#19 why my motivation hit rock bottom right now

  • Why achieving all my goals made me feel like sh*t
  • The BS the gurus don’t want to talk about.
  • How I find happiness that lasts
😍 Something I'm grateful for this week

Calling out some BS the gurus don't talk about in their curated "overnight success" journey, that stops most people from achieving their ideal life.

So I’ve hit a hump.
There’s a block in the road.
I’ve met my first slump.
The trough before the peak.

I can still remember the excitement I had around starting Life by Design,
A jumble of abstract thoughts and ideas just came together in perfect harmony, that can only be described as “eureka”.
I sat down and wrote that first episode with practically zero edits.
I remember rushing to telling Immy how I’d found my new purpose.
I was energized, full of ideas and ready to write every day.
“full of beans” as I like to describe Ramsey. 👇🏻

Just now, being totally honest with you, I’m struggling to find that fire this morning.
I have about a million things calling for my attention.
As I sit down to write I have a todo list as long as my cock arm.

  • I have to perform an SEO audit for a client,
  • I have to call back enquiries,
  • I have to check my VAT return
  • I have to pack for a weekend away

But I’ve promised myself to sit down and write every Wed morning, so that’s what I’m doing.
Building habits makes it easier to start.
Starting builds momentum.
Momentum makes it easier to keep going.
Ironically, writing helps me figure out what to write about.

It’s now been 4 months since I started, and I’ve kept my promise to myself to write a new episode every week which I’m proud of.
It’s been a mix of more abstract, personal journal stuff from running a solo business, and more focussed rundowns of the systems I use to run Design Hero.

It’s been 4 months if you count “starting” from my first issue of this newsletter.
It’s been 12 months if you count “starting” from my first freelance students.
It’s been 16 months if you count “starting” from when I first decided to take mentoring seriously.
It’s been 3 years if you count “starting” from when I went full time with Design Hero.
It’s been 5 years if you count “starting” from when I realised I had to start working for myself.
It’s been 15 years if you count “starting” from my first paid side gig.

What I’m trying to highlight here, is that often the gurus aren’t honest about the timeline of their story.

This is important to the point of this episode, so allow me a short divergence, to call out some BS the gurus don’t talk about in their curated “overnight success” journey.
Every time I see a post where someone claims to have quit their job, started freelancing a year ago and now they earn £30k/m, I want to shout:

“Did you, aye? 🤔

I get it; speed sells.
But It’s a harmful myth that makes people feel crap about where they are.
Not only that, but if you see such ridiculous claims constantly, even if you know they are exaggerated,
These timelines will still stick in your head and alter your expectations.

Here’s the truth:

We all have different starting points, different responsibilities and advantages/disadvantages.
We all move at the pace we can.
There is no right path.
What works for me may not work for you.
Don’t let anyone tell you you should be further along than you are.

The truth is if you want you grow your own business, if you want true freedom, if you want to escape the ratrace…
Then it takes working hard for little reward.
Time is the great multiplier.

With Design Hero I was side-hustling for more than ten years making almost zero money.
I think most “overnight success” stories actually started decades before.
Most “overnight success” is just action + consistency x time
Certainly I could have gotten here quicker.
There’s a lot you can learn to speed up that process, and I note that Design Hero income took a quantum leap over the last 3 short years.
But I think I had to go through all the mistakes to get to where I am now. It helped me develop the systems that I use now to run a lot of the business on autopilot.
I didn’t have the luxury of “just working harder”.
I only had evenings, weekends and lunch breaks to work on my sidehustle, so I had to make it work.
I learned to do more with less, to systemize and automate my business, long before it was a business.

The same is also true for the narrative we spin online about our progress and motivation.

“Being good is being able to make it look easy”
Not sure who said this originally, Google says Hugh Jackman. I doubt it. 🤔

This is a damaging narrative.

It isn’t easy.
Building any business is HARD.
like so fucking hard.

We all see messaging that looks like this:
“Follow my simple templates for sales posts to get x10 inbound leads a month”

Here’s the bit they leave out:
“The templates will help you beat writer’s block, but you’ll still need to spend another x4 months A/B testing the messaging, the hook, the post time. Oh also, if you don’t have an audience of 3000+, then you should focus on growing your audience first. P.S it only works if you have already tested and validated a high converting offer for a niche audience as well, but enjoy the struggle, hustle up brosef!✌️”

Sack that.
I see this all the time.
I like to think I’m impervious to it.
and yet…

You can’t help but see these numbers, these timeframes, and base your own expectations on them.
The figures we see online are so ridiculously far off reality,
that even if you set what you think is a pessimistic expectation for yourself,
you are probably overpromising to yourself.

