Identifying Your Motivators

Our daughters’ soccer season ended a few weeks ago. As we drove home from their final game I asked them what they’d thought of the season. They were on the same team, went to all of the same games, and were coached by the same coaches. In other words, the experiences they had were the same. Having won only one game all season, one of my daughters grumbled that it was a lousy season but my other daughter smiled and said, “I loved it.”

It made me realize – again – that just being a twin doesn’t mean they experience the same thing in the same way. And that’s true for the rest of us – we don’t all experience the same situations, people or environments the same way. Figuring out the things that do or don’t motivate you to be at your best will helps separate the jobs that are likely to light you up and keep your brain buzzing from the jobs that will feel like the more typical Monday-to-Friday slog.

Our “youngest” twin creates a competition out of just about anything. Puzzles, cooking, dog walking, you name it. If there is a way to keep score, she will. She’d likely go batty working for a company where there are no performance reviews or some sort of ranking system. She will be at her best when there is some sort of win to always be working towards.

Our “oldest” would fade into the background in this competitive type of environment. But give her some space and solitude and she’ll create something interesting out of seemingly nothing. And no one needs to prompt her to do so. But don’t grade her on it – the joy for her is in the ideation and creation.

Needless to say, it seems pretty clear we don’t have to worry about the twins competing for the same job down the line. And while it seems clear for them, it’s not the same for everyone. When we’re not clear on the situations, people, and environments that allow us to be at our best, if we’re swayed by ‘best of’ lists or listen too closely to what others tell us we should do, it’s easy to find ourselves in roles that don’t fit.

So how can you figure out what motivates YOU? Here are five questions you can use to uncover some useful clues:

  • What do I love to do when no one asks me to? What is it that I love about it? Some people love organizing the dishwasher – which might make them great at solving layout or space challenges. Or maybe you love creating the optimal outfit rotation for vacation, which might mean you’re awesome at making the most of scarce resources. Others love to draw, which might make them great at helping teams visualize data.
  • What would I miss if I no longer did this activity or had this responsibility? What am I known for that I also take pride in? Maybe you get energy from being the organizer, the fixer, the perfect gift giver… but others think it’s a thankless task. What is it about the activity or responsibility that gives you energy?
  • Notice how you spend your time. What’s the common theme? When you spend extra time on an activity at work and realize you feel really motivated by some aspect of it, what’s the motivator? Is it the competition of being seen as the most committed, or by getting it done early so you can enjoy some time off? Are these same motivators showing up in other parts of your life?
  • What do you enjoy learning about, and how do you like to use your newfound knowledge? Some people value being seen as the expert. At work they might be suited to stay in a single role or function for many years, while developing deep content expertise in the process. Others might enjoy using this same information to improve processes or performance by applying knowledge from a seemingly unrelated domain – and could thrive by regularly changing functions and jobs.
  • What do you give up your free time to contribute to? Maybe it’s volunteering, organizing an issue-related event, or tutoring kids. What is it that motivates you about the issue or topic you’re spending your time on? How does this topic come up in what you’re drawn to reading about, the focus of podcasts you listen to, the types of discussions you’re drawn to?

Laura Berman said it well:

Career satisfaction doesn’t come from WHAT you do, it comes from WHO you get to be while you’re at that job.

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