How failing a 100-day challenge changed my life.

Why motivating someone else increases your happiness.

Photo by Juan Jose on Unsplash

In the Fall of 2017, I started following Eric Thomas, aka “ET,” on Instagram. A high-school dropout who spent several years living on the streets, he is now one of the world’s leading motivational speakers. He is possibility personified.

ET offered a 100-day challenge that began September 16, 2017. For $99 you could join a group of people seeking to achieve a goal in 100 days, and ET would text you daily audio motivational messages. I signed up.

I had never been one for motivational speakers. I tried reading the Tony Robbins books lying around my dad’s house, but lost interest quickly. But something was different about ET. His enthusiasm got its hooks in me.

My goal involved meeting certain productivity targets. I totally got into the challenge. I documented everything I did toward achieving my goal. My daily “wins” created momentum and made me feel like I had accomplished something. But that wasn’t the secret sauce of this challenge. It was ET’s daily motivational messages. They were insightful. Spirited. Enthusiastic. Positive. Feisty. In your face. They provided fortitude, sustenance. They had an immediate and positive impact on my mindset. I came to depend on them. Probably more than I should have.

At the end of the 100 days, I achieved my goal. But instead of feeling elated, the whole thing felt anticlimactic. That’s probably to be expected when the goal you achieve has no substance behind it, no meaningful impact on others. But if I’m being honest, the real reason I felt deflated was that I would no longer be receiving ET’s messages. Without those messages, I felt like I was suspended in a positivity vacuum. I had to fill it somehow.

About a month later, a colleague visited with the women in our office. We talked about things we’d like to do during the year, and I threw out the idea of doing our own 100-day challenge. A small group of 8 or 9 of us decided to try it. We each picked a goal and decided we’d want daily motivational messages too.

I played a few of ET’s messages for the group and they loved them. We thought we’d start with those. But when I emailed ET’s company to see if I could use his messages, the answer was no, not unless each person paid. Totally valid, of course. But after spinning our wheels trying to figure out how someone might put together our own daily messages, I decided to write them myself.

I reviewed ET’s messages to see how we might expand on them. But while his messages were perfect for my first 100-day challenge, for some reason, they didn’t fit for this one.

So, for material, I started down a YouTube rabbit hole of motivational speakers such as Les Brown, Lisa Nichols, Jim Rohn, Earl Nightingale, Michael Beckwith, and Norman Vincent Peale. But then the rabbit hole got deeper. I started listening to Buddhists, yogis, Oprah, TD Jakes, Brene Brown, Will Smith, Eckhart Tolle, Steve Harvey, and everyone in between. The messages they conveyed were similar. Many involved maintaining a positive mindset, working hard, controlling your reactions, surrounding yourself with positive and successful people, becoming single-minded about your goals, not limiting yourself, staying in the present moment, and most importantly, giving to others.

I began writing messages that I needed to hear. I wrote these as love letters to myself. I decided to be vulnerable and not care about the consequences. The messages said things like, “don’t compare yourself to anyone else,” “have a walkout song,” “act with a sense of urgency,” “don’t hesitate,” “use your gift,” “make it ok to fail,” “monitor your inner conversations,” “give,” “be humble,” “be authentic,” “train other people how to treat you,” “stop expecting things of people,” “stretch,” “don’t ask for permission,” “lift someone up,” “lead by example,” “invest in yourself,” “stop complaining,” “be relentless,” “design your life,” “do it afraid,” “listen to yourself more,” and so on.

And then something unexpected happened. The group receiving the messages expanded. Men, women, leaders, family, friends, recent contacts, and anyone else who asked for them, got them. People were sending the messages to others and reading them to their family. My 10-year old was spreading the advice to his baseball team. When I got in a funk, someone would repeat a message back to flip my mindset.

In short, the feedback was overwhelming. Many times, I sat at my computer and cried when I read people’s responses. It isn’t that these messages say anything new. It’s that somehow, through the sterility of email, we were connecting. One of my colleagues crystallized it this way: “I had 1.5 feet out the door” until this “connection/deeper meaning/dialogue began.”

This experience proves to me that authentic human connection is becoming extinct in the workplace. It’s getting lost in the shuffle of our busy lives. But it shouldn’t. Social connection is a basic human need and one of the biggest predictors of longevity.

In the end, I didn’t meet my goal for this 100-day challenge. And I don’t care. Because what I achieved is far more valuable to me–an impact on someone’s life. And in my opinion, that is the one goal we should all be reaching for.

I like writing stuff. Mostly about personal development and gender equality. My opinions are my own.

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