Finding your motivations for success

Recently I was faced with some difficult decisions regarding employment. I had been experiencing some internal strife and as a result was “open to new opportunities.” While I hadn’t been actively pursuing options I figured that if something came along I’d at least consider it. Eventually some opportunities interesting enough to pique my interest did hit so I began the process. Nearing the end of my “openness” some external events occurred that set up an interesting situation. Ultimately I was faced with a decision that required me to understand myself and work at finding my motivations.

How I found my motivations

My introductory blurb doesn’t really set up the situation nor does it say how I approached and solved this personal dilemma. It doesn’t explain all the events leading up to this one. While all of those factors are important in setting the stage, of course, let’s focus instead on how I actually centered on and identified my motivations.

One common theme throughout the interviews I had been in over the course of several weeks was some form of the question: “What is your motivation?” (“What gets you out of bed and into work each day?”, etc). I would give answers that I thought were “right” (that is, correct to my way of thinking). It wasn’t until my boss sat me down to talk about my plans that I realized I didn’t actually know what my motivations were. I told him as much and that I needed to start a major introspective session.

Start positive

So… where do you start? Simple. Sitting down at my computer that evening I opened up a text document. My initial line of thinking was to start a mind-dump of everything I could think of regarding my employment situation. Next, I jumped back to the top of the document and started arranging into sections. The first section was everything I liked about my employment. In life it is good practice to accentuate the positive in everything you do, this is no different. I hit that to exhaustion before I started the next section. Thankfully I was able to identify many factors that I found positive and it helped set the tone for positivity moving forward.

Stay positive, identify your primary motivations

Having identified good things, I needed to start understanding what I felt was missing. Do not take this as an opportunity to find negative aspects in what is missing. Simply identify what you’d like but you feel is missing in your life and where you’d like to be. In this case I simply tried to focus on what my goals were. Broad-spectrum here; goals would include career and employment goals but also life goals. My aim was to identify everything I hoped to achieve professionally and personally because I felt that they frequently intermix.

Try to identify at least three. There is a psychological reason for this.
I called these three my “primary motivations.” Make it about you. It’s ok to be self-centered here because guess what? It is about you.

While not my own motivations, a few examples might be “I want work to be work and life to be life, I don’t want to have to think about my job when I get home” or “I want to work towards [x] position in [y] years” or even “I want to make [z] dollars with benefit/perks a, b, c”. The point here is these are the core motivations that will make or break it for you. These are requirements for you and your goals.

As an aside, if you want to read up more about why three items, I recommend you look at this article on Forbes that talks more about the Rule of 3.

Identify what you could change (secondary motivations)

Next up I decided to look at my current situation and identify all the areas that I would change. Be careful here because this is where negativity really could creep in. Scrutinize each and decide what you would do to change were you in a situation to do so. Focusing on positive outcomes for perceived shortcomings is an exercise you really should take in all aspects of your life. Find solutions, not problems.

Chances are you’re not in a position where you can do anything to improve those situations identified. I wasn’t. You are in a position, however, to really decide if they matter or not. If they do matter you now have a list of items to look for in future opportunities. Be reasonable though. Maybe you won’t quit your job over one or two of these but perhaps if you pile enough of them up they do become major obstacles.

I’m struggling to provide concrete examples here because something major to me could be something minor to you and vice versa. Perhaps it is better to say these are the “it sure would be nice if…” type of motivations. That being said a few examples could be it sure would be nice if my manager would recognize my effort more often”, “it sure would be nice if we had another holiday or two”, “it sure would be nice if the office was within 10 miles of my house”, “I sure would like to remote sometimes”, “it sure would be nice if we had food brought in on Friday”, etc.

Again… some of those examples could very well be primary motivators for one person and secondary to another.

The grass may seem greener…

One thing I’ve tried very hard to remember throughout my life and career is this: the grass may seem greener on the other side but you never know if it’s AstroTurf or how much poop they spread on it to get it there.

In other words you just don’t know if it is all fake or how much other crap you might have to put up with. That’s why I think it is ultra-important to understand yourself at a fundamental level so you know what drives you. You can take the steps to get there and build your career based on that instead of letting outside appearances sway you.

How my outlook changed

Up to this point in my career I’ve more or less moved on the gusty winds of life. Sometimes they blew me one direction, sometimes another. My life has been primarily reactionary. Now, instead, I have a clear-cut vision of my goals both personal and professional. With that as my compass I was able to look more critically at each opportunity facing me — both the opportunity to continue where I was at as well as new opportunities.

What I found was that my goals were not being served by my current situation and that was exactly why I felt this internal strife. Simply put, I didn’t get that far only to get that far. I still have a ways yet to go on my journey and I now know the pathway I want to take to get there.

Ultimately this exercise aided me in making a decision and one that I hold strong belief will be a major contributor towards success in reaching my goals.


Finding your motivations is an important step for success in your life. We may assume we know what we want but putting it to task may reveal otherwise. Find at least three major motivations for your personal and professional life and begin making decisions around them.


Cover photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash