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I came across this article in this morning’s paper on my commute to work. It revolves around CEO compensation, how its tied to the company’s stock price today and how that motivates them to perform. I thought the article made some very compelling arguments and it would be an interesting debate to see which metrics we could measure and how we tie that into compensation, but that is not what I want to talk about. Instead, I am going to go off on a tangent as always…
As I was reading through this piece, I couldn’t help thinking how the same principles of motivation apply to all of us, and not just in professional settings, but on the personal front as well. The fundamental assumption I am making here is that most of us are motivated individuals, we have aspirations on a variety of fronts and we go about finding and creating purpose in our lives. Right? The sad realization, at least from my personal perspective is that a lot of times, the motivation really seems to stem from pleasing the other people in our lives.
Back in school, it was about pleasing the parents. Scoring good grades and having the teacher stick a gold star in your report card was clearly a motivator. All of the stars were made out of the same, silly gold-colored paper, it felt like your star was just a tad shinier than the rest. In reality, the motivation was not getting the grades and the star in the report card itself, but the satisfaction of taking it home and showing off to the folks. And if dad too had a good day in the office, the star would typically result in some kind of reward at home. But more than the reward, just the glint of pride in their eyes really was the prime motivator.
As life shifts into the professional phase, the motivations also shift. Initially, the promotions and the bonuses seem like the only viable path to corporate salvation. And sure, the money helps, but it really is rarely about the money. It is almost always about the recognition, about the honor, about the privilege of taking on bigger challenges. You want to look good in front of your peers, and you use that to push yourself. A few years go by, and you slowly start looking at world outside – but that fire is still burning inside, only you are seeing it a little differently. Now the comparisons happen against one’s colleagues one’s classmates from school/college and you try and benchmark yourself against those peers. And as you find others that have had better career graphs, you tend to push yourself a little harder because you want to look good in front of those friends now.
Then you grow and mature some more…until you realize that the biggest motivation comes from inside you; comes from wanting to make an impact and from wanting to leave a legacy that you are proud of, no matter where you are or where you go. This is also the phase that seems the hardest – and I can think of a few reasons for why that is. For one, you are much older when you get to this state, so there are other pressing priorities in your life such as family that become important, and therefore take some of your bandwidth away. Chances are that you are in a more senior role at the company, and so, not only do the work challenges get harder to resolve, the corresponding expectations are also much higher. Also, when you are pushing yourself because you are motivated by how much impact you are making, then its much harder to be aware of how hard you are working and when you should stop, so you just keep running faster and faster, it seems like.
So yeah, as you look back, the motivation starts with family…then peers…then its friends and lastly its you. And the sad irony is that the motivation to push yourself harder and be the best you can be is driven by the need to please and impress these other folks in your life so that you can be happy and content, but the arduous journey to get to that ideal destination is strewn with so many challenges waiting for you to come along, and before too long, you are just buried in stuff, a lot of which was probably not even needed and yet you are chugging along. It is a good idea to pause and ask yourself if its all worth it…if the intent was to create happiness and fulfillment in life and this journey makes it very hard, or sometimes even impossible, to get to that destination, then one has to question whether the journey adds value at all?
That is probably why the spiritual route seems like a very popular detox solution from that rat race. So…yeah…it might not be such a bad idea to just force yourself out of the race, and instead go focus on the true purpose of why you want to do something. Motivate yourself by all means, but with the right set of objectives, priorities and environment. Easier said than done for sure, but at least gets you closer to that ideal end state, doesn’t it?