My Job Motivation Theory — Love It!

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 02/24/2010

When things are too good in life, I believe that people fall into relaxed patterns. Desire and drive are often the casualty. It has been my observation that this is why some people who have some major malfunction in their lives are so often the ones pursuing greatness. They stereotypically didn’t get enough love as a child or are trying to prove something to someone–or some similar situation.

This poses an interesting dilemma to those who try to achieve ambition through intellectual exercise and lofty ideals, but are just basically happy. Happy folks who don’t want to be left out of the greatness game need to continuously re-discover and re-ignite that drive, least they settle into a comfortable pattern of run-of-the-mill mediocrity.

So when a person has that intellectual burning desire to change, and preferably improve, the world, how can you turn it into that figurative fire lit under the ass? I found that burning, intense drive at one point in my career, fueled by earning commission. It was a thrill. All other jobs that followed have been anti-climatic in comparison. It turned out that I truly loved the nature of the work–AND when I did better at it, my income went up. Once I forced myself to be fully engaged in it through as series of mental tricks tied to the commission-game, there was nothing else I would rather be doing. A self-fueling feedback loop of accomplishment set in. I experienced it. I was in the zone. I could (and did) do anything.

The problem with this state is that it’s fragile. The problem with this state is that it’s hard to get to. The problem with this state is that everything in daily life works against it. It’s like joining a gym, making a great start, getting that healthy heart-pumping adrenaline high, and then taking off a few weeks. When the momentum breaks, it’s hard to get re-started. It’s this way with all things in life. It’s part of the human condition. Fighting to overcome obstacles is what brings out the best in us and makes us human. But obstacles like the hunt just don’t occur naturally very much to us anymore in society, if we don’t play tricks to contrive them ourselves. It’s too easy to fall into a default prescribed way of living that doesn’t take much rugged individual thought.

To make matters worse, the alluring sirens song of distraction has gotten so much more interesting, with the Internet and the iPhone. It used to be that little could rival the intellectual challenge of figuring out complex SQL queries. But today, with Google Reader dropping every bit of geek-news into a custom electronic newspaper in real-time with social features for sharing and commenting–well, it creates an addictive distraction as interesting and compelling as the work itself. It’s a fire-hose of appetizers. It can turn you into a know-it-all personality, and you can become quite impressive and intimidating, with knowledge like that. But you never develop the ability to walk-the-walk without immersing yourself into the actual doing of things.

So, from where is a modern-day geek to derive the focus and drive to do great things? For me personally, it is the thrill of the experience, of doing something first or different for the first time. It is the thrill of seeing the unseen, and turning doubters and detractors into believers. It is performance art, with several layers of audience (nearby in real-life, and afar over the Net). Some don’t know they’re participants, and become the unwitting volunteers in a magic trick–the results of which, surprise and delight everyone–except of course for the hecklers who got steamrolled. But of course, that makes it all the more satisfying, providing those obstacles that human love to overcome. It’s part of the hunt.

Must everything be so high-energy and high-stakes to provide motivation? So far in my experience in a world where smart people can comfortably squeak by working the system, I have found the answer to be yes. Perhaps this is where the self-imposed super-competition of ivy league schools comes from. It provides external pressure infusing this motivation, creating habits, which propel you into the VC world with a business plan and something to prove. Smart people who skipped college or cruised through a safety-school didn’t have this motivation-infusing mind-job done to them.

Does this sound like a bad thing? Like brainwashing and greed? Well, I think it can turn out that way, but it really depends on the person. Some people feel that hunger to change the world, and this gives them the tools and a plan to help them do so. For others who feel that same hunger, but never went through the program, they’ve got a lot of self-discovery to do which is going to take longer–unless they’re one of those remarkable ones who have those abilities naturally or from an equally remarkable childhood. But for me, well I’m pushing forty and feel that change-the-world hunger every day. And at this late point, I’m really trying to refill my motivational cup every day, carry out my plan on a still-reasonable timeframe.

The first enemy of such motivation is the daily routine. It’s a rut and a trap. It reinforces old pattern and traditional thinking. Break it by waking up early and writing. Nothing rewires your synaptic connections like really listening to yourself think and articulating thoughts by translating it into the clumsy language of the spoken word. You are your own only truly unbiased source of advice. Know what you have to say by teasing it out. Turn your life into a Wonder Years narrative to instill a sense of time (ticking away) and continuity.

Next, truly start to take notice of things through the day. When distraction rears its ugly head, recognize it. Put it to yourself in narrative terms that if you give into this distraction, you will piss the day away, and be no further along tomorrow than you are today. Set small, achievable goals for yourself, because success begets success. And success fuels motivation. The whole process becomes circular, and addictive. But it is a fragile momentum. It must be guarded jealously.

When you start to feel the momentum slipping away from avoidable causes (like the daily routine asserting itself), then take notice and start planning for how and when you’re going to kick-start that motivational cycle again. And of course this ability to continually reboot yourself against all odds really only comes from loving the nature of the work, enough so that when you get into, there’s nothing else you’d rather be doing.