Your Motivation for Work and Why It Matters

Heads up! This post is 11 years old. In 2021, I restarted my blog after many years of not writing regularly. See the the new stuff!

1426373_40792006Sometimes I lose sight of why I’ve made the choices I have and start criticizing myself for where I’m at in life. I look at my smallish condo and wish it was a big house. I fret that there aren’t any letters after my name.

What helps me shift out of this grumpy state is to reconnect to my authentic motivation.

Seven Motivations for Work

(I got these from a handout from the Presence-Based Coaching folks.)

1. Avoid something negative. 

  • I work so I’m not homeless.
  • I work so I don’t get fired.
  • I work so I don’t seem like a loser.

2. Means to an end.

  • I work to earn money to buy what I want.
  • I work to support my family.
  • I work to create financial freedom and have more time.

3. Achievement

  • I work because I like to be productive.
  • I work because I want to accomplish something.
  • I work because I want to be famous and important.

4. Well-being

  • I work because I enjoy it.
  • I work because my job is exciting and fun.

5. Self-development

  • I work because this task helps me grow.
  • I work because this job is teaching me something new.

6. Contribution

  • I work because my work helps others.
  • I work because I enjoy the impact it has for others.

7. Being Called

  • I work because this is my calling.
  • I work because something larger is acting through me.
  • I work because this is my unique gift to give the world.

These motivations aren’t mutually exclusive and you may be motivated by a mixture at any given time. If you are broke, no matter how into personal growth you are, you may choose a job primarily because it is a means to a paycheck (#2). You may have a job that both challenges you to grow (#5), and feels like your calling (#7). Although you might normally love being creative and doing what excites you (#4), you might choose to dig in to create some products for passive income so you have more freedom (#2).

What matters is to understand and affirm what is true for you so you can be in alignment with yourself.

You Have a Unique Motivational Map

I’m usually motivated by following a sense of inner direction / intrinsic motivation (a combination of #4 and #7). But sometimes I have an inner critic that gets activated by certain messages from others or myself. Things like:

  • “What do you do for fun?” – yikes. That’s a hard question for me. I work a lot. I like my work. It’s fun for me. But somehow that doesn’t seem like a good enough answer. Shouldn’t I be making more money so I can go on expensive vacations or something?
  • “What have I accomplished today?” – yikes again. Sometimes I get a lot done. But sometimes I spend the day exploring something that has no obvious purpose or doesn’t turn into “productive” work. Shouldn’t I be focused and productive and doing epic things everyday?

My inner critic throws my real motivation out the window and starts worrying about why I’m not more motivated by achievement (#3) or money (#2).

These happen to be the primary motivations our culture is organized around when it comes to work. And yet, by themselves they do not motivate most of us.

I like to be productive. #3 is not bad. Money is nice too. I just need to remember that at my core work is about #4 (enjoyment) and #7 (being called) or I won’t feel like myself. Without being in touch with why I’m working, I stop feeling joy (lose #4), and stop feeling connected to my larger purpose (lose #7). Then I feel depressed and things seem pointless. 

But things aren’t pointless. I’ve just lost sight of the point for me.

Self-Criticism Is a Signal to Re-Align

Let’s say you’ve spent your life going where you felt called (#7), going where you felt drawn to learn something new (#5), and going where you felt enjoyment (#4). Now you’re 52 and because of certain choices you’ve made in alignment with these motivations, you don’t have health insurance, and your retirement account is looking too slim for comfort.

These are valid concerns and you definitely want to address them. But what doesn’t help is suddenly deciding your choices were all wrong and you should have been focused on money (#2) all along.

It’s true that if you focus on achievement your whole life you can create some impressive results. You also might have a heart attack and raise kids who don’t know you. Every path has a cost. Every choice leaves something else unchosen.

The only way to make peace with the fact that you can’t do everything and be everything in your one life is to make the choices that align with your true nature. This will lead you to your right path.

The rest you let go of. For me that means letting go of worrying that I don’t have an MA or a PhD because I haven’t found a traditional school that is nearly as much fun as the experiential learning opportunities I’ve found at workshops and trainings. It means letting go of comparing myself to other people whose lives I actually wouldn’t want.

Appreciating and affirming the rightness of your choices for you releases you from defining yourself by cultural standards. It also brings you into alignment with your authentic self, which already knows you are enough. From this state, there is a sense of fundamental sufficiency, rightness, and relaxed momentum.


Like it? Love it? Donations are always appreciated. 💛
Hi there! I’m Emma and I write about self-liberation. My writing is meant to share my process & inspire your own. If you want more frequent/current writing, visit my Substack Sparkly Dark, where I’m unpacking my neurodivergence.

If my writing has helped you, you can leave a tip at, leave a comment below, learn more about me, or follow me on Instagram.

Also! I’m also looking to start a community of people looking to build authentic connnections & grow together.

Thanks so much for reading! ~Emma

Get a weekly email with new posts:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *