As the old Benjamin Franklin quote goes, “the only two certainties in life are death and taxes.” For many of us, it might seem like there is another certainty: the grueling cycle of waking up to go to work, coming home to rest, just to wake up and do it all again the next day. While the regular workday is not something that many of us can truly escape, there is something about this cycle that we can change. It doesn’t have to be a grueling, draining cycle. In fact, it can be quite the opposite!
There are many ways to approach this problem, but let’s talk about one that hits close to home for everybody: purpose. Finding a purpose in life is one of humanity’s timeless philosophical problems, and one that will manifest differently for everybody. While there is no single concrete answer as to how to do this, we can still look at it as a matter of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. How does this help us understand our purpose, and why does that matter for us at work? Let’s take a look.
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. They’re fancy terms, but that doesn’t mean that they’re difficult to understand. We can think of extrinsic motivation in terms of obligation. Think of your first job, or even school homework assignments. This isn’t work that you necessarily chose to do, rather work that you had to do to fulfill some sort of external requirement—paying the bills or graduation. For most people, flipping burgers and cleaning bathrooms isn’t exactly a passion project, but it is a means through which to buy your first car. You do it because, in some capacity, you have to.
Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is the opposite. Maybe you make music, draw or paint in your spare time, go on nice walks, or play with your dog—all of these are typically things that you do because you want to, not because you are being obligated. The motivation comes naturally, or internally. Of course, this isn’t just limited to light and fun activities. People often find intrinsic motivation in very demanding and difficult tasks. To some extent, we can describe this as passion.
What is your true authentic purpose? That’s something only you can answer, but it’s going to be something that you are passionate about, and something that you are naturally motivated to do. You might have different “purposes” through different organizations and employments, but your authentic purpose will be something that you want to do, without the incentive of a paycheck being necessary.
Bringing this to the workplace
So, how does this help you in the workplace? Simply put, completing tasks on extrinsic motivation alone isn’t the best feeling, and it isn’t necessarily great for you either. You can force yourself to complete tasks in exchange for compensation, but the part of you that needs to chase that authentic purpose is being left behind.
While not everybody will have the privilege to fully pursue their authentic purpose at work, there are always smaller ways through which we can incorporate this purpose. After all, living authentically is better for everybody, and being authentic at work can be the difference between a taxing and tiring 9-5 and a healthy and exciting environment. Maybe your authentic purpose includes a creative flare—marketing is a perfect fit. Maybe your purpose is conflict resolution—ever thought of HR? Maybe your authentic purpose is helping others grow, and for that there couldn’t be a better fit than servant leadership.
The truth is that walking the line between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be difficult, but if you’re able to align your authentic purpose with your obligations as much as possible, your workplace can easily turn into a healthier and more productive social space for yourself, your coworkers, and for everybody involved.
Living Pono is dedicated to communicating business management concepts with Hawaiian values. Founded by Kevin May, an established and successful leader and mentor, Living Pono is your destination to learn about how to live your life righteously and how that can have positive effects in your career. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or contact us here. Also, join our mailing list below, so you can be alerted when a new article is released.
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