“prove them wrong”

Disclaimer: My mom says you have to read to the end, or I might sound a little firebrand-y. Haha. You’ve been warned.

Is it wrong to use proving people wrong as motivation?

I can’t decide. Much like I can’t decide whether the half and half I am now sucking down in my iced coffee has gone sour, or whether it is the effect of my mint toothpaste. And yet I continue to drink it. I guess we’ll find out whether that was wise later today.

Anyways, in my very academic research on this topic, I came across essentially two schools of thought: Proving people wrong is bad motivation and proving people wrong is great motivation. Obviously, there were nuances. But these are the skeletons of the theories, which will work just fine for our purposes here.

Both theories had credibility, and amazing stories of how one or the other worldview changed their life.

As usual, it seems we have to make a decision based on our own personalities. Yet another area of life where one size does not fit all.

I have always struggled with black and white thinking, absolutism, purism. Not necessarily in the religious sense, though finding The Best Way to Do Everything was not far from a religion for me: “Just tell me the very best way and I’ll do that.” Needless to say, I went through high-flying times of absolute certainty, which were always followed by an abyss of doubt when some real-life experience challenged this week’s Perfect Plan.

So I am not foolish enough to think this won’t turn out the same way.

But, as I get older, I also realize more and more that (while there are moral truths and we are all more alike than we are different) people are different in certain areas. Motivation is one of those.

There was this person I used to know who, when I announced in their presence that I wanted to live in my own apartment, no roommates, simply pronounced: “Oh, you’ll never be able to afford that.” I remember thinking, with the same forcefulness that I declared I would never play the piano again at five years old, “You have no frickin’ idea of who I am and where I am going.” I now live in my own, cute studio apartment. And when I begin to doubt myself, I actually hearken back to that moment.

I don’t think that was their goal. In fact, I don’t know what their goal was. Best not to think about it. The fact is, even though it took me a while to figure out how to make it happen, I did. And I can literally point you to the moment where I said, “Nuh-uh. I’m doing this.”

Last year, I presented a song that had gotten good responses from people in live settings, to a teacher who had always seemed positive and kind. This person tore it apart. I was completely blindsided. They literally didn’t have a single kind or encouraging word. That’s when you know something is afoot. When I looked around, several of the other attendees seemed equally shocked. I’ll never know why that happened.

I drove home totally humiliated and crying, and called my then-boyfriend (unemployed, unavailable and unmotivated), whose tender response could be summed up as, “You’ll be fine.” He broke up with me the following week, after spending a weekend posting TikToks of himself with a female friend he’d told me not to worry about, because she was promiscuous and “a little crazy.”

He assured me of this on our second date, by the way. Shame on me for giving him two more minutes of my time. First of all, people who always find themselves at the center of drama or around people who cause drama, nine times out of ten need it in some sense and will create it themselves, if it doesn’t materialize through an established channel. Secondly, when guys talk badly about other women, it’s an easy way to make you feel superior and untouchable, which allows them to get away with all sorts of nonsense. Thankfully, I shrugged when he described her like that, and said that I was sure she was doing her best with her life. Points for not being a witch. But I still believed him when he said she was not his speed, or whatever lame-o guys were saying last September. Disclaimer: He may have changed. Or maybe I was always the problem or whatever.

Anyways! While hearing someone say I would never be able to afford living alone did light a fire in me on the spot, the nasty treatment at the music event didn’t light a fire in me that very night. That guy’s bizarre callousness, which manifested in the weeks following, didn’t light a fire in me right after the heartbreak. The six years I spent trying to get my dad’s business to be something it wasn’t, and the blame I received for not making it so, didn’t light a fire in me soon enough. The eight years of trying to fit in with people my age where I just wasn’t wanted, didn’t alert me as to the pointlessness of my Please Like Me Crusade. The people who would speak to me, only to correct me in some way didn’t smack me upside the head for way too long.

But eventually, one day, I woke up and I had just had it.

When I say everything came together in January, what I really mean is all those years and experiences exploded in a blazing fireball of intention and uncharacteristic fury, from which emerged an entirely new creature.

I changed every single thing about my life.

I know, I know! Anecdotal evidence. But I haven’t really found any science on this; it’s mostly anecdotal–kids who were told they would never amount to much, ending up writing books and that doubting teacher asking for an autographed copy of their book. Women who, at forty, lost everything in front of the naysayers, then worked their way back to an even better place, for themselves and their families. Men who thought they were going to be pro-football players then got cut, and made it even bigger than they would have, if they had gotten everything they wanted.

All of them talk about naysayers and how, to a degree, those naysayers fueled them. These people aren’t cruel. They aren’t mean. They are some of the most likable, kind, approachable people in their respective industries. I’ve personally met one of them and have never forgotten his warmth and genuine care. But back to the point.

If I hadn’t let myself be fueled (whether knowingly or not) by years of naysaying and nonsense, never getting the benefit of the doubt, the jabs, the gossip, my life would be in exactly the same place as it was. NUH. UH. We are not going back there. We are glad to be where we are.

Is it wrong to use proving people wrong as motivation?

Well, I have come to the realization that–

“Ashley, it’s a yes or no question.”

I drop my Shakespearean-ly lifted hand, blink, and search for the reader who thought this. Fine. I’ll try to keep it simple.

The answer is no, it’s not wrong. But with a caveat.

I have come to the realization that there will never be one form of motivation that works all the time, or even for every person at any time.

I’ve decided to simply ride each motivator until it putters out or slows down then jump onto the next motivation train going by. Some days, visions of the future get me up and going in the morning; some days, that vision feels too big and too distant. On those days, the simple act of asking “what can i do right now,” is enough to make me want to get up and at it. Sometimes, the idea of having a healthy, happy family where I can afford to invest in their interests and natural inclinations, motivates me. Other days, the idea of having kids ever is overwhelming and there are a billion steps between here and there; on days like that, the best thing to do is parse it down.

On a day like that, which I had quite recently, what got me up and going was the memory of people in high school and college who didn’t take me seriously. People who didn’t seem to want me to succeed. Acquaintances who insulted or demeaned or belittled me. Even family members who pushed other peoples’ musical accomplishments in my face, every chance they got, even if it was right after one of my own performances. I tell you, those memories lit a fire under my patooty like nothing else. I got up and got at it that day.

So perhaps it’s less about the black and white of right and wrong. Perhaps, for once in my life, I don’t have know exactly how it works. Perhaps, while at some level I have used naysayers as motivation, for the most part I’ve been trying to succeed with one arm tied behind my back. Perhaps it’s time to let it rip and do so consciously.

“But, Ashley, what’s the caveat?”

Oh, yeah. That. It’s a short one.

It’s easy for this kind of motivation to become comparison or an effort to actively shove things in peoples’ faces. No one (myself included) is above that possibility. And that’s where things get ugly really, really fast. That’s where your character begins to suffer and you wake up to a version of yourself you don’t even like. Once that happens, it’s time for a walkabout and a reassessment. This is a risk, as with every form of motivation, as with every human endeavor. Even the best things are at risk of being warped.

You’re not comparing yourself to them. You’re becoming the most unstoppable version of yourself. They were just kind enough to show you a goalpost you hadn’t realized was there, and you’re about to blow past it.

So I say, use the naysayers as motivation, as far as that train will take you.

Let it rip.




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