• Home
  • > Blog Main Page
  • > I’m a New Beekeeper, But What’s My Motivation? - Why some continue while others quit

I’m a New Beekeeper, But What’s My Motivation? - Why some continue while others quit

Motivation: “the initiation, direction, intensity, persistence,

and quality of behavior,” Maehr, M., & Meyer, H. (1997).


I’m a creativity researcher and I continuously read scholarly articles to deepen my knowledge on the topic of motivation. Turns out, motivation is a key ingredient for having the willingness to “think outside the box”. Motivation is also important for learning, and I have had personal experience with many new beekeepers who were learning the basics.  I’ve come to believe that new beekeepers continue or quit beekeeping within a year or two – largely based on two things: 1) how they were introduced to beekeeping and, 2) their personal motivational orientation to learning. Here’s how I came to this conclusion.


I served a large beekeeping association as their Bee-School-Chair and each year we offered Bee School to 90 eager students. The course was designed to teach beginning beekeepers what they should know and be able to do. After organizing bee school, refining curriculum, finding teachers, and monitoring progress, I made sure to speak with our students to gather their feedback. Our personal conversations began on the first day of the four-week course and continued for many months after the course had ended. As students described their reasons for continuing or quitting, a pattern emerged. On a few occasions, students had to focus on an unexpected personal event, but most of the other reasons were grounded in goal setting and motivation theory.


Setting goals is the doorway to motivation, and motivation explains and predicts attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors toward learning.  A famous creativity researcher said it simply - “motivation is the cornerstone of learning”, (Amabile, 1983).  The way we set goals manifests in good and bad outcomes. Moreover, the way teachers introduce their students to beekeeping often determines how long they continue the practice of apiculture.

Teachers have a responsibility to positively influence students who are taking their first steps into a new learning journey. The way teachers orient their students to beekeeping influences their students’ interest in learning, in their emotions, and consequently - in their behavior. Sadly, I’ve witnessed well intended teachers orient their students toward failure.


Here are typical goals for new beekeepers that are often introduced and supported by their teacher:  

·      I want to avoid failure and keep my bees alive through the winter,

·      I want to harvest a couple gallons of honey this year so I can give or sell it to my friends

       and family,

·      I need to memorize the facts about basic beekeeping,

·      I should be a better beekeeper than others in this class.


Those are “performance goals”.  Performance goals are about achieving high outcomes. Performance goals increase the learner’s concern about gaining favorable judgment from their teacher and classmates, which places unnecessary pressure on them to attain their goals. Another outcome is that new beekeepers believe their ability to be successful is fixed and they can’t make changes to improve.  Those who are oriented toward these types of goals can end up feeling helpless and often say, “if I have to work hard at some problem, I’m probably not good at beekeeping.”  Just as important, I’ve heard newbies express feeling of anxiety, depression, and boredom. Some even expressed feelings of defiance. One student said to me, “When my bees swarmed, by teacher told me that I should have paid more attention in class - when they were teaching techniques for managing bees during the spring.  I really don’t like that guy and I blame him for quitting.”


Here are other types of goals for new beekeepers that teachers should support, and students have the personal power to refine or change:

·      I want to learn about these fascinating creatures,

·      I want to increase my competency in managing bees,

·      I’m going to continue learning until I can accomplish my goals regardless of setbacks.


Those are mastery learning goals. Mastery learning goals focus on learning new skills and increasing competency. Students who adopt mastery learning goals often say, “difficult situations allow me to really understand how to become a better beekeeper.”  They say, “failure is a signal that beekeeping will require more effort and ingenuity.”  More important, beekeepers believe their ability will improve. Teachers should intentionally prime students toward mastery goals. They not only to cause them to adopt healthy beliefs associated with mastery learning, but they inoculate them against helplessness reactions, (Patrick et al., 2003).

The good news is: we have the ability to reorient ourselves from performance to mastery. I get caught-up in performance thinking errors all the time, especially when I’m tired.  One example has to do with my queen rearing hobby.  I just failed on my first five grafts – removing young larvae from the wax cell and placing it into a plastic cup.  I was demoralized and felt like quitting for the year, even though queen rearing season had just begun.  I had to sit down and have a conversation with myself.   My talk went like this: “it’s not about how many queens I make, it’s about learning and enjoying the process I’m going to continue and make changes and take more precautions with each proceeding process.” My next two attempts resulted in success because I self-corrected my attitude and made changes to my practice.


Look - We come to beekeeping with interest and energy. Then, we face the realities of beekeeping, which includes setbacks.  You can choose to continue or quit. You can control your desire for getting external rewards, like getting honey, keeping bees alive, or being the best. If you’ve been introduced to the wrong goals, you can self-correct and focus your belief that curiosity itself becomes its own reward. When you engage in mastery learning, you can expect to be happy. The enhancing forces associating with mastery learning help you come alive and feel invigorated, and you’ll become better at multiple aspects of your practice because your confidence grows, and your attitude improves. Once you learn to manage your motivation for beekeeping, you’ll realize that you can also manage your motivation for the other challenges that life throws your way!