The Story of My Work

What is Motivation?

— understanding our innate drive —


An inspiring speech or a gold star... are these what we know about motivation? Instead, let's explore this inherent, utterly unique drive that brings energy & passion to our lives.

What is Motivation?


When I describe The Story of My Work to people I meet, the topic usually heads into discussing motivation

When I say "motivation", there are a few ideas that people will gravitate towards:

  1. The first one is that motivation has to do with someone else's effect on you. You can picture the motivational speaker or the boss who can charge up the troops to move them from point A to point B.
  2. Secondly, people can think of motivation in terms of incentives and rewards. What are the bonuses, rewards, job titles that need to be given or ‘carroted’ in front of someone to get them to perform to a certain standard?
  3. Another is the thought that motivation is just doing what you ‘like’ or what ‘feels’ good; a default, short of doing the real hard work to get the task or project accomplished.

Beyond all of these thoughts on motivation, there is a profound truth about motivation that is rarely talked about: that motivation is unique and specific to each individual.  And THIS is how I am using the term motivation: to discuss what makes someone tick or what are the purposes that the person innately wants to accomplish. Motivation is what makes you come alive.



I get the pleasure of reading over hundreds of people’s "achievement stories" (accomplishments that they have done well and enjoyed doing). 

And, in spite of common conversations around "motivation" (see above), I can tell you that there are a few things that I have never seen from someone working out of their "sweet spot" of motivation:

  • No one has to be inspired by a third party to get the task done. Nobody reflects on going to a seminar one day, where they got a new perspective on their life and then were then simply able to produce something extraordinary.
  • Nobody's motivation simply kicks in after receiving a raise or promotion, or an award given by their peers (the carrot).  In the many examples of why people do the things they do, a few are motivated by position or money (about 9% according to studies). Most people are incentivized by many different factors and do not fit into easy generalizations.
  • People can be passionate in recounting their achievements, but they do not always ‘feel’ good or are just doing what they ‘like’. Many stories detail them working hard, actually extremely hard. There are many instances where someone has worked long hours and/or had to push through many difficulties. 


But, all the stories do share a commonality.  They are all stories of people highly engaged in what they are doing; or, in the proper way to use the term — highly motivated.


What gets people to this point?

When people are engaged like this, it indicates a great matchup of the job/task with the uniquely motivated purpose specific to that individual.  What they are doing is highly correlated to what they (uniquely) are made to do.

As I do workshops or one-on-one coaching, it is amazing to see the lights go on as people discover that they are made in a unique way — and, that there is some purpose or motivation that they are driven to accomplish.

For example, some people are highly motivated by the opportunity to function independently. Others prefer much closer, hands-on interaction with their fellow workers. Some people are powerfully motivated by the opportunity to reach a specific goal or financial metric. Others are far more motivated by the opportunity to overcome a significant challenge or obstacle, regardless of the financial implications.


For one alumnus, it was a motivation to solve bottlenecks and automate systems. It may sound completely foreign to you (as much as it does to me), but to him, this end brought meaning and purpose. So, what happens when he doesn't realize this and all he does is analyze and report on data?

Another woman learned she is motivated to work alone as she creates new projects to bring back to the team, where she wants to blow them away with the quality and impact they will have. Now, for me, I need to be working with people; but this woman gets so charged up by creative work alone. What happens when you put her in meetings all day?

The ability for us to discover these underlying motivational drives makes such a significant difference in how people approach jobs. They know what places to pursue, and for which job assignments they should put up their hand.

A manager or leader who discovers the unique motivational drives of key employees can have a tremendous impact: first, on how the manager will work with the person, but ultimately on the performance of the organization. When people are more properly fit into a motivational slot, great outcomes will happen.

What is your unique motivational makeup? What has engaged you in your work in the past? How can that insight help you place yourself in better spots in the future?

Learn about your own motivations by trying out our Do-It-Yourself workbook!


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