What motivates you?

Last week, Jenna (wifey) and I vacationed in Mexico – and I’m back in the saddle feeling like a completely different person.

Why?

It wasn’t because the trip was incredibly restful (putting on sunblock was the most exerted ourselves). It wasn’t due to complete disconnection from every device. It wasn’t the generous doses of Vitamin D.

All those things helped, but they weren’t the biggest impetus.

What did it was a few sentences I stumbled upon while reading Drive by Daniel Pink.

“Those artists who pursued their painting and sculpture more for the pleasure of the activity itself than for extrinsic rewards have produced art that has been socially recognized as superior. It is those who are least motivated to pursue extrinsic rewards who eventually receive them.” 

It hit me like a bucket of icy water.

For the past few months, I’ve felt off. I’ve been really enjoying my work, feeling somewhat successful as an entrepreneur, and making meaningful progress towards my vision.

But something’s been missing. Or it was, until then.

In that moment, I realized: In the flurry of growth over the past few months, I lost touch with the real purpose of my work.

I lost track of my intrinsic motivation and was focused only extrinsic rewards—client number, income, profit.

I’d lost touch with the real reason I chose to be a coach—To empower difference-makers to change the world, while doing work I could do for free. Instead, the financial rewards became my motivation.

Sure, purpose still mattered, but it was secondary.

As I sat with this insight over the next few days, a few things became clear. 

  • I’d come to believe that if I didn’t focus intensely on my bottom line, on financial growth, that I would fall short. I was afraid that if I didn’t hold the goal tightly, it would slip my grip.
  • Then, I saw that profit (and all the other outward successes) is a byproduct of other things. A byproduct of doing work that is interesting, fascinating, and life-giving. A byproduct of doing something simply because I love it. A byproduct of being grateful for the work I’m able to do.

Recently I’ve been listening to The Genius Dialogues, a podcast that features MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius Grant’ recipients – a $625K prize given to MacArthur fellows who “apply innovation to humanity.” If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in hearing the origin stories of these artists, scientists, and difference-makers, it’s this: They got to where they are by following their intrinsic motivation. None of them started out intending to amass wealth or acclaim or kudos. They were all driven by an activity, a problem, a project or series of projects that was it’s own reward.

What motivates you?

The outward signs of success, or the work itself? The money, or the joy of doing? The fame and acclaim, or the impact you’re making?

What gets you out of bed in the morning – does it come from the inside or the outside?

If you started down a purposeful path, are you still on it, or have you veered off? Are you still being true to yourself?

“The most successful people, the evidence shows, often aren’t directly pursuing conventional notions of success. They’re working hard and persisting through difficulties because of their internal desire to control their lives, learn about their world, and accomplish something that endures.” – Daniel Pink