Why I’m Not a Motivational Speaker

Roadside Musings

Why I’m Not a Motivational Speaker


Rabbi Rami shares why he's no longer a motivational speaker, and explores the complex nature of God's plans for our lives.

Gilda Montenegro-Fix is an essayist and motivational speaker and author of the essay “Remembering Love” in the January/February 2024 issue of Spirituality+Health. As I prepared for my podcast interview with Gilda, the question of what it means to be a motivational speaker kept gnawing at me.

I used to give motivational talks to businesses. Usually, my assigned task was to motivate my audience to better appreciate the work they do and the company for which they do it. To better prepare for each talk, I would speak with employees about their work, what it would take to increase their appreciation for that work, and the company that employs them. Regardless of the work they did or the company for whom they worked, their answers were concise, practical, and unanimous. Employee appreciation would increase if three objectives were met: 1) employees could see how their work impacted the overall success of the company; 2) employees had input regarding how to do their jobs more effectively; and 3) employees received regular feedback on how they could improve their position in the company. Surprisingly, no one ever mentioned a pay increase. Not that it would have mattered if they had since none of what they desired—nothing that would motivate them—was under their control, and therefore nothing I could say would motivate them at all. If anyone needed motivation, it was their bosses.

I don’t give motivational talks to businesses anymore. Today my audiences are largely self-defined spiritual folks looking for happiness, peace, love, joy, and God (whom many equate with happiness, peace, love, and joy). My success rate with these audiences isn’t any better than it was with business audiences. My problem here is that while I agree that God is the source of happiness, peace, love, and joy, I also hold that God is no less the source of sadness, strife, hate, and despair. God isn’t good, I tell my audiences, God is reality. God’s plan for your life is whatever is happening to you now: good and bad. Awakening to God doesn’t end your suffering but calls you to help alleviate someone else’s. Enlightenment isn’t escaping from the world but making the world a little better for you having been born into it. Lots of people imagine God as their personal Cosmic Concierge. When I suggest they’re wrong, they stop listening.

As you will hear in our interview, Gilda Montenegro-Fix has more success than me. She focuses on more personal issues of motivation. If you are interested, she can help you lose weight, quit smoking, stop drinking, and start exercising. And that is no small thing. If you are not interested in making changes, of course, she can’t help you at all.

Listen to the podcast episode that inspired this essay here.

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Why Im Not a Motivational Speaker

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