Tag Archives: motivators

Fear as Motivator


This week, a student from one of my classes reached out to me via email. She wrote, “Dear Mr. Baker, I just got the great news that I get an extra chance to do my exam. I was wondering if you could give me some tips on how to study and what to study.”

I’d heard about this extra chance. I’d been asked to grade the extra chance, but someone else is going to do a pile of exams, so they’ll just add hers to those. I’m happy for the young woman. She’s smart, she’s nice, and she’s appropriately respectful. However, she’s failed the exam twice. She is getting to take the exam again at an odd time (before the school year begins), as she needs it to complete her ‘propedeuse’ so that she can move on to university, which was her intention all along.

After I explained to her what was on the exam (as I had done during the lessons, and as she knew from having taken the exam twice already), I reminded her that she’d already taken the exam (and failed it) twice. I reminded her that if she happened to fail it again, she would not get into university and would likely be a second year student at our school (a hogeschool, which is where students in the Netherlands get a very focused bachelor’s degree.) I reminded her that she has five weeks to prepare for this last chance, encouraging her to not waste that time, as so much is riding on it.

I wrote that to scare her a bit. I wanted her to be able to taste the failure, to know what the cost of her slothfulness would be if she chose to be lazy and, like so many of her fellow students, use the ‘cross your fingers and hope really hard’ method of studying.

I don’t love doing that. In fact, I actually apologized for doing it, and I suggested she focus on how great it would feel to get into university and finally be studying alongside students who were on her intelligence/motivation level. I suggested she think about how good it would feel to tell people she was now studying at university, as opposed to hogeschool. I told her to think about graduating with a university degree and about the possibilities that would hold for her. I ended by telling her that she is a bright young woman with a great future.

That said, I hope she was listening when I tried to scare her. Somehow I feel like the fear of failure might help her more than hopes and dreams of success. It works that way with me sometimes. Sometimes the idea of success is scary and not that appealing to work towards. Sometimes what will really move me to the next step is the fear of staying in the situation I’m in.

Motivation is a complex thing. We should always be aware that there are lots of options.

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