This is one area that used to be a real struggle for me earlier in my career as a software engineer. If you asked me what motivated me, I would give you the *right* answer. I would tell you that I was motivated by solving interesting problems, which was (and is) very true. But it wasn't the whole truth. I was (and am) also motivated by moving up the corporate ladder and having a bigger and bigger voice at the table (meaning my voice being able to carry a lot of weight).
I thought that admitting that I wanted to move up the corporate ladder would mean that (1) I was greedy or selfish, (2) would only have my actions only interpreted through that lens or (3) would mean that I had an ego or a self-inflated view of my skills or abilities. I didn't want to be construed as having an ego and I didn't want to be viewed as *that guy*. You know, the person who people say "he's only concerned with moving up the ladder and doesn't really care about the people he works with or how many bodies he leaves in his wake". Avoiding that persona was VERY important to me.
I was afraid to admit to myself, my peers, and my bosses that I wanted to get promoted, that I wanted more responsibility, that I wanted to take risks, and that I felt I was as capable or more than my peers to lead a project. I thought that if I just stayed heads down and executed on what I was asked to do that it would lead me down the path I wanted to go.
In some ways it did and in other ways it didn't. My effort did lead to a year over year increase in salary (and bonus depending on the company). I did gain the respect of my peers and have grown a reputation as someone that delivers on what I'm asked to and as someone who is disciplined. But it didn't lead to the leadership opportunities that I wanted.
I've been blessed with some natural leadership talent. I'm able to communicate clearly, I have good intuition and understanding, I generally want to help others succeed and I am able to take complex problems and simplify them. I assumed that other people would recognize that because i had these qualities that I *wanted* to be given opportunities of leadership with more and more responsibilities.
But those opportunities never came and 10 years into my career I realized that I was not where I wanted to be. At that time, I had been at my company for 5 years and decided that the only way I would move up the career ladder was to quit and find something else. When I did and put in my resignation the VP at my company was shocked. I told her that I wanted to move from an IC (individual contributor) role into a management role. And what she said next surprised me. She said "why didn't you just say so?" and went on to tell me that she thought I would be great at it but since I hadn't expressed interest wasn't ever considered for the roles that would come up.
And that's when I learned, it's okay to ask for what you want. If you don't it's more likely than not that other people *wont* know you want it, even if they think you deserve it. Since that conversation I've been very honest and straightforward with my career goals and I have been able to achieve them systematically (still working on several).
If you haven't already, sit down with your boss and talk about what your real career goals are. Be prepared to hear constructive criticism and be ready to receive it, learn, and grow.