I’ve spent about 10k on courses, coaching and training over the last few years.
A few of them were genuinely great and helped remove a lot of blockers for me.
But about 80% were just pure guff. Surface level stuff I could have looked up on Google, hooked in by a result-led promise.
Or maybe I was just a poor fit for where I am in my journey / skill level.
But I do feel the level of overpromising has gone wild.

Do you agree?
Are you fed up of unrealistic expectations?
if so email me privately at nicholas@lifebydesign.online and tell me your experience with this.
I want to hear your stories about overpromising, unrealistic expectations, particularly in the online education industry.

Design Hero was much easier for me in the earlier years when I was just doing it as a hobby.
I enjoyed design, and if I could get paid for it, that was a bonus.
This is the mindset that kept me motivated over the next decade.

manytimes, on the road to where we are going, we have to do things that we’d rather not do. Often when we are just starting out, our first jobs “introduce us to the broom”. There’s nothing shameful about sweeping. It’s just another opportunity to excel — and to learn.
– Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the way

So what I realised today, as I write this article:
The reason I’m feeling low on motivation right now is because I’ve had a small glimpse of what Life by Design could be in 5 years, and now I’m trying to skip from A-Z, without the graft in the middle.
I’ve started getting organised.
I’ve set up a lead list on Clickup.
I’ve started tracking things like “students onboarded”, “revenue earned”.
And more importantly I’ve already lost sight of why I started!
I love to write, I love to teach.

So how does this relate to my 5 month hump?

It’s ironic because this lesson is literally the first thing I teach my students in “systematic solopreneurs”;
I teach a framework to break long term goals into daily actions, and a system to keep you working on them every day for years.
Everything else, the results, the outcome is out of my hands.

Self smack 🤦🏻‍♂️ I guess you can also mentor yourself through writing.

Taking that line of thought further, If I were mentoring myself…
A good mentor would ask these hard questions…
“Did you think you would start this and 4 months later clients would come rolling in?
“When you started this, didn’t you tell me weren’t doing this for the money?”
“What are the habits you can repeat that will lead to the outcome anyway?”

I need to refocus on the doing.

When I’m really struggling for motivation I find a thought experiment from Ali Abdaal (Feel-Good Productivity) helpful:

“If I won £1M in the lottery, would I still be doing this?”

For Ali this theoretical Q became true.
Ali managed to grow an online business, whilst at the same time working 80hr weeks as an FY2 Dr. 🫡
When his business started to show signs of promise, he “threw away” a career as a Dr & quit being a punching bag for the NHS,
and 4 years later his online business was earning £400M/yr.
But money doesn’t equal happiness, and this year we’ve seen a rapid rash of huge, household name Youtubers and other creators quit due to burnout.
In Ali’s latest video, he explains he’s able to keep going because he doesn’t do it for the money;
He started the business to help his fellow students,
and he kept doing it for the love of doing it.

What we’re talking about here is intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

Or internal vs external motivation.
External would be working for monetary reward.
Internal would be enjoying the process.

Surprisingly, a study in the 1990s investigating the difference between internal vs external showed that the control group who weren’t offered extrinsic motivation (monetary reward), not only worked on challenging tasks for longer, but they enjoyed the task more.
I guess this is the reason that even well paid executives and top performers on 6 figures are also just as likely to burnout, or get bored, of their work.

So if we want to stay motivated in the long run, the ideal scenario here is to totally separate your need from income from your motivation work.
It’s a shame most of us still need to work for money in some form 🤣

But building a solo business is a long term game, so maybe if we can learn to shift our motivation from external to internal,
we will be better armed for the long haul, and enjoy the process a lot more!

I have often found this to be true myself.
I’ve worked on projects where the budget was too low for the expected output; I delivered the best design I possibly could, because I enjoyed the process.
On the other hand, If I don’t find a project interesting, it doesn’t matter how much money it’s worth to the business; I’m going to struggle to find motivation to do the work.

For myself, I haven’t won the lottery yet, but it holds true that I didn’t start this thing for the money.
Life by Design doesn’t earn much. I hope one day it will overtake Design Hero. But it might never make much money.
And I’m willing to work on this for the next 5 years for free just to find out.

I guess the hard bit is that in this type of business,
whilst the 1-1 coaching is extremely rewarding, and I’m getting great feedback my course “systematic solopreneurs”,
The business involves a lot of work creating things, building things and writing long form content,
so the ‘meat’ of the work has no direct feedback loop or intrinsic reward.
Except for the pleasure of writing, of course.

