The Dangers of Commodifying Motivation

by Cloey Aconley

design by Helen Ma

There is a sickeningly perverse idea that you always have to be doing something, achieving a daily goal, monthly goal, or yearly resolution. Even relaxation is simply a means to an end; to have the energy to wake up the next day and meet your “goal.”. These daily goals are often a microcosm of overall dissatisfaction that comes with the realization that it is not easy to exist when you are constantly being told to do more, in order to be more.

This idea is capitalized on by large corporations, and it has become a very hard mindset to escape. Marketing success as something that has material value is a major contributor to rampant consumerism, becoming dangerous when you look at the effect it has on overall worker productivity in North America. The US has the longest working nation. Not the most productive or most individually successful, but the most hours worked. Promoting a “hustle culture” does not necessarily translate to productivity.

Consequently, we toe the line between hard work and exploitation. A major issue with American “hustle culture” is that the ones forcing the narrative aren't the employees doing the work. They are the influencers, financers, and CEOs who dictate the amount of work we should be putting in, without lifting a finger themselves. These are the ones coming up with schemes to sell you an idealized version of productivity. Working hard is not a bad thing when posed antithetically to capitalism, but when belief is manufactured by the upper class we begin to see a demonization of those who are deemed as “lower”.

For example, Sayaka Murata speaks on what it means to have a “normal job” and the crushing societal expectations that come with growing up. In her book, Convenience Store Woman, the desire to work a simple job, and just to live, is often unattainable. She compares society to a village; People who don't fit into the village are expelled: “men who don't hunt, women who don't give birth to children. For all we talk about modern society and individualism, anyone who doesn't try to fit in can expect to be meddled with, coerced, and ultimately banished from the village.”

Keiko Furukura, our protagonist, genuinely enjoys her life as a convenience store worker, but when faced with external judgement, she feels pressured into getting married and having a “real job”. It is sickeningly eerie to read about someone who gives up everything they love just to fit in, yet it happens each day. We are constantly told to be performing an economic role or “contributing to society”. For many, this stifles our individualism, and ultimately, our freedom.

As someone who works in a restaurant, there have been multiple instances with customers where I feel like less of an individual and more of a mechanism. Members of the workforce, especially young women, are objectified based on their jobs, and by extension, their social class. It is so easy to rely on the idea that if you have “enough motivation” you wouldn’t be working in that position. But that is not the case for everyone. People who choose alternate career paths are often shamed socially, but the question remains: why are we shaming them? the forcible monetization of their means to exist? For having factors in their life that prevent them from pursuing higher education and eventually, a different job? It is this idea that you need motivation to “succeed” that is evidently harmful to people who don’t fit into the perfect model of employment.

Overall, motivation does not make people “better” or “worse” than each other. Companies profit from our warped ideas surrounding what it means to be successful. Those who use it as an excuse to dehumanize people working in minimum wage positions are perpetuating the problem. The problem is that we translate career “success” to our happiness, and this often leads to the sickening feeling that as people, we are never enough.