What's Your Motivation?

What's Your Motivation?

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"What's my motivation?" Actors have been asking that question for a long time. It's not enough for them simply to follow the script they're given: If they're going to be convincing in their roles, they have to know why their characters say and do the things that they do.

It's a question that applies to lots of major life choices. For the sake of brevity, I'll focus on just one: career.

Why do people do what they do for a living — that is, people who live in times and places affluent enough that (unlike most people who've ever lived) they have any choice in the matter? Ideally, the answer is because they find their job to have value in and of itself, beyond the paycheck it provides: Their work is worthwhile, meaningful, fulfilling. But probably only a minority of us can say that. So what other motives are there?

For some people, it's about family: They may not find the job itself meaningful, but they find meaning in providing for those they love. Others are driven by money itself, either by what it can buy or by the fear of not having it. Still others are driven by a sense of achievement: They care less about the work for its own sake than the fact that they're good at it. In some (not all) cases, this includes a sense of being better than others. Their work is their source of identity and often an outlet for their competitive nature. (It should go without saying that people can have more than one motive.)

I've given a lot of thought to motivations because my career, frankly, has problems. I think and write about issues and ideas that I believe are important, and it's very hard to make enough money at that to make a living over the long haul. So sometimes I ask myself if there's something else I could be doing instead. And that, in turn, means asking what would motivate me to get out of bed every day.

If I'd had a family of my own, I think that would have done it; but I didn't, and now I'm past that season of life. Money? I've never cared much about it and have a hard time forcing myself to think about it. Achievement and competition? I don't care about those things either: My nature is contemplative, not competitive. Even if I did try to make a mid-life career change, would I stand a chance of success going up against people who are motivated when I'm forcing myself to do something which leaves me cold? I can't see how. Which is why, as impractical as my current career may be, I think it would be more impractical to switch to a line of work that I simply don't care about at all. So I keep trying to make what I'm doing work out and being thankful for every day that I can still do something I do find meaningful.

Your situation almost certainly is different from mine. Your interests, talents and personality may well line up with careers where you can make a living. And being young, you may have time to explore more than one option. (It's a lot easier to do some jobs when you can tell yourself, "This isn't forever.") But at some point, it's likely that you will ask yourself, "What's my motivation for doing this?" Many of you have done it already.

So let's hear about your experiences and your struggles with this question, past or present. What does motivate you in your career choices and goals? Has your perspective changed over time?

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  • --What motivates me is my career, or more accurately, my lack of one. I am almost 30, and I have a college degree in my career field, but zero experience. The hardest part of all this is simply the fact that millions of employers are demanding years of prior experience for low-level jobs, and this is wrong in my view. It only makes sense that low-level candidates should be the first ones considered for these jobs, but we never get any consideration whatsoever. It's like I wasted my time in college and built up a mountain of college debt for absolutely nothing.

  • --Hmm. Interesting. I am motivated by being challenged, getting to critically think and analyze, working with my hands, always learning something new, fixing things, and helping people. When I was a kid, I just wanted to become a doctor so I could work in a jungle somewhere and use knives ;-) (Hey, I was five!). So, I guess my motivation has changed a bit. And that's a good thing!

  • --I am motivated to be excellent at what I do and to do my part to provide for the needs of my family. I am motivated to do well at my job, and to be dependable because I want people to see what I do and not cause cognitive dissonance with what I profess to believe. If I say I am a Christian, but my coworkers know that my yes does not mean yes, and my no does not mean no, then I am being a poor representation of what I say I follow. To me, being reliable, responsible and consistant in my daily work is part of how I demonstrate to people that I am a follower of God. When I say I will do something, I mean it, and when it is required of me, I will go the extra mile. I try to leave people better than I find them, and that includes those who are impacted by my job.

  • --For the longest time, I had the best of both worlds. An enjoyable job that more than paid the bills. Of course, in part that's because I resisted the normal desire to spend everything you earn -- and then some. I always knew it couldn't last, so I tucked away a large percentage. And it didn't. Also, it allowed me to achieve, achieve, achieve. I needed that. I needed it to be DEMONSTRABLE. So many books, articles, speeches. I didn't regard a big paycheck or a large house as "achievement."

    Bottom fell out of professional journalism and the think tanks that employed me began working strictly on a pay-for-play basis. Research for hire. I was graduated from a top-25 law school and obviously could have been a mercenary lawyer, so I wasn't about to become one as a writer/researcher. In fact, I couldn't. I'm just not wired that way. I have this terrible burning need to do GOOD things. I don't regard it as a choice even. It's like changing my height.

    Then after a long stretch of unemployment I was offered the best-paying job of my life, which at first I thought fit the "Do well by doing good" mold. But it didn't. The group didn't do what it claimed it was doing, but rather existed (in my humble opinion) to raise and use funds. I tried first to make them actually do what they said they were doing, but that didn't work. So it just worse and worse until I was physically sick and got them to fire me (so I could collect unemployment).

    Point is, I need to be helping people. But I also need to be using my talents. Other thing about that place is I was constantly doing incredibly boring stuff that was way below my abilities. That didn't use my abilities. But why did I stick at it as long as I did? Because I had a wife who was working hard and didn't think it right that she support me, never mind she repeatedly begged me to quit. So yes, I can see people doing things they wouldn't otherwise for their families. But here, even that wasn't enough.