So here’s some nice things folks are saying that keep me going.

“I’m still here listening”
David Smith, Newsletter subscriber

Hey Nick, I’ve always had the mindset of a solo freelancer this helps move into being a sales / studio look . thanks so much for the breakdown, makes total sense.
– Ollie Hooper, newsletter signup audit

Thanks for that session, lots of useful info for me to action.
It definitely ticks my 3 F’s … freedom, fulfilment and financial.
My head actually feels a little lighter. One thing at a time, progression not perfection.
– Craig Holland, 6 figure systems workshop

RE Today’s meeting Man, that was the best advice I’ve ever had. Literally gold!
It’s a constant struggle, Thank you so much!
– Niklas, 1-1 coaching

I already feel the benefits mentally, feeling less stressed and more motivated with more focus and direction, due to gaining some clarity with how and where I want the business to go, along with ideas of how to move forward, and I think I will soon see benefits financially as well, once I’ve put everything in place and then start scaling it up.
– Carmen, 1-1 coaching

I’ve learned a lot through the journey, you have to adjust your life accordingly, it’s not all about money…I’m so glad to have had a call with you, generally, big coaches don’t give their time for these sessions.
For the amount of followers, the quality of content you’re putting out is crazy good the systems you’re sharing make a lot of sense!”
– Adnan Mallick, newsletter subscriber

It’s rare to find such well-written, good content online. Also, I am a sucker for well-designed sites. Fab job.
I’ve been reading lots of your content, the articles provided solid inspiration, thanks Nicholas!
– Kieran Howe, newsletter subscriber

Every now and again you get comments like these that come from out of the blue that really keep you going.

So a reminder to myself:
Don’t get me wrong if someone came along with more money I’d take it.
But I’m not doing this because I need more money.
I’m doing this because working on this helps freelancers.
I know I’m making a difference, and selfishly, that makes me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. 🤣
The sense of fulfilment from that is far greater than any work I do in Design Hero.
The scale may be smaller, but the impact I can have on one person’s life is far more tangible.
I’m not doing this to earn more money, I’m doing this because it gives me purpose.
I just need to remind myself of that by writing it down every so often, lest I default back to measuring my success by the wrong metrics.

“People helped” is more important than “People joined”.
I’m going to write that one on the whiteboard.

Design Hero fulfils my needs for money.
Life by Design fulfils my need for purpose.
Purpose is not to be underestimated.

Purpose as a way to being fulfilled

I believe purpose is the only way to find happiness in life.
This article is mostly my own thoughts about my own business,
But think about how you can apply this to yourself…

How can you find or rediscover your purpose in your own day to day?

As we move to a knowledge-based workforce, more and more people move to knowledge work.
These roles don’t really fit the traditional 9-5 workday structure,
which was designed for manual labour, and production lines in factories in the industrial age.
Modern work is very different from this.
Some days are manic and busy, and you work late to get all your tasks done.
But other days are quiet.
But the boss still expects your bum to be on the seat until 5pm.
So people “pretend” to work just to complete the rest of the day,
but don’t worry, if you have nothing to do, the boss will invent make-work to fill it for you.
Hence a sea of endless admin with no end-point; Meaningless tasks, lacking any sense of purpose.
And now we’re back to purpose again.
Lack of purposeful or meaningful work is why so many people feel like shit in their jobs and have no sense of motivation each day.

This is why entrepreneurship is so attractive to me.
It can be hard as shit, it means a lot of failure and hardship, there are days, weeks, months where you simply won’t be motivated.
But there’s no greater sense of purpose than building your own thing.

I would rather fail and lose everyday, than win the game for someone else.
You were never meant to be an office worker robot.
You were meant for something bigger, you were meant to be creative, to build things!

