As I was getting ready to graduate college and enter the career world my grandmother gave me possibly the best piece of advice anyone has ever given me. She told me to always remember that there's someone that lives nearby that's just as capable and willing to work for less.
This piece of advice may sound cold or negative on the surface, but in reality it was meant to bring perspective, inspire humility, and make me ask myself why I am doing what I'm doing. My grandmother, who worked 40+ years at The Washington Post, recognized that given enough time we all feel unappreciated at work. She also realized that when we feel unappreciated we tend to over inflate our value and contribution.
Part of her point is that money is a means to an end. If money becomes an end in and of itself and your only motivation for feeling appreciated then you're going to be disappointed. Maybe it's getting less of a raise or bonus than expected or finding out that your co-worker, who works half as hard as you, makes more than you. Whatever the reason, relying on money to provide motivation at work will eventually fail and you'll find yourself unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
So what's the key then? The folks over at RSA have a great 10 minute video explaining how research has shown that money isn't a good enough motivator. That's not to say that money isn't important, it's just that there's a point where money as a motivator peaks. Once people make enough money that they're not constantly worrying about it then there are three main motivators; autonomy, mastery and purpose.
I really think that's the underlying point my grandmother was trying to make all those years ago. I don't know that she'd have been able to name those three areas specifically but I am absolutely sure that she understood that you need a combination of those three to feel appreciated and valued and to be motivated in your career.
I believe that she wanted me to understand that if I didn't search out and understand what it was about my job that motivated me then I would never really be happy in my career. For me this has translated into asking myself the question of whether or not I would do my job outside of work in my spare time.
When I was an individual contributor the answer to this question for me was really simple. It was a resounding yes. I would work 9 - 12 hours a day writing software at work to come home and write more software for personal use for another 4 - 6 hours. Writing software was, and still is, a hobby. It's a way I relax. It's something that helps me grow and keep my mind sharp. I really like solving problems and I like adding utility.
But once I entered middle management I had to ask myself this question "what motivates me now?" I think the answer to that question is actually one of the same reasons I started this blog. I really like investing in people. I enjoy mentoring and helping others grow. Not because I believe I know more than them or that I have all the answers. Actually, it's quite the opposite, in my career one thing I have learned is that I don't know it all and there is always more that I can learn. What motivates me is going through the process of learning with someone else.