The 5 reasons you do what you do.

January 18, 2024

Why do you work? Whether it’s to get paid or to serve as a volunteer, what motivates you to go do your thing?

There are a range of reasons we get up and get after it. One end of the work incentive scale feels dark and threatening and the other end feels bright and promising. Some of these motivations preoccupy us and others never generate a second thought. Some cause anxiety and others invoke enthusiasm.

Next time you are prepping for your day, facing the mirror, brushing your teeth, shaving or putting on your makeup, ask yourself, “Why am I going to do this?” I’ll bet your answer will fall into one or more of these motivations.

The 5 reasons I work:

  1. “I’ve got a gun to my head.”

“I have no choice, or I feel like I have no choice.” For some the coercion is financial. They need the money so badly that they stuff their frustration and grind it out. Needing to make ends meet is a powerful stimulus. So are the “golden handcuffs” of a lucrative job that have locked you in to a lifestyle you can’t downsize. For others the coercion is personal. Somebody has bullied them into a corner They can’t escape the strong-armed pressure of a powerful influencer.

  1. “Because I said I would.”

“I made a commitment and I’ll stick to it.” It’s not with bitterness you go about your tasks, but it is with a sense of resignation. “I signed a contract.” “I made a promise.” This motivation is not as negative as the first, but it really isn’t very inspiring. It does not imply that your work will be lackluster, but you might not feel much of an urge to go above and beyond in your contribution.

  1. “It’s just what I do.”

“This work comes naturally to me. “I’ve always done it.” This is the “wash, rinse, repeat” motivation. Some of our labor is so normal and we’re so used to it that we never think much about it. Like the previous incentive, this one does not preclude good work. As a matter of fact, it implies at least a satisfactory job performance due to longevity and experience. But does it energize? Does it give life? Probably not.

  1. “It’s my duty.”

“I feel responsible for this.” “Somebody needs me.”  Duty is one of the most powerful motivators. And when coupled with a clear vision it can stimulate excellent work. Work that stems from an obligation to a company, an organization or a movement can come from a very deep place in us. It also can feel like a burden. This motivation can continue at a high level, but only by a constant re-infusion of vision and encouragement. Duty work must see results to reinvigorate it. Otherwise, it leads to exhaustion.

  1. “It’s my calling!”

“It gives my life meaning.” Here’s a typical statement coming from a person working from a sense of calling: “I can’t believe they pay me to do this!” Working out of calling or destiny is the ultimate convergence of life story, personality, skills and passions. No matter the amount of time or effort it takes to do a thing related to your calling, your “bucket” gets filled. You actually receive an infusion of life. It is, perhaps, the holy grail of work motivation.

Which of these incentives drives you? Are you satisfied with it? Would you like to reform your approach to work? Stay tuned! Over the next few weeks, in my newsletters and blog post we’ll explore this further.

Please forward this to anyone you know who might benefit. And, as always, reach out if I can help you or your organization discover and thrive in your “why”!


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