The solopreneur’s hierarchy of needs

I think there are really 3 things you need for happiness.
I’m calling it the Solopreneurs hierarchy of needs.
The nice thing is that it ties up neatly with the whole reason I started my own business in the first place.
Here’s the strategy I use to guide my daily life:

blog%2019%20 %20solopreneurs%20heirarchy%20of%20needs%201

I’ve drawn it as a triangle, because you will always be balancing these things,
But it’s difficult to have all x3 at the same time. In fact I find myself constantly adjusting and balancing.
But before you can balance the plates, first you have to obtain them.
in obtaining them it’s really more of a stack than a triangle.

blog%2019%20 %20solopreneurs%20heirarchy%20of%20needs%202

Let’s break them down:

stability \ wealth

Unless your happy living the life of a monk, you’re going to need enough money to live comfortably.
It’s difficult to pause and consider your place in life, when your chasing down invoices so you can feed your family!
But “enough” is different for everyone. It probably isn’t as much as you think.
Be sure to define your “enough” otherwise you always be chasing.
Don’t get me wrong:
Money is still important.
But there’s something far more valuable than money…

freedom \ time

The truth that the gurus won’t tell you is…
After a certain point of comfort, money isn’t going to help you any further.
Now you have more freedom.
Freedom from financial constraints
Freedom with your time
Freedom from stress
But after hitting your goal (whether that’s 6 figures, online fame, perfect abs, the sportscar, whatever), you’ll just set a new, higher goal and keep working. This is the problem with setting monetary goals.
Once you have enough money, you don’t have to work as much,
and you’ll find that time is far more valuable than money.

Free time is great.
But having free time means you’re going to hit another problem.
A problem that few are lucky enough to have.
Once you have passed the point where you need to work to live, you’re going to get kicked right in the nuts with a painful existential crisis:

“ok what now?”

Fulfilment / challenge.

Ok, cue eye rolling. 🙄
So it’s a nice problem to have. But it is a painful problem nonetheless.
It’s the reason why so many high fliers celebrities and high performs burn out:
They have all the money, all the free time, the height of their careers…. how could they be miserable?
If this problem is not solved it can lead to boredom, depression.
People need a reason to live and. They require meaningful work.

I find it so absurdly hilarious to have come all this way, only to come full circle back to the solution of “work as a way of life.” 🤣

I struggled with this for a while:

At first I used my free time to do things I enjoy.

  • I play video games,
  • I hike,
  • I garden,
  • I build things,
  • I explore

But I found that after achieving my goal of freeing up my time, a huge crushing wave of restlessness came pouring in.
In the past, I inevitably would fill this with yet another lofty goal, the next step, the next stage.

I always need something bigger and more meaningful to keep me going.

  • I love designing.
  • I love building
  • I love nurturing my team.

So I finally found my way to my education business,
My purpose now is to help others navigate the same journey, but without all the angst and burnout.

As you can see, I’m still figuring it out too, and that bit never stops. Life is a continuum.
I plan to open source more of my life,
and share the things that I did to grow my sidehustle into a multi 6 figure business, to redesign my business to put life first.

When I compare that to my mood when I first started writing this morning, the difference is palpable.
By reconnecting with the larger picture goal (helping freelancers build a business that fits around their life), it’s brought back my motivation for doing.

When I set out to write this article I was operating from external motivation;
I had to achieve a goal to tick off, I had to write episode 19.

I guess in the writing, I’ve rediscovered my internal motivation;
The joy of writing for the sake of writing.


Whenever you struggle to get the hard things done,
when inspiration won’t come,
or you feel your brain sliding over to distractions like emails or netflix,

Remind yourself of your big WHY, and your larger purpose. It can really help to refocus your motivation.

But the real work is yet to begin.
The real difficult questions that will keep you up at night after your making enough money,

  • What do I have to offer?
  • What do I actually want to be doing?
  • What’s actually important to me?
  • What the fuck am I doing now?

This is what I want to help freelancers figure out:
Not just how to grow a profitable freelance business, but what happens after?
How can we grow a business that fits around our life, and gives us purpose and enjoyment?

I realise not all of you signed up for this deep, life chat.
Maybe you just want some of my free 6 figure systems for solopreneurs.
That’s OK, you’re welcome to them if it helps you then I’ve achieved my goal! 🙂

But if you do want something deeper, if you’re frustrated, fed up of the hustle, and unsure of where to go now…
I’m looking for x5 frustrated freelancers who are ready to systemize their business to start putting life first,
we’ll be starting in Q2 2024.
Just let me know if you want a chat. 

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💡 Key Insights for solopreneurs

Spending too much time online can lead to false expectations of timelines and returns.
Focus on the things that make a difference that you can repeat every day, every week, every month.
Then do them, and forget about the results, because the results are not within your control.

🛎️ Daily reminder for solopreneurs

You don’t need to be motivated every day.
Your journey can be measured in years or even decades, not days.

💥 How to take action in the next 5 mins

Take 5 mins. Think about your big WHY, your larger purpose.
Write it down in big letters somewhere you’ll see it everyday.

Picture of Nicholas Robb

Nicholas Robb

Founder, Design Hero
Author of Life by Design

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