Have you ever asked yourself why you work? Of course, there’s the obvious answer: you need money to live. But have you ever dug deeper – have you asked yourself how much money you need versus how much money you want? And have you thought about other, non-monetary aspects of work that motivate you? Some common examples: power, respect, prestige, social interaction, freedom or independence, a creative outlet, a platform to promote your personal agenda, ability to impact or serve others, or simply the opportunity to have a daily distraction.

I would argue that career satisfaction is directly tied to working in jobs that feed whatever motivates you. The difficulty isn’t in finding the right job, though; it’s in discovering what really motivates you.

Here’s my story: I discovered early on that I’m not motivated by money. Don’t get me wrong, I like to eat well and travel and engage in retail therapy just like anyone else. Cars have always been my Achilles Heel. I bought my first car, car note and all, at 16. (My parents, who were advanced in age and no longer had energy to say no to a child, co-signed.) During this time, car payments were made by mail using a booklet of “coupons.” I worked as a hostess at a local Applebee’s. I was so proud every time I’d get my direct deposit, then turn around and write a check to GMAC, carefully attaching my car payment “coupon” to the check. My car note was pretty much the exact amount of my monthly pay as a hostess. But I was 16, not well educated in financial best – or even reasonable – practices, and driven by an innate need to feel independent. In my immature mind, having my own car, a car that I paid for, meant I wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else to give me permission to come and go as I pleased.

Of course, a 16-year-old doesn’t know much about establishing good credit or the consequences of paying a car note late. The decision to incur a large debt at such an early age was not a great idea; thankfully, no permanent damage was done to my credit. My teenage self learned from the experience that working = money = buying power and financial independence. But if you read between the lines of this anecdote, you’ll see a non-monetary motivator I mentioned at the beginning of this post: freedom and independence. Over time I discovered that having freedom and independence are really important to me. Therefore, I’ve never been happy in a job where I’m micromanaged; I know I need to make enough money to cover at least my personal expenses, even if I have a spouse who makes enough money to support me; and I need a work culture that appreciates, or at least respects, independent thinking.

How do you figure out what motivates you? I’d start with thinking about your current employment situation. When are you happiest or most satisfied at work? Is it when you get a bonus or raise, or when you have a chance to manage or lead others? Or is it when you are given the opportunity to create something from scratch with very little oversight? Once you’ve figured out your “happy points,” ask yourself whether those types of happy points arise enough in your current job. If they don’t, you could be in a job that fails to fuel your motivators; or you may need to find ways you can fuel your motivators yourself while staying in your current job. The harsh reality is, no job is going to constantly ignite your motivators. Sometimes you’ll have to take that upon yourself. In the next post I’ll share some ways I took it upon myself to feed my motivators at work. But before you read that post, you may want to check these resources out:


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