How do you work up the conviction and discipline you need to do tiresome, unglamorous tasks? Well, how did you get yourself through high school, college, your first boring entry-level job? It’s probably like riding a bicycle: you already know how, but a little refresher course wouldn’t hurt.
Most of us under 80 reject the idea of leading lives of quiet desperation. You’re not going to hear me say that hardship and uncertainty and deprivation and unemployment will make you a better person. No way am I going to mindlessly echo the platitude that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s not how I roll.
But it could be time to re-examine what’s important to you professionally — aside from the obvious need to earn a living — and to quit trying to live up to someone else’s standards for achievement. Whether you’re out interviewing and are asked to articulate your ideals, or are getting close to a decision about an opportunity that’s currently on the table, identifying core motivators in basic, simplistic terms can be useful. The same set of criteria can also help you better understand co-workers and job candidates.
In no particular order, here are the primary motivating elements I’ve observed over years of interviewing:
Money: Total compensation, including cash and non-cash items. It’s not so much what the money buys, usually, as what the money means — psychologically and socially. If you put this at the top of your list, ask yourself if it’s as big a factor as you think. Will you really bolt for an extra few dollars?
Status: In short, this where you stand on the org chart or totem pole. How many people do you have to bow down to versus how many kneel at your feet? Executives often have great difficulty admitting, even to themselves, just how important this is to them.
Prestige: What level of eminence, reputation and public esteem does your company enjoy? For example, would you rather be a SVP at Wal-Mart or a VP at Nordstrom? Everything else being equal, that is.
Culture: This is about people, camaraderie, shared values and belonging. Are you proud and happy to be a member of this group? Would you want to spend, say, Thanksgiving with them?
Autonomy: To what extent do you define the goals and objectives for your function? Is Big Brother watching or have you been given the self-determination to succeed on your own lights?
Wow Factor: This could be anything from the coolest technology in the world to being located in the same town as your new romantic interest. In other words, any consideration that overrides the factors mentioned above. Do you want to bring your boss coffee and doughnuts? No? What if your boss is Steven Spielberg? You get it now.
Rank the categories in order of your personal priority, and then try to guess what the sequence might be for those who irritate or confound you. Try to observe without judging and see how many of these levers you can recognize in action. Seeing yourself and others through these lenses could bring a new degree of clarity to the mystery of why people behave as they do at the office — including that rascal in the mirror. Instead of beating yourself up for a supposed lack of chutzpah, try accepting your motivational factors as they are.
One more word on the subject of motivation. Being a professional doesn’t mean you have to be inspired in everything you do. It means playing at the top of your game and performing as if you were inspired. That’s not about trying to conceal the fact that your heart maybe isn’t completely in it at all times but about doing great work despite it.