it meant to be part of the crew on a warship. Sometimes, children don't like school very much and seem uninspired by both the teaching and the material covered. However, in an alternative setting it becomes apparent that the same child does, in fact, have a thirst for learning after all. In fact, the best forms of learning engage the child automatically and the whole process is enjoyable and not forced.
Sometimes, it seems as though a child is set in a mode of apathy even when parental input is strong and positive. There is a lot to distract today's young people. Unfortunately, much of it relates to advances in technology. Technology has made our lives easier, our communication better and our opportunities greater - but the very developments that enhance our lives can also cause problems.
We - and especially our young people - like our entertainment to be quick and instant. Children abhor boredom like never before. Boys are obsessed with computer games, girls seem to be hooked on social media. The trouble is, when entertainment is so quick and instant, young people learn to become passive. They want to press a button and sit back. But technology is partly responsible for stemming young people's imaginations and creativity. Our children are spending a lot of time enjoying other people's ideas - but they are less motivated to come up with their own. My experience as a parent tells me that my oldest child (almost a teenager) is less driven and less creative than I was at the same age. Technology fills the gap that once used to be called 'boredom' - but boredom can so often be the birth of creative ideas, if allowed to fester.
Good mentors can help to guide young people in the right direction as they move forwards in life. A good mentor can be a family member, a coach at a club, or a teacher with a good rapport. My son is especially inspired by his coaches at the karate club he attends. Whilst he is probably not going to make a living from karate as an adult (though he might), he is motivated to try his best. He listens to the advice of these excellent coaches more than that of anyone else. Already, he has belief in himself as someone who will one day become a black belt in his chosen sport - in fact, he sees others who have already achieved this, so sees no reason why it cannot be done. The coaches provide him with this belief, by teaching him in a fun and approachable manner, pushing him forwards, yet never making him feel pressured. It is this process which will hopefully provide him with enough self-confidence and motivation to take into other areas of life.
Unmotivated Young People
Children that are not motivated can fall into a life of apathy. These young people may never strive to reach their potential, instead plodding along with little ambition or direction. Without self-belief, a young person may fall into a trap of negativity - low self-esteem, lack of hope and no drive to succeed. When young adults are not motivated, they tend to accept their reality as unchangeable, particularly if they have parents who do not work or who have careers that leave them unfulfilled. Sometimes, they view life as something that happens to them, rather than as something they can seize with both hands and embrace. They see real success as something that is not attainable for them. Ultimately, ambition and motivation provides young people (or, in fact, people of any age) with the drive to step out and life their lives to their full potential. And at the end of the day, this is what builds a good society.