For a variety of reasons, both personal and professional, I've recently given a great deal of thought to the concept of motivation.
A friend of mine recently proclaimed his belief that what best motivates people are incentives. Money, power, title, and various other perks. He argued that, at their heart, people are most motivated by tangible outcomes, with financial compensation being the most effective.
While this sounds fairly obvious on its face, I'm not sure that I agree. Yes, money and power are fantastic motivators. But, I'd argue that there is an even more powerful motivating force. One that, when properly channeled, can push you much further than money or the promise of a promotion. What is that motivating force?
Adversity comes in a variety of forms. You could face adversity in the form of a rough upbringing. Rising from poverty to accomplish something. Be it a job in finance or another lucrative profession, the challenge of a difficult past can drive people to greatness.
Knowing what it feels like to be at the bottom can serve as a stark motivator. Look at someone like Jay Z, "from Marcy to Madison Square," the projects to the Boardroom.
Or someone like Carl, who didn't necessarily grow up dirt poor, but nevertheless rose from a relatively obscure and common upbringing to become a titan of finance. Look around...there aren't a whole lot of hedge fund kingpins who grew up with a silver spoon in their mouths.
I think of my beloved New York Giants, who twice in five years channeled adversity to make Super Bowl runs. In 2007 in particular, they ran the "nobody believes in us" train straight through the Super Bowl to defeat the previously unbeaten Patriots and win an incredibly improbable championship.
Adversity comes in many forms. It can be as daunting and obvious as growing up in a rough neighborhood to as personal and specific as a rejection email from your dream company. At some point or another, we all face some form of adversity. What's important is how you channel it. Do you let it put you down or do you use it to drive you forward.
Personally, my motivations have changed a great deal over time. When I was younger, I was primarily driven by money. I assumed, foolishly, that making good money was of paramount importance. No doubt money still plays a role in my motivations, and a reasonably significant one at that, but it's not the most important factor. As I've gained professional experience and spent some time in real world, I've become more motivated by the idea of spending time doing things that I really enjoy doing. Again, money plays a role, but I'd gladly do something I enjoy for a little less money than something I despise. Given how little time we actually have, we ought to at least spend it doing things we like doing, right?
Yes...to a degree. I'd argue that following this thought process will go a long way towards making you a happy person in your professional life. But, if you're a truly ambitious person, you're going to need something more. If you want to achieve some level of greatness in whatever tasks you've set out to accomplish, you will need something more powerful to drive you. You will need some sort of adversity.
In my younger days I would have denied this. I believed that cash compensation was the end-all, be-all. But, after getting a few decent paychecks and working in technically prestigious roles, you can find yourself to be content quite quickly. Decent sized paychecks can quell the desire to rake in the big bucks and deter you from pursuing alternate fulfilling routes. Without some sort of adversity, some force telling you that you can't accomplish something, you'll be hard pressed to do the work required to go above and beyond your goals.
While accomplishing your goals, doing interesting and lucrative work, and enjoying the ride are all important and wonderful things. They're all made a bit sweeter and you'll likely go a lot further when you do so in the face of adversity.
Or, to put it more succinctly...
What motivates you? How have your motivations shifted over time? Do you agree with my thesis on adversity? Let me know in the comments.