    Meanwhile, I have another lawyer friend who considers himself a pious Catholic, Opus Dei even, but works for a law firm. That means he represents bad people all the time in his work. Can't tell his boss, "Sorry, I don't work for drug dealers!" (Mind, it's not criminal law, so there's no issue regarding a right to an attorney.) If his boss directs him to find an arcane law allowing an orphanage to be torn down with kids tossed into the snow, that's what he does. His justification: Wife and lots and lots of kids. So he leaves his religion at the door of the firm in the morning and picks it up when he leaves at night. I assume his job also bores him out of his gourd. I'm not in position to criticize that because again, I'm just not wired that way. Often I wish I were. And I also have no family to support.

    So I left the country in hopes of finding something rewarding that pays the bills and to begin a new life in general. Marriage fell apart. So far, hasn't worked out that way. Been very rough. I am very much hemmed in by a strong sense of right and wrong and that need to achieve. A sort of ball and chain. But was a time when I could make it work for me. Maybe in the future, as well.

  • --For me I have never had a job that I didn't love.   Over time I've grown to love every single job I have ever been given.

    Within the Christian man it's natural to be motivated to  serve people and make the world a better place. Employment provides an excellent opporunity to do that.  I love helping people.  I love building things.  I love creating new experiences for people.

    In fact I would question if a person really knows Jesus if they don't love their job.  Men were made to be creators and cultivators.  It should be a burning desires within all Christian men.  Sure many of us lack the skill and experience we need, but for a person to not have the desire to build something bigger than themselves is indeed troubling.

  • --"Sure many of us lack the skill and experience we need, but for a person to not have the desire to build something bigger than themselves is indeed troubling."

    So... what would you recommend for people like Dreamer Guy who have the desire to do meaningful work but lack the opportunity to do so (because it's difficult to find a job without experience, and vice versa)? Start their own business?

  • --Keith:  "In fact I would question if a person really knows Jesus if they don't love their job"

    I don't love my job (I like it...most of the time), my husband doesn't love his job ( I think he likes it, sometimes).  That is awesome that you enjoy your job(s).  But don't turn into some sort of measure of spirituality.  

  • --Hi it is so interesting that this was posted. I am feeling so frustrated. I am pursuing my Certification in Accounting and had a quiz today. The course I am doing is so challenging and while preparing for the quiz. I was arguing with God,  I was asking questions like, Why He made my brain the way it is?  Why am I not  understand the material?  If this wasn’t the career path He wanted me to pursue, why has He open doors in this area?  It was bad..I had to come back and apologize for my behaviour with Him later.  I am so thankful that He is merciful!

    I am so frustrated.  I need a career; this affords me an income to live. I need to use up my talent.  I want to be very good at what I do. Not in a competitive way, I want to know what I am about in my career.  My work needs to be done well.  That is not a bad desire.

    What is my motivation-to live life and live if to its fullest- life includes work.  As far as my limited understanding of this world is, most of life is about waiting, but it is active waiting.  The most important wait is the wait on Christ’s return; some will go on ahead before He comes, I understand that.  So in the ‘Wait’ I need to work, I need to succeed in a career. The apostle Paul was successful, Apostle Peter was successful and most importantly my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was successful.  I need that!  Is it wrong?

    Then I read passages like ‘Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble’ and I just growl and pray fervently ‘Come Lord Jesus, Come!’

    What is my Motivation? To obey God!  Has my prospective change over the years, yes, I now realized that work was given to man before the fall- work is not a curse.

  • --What motivated me was my interest in the subject of art and my experience in art class in high school. I had an amazing teacher and wanted to share my talents and time with students like her, to impact student lives positively.once i started at the university, i realized education we much more complicated than i expected. But i didn't know what other career path i had an interest in. So i charged on, convinced i would love it, somehow, someway or another. I have just graduated. I received great marks and had an amazing internship that challenged me. I'm talented in this arena, but it still had its major challenges because  there are aspects i really don't enjoy. I find myself frustrated and worrying i didn't choose the best path; but i remember the things i do enjoy; i remember the students i have already impacted and think.... all jobs must have some downsides! My prayer is God will guide my path from here and place me where i need to be and work on my skills to handle the things i don't enjoy as much.

  • --Unless there is a specific calling you believe God is calling you towards (and by that I mean a burning passion, something you were "meant to do") a suggestion for finding work:

    - Something you are good at, or at least can become good at with practice and training

    - Something you like or love to do.  But at a bare minimum, "don't hate it".  One does not need to "love their job".  All but a handful actually love going to work every day.

    - Something someone would be willing to pay you for (includes starting your own business, essentially your customers are your "employers").

    You could LOVE to play checkers.  You could be very good at it.  But no one will pay me a decent wage to make a living off of.

    You could LOVE singing and some do have a career in professional singer.  But if an honest person believed Simon Cowell would throw rotten vegetables at you given the chance you probably won't be a professional singer.

    You could be great at medicine.  And there are plenty of careers in healthcare.  But if you hate demands and schedule that many health care professionals have, best you not go into that field.  You would only be miserable.  Even if you're just in it "simply for the money" (and some are, make no mistake) it will take its toll on you.  You may turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, or any number of other vices to cope.  It may cost you your marriage, or even your life.

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