Use Your Enemy to Accomplish Your Goals

From the Career Conversations Series with Soyoung, Co-Founder of Exaltitude
June 21, 2022
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For engineers, influence is an important yet commonly overlooked skill necessary for collaboration and success as a leader. Part of influencing others comes from motivating them, in other words getting everyone, including yourself, to work towards a common mission and achieve new milestones. To learn how to motivate, we can look at the traits of two successful figures, St. Francis of Assisi and Steve Jobs, and their journey to becoming influential figures. 

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We all know Steve Jobs. But who is St. Francis of Assisi?

St. Francis of Assisi is from Assisi, a little place smack dab in the middle of Italy. In his youth, he was a typical rich boy who decided he wanted to become a knight, so he joined the military but got captured in war. While imprisoned, he saw God, had a conversion moment, and decided to devote his life to God. After he got out, he completely changed his lavish lifestyle. He decided that as a servant of God, he should stop indulging in luxuries and wear strictly minimalistic attire as a servant of God. 

St. Francis of Assisi was the first to develop the monk fashion of a simple robe and a rope around the waist – which became his uniform. He was extremely strict and had a lot of rules for what the brothers should be doing. I think it is very appropriate that San Francisco is named after him because it was known that with any idea he had, he would just do it. Despite what anyone said, he would carry his ideas out, and while a lot of things failed, a lot of stuff succeeded, to the point where he became a saint after he died in the 1200s. Now there are a lot of churches and schools that are named after him; there's also a whole order that's organized around St. Francis. He died fairly early, at the age of 44, and some think that he died early because he was so strict and didn't take care of himself. 

How did St. Francis of Assisi and Steve Jobs gain influence? 

While reading about St. Francis, I realized he reminded me of Steve Jobs, the first hint being from the whole uniform thing. When comparing the two, it's clear that they both had a vision, and they were very good at rallying people to follow them and their ideas, even to this day. So how were they able to influence people and not only take action themselves but how were they able to propel others to take action? How did they have that vision? And how did they stoke that and others? 

Jobs and St. Francis both used an enemy as a motivator. For St. Francis, the devil was the enemy, the best kind of enemy you can ever champion against because it applies to everything. For Steve Jobs, it was IBM in the early days of Machintosh. When Apple made their first little computer, IBM already had huge mainframes. However, while IBM’s technology was much more developed, its culture was less personal than Apple's. You can even see the difference in logos: IBM’s logo is pretty dull, so Apple’s was intentionally designed to be more visually engaging in contrast to IBM. Apple purposefully presented itself differently from its competitor and set itself in its current position in the market by keeping the enemy in mind during development. 

How do we identify our enemies?

Your enemies not just propel you to set your own vision and rally people to take action, but they can also be applied to all aspects of your life. An example from my own life is that since I have a health condition, I have to walk with a cane and do physical therapy. I don’t want to do my exercises, but my enemy is the possibility that if I don’t do them, I’ll eventually have to use a wheelchair. It's easy to take action when you have a clear enemy because you don't want the enemy to win. 

When we're thinking about taking action, we often think about the good stuff and focus on the positive aspects of it, but a lot of the time, human nature can make pain more of a motivator than pleasure. Avoiding pain can be more motivating than a vague sense of pleasure. However, you also can't have too many enemies because it would be too draining to fight all day. 

What’s holding you back? 

Inertia is a very common enemy. What happens if you let inertia take over and go with what feels good? You can say that creating an enemy is pretty dramatic, which is fair, but it's far easier just not to do anything or do something easy or fun but not particularly productive instead. So who cares if it's a little dramatic? The goal is to have an internal motivation tool to take action, and sometimes, we need it to be stronger than other internal forces. So it’s okay to make it a little dramatic. Whether you motivate yourself or others, identifying a recurring enemy can be the key to making progress.

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